On Saturday, Pyon and Rebel Empire combined forces to provide a day (and night, and indeed, early morning) of gaming. A dozen consoles lined the hall of Rebel Empire with a section set up for LAN gamers and competitions running all throughout the day and night. There were possibly hundreds of games to play and prizes to be won, and best of all, iaido artsman Kaneda (Can-ay-da, as pronounced by the gaijin) de la Cruz was there.
I arrived comparitively late in the day, just after 4pm when the Mario Kart tournament was running. For a while I was bored- the tables of Star Wars and Yugi-Oh cards were beyond me. The consoles weren’t playing anything interesting (though half of them weren’t being used). I didn’t know anyone, and the whole place seemed, well… Geeky. At first it seemed a stereotypical gathering of nerds, coming together to celebrate their love for videogames, Star Wars and anti-socialness. But after I started playing with them, I found I bonded with them in a curious, non-sexual way. I was able to game to my heart’s content, and to be as excited as I liked about seeing epic Soul Calibur fights or playing Teenage Ninja Mutant Turtles on the Xbox. And, furthermore, I found other people who were equally excited by such things, and for the day, these nameless strangers became my best friends. United by games, as a certain trader puts it.
I enterred most of the tournaments throughout the day. I wouldn’t have had a hope at Mariokart (these guys weren’t pro’s, but they were experienced enough to kick my ass), but Smash Bros… I thought I recognised one of the people who attended- a tournament player codenamed (and excuse my vulgarity, the pseudonym came from my friend and has stuck ever since) Fuckface McGee. He was the only person in the room skilled enough to pose as a serious challenge for me, but for some reason he didn’t enter the tournament. It’s only on reflection that I may have mistaken him for an old schoolmate… At any rate, after two short rounds, I won (not by any great margin, but with a certain skill that showed (in my eyes) I was in another league). The prize? A Resident Evil 4 chainsaw gamecub controller. Holy shit. I tried playing Smash Bros. with it, but due to its funky chain-saw configuration, buttons were everywhere they shouldn’t have been and the control sticks were facing two different directions (up on one was right on the other. It sort of split the hands up so the left hand had to face 90 degrees clockwise to be pointing straight). It’ll take some getting used to, but I’m keen to see if it’s motion sensitive like the PS2 variant. I probably won’t end up using it for tournaments though, cool as it would be, because it would take a crapload of effort to master and would take up all the room in my bag to carry.
I also enterred Time Crisis 3 survival challenge (who can progress the farthest), which I came second in. Tekken 6 was amazing with some truly proficient players. I went Hwoarang, pulling out all the stops, but for some reason I found it difficult to use my normal combos and moves and was basically button-mashing my way through. I lost that first round, but enterred the loser’s table to try and fight my way back up the ranks. Naturally I went Christie, the bane of all players. I managed to get into the semi-finals, but didn’t deserve to win against the pros there. Soul Calibur IV came surprisingly naturally to me. In Soul Calibur II, I more-or-less became proficient with Ivy, learning a certain combo that would almost one-hit-kill a player if I landed the first hit. That was on Gamecube, and transferring that combo to Xbox for the first time was not easy. However, I stunned everyone (most of all myself) when I overwhelmed my opponent in the first round without taking a single hit. What surprised me further was learning that he was an undefeated tournament champion and had practically never lost a game. To beat him in a Perfect round was… Unthinkable. Of course after that he wiped the floor with me, but I enterred the loser’s table once again and managed to fight my way back up to him. Although I only knew ONE of the moves I used to use (if I had remembered any of the other 6 or so I could have strung together some fierce combos) I managed to get back into the finals and challenge him again. It was a close match, but I lost 3-2. I was tremendously proud.
