Improving Your Body to Improve Your Taido

Years ago, Rob Redmond (one of the guys who inspired me to start a site about Taido in the first place) wrote an article that changed the way I thought about my training – which ended up changing the direction of my career.

Summary of Redmond’s Axiom of Platform Dependency

Think of a really old computer. Now install some awesome new software on it.

It won’t work.

OK, so that’s the metaphor: You body is the computer. Taido is the software.

If you want Taido to “run” properly on your platform (your body), you need to put effort into developing your capabilities with respect to flexibility/mobility, strength/power, stamina/endurance – and that’s just the physical side of it…

(You could extend this to mental attributes like creativity, etc., which *can* be developed with practice. But for now, let’s focus on just the physical part, because it’s easier.)

If your hardware isn’t able to cope with a certain technique or movement, there are two ways to respond:

  1. Resign yourself to doing it poorly
  2. Improve your hardware

Of course, there’s a third response too: completely ignore this and just pretend that you’ll get better by practicing the same ugly movements again and again (to use the computer analogy, that would be like running the new software over and over again and simply hoping that your old computer will suddenly get better at using it.)

Most People Just Give Up (option #1)

Especially older people, because being older gives us the excuse. And some of those excuses are viable, but in many cases a few months of dedicated effort with workouts or physical therapy can really help.

Which brings us to #2.

Just doing more Taido probably won’t help.

Developing your strength, flexibility, and endurance are things that can be done efficiently if you work with somebody who is an expert in doing so (hint: your Taido teacher is most likely NOT an expert in this).

Just take it slow. Any improvement is improvement.

You don’t have to achieve pro-level fitness to improve your Taido.

But you can make a 5% improvement in your fitness and see an 10% improvement in your Taido as a result.

Think about your “platform,” because if you neglect to improve it, your software will never, ever, ever run the way you’d like it to. Even with many years of practice, many Taido students are never able to do some movements well.

This is why.

And you have every opportunity to do something about it.

If you’d like to discuss this article or idea, you can join the conversation on Facebook.

Taido’s 5 Simple Rules

The gojokun (or five guiding principles) is the set of statements that forms the heart of Taido ‘s philosophy. Since it is prescriptive rather than descriptive, the gojokun acts as a sort of mission statement for Taido. Though it gives us a few ideals to shoot for, it doesn’t offer much in the way of practical guidance.

Taido Gojokun

Through the years, several several people have tried their hands and coming up with a suitable English version. I will discuss a few of them and present my own thoughts on what the gojokun says, what it means, and what we should do about it. With any luck, this article will get to the point of what can be a very frustrating mission statement.

What is Taido Gojokun?

What’s the point of the gojokun? That’s difficult to say. Though some dojo require students to chant gojokun in unison at the end of class, very few Japanese Taido students show any evidence of giving any thought to what they are saying. It was a rare thing that the five principles would be discussed while I was a young student in America – I memorized them at one point but was given no inducement to ponder their meanings.

Why Bother?

I think this begs the question of why we even have the gojokun. I have an answer.

Taido can be a very complicated martial art. We have three kamae, eight steps, several gymnastic movements, five body movement types, five control methods, kicks, punches, and other techniques… It can be a lot to think about. The gojokun has the potential to clarify things in that it offers us Five Simple Rules (5SRs) for practicing and applying Taido. The problem is extracting those precepts from the verbal fog.

Translating and Interpreting

The primary problem with the original 5jokun is typical of Japanese philosophy. Even in Japanese, the 5jokun is pretty vague, and in my opinion sacrifices applicability for the appearance of depth. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing if you are talking about poetry, but I like my “guiding principles” to be clear and direct. What’s the point of having Five Simple Rules if they don’t mean anything?

Of course, they do mean something – they mean several things – but most students don’t really know what that is, and aren’t going to be able to figure it out without a lot of conjecture and uncertainty. Even in the original Japanese, students have to do a lot of interpretation to get anything out of the gojokun (I’ll look at why this is so a bit later).

