It was a long train ride to Champain, IL. The 10 hour trip was finally coming to an end. Iwasaki Junya sensei (6th-Dan) had personally invited me and my friend to the 1st Iwasaki Cup Kendo Mini-Tournament held on 15th of May 20, 2010.
It was a unique experience as I was so excited and pleased to practice with a 6th-Dan sensei one-on-one, who happened to be an ex-professional kendo player at Waseda University.
As the train came to a halt my heart started to beat faster and faster. After meeting sensei at the terminal, we did not waste anytime and went straight to practice.
Although the practice was only with four people, it was a difficult one.
After the practice was over, we headed over to Iwasaki sensei’s house where we would stay for the next 4 days for a 2nd practice consisting of beer, good food made by his wonderful wife Keiko-san (her tofu was excellent), and of course kendo talk filled with interesting thoughts as well as laughter.
As Iwasaki-sensei talked of his past experiences, my thoughts were dazzled. As the night got deeper, and the laughter started to die down, we decided to call it a night and headed to bed.
In the morning, we were greeted by Iwasaki-sensei and his wife’s wonderful cooking once again, consisted of onigiri as well as miso-soup. After having several servings of Keiko-san’s wonderful cooking we all headed out to his office where we went out to lunch to a Japanese buffet. Afterwards we helped sensei make the booklets of the tournament. As we wondered through the campus and talked about kendo more…
Later that day, there was a practice with all of the members of the UIUC Kendo Club and a few new outsiders such as Aric Lin from D.C. It was a nice long practice with lots of basics and a great ji-geiko at the end. Afterwards we went out to Hooters with the members and had some beer with exchange of kendo talk. I could not stop thinking to myself, “kendo is such a great martial art.
The day started as a normal day, with Keiko-san’s tasty onigiri and miso soup. After setting up the tournament tables and such we had a Shinpan-seminar. Iwasaki and Amanai senseis lead the seminars and showed everyone the basic rules of Shai. I had the honor of being a Fukushin, in the Shiai-Keiko between Iwasaki sensei and Amanai sensei. It was a pleasure being able to see and Shinpan such high quality kendo so up close.
The start of the tournament was slow as we all were very inexperienced in being Shinpans. Being a Shinpan was more difficult than I had expected. Not being able to physically rest but also not being able to rest mentally was very difficult.
Somehow I managed to get pass the first round, I advanced to the knock out stages where I faced Don. I had a curse for years about losing in the semi-finals or the finals. The semis was a close match but I happened to be the lucky one that day. I thought to myself, “Wow, I am in the finals!” I knew in my mind that I could not lighten up.
As the Mudan division finals were finishing, I told myself, to be calm and show the best and straight kendo I possibly can. The entire final was a blur to me. Somehow I managed to score two points on my opponent Josh from St. Louis; I was relieved that the tournament was over. Just the fact that I played in the finals was not only an honor but also a fantastic experience… no words can describe how it felt.
After I had received my medal, cup and Shinai, everyone headed over the restaurant where Iwasaki sensei had reserved. As the first rounds of beer went out fast, Amanai sensei asked me with a slick smile, “Burm, how many ippons did you score today?” now having been at numerous kendo drinking occasions, I knew what that smile and question meant. As the night came to a close, number of people headed over to Iwasaki sensei’s house to hit the sack.
As everyone slowly gained their conscious, we all gathered up at the breakfast table for more of Keiko-san’s home-style Japanese cooking. After we all ate, we wasted no time and went straight to practice again.
As the friends from St Louis left, Iwasaki sensei had a special practice of Kakari-keiko and Oikomi-keiko ready for me. As I was about to receive Iwasaki sensei’s Oikomi-keiko, I was stunned and shocked at the speed and the tempo he delivered. It was so fast and so efficient, I ended up falling on my bottom and the only words that came out of my mouth were, “WOW”.
Over all Iwasaki-sensei helped me in so many great ways. Inviting me to his tournament and allowing me to stay with his family and also teaching me so many different aspects of Kendo. The last practice of the day; I performed what I like to think as one of the best Kendo performances I have ever made in my short career in Kendo. Iwasaki sensei made many small adjustments in my Kendo, which made a huge difference in my mind, sword, and body.
As the day came to an end and in the bed, I thought to myself, not only does Kendo make our bodies strong but even more so with our minds.
Finally, as he took me to the train station the next day, I could only think to myself, “I will remember this week for the rest of my life.”
Burm S. Kim
Michigan state University Kendo Club