Improving the Kendo of Individuals at the Iwasaki Cup Kendo Tournament

On May 15th, 2010, the Kendo and Naginata Club at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign hosted the First Iwasaki Cup, Kendo tournament at Campus Recreation Center East.

The Iwasaki Cup was thought up, created, and organized by Jyunya Iwasaki Sensei, a 6th degree black belt in Kendo who is visiting from Japan.

The UIUC Kendo and Naginata Club, which was formed over a decade ago, has been very fortunate to have Iwasaki Sensei visiting and teaching at our club for the last year.

During this time there have been a great number of improvements in our club, especially in the newer members.

Under the instruction and guidance of Iwasaki Sensei, the UIUC Kendo club has had members pass their 2nd degree black belt exam, as well having four people get 1-kyu, seven get 2-kyu, one get 3-kyu, and one get 4-kyu.

Of this group of members who have passed promotion tests, nine of them have only started Kendo within the last nine months, a true testament to the great teaching ability of Iwasaki Sensei.

Also, with the guidance and assistance of Iwasaki Sensei, the club has had more exchange and practices with other clubs, and has become more closely bonded as a group, going out after practice every Friday night for drinks, and having dinners and potlucks together at other times.

The purpose and goal of the Iwasaki Cup was to get more opportunities for Kendo practitioners in central Illinois, Indiana, Missouri, and other locations in the Midwest to get more experience in “shiai” (match) kendo.

With this in mind, the tournament had two divisions, a mudansha division for those who have rank below shodan, and a shodan (1st degree black belt) to sandan (3rd degree black belt) division.

Individuals from all over the Midwest and even the East Coast came to the tournament to be able to practice together, compete in shiai, and make new friends through Kendo.

The tournament began on Saturday morning, and began with an opening ceremony, remarks from Iwasaki Sensei and Amanai Sensei, as well as the sportsmanship pledge, and Nihon Kendo Kata performed by Amanai Sensei and Donald McLawhorn.

After the opening ceremony, as seminar was given by Iwasaki Sensei to inform all of the participants not only in the rules of Kendo, but also how to judge Kendo matches.

This seminar was greatly helpful to all of the members who participated in the tournament, as most of them had little to no experience in being a shimpan (referee/judge) for actual matches.

After everyone had gone through the rules, all the tournament entrants warmed up together as a group showing good spirit and kiai, and the tournament began.

The opening round of the tournament was organized in a round robin format, which is different than most other tournaments which are held in the Midwest region.

Using a round robin format was of purposeful design, so that everyone would have several chances at participating in matches, whether they won or lost.

In bigger tournaments, there are often so many participants that someone may travel several hours only to lose their first match and be done for the entire weekend.

Thus, the Iwasaki Cup allowed for everyone to have more matches, and thus help everyone to gain more experience in doing shiai kendo.

Another great experience which came about from the round-robin tournament was that it allowed for everyone participating in the tournament to be able to gain experience as a shimpan for kendo matches.

Even the mudansha, who usually do not judge in matches, were allowed to judge for matches, giving them important experience in not only understanding the rules of Kendo, but how a match should be conducted properly.

The round robin tournament was followed by the semi-finals and finals for each division, a godo-keiko (practice), and finally an award ceremony.

As a representative of the host club, I believe that the 1st Iwasaki Cup was a great event for everyone involved, and helped to build a better understanding of kendo and kendo rules, gain valuable experience in both competition and judging, as well as to make new friends and form new bonds through Kendo.

I am very grateful that Iwasaki Sensei organized and hosted this tournament, as I believe it played a vital role in helping everyone’s kendo.

Additionally, I would like to thank: Kendo Life LLC (the creators of Kendo Guide), Kendo Style (for donating shinai), and the Nippon Steel Corporation for their much appreciated and valued sponsorship and support for this tournament.

Hopefully in future years, the Iwasaki Cup will continued to be held across the Midwest, allowing more and more Kendoka to gain experience to help them continue to hone and polish their skills, knowledge, and understanding of kendo.

Nicholas M. Watanabe
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Kendo and Naginata Club 

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