The 8th European Iaido Championships and international iaido seminar took place in Brussels, Belgium from November 1 to November 4, 2001. What follows are some of my observations as a participant in the seminar and member of the Russian national team in the competition. Let me say, that it was the first time I took part in an international event of this (or, in fact, any) scale, and some of the things I have paid attention to may not be the ones of most interest to the reader.
The Championships and the seminar were conducted in the Foret de Soignes sports center on the outskirts of Brussels. Many of the participants were accommodated in the center itself (it has a number of hostel-style rooms), but others stayed in a hostel near the center of the city and were commuting by bus each day. This meant that once we got to the sports center, we stayed there for the whole day, as going back to the center would take too long. Fortunately, the organizers took this into account and we had lunch and dinner (and some free time to spend outside in the nice warm weather) right there. For practice we had the largest training gym with a kind of linoleum or plastic floor that was not the best for kneeling techniques, but which I found quite agreeable (maybe due to comparison with the one I practice on, or to the fact I started using kneepads there). However, this gym was still too small for all of the participants to practice together, and one group moved to another, smaller gym with a wooden floor which was later used for competition and grading.
The ZNKR delegation for the Championships was headed by Kishimoto Chihiro-sensei (hanshi hachidan iaido, kyoshi nanadan jodo and renshi godan kendo). The two other representatives were Hattori Yoshihiro-sensei (kyoshi hachidan iaido) and Miyata Tadayuki-sensei (kyoshi hachidan iaido, kyoshi nanadan kendo). Kishimoto-sensei, while being the senior not only in rank, but also in years, looked youngest and the most energetic.
As for the participants, they came from at least 16 different countries, primarily, members of the European Kendo Federation, including one of its newest members, Jordan. But there were also guests from the USA and Turkey, who did not compete in the Championships, but took part in the seminar. From the USA these were Pamela Parker-sensei (iaido godan) and Debi Farmer (iaido sandan) from New York City, who I was particularly glad to meet, as I have known them from my stay in NYC (and in fact, much of my iaido instruction comes from Parker-sensei). For competition, 14 countries were represented in the individual division and 13 teams competed in the team championships.
The first two days, however, were set aside for the seminar. After a brief opening ceremony we all gathered in the big gym around Miyata-sensei, who was showing all the kata of Zen Ken Ren iaido, while Kishimoto-sensei was explaining both the general appearance of the forms, and their finer details. For me it was only the second time I saw a qualified performance of the two new kata, and I was paying special attention to these. It was underlined that only in Sogiri the initial draw is meant as a deflection (uke nagashi). In Nuki uchi there is no need for a deflection and the shape of the draw and furi kaburi is quite different.
After this explanation we lined up more or less by rank and performed these same kata ourselves. One important lesson we were taught in this performance was to do what the sensei tells us to do, even if it means doing kata out of order. For safety in a crowded hall Kishimoto sensei skipped the eighth kata, Ganmen ate, calling for Soete zuki instead, which caused some confusion and some people doing the one requested, while others were following the usual order. This was pointed out as a mistake, and we did Soete zuki again. Ultimately, we did all of the kata, using the diagonal axis of the hall for the longer ones, but I will remember this lesson.
Seeing that the hall was too small for safe practice by the whole group together, the sensei split us into 3 groups. The groups were formed more or less by rank: I joined the most junior one with people up to nidan and led by Hattori-sensei, Kishimoto-sensei worked with the senior group of godan and up, and those in the middle left for another hall with Miyata-sensei. From then on I didn’t see the last group, and from the senior one we could hear Kishimoto-sensei’s instructions and their translation by Momiyama-sensei from Sweden who not only has an impressive technique, but a great command of English and Japanese (and Swedish, as it turned out later).
In our group we split into several lines, a few nidan that we had in front, then the shodan, and all the mudansha (quite a lot of them, from all over) behind. We would have the nidan perform a kata, while everybody watched, then Hattori-sensei would ask someone to do it again and offer correction. Then they would do it again and we moved to the next line, going on in the same way for the rest of the day and the next. From time to time Hattori-sensei would offer more detailed explanations and comments. On the second day I could see the senior group doing embu practice in pairs (face to face, several pairs at a time), including koryu kata. It turned out that there were quite a few koryu represented, so there was no instruction (Kishimoto-sensei does Muso Shinden-ryu), just demonstration.
