Interview: Mikael Jansson

The Taido/Blog Interview is a set of eight questions that I’ve been asking for the past few months with the idea of highlighting a variety of perspectives from students and teachers around the world.

Welcome to the third Taido/Blog interview. If it seems like I have a bias towards only interviewing Swedes, it’s only because they’ve been the ones who have returned their responses the fastest. I’m hoping that some other nations (cough, cough, Finland, cough…) can be represented here soon.

I first met Mikael Jansson, or Mickey, in Leiden around the 2006 European Championships, but we’d probably crossed paths before that. Since then, we’ve had a few chances to communicate and I’ve always been impressed by how relaxed and easy-going he is. Perhaps that’s not always the case, but he appears quite a bit happier than many of the serious “sensei-type” characters I’ve met.

We need more people like him in Taido who are capable of being serious about training yet knowing how to let go of things that don’t matter and have a good time off the tatami.

Who is this guy?

Mickey began Taido when it was quite new in Sweden, giving up Judo to try out the new fighting sport. After some years, he became a board members for Swedish Taido and in 1987 took his first tip to Japan to train Taido for five weeks. He’s returned almost every other year since. In that time, Mickey has been one of the leaders of Taido in Sweden and also founded the Taido association in the Netherlands.

He’s currently 6dan kyoshi teaching in Stockholm and has judged in numerous tournaments in Europe and Japan.

Taido/Blog Interview: Mikael Jansson

What follows are my questions and Mickey’s responses via email. Enjoy.

1. What do you love most about Taido?

There’s many things that I love about Taido. First it was the joy of movement and the creativity that I fell for. And as an instructor and leader it’s amazing to meet with former students when they’ve grown up and recall how Taido had a positive touch on their lives and personality. To be able to help people with their own personal development and growth, also to help new leaders grow, these reasons makes my day better. Taido is a great method to do this.

2. What’s one way students can take advantage of this right now?

Physical diversity, problem solving and with a creative way gives people more satisfaction in life, and a better health as well. So, continue with your Taido practice!

3. What do you feel is the biggest problem facing Taido?

There is too few people who works to spread Taido both in their own country and internationally. Those who do work to spread Taido are doing the best they can, but we need more people. And because we’re not that many, the growth isn’t as fast as it needs to be.

4. What’s one thing students can do right now to make this better?

From what I’ve seen, young people don’t take their time to experience how good they can become. They try different things and never go further than a few steps, and will never know how far they can go, both physically and mentally. Let Taido become a natural part of your day, and not just a few years in the teens. Let it be a part of your everyday life throughout your entire life and grow with it, and let Taido grow with you. Of course, the instructors have a big part of this progress, to give our students enough motivation and knowledge – that will help you through life.

5. What was one epiphany you’ve had in your training or general approach to Taido?

My first trip to Japan, and the fundamental Taido theory that I learned. JTA helped me with homestay and very good instructors in an admirably and generous way. I compared it to other sports and understood that it was something special with Taido, and the people involved.

6. What are your personal goals for the next year in Taido?

To get Stockholm’s Taido club to grow with more Taidokas, by opening more dojos and develop our organization, and continue developing our instructors. I also aim for goals as physically active, of course for my own health but also as a role model for the younger generations so they can see the positive effects of good training.

7. You began training 33 years ago. Where would you like to see Taido in 33 years from now?

That Taido is more visible in our society and that Taido is established in more countries, but to do this we need more involved people with a more modern way to organize and work in. We also need a realistic and well thought through plan to get there.

8. What message or advice do you have for Taido students?

To strive towards getting better at something the students aren’t so satisfied with, and continue this process throughout life. Not only in Taido, but also in school, at work, economy, relations and everyday life – so it become a “life rule” or a motto.

Thanks, Mickey.

I’ll have more interviews coming soon, so stay tuned.

In the meantime, if you have any comments or questions for Mickey, leave them below, and I’ll make sure he sees them. Thanks!

