Contributed by Robert Steele*
The morning of Saturday, September 16 finally arrived. This was the day we had been preparing for all summer, the day of the first sanctioned Toyama Ryu Batto Jutsu Tai Kai outside of Japan. We were as ready as we could be, or so we believed, and now events would push forward under their own momentum.
Hundreds of rolled tatami mats were soaking from the night before in preparation for Tameshigiri, the cutting portion of the event. We had been rolling mats diligently after each class all summer to make sure we had enough for the event, some of us even taking bundles home to roll, much to the delight of my cat. We then scoured the countryside for 55-gallon drums to soak them in. Over twenty drums filled with soaking wara awaited the eager Samurai.
I arrived early to help set up for the event. Mike Femal, our elected foreign ambassador, and our distinguished group of Japanese sensei's, flown in to judge the event, were standing in a group smiling politely. Participants from across the U.S., Canada and the U.K. began to arrive. Even some eager, if somewhat confused spectators were beginning to show up. It looked like we were going to have an exceptional turnout. The only thing lacking was a key to open the door of the City of Orlando Recreation Center where the Tai Kai was to be held. The crowd outside grew, everyone smiling even more politely until the city employee with the key arrived. The doors opened and the Tai Kai was at last underway.
Bob Elder of East Coast Martial Arts Supplies, Inc., and the Orlando Toyama Ryu Batto Jutsu, Inc., of which Elder sensei is 4th Dan Shibucho, were especially honored to host the Tai Kai. As mentioned earlier, this was the first Japanese Sword Tournament sanctioned by the Nihon Batto Do Renmei to be held in the U.S. This Tai Kai was also important in that it was an opportunity for many Japanese Sword Schools to meet and compete under one roof.
It also presented an opportunity for us to present a Japanese style tournament and demonstrate just what Toyama Ryu is and how we differ from other sword styles. The primary difference is that Toyama Ryu is not an ancient sword art. While the basics of our style were drawn from several classical sword schools, Toyama Ryu Batto Jutsu came into existence in the early part of the last century. The Toyama School of Swordsmanship was developed at the Toyama Military Academy specifically to train the modern Japanese army in practical combat sword techniques. The katas are performed from a standing position with emphasis on proper cutting technique. Indeed it is tameshigiri or cutting technique that is integral in the judging of the Tai Kai.
And so the Tai Kai began. Well, sort of. As with any first time event there were the requisite glitches. The Japanese, who seem to live by their own time schedule, put us about setting up for the event according to their own specifications. The Recreation Center basketball court was divided into specific areas for Kata, Demonstrations, and Cutting. Tables were moved first here then there until the judges were satisfied, some tables being replaced as they were not aesthetically acceptable. And, of course, we had to work with a P.A. system with its own agenda. This, luckily, was masterfully and ceremoniously handled by our Master of Ceremonies, the lovely and talented Tom Smyth. Tom's many years of martial arts training, coupled with the ability to adapt to unexpected situations and think on his feet under pressure, was perhaps the only thing that saved the P.A. system from a room filled with already tense sword-wielding budoka. As I said, the Japanese have their own sense of time, and this was a Japanese event, as least as close as we could make it. Plus a Toyama Ryu Tai Kai is not generally a spectator event, so starting exactly on time took backseat to getting everything correct. Be that as it may, things were finally the way the judges wanted, we all lined up according to dojos and came to attention, the Japanese and U.S. National Anthem were played, and the First Annual Toyama Ryu Batto Jutsu Tai Kai really began.
The tournament consisted of six events: Individual Kata, Individual Cutting, Two-man Kumitachi, Wakizashi Cutting, Team Cutting, and Dodan Cutting. The individual Cutting and Individual Kata events were divided into three levels, Shodan and Below, Nidan and Sandan, and Yondan and above. In the Shodan and Below category we had a surprising large number of thirty-plus participants demonstrating as many as five different sword schools, as well as several variations of Toyama Ryu. Because of the number of participants, as well as the diversity of styles, the judging for Kata took the longest time. While some of the judges decisions were enigmatic at times, they were consistent, and slowly the individuals who displayed the most mastery of technique, and spirit, regardless of style, rose through the elimination's to the top. In Shodan and Below, 1st Place went to Leslee Williams; 2nd Place to Raymond Lollibridge; 3rd Place to Daniel Pakorney; and I managed to claw my way to 4th Place. In Nidan and Sandan, 1st Place went to Tom Smyth; 2nd Place to Mike Femal; 3rd Place to David Jones, and 4th Place to Tony Alvarez. In Yondan and Above, 1st Place went to Bob Elder; 2nd Place to Russell McCartney; 3rd place to David Amsel; and 4th Place to Ted Gonzales.
