Zama Killer Katanas skate, shove their way to impressive performance in roller derby debut
May 8, 2012
CAMP ZAMA, Japan (May 9, 2012) -- An uninitiated spectator at the May 5 all-female roller derby bout here between the Zama Killer Katanas and the Yokota Scary Blossoms might have viewed the event as a frenzied spectacle; chaos on wheels.
The women on the track, however -- the ones sporting roller skates, a helmet and protective pads -- describe the niche sport's mix of speedy athleticism and brute physicality as "ultimate girl power at its finest."
Dubbed "Cinco de Mayhem," the bout attracted hundreds of spectators to Camp Zama's newly built outdoor skating rink, and served as a debut for the Killer Katanas, who competed in regulation for the first time since their formation four months ago. It was also the Scary Blossoms' first bout as their own team, having finally built a big enough roster to branch off from the Yokosuka Sushi Rollers, with whom they were previously combined.
Marina Behrendt, a U.S. Army Garrison Japan civilian and spouse of a Soldier at Camp Zama, is the president of the Killer Katanas. On the track, she is known as "Killa Cali" -- colorful and intimidating nicknames are a roller derby tradition. There was a distinct motivation behind Behrendt's idea to form Camp Zama's first ever roller derby team, she said.
"I thought it would be a fun way to exercise and be around a group of women who were interested in the same thing as me, really wanted to put their hearts into it, and wanted to do something different," said Behrendt.
After she put the word out via Facebook and other advertising outlets in January, enough women responded to Behrendt's recruitment call that the Killer Katanas quickly began to take shape. Practice started the next month, beginning with the basics of the sport. The team continued to train and draw in new members, until Cinco de Mayhem was finally imminent.
A tutorial before Saturday's bout illustrated to roller derby newcomers the rules of the sport: Five members from each team take part in a series of consecutive "jams" on an oval-shaped track that can last up to two minutes. Each team designates four blockers in the lead pack, and one scorer -- known as a jammer -- in the rear.
Shortly after the blockers take off, the jammers follow suit and try to break through as many blockers as possible during each jam, accumulating points for each successful pass. To prevent this from happening, the blockers can position themselves in front of an opposing jammer to impede her, or force her to the ground or out of bounds with a hip-check -- contact by hands, elbows, head and feet is prohibited.
When the bout finally began, it didn't take long for the action to kick off. The quick and agile jammers skated with methodical purpose, looking for holes in the defense. The equally determined blockers used positioning and teamwork to their advantage. These two forces, combined with the track's limited real estate, inevitably led to numerous collisions and falls.
Though roller derby is unquestionably physical and can leave a majority of its participants with badges of honor in the form of bumps and bruises, there is no malice behind their actions, one player said.
"It's just a sport; if we hit you it doesn't mean anything, it's just how we play," said Meghann "Julia Seizure" Nickerson, vice president and co-coach of the Scary Blossoms. "It really helps us get stronger, better and faster. The more we hit each other, the more entertaining the bout is."
Standout jammers for the Killer Katanas during the bout included Killa Cali, Lesley "cUTThER" Utter and newcomer Rie "Secret Asian Slam" Romero, whose impressive performance earned her team several points throughout both 30-minute halves.
"I used to practice kendo (traditional Japanese fencing) for six years, and after I quit kendo, I didn't do any sports or go to the gym for 20 years," said Romero. "I've liked to skate ever since I was little, and I wanted to do something involved with that. I just started training three weeks ago, so I am still trying to get my body used to it."
The Scary Blossoms have a notable amount of roller derby pedigree by way of Co-coach Levitica "Leviticus Maximus" Byington, who has been involved with the sport since 2008 and was once a member of the Junction City Roller Dolls in Utah. She joined the Scary Blossoms shortly after the team was formed last year by Nickerson.
"We didn't have a full roster today, we skated with fewer girls than necessary, and we did so awesome," Byington said of her team Saturday. "People were coming off the streets to watch this amazing sport and watch what all of our hard work has gone into, and that just brought tears to my eyes."
The bout ended with the Scary Blossoms beating the Killer Katanas by a score of 166-116. Though she and her teammates were the relative veterans on the track, Byington lauded her opponents' performance, calling the Katanas "a force to be reckoned with."
Shannon "SmackYo Mama" Mooers of the Katanas agreed, saying she has seen amazing progress among her team in just a few short months.
"I've played sports all my life, and I've never seen a group of women so dedicated," said Mooers, whose husband Cory coaches the team. "To compete at the level we just did, it's amazing. I think the Zama Killer Katanas are going to be a huge contender in the Tokyo Roller Girls League."
The team will get the chance to prove that claim at their next bout, which will be held in June at the Tokyo Dome in Japan's capital.