Hizen Challenge Taikai 3rd September 2011

“It’s about ten times harder than it looked in the videos.” That was the opinion of James Ogle, the eventual winner of the Hizen Challenge Taikai, on the four endurance challenges that give the event its name.
Taking place on 3 September, the event saw kendoka from around Britain and Europe compete for a £500 first prize, with runners up taking home £250 and £125.

The Hizen challenge is unique in featuring four endurance challenges before the pool rounds begin. The event began with two minutes of haya suburi, with David Parkes of Oxford University managing 175 within the time limit. In the last group of competitors to take the challenge, James Ogle of Denshinkan took the lead with 183.The second challenge involved men and hiki men attacks against a practice dummy. Chi Leung Fung and Tatos Shahbazian of Hizen came joint first in this round, managing 41 in two minutes.

The third round involved a seemingly straightforward sequence of kote, dou and men strikes, with competitors having to cover a set distance then return to their start position after each cut. By this point though, competitors were starting to get tired, often losing points by failing to reach their mark. Chi made 31 cuts in what competitors agreed was the hardest of the four events.

Finally, competitors were required to make men and hiki men cuts before turning to attack a second target. Tiredness and dizziness were both the enemies here. James Ogle made 51 attacks within the time limit, but was beaten by by Barnaby Ellis from Gloucester, who scored 52 in a much-cheered final push.

After the challenge rounds the lowest scoring player was eliminated and the pool matches began. There was some quality kendo on display, with Viktorija Plaksijenko of Trijega KenYuKai scoring a clean kote nuki men, and Haruka Kina of Hizen performing some nicely timed attacks that won her the fighting spirit prize.

In the first semi final Chi Leung Fung took James Ogle to a long encho, with James going through a laundry list of techniques, including makiotoshi men and katate tsuki, without managing to break Chi’s concentration or kamae. James eventually won with debanna kote in the ninth minute of the match.

The second semi final saw Mindaugas Sakalauskas of Trijega KenYuKai take an early lead against Maarten De Meulder of Queen Mary University with a sharply performed suriage kote. He went on to win the match two-nil with a men cut.

The final was a 15-minute epic, with James and Mindaugas proving evenly matched in technique and stamina. James managed one flag for kote early on, but there was no score after five minutes, and sudden-death encho began. Both players made strong attacks, but neither managed to find a gap in the other’s defences. Eventually, James managed to stay in the fight slightly longer after an exchange of cuts, catching Mindaugas off guard with a men cut.

Jeff Humm sensei presented the specially designed trophy, modelled on an antique tsuba, and thanked the referees and helpers who’d made the day run so smoothly. He also said he was pleased with the quality of kendo on display, and hoped to welcome many of the competitors back next year.

Report by Philip Wilson