Interview: Hannes Kannisto

The Taido/Blog Interview is a set of eight questions that I’ve been asking for the past few months with the idea of highlighting a variety of perspectives from students and teachers around the world.

Welcome to the second Taido/Blog interview. Again, I’ve interviewed a Swede…

Taido Jissen Hannes
I first met Hannes at the 2006 European Championshiips

Hannes Kannisto is a good friend of mine, and I’ve enjoyed hanging out with him at various events and entertaining him and his wife when they visited Osaka. He’s a fellow beer-lover and father to a beautiful little girl. We’ve spent many hours discussing Taido and how to teach it, so I know you’ll enjoy reading his ideas below.

Who is this guy?

Hannes started training Taido in 1992 and began instructing 1994. After taking shodan in 2001 (“Yes, that’s a long time, 9 years”), he participated in 2003 European Championships (4th place in hokei), 2005 World Championships, and 2007 European Championships (dantai jissen gold).

He’s currently 4dan renshi, has judged various tournaments and started a new Taido dojo in Mölndal, Sweden, in 2010.

Taido/Blog Interview: Hannes Kannisto

What follows are my questions and Hannes’s responses via email. Enjoy.

1. What do you love most about Taido?

The thing I love most about Taido is that you’re never really done with it, there’s always room to improve, whether you are training for competition or just in general.

The best thing is when you get this kind of epiphany about how for example a technique really works, and suddenly a thing that was really hard is so easy!

2. What’s one way students can take advantage of this right now?

Hopefully, they can feel the joy I feel about Taido and training Taido. I hope that this makes it more fun to come to class and easier to enjoy Taido. In that case anybody will get better in their Taido.

3. What do you feel is the biggest problem facing Taido?

I feel that the spreading of Taido is very slow, mostly because unless you have a very high rank (officially 6 dan kyoshi) you’re not considered good enough to hold shinsa, even for beginners. In other, larger, martial arts the demand for rank of the shinsa holder is not as strict. For example, in a Swedish form of ju-jutsu a 2-kyu ju-jutsuka may hold shinsa for beginners (only), after getting a license (which includes taking a proper course on what to look for, how techniques should be done etc.).

I think a modification of the shinsa-system would be a good idea, to let more shinsas be held. This puts a higher demand on the educational system for shinsa-holders, though, and also a lot of work before such a system could be implemented. I think it would be worth it, but that’s just my opinion.

Another thing is the recruitment of beginners. There’s a lot of work to be done here, but most of the problem is fairly simple: lack of time. Most people that love Taido is most of the time very engaged within Taido organizations, both their own dojo, but also in national and sometimes international organizations. This takes a lot of time, and then there’s everything outside Taido (Yes, there’s actually a world outside Taido).

However, if we don’t recruit, we disappear, so it needs to be done.

4. What’s one thing students can do right now to make this better?

Students may not be able to do very much about the shinsa system, more than perhaps express their view (in a behaved way) for example to their national organizations. Bringing it up for discussions is always good though. In the recruitment issues on the other hand, everybody can help: bring your friends to class, participate in shows and competitions, put up posters and so on. This I think is the most important thing of all: if you want Taido to survive, you can do so much to help.

Sounds grave, but not really. It’s actually mostly fun!

5. What was one epiphany you’ve had in your training or general approach to Taido?

One epiphany (or maybe more of a relization) I’ve got over the years (I’ve actually got quite a few), is how to make efficient and fun Taido. When I started taido, almost 20 years ago, a lot of the training was focused on making the proper movements, exactly how to move the arms and legs and so on. This is of course important, so that you can perform your techniques with proper protection,timing and so on.

Unfortunately, as we trained so much on getting the details right, the movements became slow and because of that, uneffective. I think that, at least for younger and healthy students, speed needs to be stressed, otherwise it takes very long to be able to use Taido efficiently. Also, taigi-ichii (timing of the technique) is very important, both because it speeds up the technique and makes it so much stronger, with much less effort.

