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The All European ZNA Belgian Koi Show

Koi Magazine -  koi blog - Belgian Koi show

Next weekend, a big koi event takes place, The All European ZNA Belgian Koi Show. The name has had a slight tweak from last year, but it's the same organisers and venue I attended and covered in Volume Three of the magazine. It's a colossal show, and I had a great time visiting. So, as we're only a week away, I thought I'd share an extract from the article featured in Volume Three to give you some background and context and maybe even tempt you to pay a visit. Enjoy some free Sunday reading koi-folk...  

In Bruges - well, almost. 

At the beginning of January 2023, I got invited to The Belgian ZNA Koi Show. The organisers had made plans to expand the show significantly. Part of their forward-thinking marketing strategy was reaching out to ‘koi-press’ from all over to ensure the show received sufficient coverage. I only started shooting koi shows in 2021, so I was honoured to get an invite. I’d never been to Belgium or a Belgian koi show, so I was excited to see if there were any differences. I’d also heard the beer was pretty good - so many birds with just one stone! 

After a wee chat with Rudi Van Den Broeck (BKS Co-Founder) and Niko Bellens (ZNA LCJ), I learned some show and club history. The Belgian Koi Society was founded in 2010 by Dirk De Witte, Rudi Van Den Broeck and Albert Vantichelen (RIP). However, there has been a koi society in Belgium since 1993. It all started with the 'Flanders Koi and pond society' (De Vlaamse Koi en Vijvervrienden), which ceased in 2005. ‘Koi@Home’ then became Belgium’s flagship society, but after the founder (Ronald Nijs) left, it had a name change, and (finally) in 2010 - The Belgian Koi Society was born. The first show for the newly named society followed swiftly after and was held in Mortsel near Antwerp in 2010. As with any society, it has faced its challenges. The first was the loss of their magazine, which Rudi states amounted to far too much work for the club members for very little return. The second was the slow depletion of exhibitors at their shows, despite the steady increase in show vat numbers. It sounds odd that fewer people wanted to show koi, but those that did, wanted to take more vats. Of course, it's also challenging running a society alongside a day job (something many forget). The club decided to collaborate this year with Koi2000 to boost exhibitor numbers, volunteers and increase footfall. Koi2000 is a society that organises events, courses and shows in the Benelux region. They also produce a magazine (Koiwijzer) in the Dutch language. 2023 marks the 12th show for The Belgian Koi Society, and they were keen to make a statement. 

The venue was colossal, and despite scouring every possible angle (which involved a lot of walking!), I couldn’t find a spot that did the scale of the indoor event any justice at all. The hall was rough around the edges and quite dark, with just a central strip of clear roofing to allow in natural light. To combat this, the organisers had gone to great expense in hiring a company to rig an intricate system of truss stands. It enabled powerful LED lights to be deployed over all the vats, and allowed dealers and manufacturers to hang colourful banners and promotional backdrops, giving the place a much-needed makeover. The result was an impressive and vibrant-looking show. There were over 40 traders that had sponsored the show - most of which were present with trade stands. That's phenomenal support for the club and show by anyone's standards. 

The show is judged by the Zen Nippon Airinkai, and as I explored in my trip to the ‘22 AEYKS in Volume One, there are very few differences in the judging standards, however, the show classes and rules will vary slightly based on the location of the show and it’s scale (classes for this show detailed above). BKKS judges still get invited to judge at this show and if the standards are similar you might be thinking - why? So was I, so I asked Bernie Woollands - BKKS and ZNA CJ (Certified Judge).

To cut a long story short, guys like Dirk De Witte (the show chairman) attended The National and other UK shows before Belgium ever had shows. The BKKS benched and judged the first-ever koi show in Europe, the Dutch one, and subsequently, Europe’s first judges were trained by the BKKS (Louis Vanreusal was the first to qualify). Because of this, BKKS judges have been invited there ever since. The tradition has also been reciprocated by the South East at their flagship show over the years. 


That’s that settled. As I said, my mission (besides shooting the event) was to discover if there are many differences between this show and those held in the UK. So what else sets them apart? At this particular show, dealers and hobbyists go head to head. It’s a common phenomenon in Europe, but it's a format yet to be tested in the UK. At this year's National (2023), there will be a separate competition for dealers with prizes awarded by Grand Champion-winning hobbyists, but that’s as far as it’s gone. I think it’s fair to say the assumption made by many is that allowing dealers to compete spoils the fun. The theory is that dealers have an unfair advantage with their buying power and access to trade prices. These are all valid points. Dealers pay less for their fish than hobbyists and have the opportunity to select their koi at source, which many hobbyists don’t. On paper, it gives dealers an advantage, but according to this show's prize winners, hobbyists can still mop up. However, I was interested to learn that the ratio of exhibiting hobbyists to dealers typically favours the dealers. I was curious to know why. So I quizzed Toen Feyen (ZNA CJ)…

At European shows, do more dealers enter than hobbyists? At the Holland Show, I think it’s about a 50/50 split. But the KLAN show in Germany was mostly dealers with just a handful of hobbyists. However, that show was held in early April, and many hobbyists don’t heat their ponds, which makes exhibiting tricky. 

Do you see dealers winning more prizes than hobbyists? The Major Awards nowadays are now mostly won by hobbyists. But dealers still put up a fight. 