Honestly, I don’t think the gojokun can be translated into English words that the western mind will readily “get” without taking a good deal of artistic license. Since English and Japanese operate on different operational principles, they convey meaning in different ways. Indeed, English speakers and Japanese speakers think in different ways – I’ve discovered that some thoughts are easier for me to think in Japanese. Since thought is inherently linguistic, it stands to reason that the grammatical structure of a language affects the thought patterns of the people who think in that language.

Part of the difficulty is that we can interpret the 5jokun in various ways, none of which would be present in a literal translation. There are translations biased to different applications of each principle, but this requires students to study several interpretations to understand what Taido is really all about. By doing so, we end up defeating the purpose of the 5SRs because we need to extrapolate four or five versions of each.

All this is just to say that any simple translation of the Japanese gojokun into English will probably leave a lot to be desired. There have been three of four attempts to my knowledge at such a translation, but none of them have meant very much to people who weren’t already experts. Experts don’t need simple rules, but students do.

What it Says

The gojokun is structured around five sets of two statements. The first statement describes an ideal. The second statement is an “if/then” showing the benefit of achieving that ideal. For example, I could say this:

Brush your teeth after meals and before sleeping. If you keep your teeth clean, you won’t have cavities and gingivitis.

This structure gives us a directive and a reason for each point. I’ll analyze these in more detail later. But before we can go much further, we need to look at a couple of the existing English translations.

The Official Version

Here’s the official English version of the Taido gojokun that most people have seen:

  1. Keep your mind as clear and calm as the polished surface of a mirror. This way you will see to the heart of things. Having the right state of mind will help you avoid confusion.
  2. Be composed. Body and mind should be as one. Bear yourself correctly and you need never fear insult.
  3. Invigorate your spirit from the source of energy deep in your abdomen. With the right spirit you will never fear combat.
  4. In every action, follow the correct precepts you have been taught. By doing so you cannot act wrongly.
  5. Be adaptable in your techniques and maintain freedom of physical movement. The right technique will prevent you from being dominated.

This is pretty literal. As a result, it doesn’t feel like English when I read it. It has clumsy construction and odd-sounding fancy words in place of simpler words that are easy to understand (”bear yourself” instead of “act,” “invigorate your spirit” instead of “focus your energy,” etc.). It also sounds as if the author was trying a little too hard to sound philosophical by using passive-negative construction (”you need never fear insult” instead of “others will respect you,” etc.).

It’s not so much that it’s difficult to understand – it isn’t – but it reads like a fortune cookie. That’s great for haiku, but not for the 5SRs. What does it mean to invigorate one’s spirit from the source of energy deep in one’s abdomen? How can I tell if my spirit has enough vigor? What is this energy source, and how do I use it? Is that really all it takes to keep from fearing combat?

This vague language dances around the point without actually giving us any real guidance. But wait, it could be even worse…

An Older Version from America

This is what I learned as a child and wrote about for my shodan test. Rest assured, I didn’t have a clue what this meant until I had given it a lot of thought.

  1. If the mind is tranquil and searches for the teachings of the true state of affairs, one will acquire the righteousness of never being perplexed.
  2. If the behavior is dignified – the mind and appearance – one will never be despised.
  3. If the feelings are concentrated, vigor comes from internal nerve centers. If one has right feelings, he will never be threatened.
  4. In every action follow the correct precepts you have been taught. By doing so, you cannot act wrongly.
  5. The techniques change appropriately from offense to defense. One who acquires correct adaptability to these techniques will never be restrained.

Wow. What a nightmare. I want to “attain righteousness” as much as anyone else, but I’m not sure how that fits in with the things I practice in Taido. No wonder nobody in America seems to remember these, though John Roberts and I once found that it’s a lot easier after a few cups of sake. This is a fine example of a totally unusable text.

So What is it really Saying?

That’s a really good question. Both of the above translation efforts use a lot of words and end up saying very little. The only way to get at what the gojokun is supposed to be teaching us is to take a more interpretive approach.

Interpreting the Gojokun

A few years ago, Lars Larm wrote a paper translating and interpreting the gojokun. It’s very good, and I would love to recommend you check it out, but it doesn’t appear to be available any longer.

I think Lars makes some good points regarding the difficulty of translating adequately and the necessity of interpreting the points for use by an English-speaking audience. He also gives ideas about how each point can actually be used, and this is very good.