6. What are your personal goals for the next year in Taido?

The next year is focused on developing my dojo, recruiting new people to class and so on. For my personal training, I’m focusing on sei- and -mei hokeis, especially chisei and katsumei no hokei.

7. You began training 19 years ago. Where would you like to see Taido in 19 years from now?

In 2030, I hope Taido have grown slightly more than so far. I would like to see at least 5-10 more dojos in Sweden, and a few more in Finland, Denmark, and Norway too (and the rest of Europe too). I hope to see more active international Taido organizations, or more visibly active I should say. The flow of information is hopefully more visible. I hope that more people engage in the spreading of Taido, I hope I have the time myself.

I’ll still be around though, so Taido will still be around.

8. What message or advice do you have for Taido students?

Try to practice taido for as many different instructors as possible! Go to camps, seminars,competitions etc. Practice with as many different people as possible. You’ll meet lots of new friends, and you’ll have so much fun! In the mean time, you’ll also learn lots of new and fun stuff.

Thanks, Hannes.

I’ll have more interviews coming soon, so stay tuned.

In the meantime, if you have any comments or questions for Hannes, leave them below, and I’ll make sure he sees them. Thanks!

Interview: Fredrik Utbult

The Taido/Blog Interview is a set of eight questions that I’ve been asking for the past few months with the idea of highlighting a variety of perspectives from students and teachers around the world.

This is kind of exciting for me. I first had the idea to interview people I respect on Taido/Blog during the 2009 World Taido Championships in Hiroshima. With some many truly excellent people hanging around and talking about Taido, it was only natural that a lot of ideas got shared and lot of interesting subjects were discussed.

It took me a while to act on, but this is one of the ideas that came up.

For the first interview to publish, I decided to share the responses of Fredrik Utbult, president of the Australian Taido Association and a good friend. Check it out:

Who is this guy?

Fredrik, like me, began practicing Taido in 1984, though he did so in Sweden. After spending six weeks in Japan in 1988 and taking his shodan examination with Shukumine Sensei, he went on to compete as a member of the Swedish national team. He later coached that team and served as president of the Swedish Taido Association.

Eventually, he must’ve gotten tired of his toilet swirling in the same direction, so he picked up and moved to Australia in 1997 where he founded the first Taido club at University of New South Wales in Sydney. As of now, Fredrik holds the rank of 6dan kyoshi and continues to lead Australian Taido.

Taido/Blog Interview: Fredrik Utbult

What follows are my questions and Fredrik’s unedited responses (I didn’t even change his weird European spelling…) via email. Enjoy.

1. What do you love most about Taido?

It is not just a single thing that makes me love Taido. I’ll give you 3 of my favourite reasons.

a) Taido has finesse. The cooler we can finish off our opponent the better. We strive to perform the perfect technique, the most agile, stylish and proper way to beat our opponent. If we succeed, we will get the appreciation not only from our own friends but also Taidoka’s from other clubs and nations whatever the level of competition. This is something I have not experienced in any other martial art.

It is often argued that Taido is difficult to learn and may not be effective on the streets. I agree to some extent, if you want to quickly learn how to fight in real life situations, then a simple and straight forward martial art is probably the way to go. Saying this, you will still be able to use Taido if it comes to it. It will just take a bit longer and you will need to understand that the rules in a competition does not apply to street situations. The difference is that you will have a lot of fun while learning.

b) Taido is very broad. When practising Taido it is important that we do things correctly. This is to preserve the style so that it does not drift off and away from the basics that makes Taido very beautiful to watch when performed to perfection. Knowing this you may think that Taido is very strict and cannot be changed, but this is not the case. Taido is ever changing, this was Saiko Shihan‘s will and as long as we stay within the guidelines we are encouraged to come up with our own techniques. This is a very cool concept as a referee in a competition will be able to reward a point for a technique he/she has never seen before.