Do you think dealers exhibiting puts hobbyists off, or do you think a lack of hobbyist involvement is down to something else? I don’t think it’s down to dealer involvement. Hobbyists in Europe are less eager to drag their koi around shows (compared to those in the UK). People often say that dealers have better quality koi than hobbyists. However, dealers buy koi to sell them. So why don’t people buy these show-koi and put them into a show themselves? I don’t see the problem. Why hobbyist numbers are low, I don’t know. 

Over the weekend, I chatted with many friendly hobbyist exhibitors - so I asked how they felt about dealers competing alongside them. 

“I don't have any problems with it. If you look at the major awards from this show, the dealers weren’t that dominant anyway. But as a hobbyist, you are limited when it comes to selection. A dealer has more koi to pick from. But that is fine - I see it as a challenge. Maybe other hobbyists have a different opinion, but I don't mind dealers. Without them, there is no show.” - Dennis Smits.

“I see both sides. In general, dealers have a bigger budget to buy koi (specifically high-quality koi), so they have a big advantage compared to hobbyists with a smaller budget. But no one is stopping hobbyists from sourcing the very best high-quality show koi. Also, you still need koi-keeping skills. You can buy the most expensive koi, but if you don't know how to raise them and prepare them for the shows, it counts for nothing. So having a big budget helps, but it's not essential!” - Jarne Lattré.

“It doesn’t bother me. Most hobbyists know the dealers who show anyway and had/have the opportunity to buy any koi the dealer exhibits before the show. For example, my dealer was there competing with koi I was previously offered. The dealers also show fish from customers that only have 1 or 2 show-koi, not enough to complete a vat, so they do them a favour and take them along.” - Pascal Vandercammen.


Clearly it doesn’t bother many hobbyists, although I’m sure there will be those who take the opposite stance. My gut feeling tells me that allowing dealers to exhibit and challenge is positive. For one, it may encourage more dealers to get behind koi shows in a general capacity. Offering the opportunity to gain kudos and attract business through winning prizes might be alluring. One might argue that by supplying koi that win, a dealer gets enough credit anyway, and this is true, but by caring and conditioning for the koi themselves, the dealers get a chance to prove a thing or two. It’s also about involvement - people like to be involved. Although this format would not be appropriate for closed shows, it would probably increase the size and scope of open events. That’s not to say that having bigger national-level shows is the key to koi show success, but maybe inviting and including the many experienced dealers and traders as part of the process may enrich and develop things. Two heads are better than one, and all that.  Okay! I know. I know - let’s look at some koi!


The Major Awards for The Belgian ZNA Koi Show - 2023

*Dealer and Breeder info to be added as it comes through to me

Koi Magazine - Sakai Kohaku

Grand Champion A

Owner: Filip Poppe & Els De Decker

Kohaku // 82cm // Sakai Fish Farm

Koi Magazine - Yamabuki Ogon

Grand Champion B

Owner: Patrick Makkes

Yamabuki Ogon // 96.5cm // Izumiya // Nishikigoi Broker Amsterdam

Koi Magazine -  Koi blog

Supreme Champion A

Owner: Hilde & Michel Raedemaeker

Gin Rin Showa // 85cm // Shinoda // Narita Koi Fram

Koi Magazine - Asagi

Supreme Champion B

Handled by: Carpe Diem

Owner: Geert Schrijvers

Asagi // 88cm // Oyama

Koi Magazine - Koi blog

Mature Champion

Handled by: Kim's Koi

Owner: KOI - Lagos de Jardim

Shiro Utsuri // 82cm // Dainichi

Koi Magazine - Koi blog

Adult Champion

Owner: Filip Poppe & Els De Decker

Sanke // 69cm // Sakai Fish Farm

Koi Magazine -  Koi blog

Young Champion

Owner: Kenneth Spissens

Gin Rin Kohaku // 49cm // Torazo // Kim's Koi

Koi Magazine -  Koi blog

Baby Champion

Owner: Niwa Koi

Gin Rin Showa // 28cm // Shinoda

Koi Magazine - Dainichi Koi farm

Tategoi Award

Owner: Dennis Smits

Showa // 67cm // Dainichi // The Koi Page

Koi Magazine - Unique Koi

Most Unique

Owner: Patrick van Haesbroeck

Handlers/Owners: Koisuc6, DBG koi, & Arts&Ants

Gin Rin Kin Ki Showa // 27cm // Choguro

Koi Magazine - Sakai sanke

Jumbo Champion A

Owner: Pascal Vandercammen

Sanke // 83cm // Sakai Fish Farm // Filip's Koi en Vijvershop

 Koi blog

Jumbo Champion B

Owner: Niwa Koi

Yamabuki Ogon // 90cm // Izumiya

Koi Magazine - yellow koi

BKKS Friendship Award

Owner: Patrick Makkes

Yamabuki Ogon // 96.5cm // Izumiya // Nishikigoi Broker Amsterdam

*there were several 'Friendship Awards' that I was unfortunately unable to photograph, due to the timing of the judging and other aspects of the event that needed shooting.

Here's a little video after my day exploring the Showground on Friday (benching day):

If you want to find out more about the show you can visit here:

Enjoy the read?

If you enjoyed the taster from the article, and other content I produce for the blog, social media and YouTube, you can support World of Nishikigoi and my endeavours by subscribing to our high-quality koi magazine. The 132-page publication comes out twice a year in the English Language and is home to 'proper' koi content. No bias, no sales talk, just koi.

A must have for every koi lover.

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