On Nov. 9th of 2002 Jesse Elder, Bob Lampp , Tom Smyth, Mike Soriero and I left Orlando for the Land of the Rising Sun. In our plans were touristing, training at Tenman Gu shrine and participating in a taikai in Machida. We were all pretty jazzed about this trip. I had not gone in 2001 due to being burned out on flying, although Bob Lampp went by himself. Neither Tom Smyth nor Mike had been to Japan so they were primed. Jess had been once when he was 3 so didn't remember much about it. This combination of clowns made the trip really fun.
There were no problems and everything went well. Tom was funny as hell and Mike in his low key way was hysterical. Ask him about the "bicycle seat shop." Big Tony Alvarez met us there having flown in from China. He is a massive 6' 8'' 380 lb. behemoth and gets attention everywhere he goes. Ask Jesse and Mike about their nutty comments (while we were in Mayumi's car) about Tom and Big Tony (in Hioki's car) Those 2 should have a stage act. I was laughing so hard I was crying. Mayumi, although she speaks English could not keep up with their "gay" remarks so I tried to explain, but maybe to no avail.
Big Tony, Tom Smyth, and Bob Lampp getting ready for a demo at the Hotel Ellcy for 400 firemen.
Anyway, we trained with Sensei at the dojo outside in the gravel parking lot (as the dojo, which really is a stage) was ocupied by a photography company doing portraits of children. They call it a 3,5,7 event. When the kids are that age they dress them up in old style Japanese dress (and let me tell you they are cute as hell!). So , it was COLD out there. We were all wearing jackets and coats. I even had a wool hat. But it was a great experience. Sensei says you have to train in all weather. Hot cold and in between. I took a (defective) sword and didn't do very well. Tom and Mike were right on. Bob was his usual consistant self. But the real highlight (to me of course) was Jesse. He is 12 years old, participates in the class in Orlando and cuts. He cut at the dojo 3 classes. The last night we were there (due to a mixup and we did not have our swords) Jesse cut with a waki and a tanto! He missed many of the cuts but pulled off enough to amaze sensei. Now Jesse cuts with a katana (full tatami) but never tried a waki or tanto. That was his first time. I don't know about other kids but many of Jesse's 12 year old buddies I wouldn't trust with a pocket knife! Man and here he is in friggin Japan cutting in an adult class and hanging with us! Pretty damn cool if you ask me. Of course I am biased, but hey.
We managed to do some touristing and went to Asakusa, horse back riding in Fuji's shadow (man that was neat!) and to Kamakura for some shrine action. Then the big event. The taikai! This was my 10th or so, but Tom and Mike's first. The turnout was low. I was picked to judge 4th dan and up kata. I should mention that this was the first taikai like it, and the setup was way different than we are used to. There was individual kata and team cutting, that we were used to. But the other cutting divisions were: "Freestyle" cutting. You set up 2 or 3 wara (wherever you wanted them) and went at it like you were attacking the enemy. Next was "yoko narabi" or multiples (you pick the number) on the wide stand, and "Futomaki" or as many as you want in a circle on one stand. Some of us have a litle experience at this but certainly have not done those cuts a lot.
At the registratin table, Hioki (who is a real cool guy) asked me how many I wanted on the Yokonarabi cut. I says 5 says I. He smirked and says "Is that it?" Ok wiseguy says I, give me 6!" He busts out laughing and says "that's all!?" " ok smartass says I, gimme 7!" And of course since I had no idea about the rules, I thought if you cut 4 or so out of the number you chose, then you got credit for the amount you cut. Oh no finds out I when I only cut 4. If you missed the ENTIRE amount you were out. It was that simple. So there I am once again trying to play by rules I don't know about. Anyway, the same conversation ensued with my buddy Hioko about the "Futomaki" cut. Gimme 5, oh no gimme 6, aw hell give me 7! Still thinking if I got REAL lucky and cut them all, I'm champ! But no, I totally flubbed that one and cut maybe 3. Can't remember. But I had a handicap. I had to borrow Mike's sword! Yeah that was it! Not used to the sword. Always remember to blame everything else but yourself! Hee Hee.
Big Tony, myself and Hioki competed in team cutting and were eliminated after the 2nd round. There is however a bright side to my tale. Bob, Tom, Mike and Big Tony all got gold medals! Now that is absolutely amazing. There may have been 8 events and 4 of them went to Americans! What's the chances? I can tell you that the Japanese are very lackadaisical about their sword training. At least the ones I have seen. It is as if the heart is out of it. We on the other hand train like we mean it. It is a common motto in our dojo in Orlando here, "Cut like you mean it." " Do Kata like you mean it." "Train like you mean it!" Otherwise why bother? This ain't no social club Dorothy! OK I can hear you now, get back to the story.
That's me on the left feeling left out for losing every event.
Mike Soriero holding the trophy he won, then (Mitsuo) Hataya Sensei, Tom Smyth and Bob Lampp.
To finish this diatribe, the last night we were there, we trained at the dojo. The temperature was in the low 40's and the wind was howling. Musta been in the 20's with the wind chill factor. So as usual, a miscommunication with Sensei and my swords (and Jesse's) are left at his sword shop. So, Hataya Sensei loaned me one of his swords. Now I had been cutting like it was my first time at it. Couldn't do anything! So what the hell, I get up to the first wara and do Rokudan giri as a warm up. Man let me tell you, that sword was magic! the hair on the back of my neck (yes go ahead and laugh but I actually have some there!) stood up. What the hell is this! Went up to the second stand and did a perfect Mizu gaeshi! Holy hammer knocker Batman! Got another 2 cuts a litle later and nailed 'em as pretty as you please! Couldn't believe it. I asked Sensei if it was a Kenpaku Yasutoshi sword . He is the swordsmith who makes swords for his shop and who's sword design the "Kotetsu" swords we sell in my shop are from. He whispers to me,"no it is a Yoshindo Yoshihara sword! Jeezo man, that is heavy artillery. I used one in Chichibu at one of my first taikai in the nidan/sandan division and came in second place. These swords are magical. Anyway, we came home worn out and broke. But the memories and experiences made us rich beyond belief.
Mitsuo Hataya sensei in his sword shop, Machida Japan.
Submitted by Bob Elder. US rep for the Zen Nihon Toyama Ryu Iaido Renmei.
Oh I forgot, I got promoted to 5th dan at the taikai.