The second day ended with all three groups joining once again for group embu. Starting with our group and going up in rank, we did five kata and reiho, while the others watched. After the seniors’ embu Kishimoto-sensei asked them to do another round, this time including 2 koryu kata. It was then that I could see for myself the many different styles, although, of course, I could only recognize those that were performed by people I knew.
I should also mention, briefly, the refereeing seminar held before the individual championships on Saturday morning (November, 3). It was open only to godan and above, but anybody could come to take part in practice matches. I attended it in the latter role and “competed” in a couple of matches. From the only previous time I had participated in competition, I had the impression that these practice matches were the best way to establish friendly relations with other iaidoka, and I should say that this time my impression was confirmed. As for the judges, they had plenty of chances to try judging competitors of similar and different ranks, to decide when to take gogi (consultation) as well as to observe the practitioners.
In the afternoon the competition started. The smaller hall with a very nice wooden floor was reserved for this, while another one, where the referee seminar had taken place earlier, was set aside for free practice. The competition hall was divided into four shiaijo, so that the process of having almost 100 people in 6 categories (mudan to godan) compete could be sped up.
At the opening ceremony all the competitors lined up in front of the officials’ table and were greeted by the EKF President Alain Ducarme and other officials and Kishimoto-sensei. We also applauded the delegation from Jordan, the country that had only joined the EKF in April. Besides them, Russia was another country represented in the iaido championships for the first time, although my country’s team already has some experience in the European and World Kendo Championships. For this competition we had competitors in the shodan and nidan individual divisions as well as a 3 person team.
In each division competitors were split into pools of three to four (to exclude pools of two) and had to compete with everyone within their pool before going into the “play off” in case of success (first or second place). The grid was so designed that those who got the first place in some of the pools could skip the first round of play off if their division didn’t have the “right” number of pools, and the two top competitors from the same pool could only meet again in the finals (and this did happen). For mudan through sandan divisions the kata were prescribed but for the yondan and godan there were 2 koryu kata that each competitor could choose from his or her own koryu.
All the pool matches were held together before the play off matches started. I was watching particularly closely the yondan and godan divisions, looking at the koryu kata that were performed. While I could recognize the more familiar Muso Shinden-ryu and Muso Jikiden Eishin-ryu, I was told that among other styles were Shinkage-ryu (Yagyu Seigo-ryu), Suio-ryu and Tamiya-ryu. Mr. Lund from Sweden was doing Hoki-ryu kata that were most distinct in that their performance required a kiai at the time of the cut. I thought this kiai would have disturbed his opponents and helped him win, but unfortunately, he didn’t get into play off. I for one would have liked to see more of this koryu.
The play off matches went quicker and with few surprises. In the nidan division Michaël Simonini from Belgium, who I heard about and was watching specifically, lost in the semi-finals to Mr. Turner from Great Britain after having problems with sageo handling. One of the most exciting matches was in the shodan division between the two Belgians Ronny Dumoulin and Kurt Dumoulin. Being father and son and students of the same instructor (Patrik Demuynck) they have a very similar body type and a very similar technique. From the spectators’ area I could hardly tell them apart, but the judges somehow managed a decision, awarding victory to the elder Dumoulin.
For the finals only one shiaijo was left and each division’s matches were conducted in a row. In 6 categories 7 different countries were represented and the Japanese sensei were asked to judge. In the nidan division Russia's representative Serguei Belzer met with Mr. Turner from Great Britain, to whom he had previously lost in a group match. But this time he won and brought the first gold ever to Russian team.
