More Questions About American Taido

Since I’m one of the few American Taidoka who has any contact with Taido in the rest of the world, the students in the rest of the world ask me a lot of questions about Taido in the US.

Though I have NOT been affiliated with Uchida Sensei’s US Taido Association since early 2007, I was one of the lead instructors in his organization for quite some time before moving to Japan in 2003. To be honest, the past few times I’ve visited Atlanta, I haven’t been too interested in what’s going on the the “Taido Karate” school there. As a result, I can only offer historical insight towards answering any questions about Taido in Atlanta and Ft. Lauderdale.

In any event, one thing I can easily say is that American Taido Karate is quite different from the Taido practiced everywhere else.

A couple of days ago, VP Turpeinen commented asking:

My main cause of surprise is the observation that American taidokas don’t seem to wear hakama and taido-gi but instead an outfit similar to karate-gi (according to the material I have seen around the Internet). I would like to know the reason for that. Some students also seem to wear black pants instead of the usual white. Does this indicate something?

I’ve discussed uniforms in the past on Taido/Blog and also on the Australian Taido forums.

As for the students in Ft. Lauderdale wearing black (non-hakama) pants, that’s just what Tom decided he wanted to do at his school. There is no real significance, since it’s the standard uniform at that dojo.

Another thing that keeps me in confusion is the belt system

Some of this is explained elsewhere, but I can see how it would be confusing to the majority of Taidoka who participate in the World Taido Federation and use the standard ranking system that every other country has agreed upon. To make a long story short, Uchida Sensei began adding the tape stripes as in-between ranks a very long time ago. He added more colored belts to the children’s curriculum to give them more frequent feedback and testing opportunities for encouragement.

…made me think about the time required to achieve black belt.

Regarding the amount of time it takes to achieve a certain rank, I think it’s important to look at quality over quantity, and even then to look at number of hours actually training rather than the number of years. I’ve heard of some people bragging about doing Taido for X number of years, when they only go to the dojo once a week, change clothes, and stand around. There are also widely varying lengths of standard sessions in different dojo – ranging anywhere from 45 minutes to four hours.

“Quality” is a sticky issue and hard to nail down objectively, so let’s stick with time for right now.

If you want to see people moving through the ranks very, very quickly, you need to check out the Japanese university clubs. It’s possible for a dedicated student to reach 4dan in four or five years if they take shinsa at every opportunity. Of course, Japanese uni students don’t have to study much, and are required to spend a certain amount of time on club activities. It’s not unheard of for some Taido clubs to offer up to 20ish hours/week of training opportunities, so one shouldn’t be surprised to see them advance quickly.

I can tell you that it took me almost eight years to reach shodan from the time I began training as a child in the US. And I can tell you that it takes considerably less time now.

Additionally, the requirements for achieving a higher grade interest me. What do you usually need to present when attending shinsa? Kihon, -tai/-in hokei, more complicated hokeis such as -mei hokei, kobo, perhaps even jissen?

In the past, American shinsa included kihon, hokei, and kobo/jissen. Shodan shinsa lasted several hours. Advancement to 2dan and above was always just a formality, and was fairly political. I can’t comment on the current system.

I have more questions that still require answers, but this may not be the right time and place for them as they don’t have much to do with those two issues.

Feel free to send me an email, and I’ll try to help you out – either with a reply or with a new post here.

The Rest of Taido/Blog

Lots of people use this site as a resource for learning technical details and Taido theory. I think that’s spectacularly good, but there’s more to Taido than memorizing the gojokun and watching videos of hokei from some tournament five years ago. Sometimes even just training isn’t enough unless we keep a clear view of the big picture.

There’s a whole other side of Taido: the soul side.

I’ve collected some of my favorite articles about Taido’s soul – the stuff that makes Taido fun and worthwhile. Without the soul, this is just another hobby. Reading through these articles will get you thinking about what Taido really means to you.

Does thinking replace practice? No. But nor can practice replace thinking. To really get the most out of this Taido thing, you need to do both.

The Rest of Taido/Blog is about 50 pages worth of thinking that will enrich your practice. You’ll get a link to download it for free, immediately after you sign up via the form below.

Get it Now

You can right-click on the picture to the right and download it right now!

Kangeiko

Growing up in Uchida Sensei’s dojo, kangeiko was always one of my favorite Taido traditions. Everybody came to kangeiko, even if they couldn’t make it to practice very often during the rest of the year. It was always like a family reunion. And the workout was HARD.

We always started at 6am, and the floor would be freezing. We started by warming up thoroughly and running through all of the fundamentals. Lots of punches, lots of kicks. Then we’d practice each of the Taido kihongi and, after that, hokei. Despite the cold, everybody managed to get up a good sweat by the end of it.

