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Spring Kohaku

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I will try to post more often but will probably limit my entries to some of the Kodokan annual events. Yesterday was the spring Kohaku tournament. This bi-annual shiai is arguably the most competitive shiai held at the Kodokan. The premise seems simple enough. If you win your match then you stay on the tatami to face another competitor, you lose and you go home. And there are no rests or breaks for the winners. They keep facing fresh opponents until they lose. Three minutes per match and no weight classes. The only divisions are by dan grades, with the nidans in the vast majority. (There are also kids' and a women's divisions but they are on different floors..not in the main dojo). The competitors are evenly split into two teams a red team and a white team. At the end, the team with the most wins is awarded a banner by Uemura-kancho. There is an added incentive as well. If you manage six ippons then you are awarded a dan promotion at the end of the day, handed out personally by Uemura-kancho. This is what brings out some of the best student judoka in the Kanto region. Mind you, this is not six wins but six ippons. You can win ten times and still fall short of the six ippon and the dan promotion. One extra caveat, if you tie in your match, both you and your opponent are off the tatami. IMHO these rules are ingenious. It promotes aggressive, offensive judo with a clear bias towards ippon. Furthermore, if you really want to win that dan promotion you had better get busy quickly. Longer matches tend to drain even the strongest competitors and with a fresh opponent waiting on deck (who might outweigh you but 10-20k), your chances of getting six ippons or even six matches dwindles fast. Every year a few judoka rise to this challenge and manage to get the "battle-field promotion." It usually happens when someone goes from sho-dan to ni-dan. The other divisions are just too loaded with seasoned competitors.

As in other years, this year's field of competitors was filled with judoka from universities such as Tokai, Kokushikan, Meiji, Nihon, just to name a few. These are the cream of the crop for Japanese university judo (acknowledging the absence of Tenri University which is located in far off Nara). It seemed to me that Kokushikan in particular has been turning out more and more strong competitors in this shiai. Watching the Kokushikan students, two things seem to stand out. One, their kumigata (gripping) is excellent. (I have to give credit for this observation to my friend Tom, who often battles these kids at the Kodokan open practice on Wednesday nights). Second, they have really powerful newaza. This is not to say that their throwing isn't up to par but rather in these phases the Kokushikan guys tend to dominate. Perhaps, Tokai might have an edge on them in the throwing department. This year is appeared that Kokushikan judoka were assigned to the red team and for those of us who were also assigned to red...it was a bit of a relief.

As a spectator for this shiai, I am usually scanning the four tatami areas for two kinds of matchups. One, a clear difference in weight between two judoka but with the lighter one having a higher skill level. These are always exciting cat-and-mouse matchups with the smaller judoka continually sparring and diving in for a throw and then warily breaking grips before the larger one can get a deep collar grip (which usually results in some kind of massive harai goshi). When the smaller judoka manges to sneak in a drop seionage or a even a yoko tomoenage the crowd erupts. Speaking of the crowd there are niches of student supporters in the corners cheering and occasionally erupting in laughing (the latter a kind of jeering aimed at one of their own who has fallen short of expectations). The second, kind of match I look forward to seeing is, a university rivalry such as Tokai vs. Kokushikan or Meiji vs. Nihon. These matchups have an extra shot of crowd participation and the participants I believe feel the extra pressure to beat their rivals.

I myself, have participated in three or four of these kohaku shiai. I really try to participate every one, but you need to be in good condition and at the top of your game. Case in point, this year I jammed my thumb three days before the shiai. I iced it and taped it and really felt very little pain (thank you Mr. Liquid Tylenol). But essentially I was trying to compete against a powerful, seasoned competitor from Saitama University with 1.5 hands. I landed on my back after about a minute elapsed on the clock courtesy of a quick and precise ouchi-gari. (This is a throw I normally have some ability to counter but without a hikite , there was no way I was going to create the kuzushi needed to generate a decent counter). I have had success once in this shia with three wins and two ippons.,,of course it was at the easier shodan level. You might ask what a forty-six year old is doing participating in a shia where 90% of the competitors are half his age. Its simple. Kano-shihan in his "Guideline for Kodokan" advises all judoka to try to participate in the tsukinami (monthly promotional shia) and the bi-annual kohaku shiai, unless they are sick or injured. There are no age provisos to this edict.

As for the results of this year's spring kohaku. There were fewer competitors than in the past. The Kokushikan-laden red team won the shiai. One competitor managed to get promoted...predictably from shodan to nidan.

3 Comments On This Entry

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15 July 2011 - 04:50 PM
Great stuff!

One question though, how are the teams determined?


15 November 2011 - 11:35 AM
Great read. :manoyes:
More, please!


23 July 2012 - 04:28 AM
my club recently ran a kohaku shiai in a similar fashion split between novice and elite players.
winner stayed on the mat and the next match began when the losing player stepped off and the fresh player came in and bowed at the appropriate places.

needless to say it was a fast-paced and action packed run through the matches. people were really getting after it. far better than perhaps a local level tournament where the winning a match by any margin is enough to continue.
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