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Published on September 16th, 2011 | by Asa Spades

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Can You Believe There’s A Roller Derby League HERE?! Kokeshi Roller Dolls

DerbyLife Interview with Punch’er Down Brown (a.k.a Heather Ann Brown),Kokeshi Roller Dolls President

How KRD was born.

Amanda Harms (a.k.a Pisa Cake) was bored, 6 months pregnant, and ready to do something different in her life. She had friends stateside who were on derby leagues and so she just decided to start researching about Roller Derby and what it would take to start up a league here in Okinawa. Pisa Cake had friends who were on leagues before, but other than that she started out completely new without ANY experience with Roller Derby. She had some help from Nicole King (a.k.a Nurse Fight’n Bail) and they worked together for several months until they had their first skating practice in late October 2010.

A year of growth on all levels.

KRD: The Kokeshi Roller Dolls have been in existence for 1 year (formed August of 2010) and since have grown a lot. We have been continually recruiting players and refs and that process will always be on going due to the nature of military life. There are always players having to move and leave the island, but we are always getting in new meat!

We started off with 6 girls. One or two had skated on quads before and the rest had either never skated on quads or it had been 20 years since they had ever been on skates. In about a month we quickly grew to about 20 players and by the end of the first year we had about 60. We moved from 2 practices a week to 3 and now we have up to 5 practices a week that players can attend.
Practices started off a shared adventure until we were plagued with pregnancies (I think it’s the fishnets) so then we had a dedicated coach to keep us on track!

By January of 2011 we thought we were ready to break into teams and had a little contest on team naming. We now have appropriately Okinawa themed teams; Sake Bombers, Shisa Slammers, and the Habu Hellions. If anyone could have seen us last October, where we had one person on skates for our first practice, to our now 3 teams and over 50 players you would have never guessed it only took us 7 months to get there! I don’t think it could have gone any other way. Once the idea was planted, it sparked and just took off! Who knew!

Who are the Kokeshi skaters?

KRD: Starting off we only had complete Freshmeat, girls who knew very little about derby and girls who knew next to nothing about derby. Since then we have gotten 4 new Dolls who were on leagues in America (Nashville, Omaha, Washington State). As military members find out they are getting orders to come to Okinawa many skaters have heard about us and contact us about joining long before they get here. Once they arrive we use and abuse them as best we can!

We have many players who are former coaches for other sports, we have active duty members, stay at home moms, and many players are schoolteachers! We have about half who work full time and the other half are stay at home moms. I think the average age is about 30-35 with our youngest player being 21 and our oldest player being 48. Right now we only have Americans on the league but we want to change that and branch out to get some local Okinawan ladies on board.

“Derby is not left to stand alone. She who practices it will have neighbors.”

DL: Who are the Kokeshi neighbors?
KRD: To the north on mainland Japan we have the Yokota Roller Derby league and the Yokosuka Sushi Rollers. Korea just started a league called ROKD (Republic of Korea Derby), Singapore has Chilli Padi Derby Grrrls, Malasia has Roller Derby Kuala Lumpur, and the newest formed league is the Pacific Rim Rollers in Guam. All of these leagues started shortly after we did so we keep in constant communication with each other so we can learn together.

Show me the future, and I’ll show you a blossoming league.

DL: What else do you see in Kokeshis future?

KRD: As for our goals for the league, this is only our 2nd season and I would like to create a unified league through proper communication, get more Okinawan locals to join the league, and plan and host a Far East Asia Roller Derby Tournament.

Along with those lofty goals I want to see us get approved by WFTDA (our application is in!), get a full and complete Ref crew (we have 4 dedicated refs), master the art of setting up a bout, and getting at least 1000 fans in the stands for our next bout!

DL: You hosted Fast Girl University last spring with key players from Seattle’s Rat City Rollergirls. How was that experience?
KRD: This was amazing! We were, and still are, such a newly formed league that we had no idea what we didn’t know! (If that makes sense) By having FGU come out, we were able to learn how gear is supposed to fit, how to practice and train properly, how to plan and prepare for a bout, and ultimately how to play this awesome game of Roller Derby. They helped us restructure our practice schedule so it worked for us and we were able to make better laid-out plans for the future. And the cherry on the top of all of this is that they agreed to be our sister league and continue to help us as we grow!

DL: Tell us about your debut bout. Who were you playing?
KRD: How many people attended? Who won? Our first bout was May 14th, 2011 and it was just an interleague bout. We just did a themed bout titled “Spring Roll” and divided up our players who were bout ready. We had over 800 fans come support us this night! The final score was Red team 175 and Black team 90.

bout may A3.jpg

DL: Are you planning any new events in the near future?
KRD: We were lucky to get an actual bout schedule up and running with the Okinawan gym we use so that’s a plus. We are still planning to host FGU again in the spring. We are moving towards more community involvement by way of donations with charities and helping out with other events that are island wide.

DL: What are the biggest challenges in your league right now?
KRD: Looking back now, we wish we would have waited to break into teams until we had more players who were skilled skaters. We struggle with getting enough players on each team who have passed MST’s and are bout ready. We have reorganized our Training Committee to be more focused on player needs and getting everyone up to the safe skills they need to be bout ready. We also struggle with the military way of life. So often our players and coaches are called to duty to serve their country and they have to put derby on hold.

We have lost key players and coaches so we just try and pick up the pieces the best we can and keep moving forward. This is a highly mobile environment and pretty soon those of us who started this league won’t be around anymore to see it continue.

DL: What has been the most fun for you in your league, so far?
KRD: There are so many things that I could think of but ultimately the most fun is that we started something here on this small island that has brought so many out of their shells. Most people don’t know this, but when a family is sent to an overseas location many families have to give up their hobbies/jobs/activities they had stateside. Spouses follow their husbands here for their job, but many times they find themselves bored with nothing to do and Roller Derby fills that hole. I am sure this is true of many leagues but Roller Derby allows you to meet people you might not normally interact with in your everyday life. With all of us being so far away from family and friends, Kokeshi Roller Dolls is a way to take away the homesickness!

DL: What can the wider global roller derby community do to help you grow?
KRD: We would love to be able to either travel to leagues near us or have them come here so we can combine our knowledge and skills so that Roller Derby takes over the Pacific!

Kansha no kotoba!

KRD: We want to thank the worldwide roller derby community for all of their help and support, getting KRD started. We wouldn’t be where we were today if we didn’t have their help. We are a small island with unique issues that don’t affect most other leagues, so we are just excited to be here doing what we love!

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Asa Spades


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