Maybe I've gone kobo-crazy, but I believe intelligent and creative use of kobo-derived drills can have incredible potential for improving students' Taido skills. This isn't necessarily a new development, but it’s something that I have used successfully with students in a number dojo now, so I am convinced that it works. In this article, I’ll describe a method for making kobo progressions to teach and practice one of the most difficult-to-learn aspects of Taido: rengi. Rengi are "successive techniques," or combination moves. While most martial arts have combinations (even boxers drill dozens of punch combos), Taido's rengi are usually constructed on the fly, rather than preset. This improvisational aspect of Taido's combinations is the key to their effectiveness, but it's incredibly difficult to teach.
Applying the 5 Simple Rules
The specific realization of the need for this practice came about when I was writing my 5SRs article. The fifth principle of the 5jokun states "Be adaptable in your techniques and maintain freedom of physical movement. The right technique will prevent you from being dominated," which I boiled down to a statement of value for "adaptability, freedom, and creativity." "OK," I thought "now how would one go about developing these attributes?"
While this doesn't look to have very much relevance to kobo practice, a look at the original American translation of the 5jokun may shed more light on why it brought kobo to mind for me. It says "the techniques change appropriately from offense to defense. One who acquires correct adaptability to these techniques will never be restrained." Specifically look at the first part: "change... from offense to defense... adaptability..." That's what got me thinking.
Being adaptable in our transition between offense and defense is what good rengi is all about. It's not enough to simply do several movements in sequence; you have to take your opponent's reactions to your movements into consideration. You have to adjust for the fact that, as you are trying to hit him, he is also trying to hit you. You must alternate between offense and defense rapidly, while continuously transitioning from one movement to the next. That continuous alternation of roles is rengi.
From Theory to Application
At the 2006 Asia Pacific Games, Masaki introduced me to a drill that I saw could be used to teach exactly the high-level rengi skills I had been thinking about. In her version, the practice looked like a growing, never-ending kobo, in which the partners continually switched attack/defense rolls. I'm going to build on that framework with some variations that make this practice tailorable to improving rengi skills at any level.
To make things simple, I'll refer to the practicing partners as "Parry" and "Reposte" in this outline. Since offense and defense exist simultaneously in Taido (and this is especially apparent in skillful rengi), any functional designation is impossible. Thus, I will resort to using names. En garde!
Parry and Reposte begin facing each other in kamae. Parry (begin slowly!) initiates an attack, and Reposte defends. The two practice this exchange a few times, building speed and fluidity gradually. So far, this looks just like standard kobo practice. But fear not! I wouldn't waste your time with standard kobo practice, because we both know it isn't much good. It's about to get much more interesting. I promise. OK, just one more sentence to stall for dramatic effect.
Now we take the speed back down and Parry initiates the same attack as before. As Reposte is defending, Parry now defends against that defense. The initial attacker has become the defender. Now the action stops long enough for the team to build up their speed and comfort with this new series over the course of a few repetitions. Can you guess what happens next?
That's right, they go out for a beer. Wait, not yet. I'm getting ahead of myself. They haven't finished practice yet.
The next step (which begins slowly!) in the practice goes as follows: Parry attacks, Reposte defends, but Parry re-defends. At this point, Reposte defends against Parry's defense of his defense. Got it?
We now have a complex exchange of four "attacks" without any stop in the action. For the sake of later explanations, I'm going to call this "two iterations" of the drill (even though it's just one actual iteration, it's two rounds through the offense/defense alternation). Neither partner should return to kamae or really break their momentum at all. The four steps should be flowing one into the other, in a continuous fashion. Now, Parry and Reposte practice the new combination until they can do it smoothly and quickly.
I think you can see where this practice is going. You can continue this process ad infinitum until you both drop. It'll be a little like playing that Simon memory game from 1983, but without the colors and notes. At least, if you start to see strange colors, you should stop and rest.
But that's not all! You can make some game rules and variations to make this practice a little more interesting.
First, we'll use a straight option variable. Assuming that the partners have practiced this drill with a few different first (initiating) attacks, we can simply give Parry the option to choose one on the fly. For example, both partners can begin by moving in unsoku. Parry attacks with option A or option B, at which Reposte must continue by choosing the correct series. Of course, this makes it much easier on Parry, so we can add the condition that either Parry or Reposte can make the first move. This way, they both have to be on their toes.
Next, we'll try the branch method of variation. At any level of iteration (after any number of offense/defense cycles), there may be a defensive option. For example, if Parry throws manjigeri, Reposte can jump or duck. Depending on which option Reposte takes, Parry must adjust his next move to match. This branch option can occur anywhere in the chain and can also be drilled from free unsoku as described above.
So those are just two examples of using options to explore this growing kobo drill. We can also play with game rules to work on different kinds of rengi. One way to do this is by specifying jun or gyaku (same or opposite direction) rendo patterns.
If jun is specified, each partner must continue his motion in the same direction without stopping. This can get tricky (and fun) really quickly (possibly because of the ensuing dizziness). In the gyaku specification, each attack must change directions. This gets even trickier, as partners must try to smoothly defend and attack in sometimes opposite directions.
Game rules can also specify the use of jumps or steps as seiho. Or sotai can be specified, for example beginning with sengi and moving through ungi, hengi, etc. in some predetermined order. Or you can have a "goal" attack decided upon, such as dogarami. In such a case, the first partner who is able to execute dogarami within the other specified rules wins.
Now, when you write this all out, it has the appearance of being rather complicated, but bare with it for the first few minutes. Things will begin to move much more smoothly as you learn the drill. Once both partners have done this a few times, you'll find it very easy to change the rules, add iterations, increase the number of options, and generally sophisticate to higher complexity. I promise. At this point, you'll be doing something very cool - you'll be improvising.
Just remember to keep the escalation gradual, and you'll both be able to learn quickly. Then comes the part that can be dangerous if you aren't smart. Since each student has favorite patterns, the more you do this drill with the same partner, the more you will be able to make assumptions based on these patterns. You'll be able to read each other far to well, and this can create the illusion that you are getting way too good. How do you prevent this? Change partners. Frequently switching partners has the opposite effect, actually breaking up our set patterns and favorites by challenging us to react to different stimuli.
Plug and Play
This practice drops directly into any of the variations on the Basic and Advanced Kobo Drills pages. All of those changes and games can used to build this rengi kobo up from idea to application. Specifically, this drill drops directly into the exploration slot, and can be taken from there to wherever you individually need to go.
Remember to use the unsoku, sotai, seiho, kimegi, gentai process in your practice. Using rengi and making gentai is the surest way to get ippon in jissen, so practice it with this drill set. Rengi is technically a reiteration of the sotai/seiho stage of the process, repeating as necessary before kimegi.
Because this drill repeats this portion of the process several times, I call it the skipping record drill, but you can call it Tommy, if you like - just a long as you try it.
Remember to practice rengi in the same direction (jun movement); rengi alternating directions (gyaku movement); rengi with seiho such as steps, hops, and timing changes; rengi with cheese. Especially don't forget to put your creative work to practice in jissen. This is a good way to workshop creative defenses, but spending all day doing cooperative rengi won't teach you anything if you don’t also put it to live practice (”live” meaning that the other guy wants to hit you).
And so, that's it. I had a written proper closing paragraph, but upon rereading it, I realized that my jokes were getting dumber and dumber as this article got longer and longer. I think I'll quit while I'm ahead. This is the last sentence.