In Taido we are supposed to move in 3 dimensions, meaning there should be no restriction to what plane we are moving or body axis we turn around. To be able to move freely we have been given a set of movements called unsoku and unshin. In combinations with all our techniques it does give us a very broad martial art. Over the years I have been practising, trying, watching and reading about many other martial arts, none of these are as broad as Taido.

c) Taido community. What makes Taido really interesting though is the people, my students, overseas students, Sensei’s etc. Wherever you go in the world as a Taidoka you are welcome. The whole international Taido community is like a huge family, I think this is quite unique.

2. What’s one way students can take advantage of this right now?

Travel around the world to practise and meet with other Taidoka’s.

3. What do you feel is the biggest problem facing Taido?

Political issues are unfortunately the biggest problem facing Taido in the future.

4. What’s one thing students can do right now to make this better?

Students should not worry about those things, just enjoy learning Taido and make friendships across the borders.

5. What was one epiphany you’ve had in your training or general approach to Taido?

The one epiphany that made the biggest difference was when I realised that nothing that other Taidoka’s do is impossible also for me to do also. If other people can do it so can I. No one is more than human so it is also possible for me to do it as good. Of course it may not always happen this way that you become as good as the best, but that attitude is what can take you a long way in anything that you do in life. It is also important to realise that you do not need to follow what other people are doing, you can also lead the way yourself.

6. What are your personal goals for the next year in Taido?

Personally, I would like to see another club started so that we can continue to spread Taido in Australia.

7. You began training 27 years ago. Where would you like to see Taido in 27 years from now?

I started Taido 27 years ago. In another 27 years, I would like to see Taido practised in another 10 countries and that the number of students in each of the existing Taido countries will have at least tripled.

8. What message or advice do you have for Taido students?

Most important advice is to be patient, listen carefully to your instructors and to see and learn from the older students.

Thanks, Fred.

I’ll have more interviews coming soon, so stay tuned.

In the meantime, if you have any comments or questions for Fred, leave them below, and I’ll make sure he sees them. Thanks!

Toyonaka Dojo

Toyonaka Taido is my dojo. Well, not my dojo, but the dojo I primarily train at.

Toyonaka is one of the northern suburbs of Osaka; I live in neighboring Suita, so the commute is fairly painless. We practice at Budokan Hibiki, which is a large public training hall, and we usually have plenty of space to work out.

Though quite small, Toyonaka Taido is the main group in Osaka. All together, we have about fifteen members, most of us black belts between 25 and 45 years old. We have one 5dan, a few 4dan, some other black belts, a handful of rainbow belts, and sporadic small numbers of children. Sadly, there are only four women.

Our official leader is Akitoshi Nakata. Though he has a pretty laid back management style, Nakata is really consistent in making sure that Taido stays active in Osaka. No matter what, he never misses a practice. Nakata tends to lead by telling jokes that make you want go along with him, and his influence can be very subtle.

Since Nakata is typically standing by and guiding things from the background, a lot of the teaching duties are handled by about three of us: a Buddhist priest, manjigeri, and me. Training is held most Tuesday and Saturday evenings for one and a half to two hours. Since most of our members are adults with jobs and real-life commitments, attendance fluctuates, and it’s often impossible to predict who will show up on a given night. As a result, the training program varies to reflect the needs of those present.

I joined the dojo in April of 2008, just a couple of weeks after moving to Osaka. Around the same time, we also had two other transplants from the Tokyo area: former national jissen champ Masahito Sato, and Kitasato and Korenkan alum Takeo Suzuki. Before we arrived, most of the members (with a couple of exceptions) had practiced together since beginning Taido in university.

As a result of this influx of new blood, we’ve had an interesting mix of training styles and ideas getting tossed around for the past few months. Mr. Manji’s style is based on kihon. Yoshimoto (the priest) tends to focus on using unsoku and connecting it with techniques. Sato has been working on getting everyone to take the opponent’s back in jissen. Takeo brings us a lot of drill ideas he learned from Nakano. I’ve been trying to build everyone’s physical foundations so they can do all the other stuff better.