However, all of this interpretation (and multiple versions of certain points) takes up a lot of space. That’s almost a page of text to convey five ideas. Although I like the conclusions Lars draws, I would be more satisfied by a shorter version that could be quickly memorized and reiterated during practices.

One important thing Lars does is to relate the gojokun to the five suki: mind, preparation, energy, decision, and technique. By looking at the gojokun in light of these openings, we can get a better perspective on how this philosophy relates to use in actual combat.

My Interpretation

The first principle tells up to keep a clear mind so we can avoid confusion. What is the actual goal? Clear and accurate perception of the truth. Also, as Lars pointed out, there is an allusion to reflecting reality without distortion. This means keeping our thoughts firmly in the present. It’s only by dwelling on past events or fantasizing about the future that we become distracted from what’s happening in the here and now. So to attain the “correct state of mind,” we need to cultivate a calm awareness of the present situation.

The second principle refers to a dignified appearance in which mind and body are one. This means having integrity. To integrate the mind and body, we must ensure that our actions match our intentions. If we say one thing and then do another, we “look” bad. This is just as true in kamae – mental preparation must support our physical preparation. Otherwise, our opponents will see through the illusion. Most adults can smell bullshit from a mile away, so our preparation and appearance must be genuine.

The third principle is difficult to express in English. We should make our ki spring up from the tanden, and this will keep us from “trembling” from fear. Ki has a bad reputation in the West because it is unfortunately associated with a lot of the mystical BS parlor tricks that people try to pass off as demonstration of martial arts mastery. But ki is really just a word for energy, and for our purposes, it can be summed up as the combination of proper breathing and mechanics. Breath control is the easiest way to affect our Central Nervous Systems, which impacts emotional arousal, power generation, and stamina. Proper mechanics assures that our movements will be efficient and effective. This is ki, and using it well is the goal of the gojokun’s third principle.

The fourth principle deals with training. It must be emphasized here that Shukumine viewed theory and practice as two sides of the same coin. In a Taido context, training includes study. The principle is that we must practice and study deeply. Having done so, we will know what to do at crucial moments. The more thoroughly we train our minds and bodies, the more easily we can make movements and decisions without having to stop and consider.

The last principle is my favorite. It tells us to adapt to our environments without going against the current of change. Taido’s techniques are designed so that defense transitions smoothly into offense. We use continuous movements so we can respond creatively to situations without the repeated necessity to stop and reset. Of course, there are limits to how we can move, for example, those imposed by gravity. So we should seek to remove unnecessary limitations and increase our freedom of motion (and thought) to allow ourselves the maximum possible expression of creativity in the moment.

That pretty much sums up my ideas on each point, but it doesn’t get us much closer to a handy cheat-sheet version. Now that I’ve explained each point at length, let’s strip them down to the bare essentials and create some rules we can use.

Rules We Can Use

When I started my dojo at Gerogia Tech, I had to think a lot about how to teach the various components of Taido. I felt that understanding the gojokun was an important part of learning Taido, but I couldn’t see my students getting much out of the version I had learned. I decided to work on a new interpretation.

What I had hoped to accomplish with this was something that my students could look at and say “Hey, that makes sense for combat as well as more peaceful aspects of my life.” I tried to make sure that they could understand how each point could be applied to a variety of different venues (and even tested their ability to do so).

Tech Taido Version

This is how I broke it down a few years ago for my students at Tech:

  1. If our minds are clear and calm, we can perceive reality.
  2. If our minds and bodies are united in purpose, we can exceed our expected limits.
  3. If we employ proper breathing and mechanics, we can move well.
  4. If we practice well, we can be sure to act appropriately.
  5. If we are adaptable, we can always find a solution.

I was pretty happy with this version, even though I knew it wasn’t expressing 100% of what’s written in the original Japanese. However, basing my judgment of quality on the ability to create a positive outcome, I wasn’t concerned with preserving any of the original “flavor.” Instead, I opted for something that would improve my students’ understanding of Taido and enrich their practice. But then I took that idea to an even greater extreme.

Taido’s 5 Principles in Operational Language

In most of the interpretations above, each principle is stated as an if/then, as in the original Japanese version. I find this to be a rather abstract way of expressing prescriptions for action. If we are really trying to state the Five Simple Rules for Taido, can’t we just lay them out like, well… rules?