After all the gaming (at around 11:00 I think), Kaneda-sensei invited people onto the mats to try their hand at stage combat. Now, Kaneda has been training for many, many years. He wears a ponytail down to his waist, and has a cheeky smile and almost squeaky voice. He told us once that in tournaments he would prance around on the mat, saying "Please don’t hurt me!", then as soon as the referee said Hajime!, would let out a roar that stunned his opponents into hesitation. For such a short, sprightly man, he has many years of experience and a fierce warrior spirit which I have recognised only in people who have spent the largest majority of their life fighting. Furthermore, to add to his awesome, he has the reputation of being unbeatable in Soul Calibur, Street Fighter and the Tekken series. In fact, he was Melbourne’s Tekken 2 tournament champion. Are you seeing a corrolation in the games he’s mastered? It was basically part of the tournament that whoever won any of the above games had to take on Kaneda to prove their mastery. After he wiped the floor with me (while I was Christie, that unpredictable wildcard of a character, no less!), he was telling me about the difference in fighting styles between Eddie and Christie, who I thought were clones. He said Christie’s attacks were rounded and higher while Eddie’s were lower to the ground (lower even than Hwoarang’s, which made him the perfect opponent for a Taekwondo artist) and more through. And the hand motion he made to explain "through" can only be described as penetrating. Eddie attacks through the guard rather than around it, he seemed to say. I saw him watching the Soul Calibur screen like a hawk as he analysed the strengths and weaknesses of a character wielding two swords and using them only half-effectually.
We did a quick warm-up on the mats (and he was impressed by my eagerness and flexibility, which more or less equalled his and far surpassed everyone else’s) and ran some Hollywood-style drills. The trick in making fighting movies is to hit close to your opponent without touching them, but having them react as if they’d received a real blow. (Unless of course you master zero point- all the speed and contact of a real strike but none of the power.) It was lots of fun pretending to be knocked senseless by a strong right hook, or flinching from a hot iron. Another of the drills we did was simply checking- exchanging sets of attacks, but rather than blocking, just covering the body with the hand so that the attack is re-directed rather than stopped. We got into a good rhythm (which I occasionally broke by throwing in a reflexive kick).
Here I got to live my dream from Wai-con. During the convention, he and his students were demonstrating iaido with anime weapons- Kenshin’s sakabatou, Kadaj’s double-bladed katana, Sephiroth’s masamune… His skill was so great he demonstrated a quickdraw on an apple balanced on his student’s head. Before he could do it though, someone asked him to prove it was a real apple so he took a few bites of it. Waiting on the edge of our seats, we watched him unsheathe his weapon and re-sheathe it in a flash. The apple hadn’t moved. The student hadn’t moved. Nothing seemed to have happened. Until his student took the apple off his head and, to his wonderment, found it had been cored. That was his skill.
(Actually it was just a cheap and hilarious trick, but it made me love him all the moreso).
After his performance, I wanted nothing more than to run up on stage and kick him in the face and see if he would block it in time. Expecting Bethwyn would have stopped me, I didn’t act on the impulse. But here, in hand-to-hand combat with him, I was able to test his power safely.
The free-style sequences began, where each person would throw three attacks of any kind for their partner to check. I tried to mix it up, using surprise techniques, varying the combinations of kicks and handstrikes. I caught him off guard a few times, but I knew he was being gentle with me. He was very kind and let me win many of the short exchanges- if he had revealed his true strength I suspect I would have been on the floor before I realised it. But he saw no need to use his true power and humbly, and humiliatingly, allowed me to defeat him in an 8-move choreography we made up at the end. It was really awesome being partnered with someone who I could bounce ideas off and vice versa, getting into a flow of attack, defense, grab and counter-grab. I screwed up a few times, attacking too early or forgetting to block, but when we got it smoothly it was a thing of great beauty. I even learned a few things, like how to throw, how to be counter-thrown and how to check a sweep. It was awesome. He runs classes on lightsaber combat (blending Eastern and Western swordsmanship in a practical and highly entertaining way), as well as iaido for the more traditional students. It’s more for performance and fun than serious training, but I’m probably going to go back at least once just for the hell of it. It was tremendously enjoyable, and he is a man worth respect and admiration.
So that was my Saturday afternoon! Now to actually get to work and see if I can finish this essay. I can’t believe how long it took to write this entry… Ja ne!