Then we would all line up and, one at a time, sit with Sensei and exchange New Year’s greetings: “Akemashite omedetou gozaimasu. Kotoshimo yoroshiku onegai shimasu.” Then we’d drink sake (if you were under 21, it was “just a little…”) and clean the dojo.

I hear that American Taido kangeiko is a much different affair now. That’s cool. Things change, and nothing is so perfect it can’t be improved.

I don’t know much about the traditions of Taido dojo in other countries. Do you do kangeiko in Europe? How about Australia?

In this article, I’m going to give a little background on what kangeiko is, where it comes from, and how it’s practiced in Japan.

Kangeiko History

According to “ancient tradition,” kangeiko is held early on a Saturday morning in January. All students (even those who are unable to practice often) congregate at the dojo for the ostensible purpose of beginning the year with good spirit in training. Everyone works out, and the focus is on kihon – the basis of fancier skills.

Following the practice, the students greet their teachers and wish them a happy new year (“akemashite omedetou gozaimasu“) and ask the favor of continued tutelage in the new year (“kotoshimo yoroshiku onegai shimasu“). The deal is sealed with a Japanese handshake – bowing and drinking sake.

Then, everyone participates in the osoji – big cleaning. Students and instructors take pride in maintaining their practice space and equipment. And then there’s breakfast and more drinking.

That’s the kangeiko I remember.

Meaning and Origins

Kangeiko is a Japanese word made up of three characters and means “cold training.” Why would one want to train in the cold? The concept is a type of toughness training – forcing oneself to perform under difficult or even painful conditions. In theory, this strengthens the “fighting spirit” by helping us find our true limits and quieting the inner-weakling that keeps telling us to give up.

This idea of subjecting oneself to harsh treatment in order to strengthen the resolve owes to the influence of Buddhism (in Japan, anyway). Ascetic monks would choose the coldest days of the year to set an example and demonstrate their piety. Apparently, some dedicated samurai borrowed the practice and began subjecting themselves to intense training on these days as well. It eventually became a tradition in Sumo.

Judo adopted the practice, and as a result, most modern Japanese martial arts have some sort of kangeiko tradition. In Japan, many professional sports teams hold a sort of kangeiko, and even some large corporations have “kangeiko” for their executives.

Kangeiko’s Importance as a Martial Arts Tradition

In general, kangeiko has a reputation in the martial arts of being a serious challenge. There are all sorts of stories from “the old days” about extremely tough (and often stupid and dangerous)kinds of training that various dojo have put themselves through in the name of strengthening their spirits.

Martial artists love telling stories about how tough things used to be. My father summed up the tendency nicely: “Never let the truth get in the way of a good story.” These stories are often more romantic than realistic, but I think they serve a purpose. I look at these “legends” like a challenge – not necessarily to dive into a sub-zero lake and do 10000 punches in my frozen uniform – but to occasionally engage in practices that bring me closer to my limits.

Which is really the whole point. You don’t have to do fifty hokei in your underwear on the coldest day of the year. But as martial artists, we do have to push ourselves to overcome stress. Since this can be uncomfortable, many groups ritualize the challenge as a tradition.

Kangeiko is just a tradition. It’s serves the same purpose that other traditions do: reinforce group identity and group values. Severe training is also worthwhile, but it’s not necessarily the most vital part of kangeiko.

Two Kinds of Kangeiko

There are basically two schools of thought on what kinds of things kangeiko should entail: the hard core GUTS! school and the more austere and subdued school.

GUTS!

“Guts” type training is what we usually associate with “tough guy” schools. An example of a hard core kangeiko might start at 5am with 1000 punches and 1000 kicks before moving on to work routines and sparring. Maybe it would also include a few hundred push-ups and sit-ups.

Of course, all of this is done in an unheated dojo, which is almost the same as doing it outside. Traditional Japanese architecture doesn’t include much in the way of insulation. Martial arts dojo tend to have as much window as they do wall, and though we may use fans during the summer, finding a heater is extremely rare.

Some schools actually do train outside – running a few kilometers or even training techniques on the frozen ground. Just this past week, I saw a news report about a karate dojo in Osaka that waded into the harbor and did some punches in the freezing water.

Apparently, only a couple of them suffered from hypothermia. That was probably because it was a publicity stunt, and the students were only in the water long enough for the camera crews to capture the event. Of course, it the old days, they would have stayed in for longer…

The content of “guts” type training is less important than the intensity. The idea is to push ourselves until we don’t think we can go any further, and then to go further. Your muscles say “no,” but your mind commands “yes.” Through pain and exhaustion, you find that your true limits lay well outside your usual comfort zone.

Doing this kind of training sucks. But it’s great.

Pushing past our perceived boundaries builds mental toughness. It’s great for reminding ourselves just what we’re capable of (as opposed to what we enjoy). The body can’t handle this kind of thing too often, but doing it a few times a year can help push us to the next level mentally.

