By Dylan Vellut
It is after a torrential rain, 4 train connections, 4h30 of travel and 2 sudokus on the back of a newspaper to ignore our impatience, that we arrived in Mitte, on the lands of Köln, to attend the Benkeï 2023 prepared by our venerable Nicol-Senseï. The crescent moon pierced the sky like the glow of a Madeate on a pedestal, so much poetry to tell you that it was getting late.
A palpable feverishness punctuated this first evening in small committee: finally, after 3 years, prevented by the pandemic, the Germans have enough shinpan, including Conny, Ivan, Yolanda and myself to frame an Engi in rules. It is with a masterful hand that Andreas explained us the rudiments of the etiquette, the procedures of entries and displacement of the referees, the handling of the flags, in order to ensure a conform event. The ippon and hansoku criteria were of course duly revised for the occasion. This brief debriefing was a good start to a weekend full of experiences for the kyus and the beginner referees that we were.
It was a first for me to open the course; I am the highest ranking senpai of the seminar and I had to announce the mokuso, the rei to the shomen and the sensei, I do not hide, shamefully, the surprise and the discomfort of the first time of such a function.
Nicol-sensei took a reflection of Miyamoto Musashi as the theme of the seminar. There are all possible ways of walking in a duel, but three are forbidden; jumping steps, crushing steps, floating steps because none of these steps offer any advantage in combat. Each step is necessarily accompanied by another like a yin following its yang. The movements, careful and thoughtful, show the fighter’s combativeness, sharpen his attention. A course not without worries: a beginner exploded with rage, dissatisfied with her strikes, and another was taken away in an ambulance.
The engi tournament could take place under the best auspices. 10 pools including Jeremy and Da Silva did not steal their silver medal, but it was not without mistakes: one team did the Nihonme kata twice! But let the participants be reassured, your devoted reporter that I am will keep your names silent, besides admitting that having squinted he gave you a flag. No matter, we all knew how to keep our cool without losing face. And just for learning that, we all get points.
Then came the fighting. All of a sudden, the tension went up a notch. The 5 referees took the men with both hands to think about an optimal rotation of the referees every 3 fights. We managed with satisfaction after a careful reflection. I could take some fleeting notes when I was not in the shiaï:
First fight, schuth was shy and cautious in front of the howling mountain that Knabe was, the latter was striking with incisive attacks that schuth was soberly avoiding. the first sunes were shy but gained in power and assurance. Despite a remarkable reactivity, Knabe lost the fight after two sune-ari. But he did not let himself be defeated by Da Silva! The difference in level was felt: she jumped like a rabbit to avoid the assaults of a Roc anchored in her legs and could luckily place a suné. Knabe’s blood ran cold, he gave her back her sune, made an arai which made her turn 360° and knabe reached the shobu-ari with a splendid furikaeshi-men.
It was our colt, Jeremy Chevaux, who had to shine for this 3rd fight. Still baffled by her confrontation with Knabe, she suffered 2 dazzling sune in a short period of time. Jeremy’s men could have finished the fight much faster if he had as much Zanshin as he does for his leg strikes. For the next 6 fights, your reporter took out his notebook to get his shinpan-ki.
10th fight, knabe made impressive men, unfortunately invalidated, Stock had spotted the blatant openings of his opponent at the level of his legs insisting with any sune, even with the ebu, he persevered and obtained a single point.
Jeremy found Stock for his 3rd encounter. He was hot: Stock placed a suné to the French duellist. He penetrated more into his opponent’s vital space, like the kendokas, rather than finding a good safe distance. Jeremy took the point with a sune, intimidated Stock with 2 men, and finalized the fight with a sune.
Next came the confrontation with Schuth, Horses opened the hostilities with a superb arai but the point was not awarded. Schuth, unperturbed, took the attacks of his opponent and the bamboo of their blades cracked like thunder on a stormy day. But the county warrior pierced his defenses with two beautiful sune.
This will be the duel Chevaux Vs Knabe which will close this pool tournament. Not surprisingly, Knabe was caught on a suné while Jeremy dodged the meteors of men sent to him by his rival. But it was the only kote of the competition that sealed Jeremy’s victory.
With the referees’ comments and the prizes returned, we returned to our homes with our chests full of pride, experience, and German beers.
Report of the expedition of March 25 and 26, 2023
Having taken the road very early in the morning, I arrived in Leverkusen a bit tired to pick up my friend and future referee Dylan, who had the opportunity to come earlier to benefit from the teaching necessary for the good holding of the event.
I had been hearing about the Benkei cup since I started practicing naginata just before the pandemic, and I was looking forward to testing my skills against other Kyusha at this event.
The dojo was not so easy to find but after a few minutes we entered the gym of a nice little German school.
The training course led by Nicol sensei was interesting and enriching. A concentrated work on the movements, crucial in a confrontation, and the quality of the postures during the cuts was carried out during many hours, testing the muscles as much as the mind. For if it seems easy from the outside to create a unity between the upper and lower body during a strike, the reality is quite different. This requires intense concentration from beginners, who often focus on the upper parts of their bodies, to the detriment of the foundations coming from the footwork that creates the optimal conditions for uchi.
We also had the opportunity to observe on video some good examples to draw inspiration from and mistakes to avoid. A reminder of the conditions to be fulfilled in order to score an Ippon as well as General knowledge (“what is zanshin and how to express it?” … quite a program!) in the form of an oral quiz stimulated the minds one last time.
After some preparatory arbitrated exchanges which augured intense confrontations for the next day, we went to the all-you-can-eat restaurant, the “Japan House” installed in a beautiful typical German half-timbered building. The all-you-can-eat formula based on what is done in Japan (you place your order on a tablet by selecting a certain number of dishes per person) brought back good memories of my travels in the pre-covid years.
Once I was full and well hydrated, I collapsed on my mattress, already thinking about the fights to come.
The second part of the weekend opened with an Engi competition, and ended with a Shiai competition. Dylan made a long summary, so I won’t dwell on the details, but take the time to thank all the participants of this Benkei Cup, competitors and coaches, working with and facing each of you has allowed me to progress on the way. I hope that the time spent together was also beneficial for you.
I hope to see you on the floor again very soon,