44th Annual Spring Collegiate Kumdo Tournament

The morning of May 7th, 2016 was an exciting one for the Hanyang University Kumdo Club (한양대학교 검도부). We were going to Seoul National University of Science and Technology (서울과학기술대학교) to compete in the 44th annual Korean Kumdo Association Spring Collegiate Kumdo Tournament (제 44회 춘계 대학 검도연맹전), and plenty of other university clubs would be participating to show their school’s the best kendo.

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The most of the club convened at the clubroom in Hanyang Plaza (한양플라자) at 7 AM. We gathered our equipment and drank coffee and energy drinks in the clubroom, talking about how excited we were. It was as if we were preparing to march to battle. At 8:30 AM, we flagged down some taxis, loaded our equipment, and started headed to the tournament site. I suppose we were in a way; we were going to fight for the glory of Hanyang University. While everyone was chatting away and brimming with enthusiasm, I was a nervous wreck. This was my first tournament, and I didn’t know what to expect. I kept asking myself if I was truly ready for this day.

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We arrived at the tournament site at 9:00 AM, and I was feeling ill from motion sickness, which in turn amplified my nervous disposition. Inside the hall, I could feel the energy of all the kumdo clubs. On the tournament floor there were several clubs doing some practicing before the actual tournament started. With all the energy, I felt my nervousness dissipate: I was fired up and ready to fight!

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The morning events would be initiated by a ceremony where various speakers would talk at us. The speeches were made in Korean, so I couldn’t make heads or tails out of what was said, but I can only assume it was something about the importance of kumdo. The champions of the previous year were also honored. In the picture of the Hanyang Kumdo club filing out, you can clearly see me because my name tag is the only one that uses English letters! After the ceremony concluded, the event began with the solo player tournament.

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If you’re unfamiliar with the rules of an actual match in kendo, I wrote a more in depth article about it previously (https://myhubs.org/2016/04/04/kumdo-unleashing-the-warrior-within/). Here’s a basic overview: two swordsmen face each other in a 10×10 meter court. Regulation matches are best of three points. Three judges decide whether or not a point should be given based on form and technique. It should also be noted that swordsmen are given penalties for things such as stepping outside the field of play, losing the sword, and poor etiquette. If a swordsman receives two penalties, his or her opponent will be awarded a point.

The first Hanyang match of the day would go to one of the strongest players in the club. His style is very aggressive, and is atypical of the normal Korean style because he doesn’t use hit and run strategies. Instead, he will strike and follow through into the body of his opponent. By doing this, he can create extra opportunities to attack and score. When I first fought him in practice I was terrified of this style! Unfortunately, he would be eliminated after his 3rd match, but this would be after he defeated someone that fought using a two sword style!

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Meanwhile in the woman’s individual tournament court, the president of the Hanyang Kumdo club and many other female members of the kumdo club was hard at work showing just how strong the women of Hanyang are! Truth be told, I was keeping up with the women’s tournament more than the men’s because many of the female competitors were at my height, so I felt that I could learn more from watching them fight rather than tall Korean men. One woman would make it to the semi-finals to take the bronze!

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In the afternoon, the team matches would take place. Team matches play a bit differently than individual matches. Each team is composed of five members (women’s teams are composed of 3 players) and each member fights in one round of the match. In team matches a round can end in a draw if no swordsman has the lead in points by the end of round. Furthermore, a match is played out until all team members have played even if it is impossible for the final results of the match to change. If the match ends in a draw, the teams will select one person to represent them in a sixth round that takes only one point to win.

Hanyang’s first team to play would be its A-team. These are the most experienced and strongest players of Hanyang. For some of them, it would be their last year competing with the club, so they would be giving every fight all of their energy. They dispatched the first two teams with ease, but the 3rd fight was very tough, and they were unable to continue on in the tournament. The B-team would also run into some trouble with their opponents, and they would also be unable to continue.

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Of course there was the team that I was playing for, Hanyang Team C. For all of us on the team, this was our first tournament and many 3 of us were beginners who hadn’t been doing kendo for very long. However, we wouldn’t let that keep us down. We wanted to train just as hard as the other teams and show them that we could be taken seriously. In the picture below, I’m on the far left wearing the helmet.

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I would be sent into the ring the first round, which meant I would be the opening statement for C team. After the teams bowed and left the court, my opponent and I stared each other down, waiting for the judge to invite us into the court. I was sure to enter the court the proper way in order to avoid a penalty. Two steps forward. Stop. Bow. Three steps forward and draw the sword on the third step. The lights in the room seem to become brighter, I felt my heart racing as I waited for the judge to start the fight. I took a step forward and showed my opponent my spirit through my shout. He also stepped forward, and our swords crossed: we were both in range for an attack. I made the first attack, with his wrist being my target. He deftly dodged my attack and returned it with a strike at my head. It connected, but no point was awarded. We were now face to face, and our swords were locked. He tried to move back into a normal striking distance, but I wouldn’t let him. Close range is where I’m most effective, especially against taller opponents like this one. I would strike at his head, but this strike was weak, and no point was awarded. He then countered with two consecutive strikes to my head, once again no point was given. Then I went for his head again, but he beat me to the strike. This time the judges would award a point to my opponent. We reset and started again. I immediately charged for his head, but once again I was defeated in speed. In one minute and thirty seconds, I had lost my first match 2-0.

The next two rounds would end in a similar way, but the other two players on my team had a bit more trouble entering the court properly. This would cause a hold up because the judges aren’t very forgiving with that kind of thing. All competitors are expected to be educated on proper match etiquette. The last two matches would end in a draw. The final result: Hanyang Team C losing 3-2-0.

Meanwhile, the Women’s team tournament was busy kicking butt and taking names. They would manage to get all the way to the semifinals to get to 3rd place in the woman’s tournament. These girls are not to be trifled with, they’re fierce warriors that just so happen to be pretty.

All in all, I’d say that I had a wonderful experience at my first tournament. Even though I may have lost my match, I have never felt so alive before. The excitement and adrenaline brought me to a new high, and I pushed myself to my limit. As soon as I bowed out of the court, I was already thinking about how I could train harder to be ready for next time: when I start to compete in the U.S. Even though we may not have done as well as we wanted, we still had plenty of fun and learned a lot from this experience.

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And of course there was a huge celebration after the tournament.

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Article by Eli from the U.S.A.

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