A hard core kangeiko is guaranteed to “make a man out of you,” unless you’re a woman.

In dojo that have an extremely intense kangeiko, students sometimes have to rest and recover for up to a week or even longer before returning to training. If training injures you, it’s no longer training – it’s punishment. Forcing your body to the breaking point is not “guts,” it’s stupid.

Balancing challenge with insanity is the art of this kind of training.

Another Approach

A lot of dojo aren’t so much concerned with being tough. They practice for sport and recreation. Dojo with a lot of older adults and children aren’t going to convince many students to show up for a physically intense workout. Instead, they follow a more subdued approach.

Just as with the hard core dojo, most “normal” dojo will focus their training on basics. They may do a certain number of repetitions of each kihongi, but the pace is usually relatively slow. Usually, few words are spoken, and each student is left to consider how to perform each repetition better than the one before it. This can sometimes go on for quite a while.

Even without breaks, this kind of training is not going to make anyone pass out or vomit. The physical intensity is low. but it’s not easy. In fact, it can be just as intense mentally as the hard core style is physically. It’s just a different kind of intensity.

The objective is to practice with total concentration. Instead of diving into freezing water, you’re trying to submerge yourself in each technique. The challenge is to get inside the technique, and that’s something you can only do with a lot of effort and repetition.

The first few repetitions may be kind of rough as you get warmed up. Then you’ll fall into your typical habits for the next few. Doing the same technique eventually starts to get boring, so you start trying to move faster and stronger. As you tire, you’ll begin to shift your emphasis to clean, efficient movement. After doing fifty or so in a row, you notice that your last repetition was far better than the first.

Training like this helps refine your technique and calm your mind. After working through a variety of techniques in such a manner, you’ll find that you feel very calm and relaxed. Though you’ve probably been sweating profusely, you won’t feel very tired.

This state of ease is the perfect time to reflect on your progress and goals for the next few months of training. You may take time to consider the 5jokun or otherwise think about what Taido is to you and what you hope to get out of it.

This is a more personal kind of training, even though it’s performed as a group. Each student is responsible for managing their own intensity and focus. The results are often similar to the more-extreme style of training: it can help push you into the next level mentally. It’s a different way of reaching for the same goal.

Taido Kangeiko

Of course, since kangeiko is an “ancient martial arts tradition,” it’s an important part of the spirit of a dojo. In fact, it’s such an important part of Taido tradition, that most clubs in Japan don’t do it. Some do, but it’s definitely not the norm.

Those dojo that do have a kangeiko tend to follow the second blueprint. A few university clubs may do killer workouts, but most dojo will do less extreme training and work on increasing the mental intensity.

None of the dojo I’ve been a member of in Japan have had a formal kangeiko. Instead, we just resume training in the new year as usual. But several Japanese clubs have posted blogs about their kangeiko training this year, and none of them went swimming in their dogi…

What’s Your Kangeiko Like?

By this time, many of you have already had a kangeiko at your dojo. Maybe it was similar to one of the patterns I discussed above, or maybe it was something totally different.

The most important thing you can get out of kangeiko is to give it your best and start off the new year of training with a positive attitude. Beyond that, take it as a chance to push yourself to the next level by challenging your body or your mind with more intensity than usual. Being outside your comfort zone will help you grow as a martial artist.

If you’ve had any interesting kangeiko experiences you’d like to share, please post them in the comments.

Two Taido Jokes

So in Japanese, the word jodan means joke. It’s one of the first Japanese words I ever learned, but in a Taido context, I always thought of jodan as referring to high kicks and punches. It’s also one of our three kamae.

A few years ago, I got interested in jodangamae and began to practice it pretty seriously. I worked on all kinds of interesting applications for various techniques and other movements using jodan. Occasionally, I even find myself using it in jissen to change direction or level. I especially like using jodan with sentai movements.

So one time, at a special training day for Tokai University’s Taido club, I was working with about 40 purple and green belt students on their sentai. We did all kinds of games and drills and other kinds of practice, and I was telling a few students during a break that they should spend more time working on their jodangamae. One of them replied “jodan desho?” which, in context, should have meant “you mean jodan, right?” So I confirmed that I was suggesting he practice jodangamae. Again, he said “jodan desho?” and I got it – he was saying “you’ve gotta be joking.” Sadly for him, I was not, and the entire group went on to practice jodangamae for about 45 minutes.

I learned two things from this experience: nobody but me likes to practice jodangamae, and there is always more than one way to look at any situation – one of which is usually much funnier than the others.

And so anyway, you now know a Japanese Taido joke. Congrats.

