This weekend was the NIji No Senshi shiai and grading event in Witbank. With over 40 participants for the event, I thought that was a great turnout, especially considering it’s almost 1.5 hrs outside of Johannesburg, and that this was one of the coldest weekends we have yet to experience!
While participating and observing the competitions for the kyu and dan grades, a few issues came to mind that I felt I needed to write about:
For both the kyu and dan grade competitions, dan-graded members who were not immediately competing were asked to participate as shimpan. It was important that those member who had participated in the previous week’s shimpan seminar with Buster Sensei, be able to put their shimpan theory skills into practise. Important to note, in Japan, shimpan skills is part of the 6th and 7th dan examination requirements (as per the FIK guild lines for dan examinations). Furthermore, only those members who are of sufficient dan-level and with relevant shimpan training are allowed to shimpan in various competitions. Our challenge in South Africa, is that we currently do not have a large enough high-dan grade base that can fulfil the need for shimpans, hence we use our “mid-dan” grades to fulfil that gap. But, in a way, this is a good thing as it give those “mid-dan” grades a head start in learning and applying their shimpan skills for their “eventual” 6th and 7th dan examinations. Perhaps some of the conditions to be shimpan at these regional competitions is that the shimpan must be consistently training kendo, and that their shimpan theory must be at an acceptable level.
A case in point of these 2 conditions was evident this weekend during a few matches. Firstly, when making decisions about “yuko-datotsu” (or a valid strike), a shimpan must be actively training his own kendo to ensure he/she understands and knows what a “valid strike” is. Secondly, understanding what acts are prohibited in shiai that would warrant a penalty (“hansoku”). Both are explained in article 12 and 17, respectively, of the ‘Regulations of Kendo Shiai and Shimpan’ booklet, and were thoroughly explained at the Shimpan Seminar. It should also be noted that the experience of the shimpan also plays a vital role in both these points.
An important thing to remember was also what was last mentioned in the shipman session with Uwe Kumpf sensei earlier this year: The shimpan are not the most important people in the shiai-jo – the fighters are. Therefore, it is of uttermost importance that the shimpan be able to judge correctly, fairly and objectively. Being able to determine a valid strike is the 1st step of judging correctly. Understanding and applying the rules of the shiai is the 2nd step of judging fairly. And the final step is that of remaining objective at all times.
There is nothing more frustrating than knowing you have scored a perfect “yuko-datotsu”, but not having it validated by the shimpan. Perhaps the only more frustrating event is having a point scored against you and you know it was not a valid strike. Hence, the importance of having well-trained and objective shimpan.
We have a bit of a way to get there, but I believe with constant focus and effort by those members who have prioritised kendo in their lives, we can all get there together which will bode well for the future of Kendo in South Africa.
Warren Ho (SAKF President)