Most [good] scientific literature is uses operational language in order to make sense and avoid inaccuracies. I feel it’s helpful to state the ideas in the gojokun as directives, so we can better intuit their immediate applicability.

Here are the 5SRs in operational language:

  1. Keep you mind clear and in the present.
  2. Focus your intention with your actions.
  3. Breathe appropriately to generate power and control your emotions.
  4. Use your training to guide your judgement.
  5. Adapt to the situation and don’t fight changes.

This gives us a set of simple instructions that we can enact now, at this moment. Each point is simple and useful. We can see from these rules exactly what we must do to be more effective in anything. It isn’t poetic, and you won’t be able to impress people by talking like a wannabe samurai with this version, but that’s precisely why it works.

These points can be used during classes to focus a student’s attention on a specific idea without interrupting the flow of practice. I introduce them one at a time to beginners, usually without mentioning the gojokun at at all. Once I’ve done that, I can use them as cues anytime that student needs a quick reminder. If a student is setting stuck in jissen by trying to apply a certain technique, it’s often enough for me to simply say “adapt!” and the student will stop resisting the flow of the match. This isn’t always the case, and it’s not automatic, but it it possible when we use operational language for the gojokun.

Finding Taido’s Core Values

So what do all these interpretations have in common? Let’s try boil each of these five ideas down into a value that the rule attempts to express.

The 5 Core Values

  1. Awareness and clear perception
  2. Integrity and preparation
  3. Correct breathing and movement
  4. Judgement based on study and training
  5. Adaptability, freedom, and creativity

These five points seem to sum up the desired end product of each version of the 5jokun above. Whereas the operational version gave us Five Simple Rules, the above list gives us 5 goals to shoot for in everything we do.

Use It

News Flash: Students can learn more easily if they know what they are supposed to be learning. Up to now, we’ve been making them memorize the rules and telling them that they have to understand the concepts the rules imply. I’m suggesting that we begin by telling them the concepts and asking them to experiment with applying them.

The 5SRs as a Teaching Tool

Perhaps it would be beneficial to our students if we taught them what we wanted them to know. I mean, what’s the point of rote memorization and occasional chanting of vaguely-worded philosophies? It will serve everyone better if we can simply remind students at appropriate times of the values they are expected to cultivate by certain practices. This way, students can internalize the desired concepts readily.

Goal-directed learning is student-centered. By phrasing the 5jokun in terms of the 5SRs or as five values, we give students an idea of where they should be heading. This puts their practice into perspective and allows them more freedom in experimenting (thus bringing new, creative ideas to Taido) while still being certain that they are working within the framework of Taido’s value system.

While there are still many factors in Taido’s educational model that could use a lot of re-working, adopting a workable version of the 5jokun such as those provided above will be one step in the right direction towards a more effective method of teaching.

Is Taido Still Japanese?

Note: What follows is not a completed thought, and it may not even be all that important to most students. However, I feel it is extremely important to teachers, and it’s the kind of thing that has been popping into my head a lot when I think about Taido lately.

I’d love to hear your opinions, so be sure to drop a comment with your thoughts.

I’m going to go ahead and make a blunt assertion, which you can choose to accept or reject: Japan Taido believes that Taido belongs to Japan. I’m not going to make a case for this here, but it is true. I practiced Taido in Japan for a long time, and the feeling amongst the vast majority of people practicing Taido there is that Taido is a cultural artifact of that country.

Of course, you might not think that’s a very big deal. Taido is from Japan after all. Yet, if Taido belongs to the Japanese, can it really be for anyone who is not Japanese or in Japan?

So long as non-Japanese Taidoka can agree that the Japanese way is best, this isn’t a problem.

If we “foreign” Taidoka can accept that Taido is not ours and dedicate ourselves to learning the proper way to do Taido by emulating our Japanese teachers, then everyone can get along easily. It’s generally assumed by many of the Japanese Taido teachers I know that this is the ideal, that non-Japanese Taido teachers (even those with over 30 years experience) should obediently follow Japan’s lead in all decisions regarding what Taido is all about and how it should be practiced and used.

