One year ago, I walked into my first kendo tournament. I had no idea what to expect. When I arrived at McMath Secondary, the outside of the school was rather quiet. In fact, it seemed like a Saturday morning Chinese school would be busier. I was starting to wonder if I had arrived at the wrong location, but I knew it was right place when I spotted a few stragglers carrying their shinais and dragging their bogu bags behind them. Other than that, I couldn’t really tell from the outside that I was about to walk into North America’s largest kendo tournament, the Steveston Taikai.
It was an experience I’ll never forget. Majority of us from Langara had never seen a kendo taikai before. At that time, the Langara Kendo Club was only 3 months old and all of its members hadn’t even started wearing keikogi and hakama, the traditional indigo blue kendo clothing. We were still getting use to timing our men strikes with our footwork, while our hands and feet blistered and calloused from having baby-soft skin. That was about the extent of how much kendo we had been exposed to. So walking into the gym filled with over 200 experienced and well-trained kendokas from all over North America, preparing for probably their biggest fight of the year, was thrilling and exciting.
Fight after fight, each kendokas’ kiai invigorated the adrenaline within me. There was a personality behind each one. Some fighting styles were aggressive, others were more calculating. There were some pairings that seemed to put one at an extreme physical disadvantage, but I quickly learned to never judge a kendoka by their physical appearance. (Never underestimate the short ones.) Each strike was so fast that I couldn’t tell which counted as a point. I wanted to cheer, but I didn’t know who to cheer for. We hadn’t made friends with others outside of the club yet and only one of our instructors was competing. So I kept quiet and watched with awe. The hours quickly went by and before I knew it, the taikai was over. Awards were handed out, commemorative photos were being taken, and the gym slowly emptied of all 200+ participants.
On that day one year ago, I began to see what would be possible for Langara and personally for each of us if we persevered and got past the challenges of establishing our new little club.
Which brings us to today. A lot has happened since then (which you can read about in Year One: In Review).
On February 8th, 2014, kendo clubs from all over North America will once again be coming to our little part of the continent to compete at the 52nd Annual Steveston Taikai. This will be one of the biggest tournaments the Steveston Taikai has hosted in years with over 300 participants. Back then, I wouldn’t have thought that Langara would be competing just a year later. But in just two days, 9 Langara members will be on the courts with shinai in hand and spirited kiai for everyone at the tournament to hear.
Here is the list of Langara members who will be competing this Saturday:
Ladies Category: 1 Dan and Under
- Klaudine “Happy”-Go-“Lucky”
- Sei “Heavy Hitter” Kaneko
- Vicky “El Presidente” Wang
- D.Kai “The Obsessed” Wong
Adult 16+: 0-4 Kyu
- Rahim “The Nerd” Hasanali
- Wesley “Cannonball” Lee
- Byron “Silent M” Lum
- Noel “The Guard”-iner
- Ryota “The” Kuki “Monster”
(The nicknames were chosen out of love and will change upon request or when someone comes up with something better.)
We will also be competing in the Senior Team category.
It almost seems as if the Steveston Taikai is a culmination of the past year of hard work everyone had put into practices and the previous taikai’s. Our sensei’s shared their last bit of wisdom in our last practice to help mentally prepare us for such a momentous occasion. Despite the advice, it may still be difficult to contain the nervousness and excitement of competing in such a massive taikai. But it will still be a good day when each of us step onto the courts to give it all we’ve got, hopefully emulating the spirits of the kendokas we admired one year ago. And when our match is done, we’ll be cheering for each other and for everyone who has helped us along the way to get us to where we are now.
We encourage everyone to come out and support all those participating. Even if you don’t know anyone and don’t know much about kendo, you won’t want to miss this.
The 52nd Steveston Taikai will be held at McMath Secondary School located at 4251 Garry Street, Richmond on Saturday, February 8, 2014. Opening ceremony will begin at 9am.