Tournament commentary: Yoshinari Masahiro
Reporting: Yanagida Naoko, Teraoka Tomoyuki, Tsuchiya Tomohiro
Photography: Nishiguchi Kunihiko, Sasai Takamasai, Sugino Shinsuke
Translation: Anne Zwart
In this year’s All Japan KENDO Championship, two young fighters aged 23 and 25 clashed in the final for the national title. The winner was Natsumeda Ryusuke (Hiroshima), who has just graduated from Nippon Sport Science University and joined the Hiroshima Prefectural Police this spring. This was his first time participating in the All Japan KENDO Championship, so his victory is a spectacular achievement. Notably, this is also the first time in 71 years a Kenshi from Hiroshima Prefecture has won the national championship.
Natsumeda defeated Matsuzaki Kenshiro (Ibaraki), the winner of the 68th national championship, in Encho. Hoshiko Keita (Tokyo), who took first place in 2022, and Takenouchi Yuya (Tokyo), who won in 2014, finished in third place.
Natsumeda applies continuous Seme to break the opponent and create opportunities
Finals: Natsumeda Ryusuke (Hiroshima) – KOTE VS Matsuzaki Kenshiro (Ibaraki)
This is the first time in 66 years a Kenshi has represented Hiroshima Prefecture in the national finals since Matsuo Renji’s participation in 1957. Natsumeda’s father, Natsumeda Hideo, is currently the main Kendo instructor in the Hiroshima Prefectural Police, and has competed in the All Japan Championships before Natsumeda was born. Matsuzaki, on the other hand, has won the All Japan KENDO Championship before in 2021. The onset of COVID-19 delayed the tournament by 3 months, moving it from November to the following March, and the national championship was held in Nagano Prefecture. That makes this year Matsuzaki’s first time to compete in this championship’s final at the Nippon Budokan.
Although there are no more ground seats in the arena since the onset of COVID-19, the side seats are filled to the top of the second tier with spectators. As the start of the final Shiai is announced and Natsumeda and Matsuzaki’s names are announced, they receive a hearty applause. The Shinpan calls “Hajime,” and the two Kenshi quickly stand up from Sonkyo. Both start circling to the left, and Natsumeda shouts a powerful Kiai. Matsuzaki responds with his own. Natsumeda makes a small but forceful Seme movement from Omote. Matsuzaki takes another step to the left, stabilizes himself, taps Natsumeda’s Shinai off-course and goes back into Ma-ai. Natsumeda immediately follows Matsuzaki and hits Men, but Matsuzaki easily deflects Natsumeda’s Shinai. These two Kenshi are from the same generation, but they have never fought each other in an official Shiai. Matsuzaki had no information about Natsumeda, so he was probably just trying to understand how Natsumeda moves and reacts.
Next, Natsumeda goes in with Fumikomi while controlling the Kote area to discourage Matsuzaki from striking Kote, stretches his arms to feint a Men strike and diverts to cut Kote. Matsuzaki calmly watches this and backs away, removing Natsumeda’s target. Natsumeda tries again to make the first move and close in, but Matsuzaki is not giving any chances to score Ippon. Now Matsuzaki initiates: as Matsuzaki steps in, Natsumeda meets his movement with a Men strike. Although Natsumeda’s strike was not on target, he cut with determination and the strike was imposing. His unique Kamae stands out here. His left hand is slightly low and his right wrist is squeezed inward to the extreme. At first glance, it may seem difficult to hit from this grip or like it could limit the Waza he can use; however, Natsumeda’s track record is well distributed between Men, Kote and Do, and he can strike with both outstretched and retracted arms. He can also hit going forward and backward. He must have developed his Chudan over many years practicing Kendo in the Natsumeda family.
Next, Natsumeda attempts a Morote-tsuki. Matsuzaki quickly dodges as if nothing happened. Matsuzaki seems to be using this time to observe Natsumeda’s Ma-ai.
Around the 3:30 minute mark, Natsumeda moves in and applies Seme with Fumikomi. As Matsuzaki defends Omote, Natsumeda strikes a right Men. Natsumeda’s determined strike stirs the audience. The two Kenshi return to the center of the Shiai-jo and wait for a move from the other. Natsumeda then moves in, suppressing Omote, to strike Kote-men; Matsuzaki responds with Kote-kaeshi-men. Both strikes are strong, but neither is on target. Matsuzaki lowers his Kensen, Natsumeda strikes Men. Natsumeda’s sharp strike grazes Matsuzaki’s left side. Could Natsumeda tell Matsuzaki was going to strike Men when he lowered his Kensen? Next, Matsuzaki shows an opening for Men to lure in Natsumeda and strikes a sharp Kote. A few moments later, time is over.
The final’s deciding point is made 1 minute and 15 seconds into Encho. Natsumeda fakes an opening for Men and quickly directs to land a sharp strike on Matsuzaki’s Kote. Matsuzaki’s hands lose composure, which is unusual for him, and although he tries to deflect the Kote and strike Kaeshi-men, Natsumeda’s Kensen had already reached his Kote. Matsuzaki sees the red flags go up and throws his head back in frustration.
Stay calm, find the perfect opportunity and overtake the technique
Semifinals: Matsuzaki Kenshiro (Ibaraki) MEN MEN – Hoshiko Keita (Tokyo)
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