Things get tricky here. When somebody in Europe, for example, spends thirty years training and studying Taido, we should expect that this person will come to understand the art at a high level. At least we would hope so.

But how much can one really understand of Taido without having read Taido Gairon (which is something very few Japanese Taidoka do either – for one thing, it’s a very difficult read)? Can we assume that somebody without much Japanese knowledge will make the connections hinted at in the Japanese naming of various techniques and concepts?

And this is only a small matter. The larger problem is culture.

Taido is said to be created for the benefit of society. Now think for a moment about how similar Japanese society is to your own. You probably don’t have a point of comparison unless you’ve lived there.

To put things in perspective, let’s posit that Taido was created for Japanese society as viewed by its Japanese creator at the time in Japanese history when he created it. Yes, Taido has changed since then, but understanding our origins is important. Shukumine created a martial art for his generation. Very few non-Japanese practicing Taido today are of that generation. In fact, I’d put the figure at around zero.

If Taido is for the benefit of society, it will need to adapt to the society in which it is being practiced. Now I’m going to make another unsupported assertion that you can choose to reject (but that is correct): in general, Japan is socioculturally at least a decade (if not two decades) behind Europe in most things.

The Taido created by Japanese for the benefit of Japanese society will probably not serve the needs of those living elsewhere in other societies.

I’m curious about the implications of this line of thought. How does Taido change when it crosses national and cultural borders?

When it changes, is it still Taido?

Taido Enrollment Notes

New students will not join Taido unless they believe it will provide something they want. We need to show people that Taido training is fun and beneficial.

Even if they want to learn Taido, new students can’t join unless they find a dojo close to their homes. Therefore, in order to appeal to as many potential students as possible, we must attempt to offer Taido practice in as many locations and times as possible.

All Taido students should be continually involved in one of three projects. They follow in order of priority, and no project ever ends.

  1. Project one: Every student in every existing dojo should be concerned with building the dojo. Perform demonstrations at every opportunity (festivals, holidays, weekends in the park, etc.). If you enjoy Taido, you will want to share it with your friends. Bring them to practice with you. Post flyers around your town.
  2. Project two: When a dojo has at least 20 members, it’s time to start a new branch. Find a gym in the next town and start practicing. Divide the teaching duties among the black belts in the club. The highest ranking instructor will divide his time between the association’s various dojo. Once a dojo is established, return to Project one and build the membership.
  3. Project three: When there are at least two dojo with around twenty members, it’s time to hold a competition. This can be an small, informal affair, but it is important. Students need practice competing, and it is a good chance to advertise to the community (see Project one).

Upon completing Project one, move to Project two. Upon completing Project two, return to Project one. This cycle never stops. When there are enough students in each dojo, move to Project three. Project three should contribute to Project one, which contributes to Project two. This makes Project three continually more exciting, and better at promoting Projects one and two.

This cycle is viral and has the potential for exponential growth.

Shooting Dice

I sometimes play a game with dice – I call it “the random new technique game”, and I’m going to outline it here so you can experiment with similar ideas.

Using a random modifier such as a die or a deck of cards is nothing new, and I’ve heard lots of stories about different versions used for workouts and games in sports training situations. Here’s one such example:

I used to do a workout with a friend in which we would split a card deck into two halves and deal exercises to each other. Hearts were push-ups, clubs were sit-ups, diamonds were squats, and spades were chin-ups. The number of the card told us how many to perform. It was always fun watching his facial expressions when I would save all my kings for last…

One interesting aspect of Taido is the unsoku, sotai, seiho, kimegi, gentai framework to the techniques. It gives a somewhat modular quality to technical composition and suggests that there are many more possible combinations than those frequently taught in classes.

I actually first learned about modular systems when I was studying about old, analog music synthesizers and was struck by the convention for these musical instruments to be described using flowcharts. The components of many old synths can be arranged in various orders with varying degrees of feedback to create new and interesting sounds.

A few days later, I was flipping through some Taido notes and noticed that the technique process was also a flowchart. I decided to try Taido technique as a modular process and see if I could find some new and interesting techniques. After a few hours of experimenting, I had made several pages of notes. I decided that I needed a neater way to list all the possibilities I had found, so I made up a simple chart. Eventually, I started rolling a die to choose values randomly from each column, and “the random new technique game” was born.

