Wednesday, November 03, 2004

Taikai Fever

Wednesday was Culture Day, a national holiday. I had the day off, which was nice because it let me take in some Culture in the form of a huge budo demonstration and the Kendo Championships.

The budo demonstration was in Meiji Shrine Park. It was outdoors, which I thought was kind of strange, considering the amount of rain we've had lately, but fortunately it was sunny. In fact, although it was November, I was sweating and would have gotten sunburned if I had stayed any longer. The demonstrations themselves were, um, kind of boring. Okay, incredibly boring. They announce the next weird style of art, usually with the word "shin" in the name somewhere. A bunch of people parade out and do their weird, inscrutable kata with weird kiai and weird etiquette. Then, they leave, and another even weirder group comes out.

I'm being sarcastic, obviously, but it seems kind of futile as an outsider to try and understand what other schools are up to. Some of their demonstrations might just be exercises, but we perceive them as fighting techniques. Some techniques may be altered for the sake of safety, or to obscure their meaning so that outsiders can't understand them. In any case, once you've seen a few demonstrations like this, they quickly lose their appeal. This time, in particular, I noticed (in my infinite wisdom and vastly superior knowledge, haha) that most of the demonstrations could be lumped into one of three categories:

1) Schools (often the really, really old ones; not naming any names) that seem to have lost any connection to fighting. Somewhere along the way, something happened, and although they may have been founded by illustrious swordsmen, they are now being performed as if the participants are under water. ("Okay, now I will cut you veeeeeeeery slowly, and you reach up and grab my hands like that, that's it, and now I fall down, and you sit on top of me and scream.")

2) Schools that seem to be composed only of very young people (probably because they only were invented in the last couple decades) and have extremely bizarre, lengthy, and acrobatic techniques. ("Okay, first we draw the sword in reverse Zatoichi-style, cut the opponent in two, throw the sword in the air, and before it falls, do a spin kick to the opponent's solar plexus. Now while he's still stunned, we drop and kick his legs out, do a front roll, come up behind him, catch the sword, stab him in the back of the neck, and sheath the sword, while the opponent falls into six pieces.")

3) Schools that seem to have reasonable techniques executed with strength, sharpness, and precision. Needless to say, category 3 is the rarest of the lot.

So, I stayed at the demonstrations for a while. It seems as if politics plays a big role in who is invited to demonstrate (is that a surprise??) For example, while I was there, there were at least two separate groups doing Shindo Muso Ryu Jodo. Kind of odd.

Anyway, I got bored after two hours or so, and decided to go over to the Budokan for the last part of the Kendo Championships. They were terrific and have made me want to learn kendo again (at least for the next few minutes). It was awesome to see so many great bouts in person. After the first two rounds, they got rid of the split court and just had one court in the center of the floor. For these matches, it was as quiet as a church, with the audience paying rapt attention to the fight.

If you're into this sort of thing and haven't heard the results yet, I'll just say that the winner was a bit of a surprise. I hope to get a copy of the NHK broadcast, so I'll send it when I get a chance. Over and out!


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