The Individual Cutting event was a different matter. It quickly became obvious which individuals had put the most time into perfecting their cutting technique. The only "questionable" decisions on the part of the judges that I could tell was that they were perhaps too lenient on us Americans and allowed some participants to continue even after botching a cut.
In Shodan and Below, Round One consisted of Godangiri (five cuts on one mat), Round Two of Rokudangiri (six cuts on one mat), and Round Three being a "free-form" cut on one mat. First Place went to John Schmidt; 2nd Place to John Rang; 3rd Place to Mike Fisher; and 4th Place to Lois Fredricks.
In Nidan and Sandan, Round One consisted of Rokudangiri on the first mat and Inazuma (three stroke lightening cut) on the second mat, Round Two of Nami Gaishi on two mats and Round Three a "free-form" cut on two mats. First Place went to Bob Lamp; 2nd Place to David Drawdy; 3rd Place to Tom Smyth; and 4th Place to Mike Femal.
In Yondan and Above, the First Round consisted of Mizu-Gaishi on the first mat. This is a cut where the first cut is made low on the wara and the second cut must be made before the piece falls. Rokudangiri is made on the second mat. Round Two is "free-form" cuts on two mats, and Round Three is "free-form" cuts on three mats. First Place went to Bob Elder; 2nd Place to Russell McCartney; and 3rd Place to Ted Gonzeles.
Wakizashi (single-hand short sword) Cutting consisted of Rokudangiri on a single mat. First place went to Mike Femal; 2nd Place to Bob Elder; 3rd Place to Russell McCartney; and 4th Place to Dan Carter.
In Dodan Cutting, which is the cutting of double-rolled mats stacked one on top of another with a single downward Gedan cut. First Place went to Tom Smyth, who later went on to be awarded Overall Tai Kai Champion, with a score of 2.3 mats cut; 2nd Place to Tim Wilmot with 2.1; 3rd place to Carl Mcclafferty with 1.9; 4th Place to Hal Smith with 1.7; and 5th Place to Tony Alvarez with 1.6. Unfortunately Team Cutting had to be cancelled due to time over-runs.
In Two-man Kumitachi 1st Place went to Tom Smyth and Mike Femal; 2nd Place to Jeff DeSantis and Joseph McDonald; 3rd Place to Matt Hunan and Mark Allen.
For many, the highlight of the tournament was the demonstrations. This was the first time that many of us had the opportunity to see this number of high ranking Japanese swordsmen do what they do best.
Our teacher, Hataya Mitsuo sensei, 7th dan, and his son Daiskei, opened this section of the Tai Kai with a superb demonstration of two-man kumitachi. Daiskei then went on to show his mastery of the sword by performing six of the advanced cuts found in Toyama Ryu. They finished with father and son performing simultaneous cuts to the same wara.
They were followed by Hideo Mineu sensei and Zenemon Sakaida sensei, who showed their own version of swordsmanship, with Zanemon sensei making a crowd-pleasing Kesa cut through a multiple-rolled mat. The Japanese demonstrations ended with Seiji Ueki sensei, Kaicho of Zen Nihon Batto Do Renmei, showing the finer points of kata and taneshigiri.
The Americans put on a good show, too, with Russell McCartney sensei demonstrating his Ishi Yama Ryu style and Carl McClafferty sensei performing several kata from Sekiguchi Ryu. The demo section of the event ended with a rousing Naginata demonstration by Leslee Williams sensei and members of Florida Naginata.
Afterwards, many of us went to the banquet at Charley's Steakhouse, where we enjoyed marvelous food and drinks. Several special awards were given out, culminating with the presentation of a mounted boar's head to Hataya sensei. He had taken the boar with a bow and arrow during a hunt earlier this year in Florida.
And so the First Annual Toyama Ryu Batto Jutsu Tai Kai came to an end. We had a good crowd of spectators, many of whom stayed through the entire nine-hour event. There were unexpected problems, but they have been noted. It was a lesson in humility for many of us, but more importantly it now gives us a goal to strive for. We now know what is expected and can train accordingly in preparation for next year's Tai Kai, scheduled for November 2001. Overall, it was one helluva show. Bob Elder and his Redneck Samurai had pulled it off.
* Robert Steele works as a sculptor at Universal Studio's Islands of Adventure in Orlando, Florida. With previous background training in the western sword styles of fencing, saber, rapier and dagger as well as some kendo training, he now studies the Japanese Sword style of Toyama Ryu under Bob Elder sensei at the Orlando Toyama Ryu Batto Jutsu Dojo where he has been a student since February 2000. He can be contacted at email@example.com
For more information on Toyama Ryu Batto Jutsu, the U.S. Federation of Toyama Ryu Batto Jutsu, Inc., or the 2nd Annual Toyama Ryu Tai Kai in November 2001, contact Bob Elder at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit his East Coast Martial Arts Supplies web site at www.ecmas.com