Play the Game

My original version of this dice game began with rolling a die several times:

roll 1:

1/2=unsoku, 3/4=unshin, 5/6=both

roll 2a:

1=so/in, 2=ka/gen, 3=ko/ten, 4=tsui/tai, 5=henka, 6=hengen (roll again, even/odd to choose)

roll 2b:

1=zenten (handspring), 2=koten, 3=shazenten, 4=bakuten, 5=sokuten (sokuchu), 6=bakuchu

roll 3:

1=sen, 2=un, 3=hen, 4=nen, 5=ten, 6=2nd unsoku/unshin (back to roll 1)

roll 4:

1=jun, 2=gyaku, 3=ushiro, 4=tobi/tobikomi, 5=2noashi, 6=fukuteki

roll 5:

1=punch, 2=strike, 3=kick, 4=takedown/throw, 5=grab/joint, 6=2nd sotai (back to roll 4)

To play the game, you simply roll once for each variable, and the number tells you what value to insert. For instance, I may roll 3, 2, 6, 4, 4, 3, 4 (since the third roll called for another unshin, I had to roll seven times). According to the chart above, that means “koten, bakuten, tentai ushiro takedown/throw”. Now my job is to figure out a way to move which matches that description. The simplest application in this instance would probably be koten, bakuten dogarami.

I once rolled 1, 1, 3, 5, 1, 6, 4, 4, 3 – unsoku, so/in (in), tentai, jun, 2nd sotai, nentai, tobi, kick. Combining the ten/nen inspired my favorite personal dice-game creation so far: a tobi jun nentai keri from in-soku; it looks sort of like a cross between a 90-degree hangetsu and sokuchu and seems to come out of nowhere when I use it in jissen.

Sometimes, I roll a combination that I have practiced before. Sometimes I roll a combination that seems impossible. Every roll teaches me something new about taido, and as a result, my thinking about taido technique is incredibly fluid. Though my body can’t always keep up, my brain never gets “stuck” for creative inspiration in technique creation. Playing games like this with taido gives me an infinite pool of possible combinations with which to challenge my imagination and technical ability.

Anyway, give it a shot. Come up with your own variations. I’d love to hear about other random modifiers people have used for creative taido practices. Dave in Australia told me a few days ago that they had used cards to randomize their jissen practice by drawing cards to decide which techniques to use for offense/defense, etc. That’s a good idea that I plan to try sometime.

I’d especially love to hear if anyone comes up with usable shingi by this method. Try it, and let me know what you think.

A Software Version?

A couple of years ago, I asked a student who is a programmer to design a simple random technique generator based on my dice game. I gave him a request that would allow for the following variables:

  1. unsoku, unshin, or some combination
  2. optional initial sotai for movement
  3. direction – front, back, jun, gyaku
  4. optional jump, dive, slide, or step
  5. sotai for technique (condition of body during weapon deployment)
  6. weapon – specific punch or kick

My goal was to account for any combination o unsoku/unshin, any single or combined sotai, any direction, any use of seiho, and any strike/kick/other weapon – unsoku, sotai, seiho, kimegi, gentai (and possible iterations) – in an algorithm that could use some sort of serial logic to pull values from a database of movements. Unfortunately, the iterations make the algorithm pretty complex, and my student never got around to finishing the project.

Appeal

If anyone out there can create such a program (and it really shouldn’t be too very hard), I will compensate you for the price of one beer for your troubles. I would love to have such a program executed as a php code that could be run on this site – available freely to taido students around the world. As my primary goal with this website is to inspire creative and critical thinking for continued development and evolution of taido, I can think of very few things that would be more fitting for me to host than a random movement-technique inspiration machine.

So, programmers, get to work! Seriously, I’ll be your best friend if you can make this for me, and i’m good for that beer money too.

Update: See comments for programs submitted by Juha. – thanks, Juha.

Re-update: The tech-gen was completed and integrated into the sidebar for several months, but I lost my edits when I changed Taido/Blog’s cosmetics without backing up first. Anyway, the links to Juha’s version are a good starting point – give them a go.