This past weekend we participated in the 29th S.W.O.R.D. Tournament. In no particular order, here are some things whipping through my mind regarding tournaments and what can be learned from attending and participating in them.

  • ORGANIZATION – It doesn’t matter how big or small the tournament. You still need to be organized. If you’re a small club, it can seem daunting to run a tournament. This year’s SWORD tournament had the additional excitement of being in a facility that had NO POWER during setup and registration. That’s a challenge. Thankfully the power came back on just in time and all proceeded relatively smoothly from there. I have asked the tournament organizer to put together a document outlining what they had to do to set up and run the tournament so other dojos can have an easier time running tournaments in future.
  • VOLUNTEERS – As an organizer, make sure the volunteers know their tasks. If you have youngsters assigned to tasks, make sure they’ve done them. It leads to more work for the organizers later if you don’t. A tournament can be unsuccessful if there aren’t enough volunteers, so make sure you have plenty.
  • PREPARATION – If you are an individual player, you are responsible for paying the tournament fee promptly, ensuring you bring a signed waiver to the tournament, making sure your equipment is in good condition and that you have everything you need for a tournament. Bring at least two each of shinai and tenegui. Pack everything the night before so you’re not scrambling to find something on the day of the tournament.
  • COMPETITION – The best way to learn how to compete is to compete. Take time to watch and understand what is considered a good point and what is not. If you can have someone record your matches, watch the videos later. You can learn a lot about how you play kendo this way.
  • PLAYING NEAR BOUNDARIES – There are things you do in tournament you don’t generally bother with in keiko. When you’re in the dojo, there are no boundaries to your keiko. However, being aware of boundaries in tournament is important. Stepping out of bounds is an easy way to lose a match due to penalties. When you’re playing near the edge of the court, playing in a way that causes your opponent to step out of bounds is smart. Sometimes you can encourage them to do a hiki-waza near the edge and they’ll step out all by themselves. Sometimes you can strike and taiatari them out. Either way, having a penalty against your opponent is a bonus for you.
  • TEAM DYNAMICS – Sometimes in team matches you will be matched up against someone who is a better player than you. Your team captain will probably tell you to avoid losing, if possible. In team play, a tie is often a good thing, so not losing is important. You’ll note that in this context, not losing is not the same as winning. If one player is weak and the other is strong, a tie is a great outcome as it avoids a loss. Even if you lose, losing by 1 point is better than losing by 2. And, if you gave it all and you still lost, be proud that you did your best.
  • OBSERVE – If you get knocked out of tournament play, take the opportunity to learn by watching. On average, you’ll pay around $50 to attend a tournament, so if you only get to play two matches, you only get two direct learning opportunities @ $25 a piece. However, if you watch and learn from other players, you can learn a ton. How much is it worth to you to get knowledge you can use to improve your kendo?
  • MEETUP – Let’s face it: Kendoka are not “normal” people. “Normal” people don’t spend their leisure time busting their butts in the dojo. “Normal” people don’t whack each other in the head with sticks. As a Kendoka, you’re not normal, and you’ll meet like-minded people from all over the place at a tournament. When you go to a tournament, take the time to meet other people from outside your club. We can change ourselves and our world through our kendo friendships.

There’s probably way more, but suffice to say, there’s a lot you can learn and be reminded of when you attend a tournament.

Thank you to the organizers, volunteers, shinpan, and players who made this an event to remember!