Overall results for individual competition are
|1. Calio (Italy)||1. Dumoulin R. (Belgium)|
|2. Olsson (Sweden)||2. Rijbroek (Netherlands)|
|3. Ta (France)
|3. Bajkai (Hungary)
|F.S. Dominique (France)||F.S. Avakimyants (Russia)|
|1. Belzer (Russia)||1. Muray (Great Britain)|
|2. Turner (Great Britain)||2. Poppe (Belgium)|
|3. Simonini (Belgium)
|3. Zanoni (Italy)
|F.S. Bischoff (Germany)||F.S. Lindgren (Sweden)|
|1. Engelkes (Sweden)||1. Clark (Great Britain)|
|2. Pegtel (Netherlands)||2. Rodriguez (France)|
|3. Schiebroek (Netherlands)
|3. Bruwier (Belgium)
De Wit (Netherlands)
|F.S. Mihalik (Hungary)||F.S. Kabariti (Jordan)|
After the finals there was a demonstration by the sensei. During the whole day they were wearing formal montsuki and hakama, and they looked very formal for the demonstration as well. Each of them did 5 koryu kata and 2 seitei. Miyata-sensei first showed the Muso Shinden-ryu kata, followed by Hattori-sensei, who selected a few corresponding kata from the Muso Jikiden Eishin-ryu, and we could compare the two (of course, they looked similar overall, so one had to know what to look for to see the difference). When Kishimoto-sensei performed Shohatto, it was very interesting to watch his seme: he came forward very slowly, changing into a fast kiri oroshi instantaneously. And his tatehiza was quite different from what I've seen before: he was holding his hands at the knees, not close to his body, and in "very loose" fists, only the tips of the index fingers and thumbs touching. The only other time I have seen the same tatehiza posture used was in a picture of Danzaki Tomoaki-sensei. For his selection of seitei kata, Kishimoto-sensei performed the two new ones, Sogiri and Nuki Uchi, again.
On November 4th team competition was held in the morning. The organizers had already changed the shiaijo markings in the hall and we had 3 shiaijo for team competition. This time there was no long opening ceremony and after a brief lineup 3 matches started simultaneously. According to the rules each team match consisted of 3 individual matches with the team winning most going to the next round. It was possible to have teams of 4, but then for each match 3 players had to be selected and an ordered list of their names submitted to the organizers. The rules also limited the sum total of the players’ dan grades to 10 with mudansha counting for 1. Thus, unlike the individual divisions it was possible for opponents to be significantly different in grade (and, supposedly, skill) level. There were also no pools in team competition, thus for almost half of the teams the first match was also going to be the last.
Unfortunately, it was like that that for two debutant countries and they quickly left the championships: Great Britain won over Jordan and Russia lost to the Netherlands. In my country’s (and my team’s) case it was the sum total of 4 dans against 10 of the Dutch, and we were no match for them. I’m afraid, neither was Jordan for the British who went on through the rest of the competition to become champions.
I missed a number of matches waiting for my turn and then playing my match, but from the rest, which I had the luxury to watch from the spectators’ stand, I got the impression that all the teams that were left were well qualified to go on. The host team won one match before losing to the British in the semi-finals (as last year’s silver medal winners they were to skip one round) two matches to one. Interestingly, only one other match ended with a similar result, while in all the others the losing team lost all three individual matches. The other finalist was Sweden which overcame the last year’s champion, Italy. Mr. Lund with his Hoki-ryu kata now had no chance to confuse his opponents with his kiai as there were no koryu kata allowed in team competition, but the team did well nonetheless.
For the finals, again, the Japanese sensei were asked to judge, and they said thanks for that later at the closing ceremony. The British team won all the matches and won the Championships. Sweden was second, and Italy and Belgium were third. Mr. Losson of the French team got the Fighting Spirit award.
At the closing ceremony it was announced that the next year’s European Iaido Championships will be held in Arnhem, the Netherlands, again in November. The next year there will also be the first European Jodo Championships, thus, starting next year, all the three arts of the Zen Nihon Kendo Renmei will be represented in Europe on the level of European Championships. I should also add that besides these, naginata is also represented and the 3rd European Naginata Championships were held this year the weekend after the iaido competition ended in the same sports center.
Finally, on Sunday afternoon gradings of up to rokudan were held. Up to sandan all the kata required of the candidates were Zen Ken Ren kata, and there was one koryu kata for yondan and two for godan and rokudan. While the grading committee was quite liberal with those testing for sandan and below (only one or two failed), it was much harder for yondan and above candidates. There are now 3 new yondan (out of at least 6 candidates), 1 godan (out of 3) and 6 rokudan (out of 10) in Europe. Congratulations to all who passed!
Of course, there were many more interesting points raised at the seminar and matches played during the competition which I missed or cannot describe well enough. I’d particularly have liked to listen to the explanations that Kishimoto-sensei and Miyata-sensei were offering to the two other groups. But I’m happy to have been part of this event, to have met so many new people, and to have learned a few new things (well, more likely, old things that I have been missing on). Many thanks and congratulations to the All-Belgium Kendo Federation for organizing this championship!
(This article re-edited in 2003)