Speaking of jokes, check this out:


爆笑レッドカーペット1 (6/4/08) by KonchuT

This guy has appeared on Japanese TV at least a couple of times. For those of you who don’t get the J-talk, he’s basically telling a story that makes a joke of some Taido technique names. The punch lines of the two versions I saw were “untai 2dangeri,” and “hentai manjigeri.” One of them was sort of funny; one was sort of stupid. Apparently, he went to the Japan Taido Association guys and asked them if he could go on TV and make a joke of Taido. “It’ll be good publicity,” he probably told them. They said OK.

So, before, I would say that I practice Taido, and people would say “I’ve never heard of it.” Now they just laugh at me. Great publicity.

People here constantly talk about trying to make Taido a major martial art in Japan. Then they go and hold openly biased tournaments and let this guy make Taido look like a joke on national TV. Brilliant strategizing.

Taido Holiday Wish List 2007

Last year, I composed a sort of Christmas list for Taido. It’s been an eventful year, and some of the things on that list became reality. One of the really awesome things about Taido is that it’s always changing, and I’m pretty excited that most of these changes appear to be happening for the better.

I have a lot of dreams for the next year in Taido. Before I start listing off every conceivable wish I could have for Taido over the next year, I’ll review the items I posted in last year’s list. Here they are:

2006 List Recap

  1. American-flag print, satin karate uniform – Nope! But I did get an awesome Gameness grappling gi this summer. I guess that’ll have to do for now.
  2. A DVD reference video of every hokei in Taido – Nope! But YouTube posting by Taidoka has really taken off over the last year, and I believe that this si going to have some really good impacts as more students see how Taido is trained in other dojo and other countries.
  3. A video of Ohashi winning jissen at the All-Japan tournament – Check! DVD graciously provided by Yasu Kato.
  4. Some better documentation of Saiko Shihan’s life – Nope!
  5. An English translation of Taido Gairon – Nope!
  6. A translation of Shin Karatedo Kyohan – Nope!
  7. A better floor at Tech – Check! The new floor is not perfect, but I think it’s an improvement. For some reason, nobody thought to order any kind of non-slip material to lie between the mats and the polished wood floor. This is easily corrected if a few folks will just get together and order few meters of it.
  8. A better uniform supplier – Nope!
  9. More students at Tech – Check! There are lots of new beginners at Tech right now, and I hope they stick with it. We have more black belts than ever now, and there is a lot of potential for Tech Taido to really take off. It’ll be interesting to see where things go if the club holds up over the next year. I’m really optimistic about this.
  10. And a partridge in a pear tree – Actually, I don’t think I ever really wanted that anyway.

So some of those things are going to roll over onto this year’s list. I’ve also discovered a few other things I’d like to see happening in the Taido world. Here’s some additions to the wish list for this year:

2007 Taido Holiday Wish List

  • Better jissen rules. I just came back from visiting Japan and watching the all-J tournament. There were a few guys trying some really cool stuff, but a lot of the jissen I saw was just weak. There were a lot of cheap tactics in play too. I’m not sure how the rules could be altered to make players spar cleanly, but after this tourney, any expectation I have of competitors fighting fairly is gone. I really hope the judges get their act together and start giving more warnings before the WC.
  • Better hokei rules. Nakano and all the other guys winning hokei tournaments are not bad guys. They practice really hard, and they have an almost robotic precision in addition to amazing gymnastic skills. But watching hokei at the all-Japan bored me. Wow, Nakano did a full twist. But his punches were weak, some of his kicks were off target, and I got tired of all the dramatic pauses between every section. How about this: instead of giving so many extra points for flipping around like ninja in a bad action movie, let’s require some power. And maybe set a time limit.
  • Better evaluation methods. At the World Taido meetings in Holland, Tanaka and others were talking about coming up with new and better training methods to move Taido forward. Personally, I don’t think it will work. The reason is that the current training methods are a response to the current tournament rules and shinsa evaluation methods. Everyone knows that the best way to pass a class is to study the items that will be on the test. Right now, students practice the things they need to pass rank and win tournaments. No more, no less. If we want to move Taido forward, we need to start with how we define quality.
  • And that’s it. If we want Taido to continue to improve, we have to change the way we award rankings and officiate competitions. The more I think about what Taido needs most in order to be taken seriously in the martial arts world and become the major force it deserves to be, the more convinced I am that we need to take a hard look at what we consider good Taido.

    Is it enough to have awesome unshin if you can’t hit worth a damn? If you prevent your opponent from making gentai, does his attack hurt you any less? Is wrapping your legs around an opponent when you’re already on the ground going to have any chance of being an effective nengi? Of course not, and everyone knows that these things won’t work in real life, but they’re good enough for winning tournaments.

    I guess I kind of got on a rant there, but if I could wish for one thing to change in Taido before the next WC, it would be this very fundamental issue. How we define quality in Taido is the single most important thing upon which we must focus. In Japan, that definition is increasingly decided as Taido slides down the slope from budo to sport. I hope the next year can see the balance begin to tip in the other direction.