Lately, we’ve begun to settle into some patterns that incorporate everyone’s best ideas. The challenge is to give everyone the chance to develop their own Taido in the most effective manner. Practice has to improve our skills (techniques, movement, and hokei), attributes (physical ability, strength, stamina), and strategies (application in jissen and defense), time is really short. Since most of our members aren’t able to devote more than two or three hours a week to training, efficiency is a big concern for us.

Every dojo has its own style and traditions, and ours is no exception. We don’t do a a lot of tournament training, because most tournaments are too far away to attend often. We also have a stronger connection to Okinawan karate than most Taido dojo, and a few of us even practice some Genseiryu kata. Everyone in our dojo has the chance to think for themselves and “choose their own adventure,” so to speak. Still, perhaps the strongest of Taido traditions enjoys a place in almost every dojo: beer.

We like to hang out outside of training. After practice on most Saturdays, we hang out and have a few beers at a Chinese place by the train station. Nakata and I often talk about martial arts movies – he’s the only Japanese person I’ve ever met who knows about the “Shogun of Harlem.” His brother has a (probably unhealthy) obsession with the Star Wars movies. One of our members looks uncannily like Bruce Lee. Yoshimoto is friends with Taido “comedian,” TAIGA, so we try to laugh when he’s on TV (easier said than done).

Osaka is a whole different Japan from places I’ve lived before. People in Osaka speak different Japanese and eat different foods. There’s been a lot of adjustment for my girlfriend and I to live here, but the crew in Toyonaka has helped make it fairly painless. For our birthdays last June, they threw us a small party and gave us (among other things) a takoyaki maker. The first time we made takoyaki at our apartment, we felt, briefly, like we could be at home here.

Toyonaka Taido is good stuff and good people. I also train with other dojo as often as possible, but I really enjoy working out with this group. We have a lot of fun, and I think we’re all getting better.

If you can read Japanese, be sure to check out our training blog. For the English version, here’s my personal training log.

2008 Ryuku Uni Taido Visit

I’ve lived in Japan for a few years now, and I’ve gotten to see and experience a lot of really cool things. I’ve practiced zazen at five hundred year old temples in Kyoto, admired Picasso ceramics at the Hakone Open-Air Museum, picked tea in the hills around Mt. Fuji, made my own Cup Noodle at the Nissin Instant Ramen Museum, gotten drunk with transsexual hostesses in Yokohama, had my feet massaged by an anime character in Tokyo, and fallen in love (and back out) all over the damn place.

However, there’s still a lot of places I haven’t had a chance to visit. Until very recently, Okinawa was one of those places. But then my girlfriend and I took a long weekend to visit a friend who moved to Ginowan earlier this year.

Japanese Jamaica

Okinawa is pretty interesting. It may well be the most Americanized place in Japan due the heavy influence of American GIs based there. Martial artists know it as the birthplace of Japanese Karate, and in Taido, we think of Okinawa as the birthplace of Seiken Shukukine. It’s also kind of the Japanese version of Jamaica – a popular vacation spot for tourists who want to hang out on the beach, sweat their asses off, and drink the famous (though totally unimpressive) beer.

Okinawan Taido

Okinawa also has Taido, and most students know of Yuetsu Tanaka. When he’s not busy doing AIDS research, Tanaka Sensei teaches Taido a few times a week at the Naha municipal martial arts hall. Since this was just a short trip, I didn’t get a chance to visit Tanaka Sensei. Luckily, there is now a second Taido club on Okinawa.

Ryudai

The Ryuku University Taido Club is still a baby, but in just three years has grown to include over twenty members. I met a couple Ryudai members recently at the Tottori training camp, and they were really cool kids. The club was founded by my friend Anton Mikami, who began practicing Taido under Saito Sensei in Hirosaki. When he moved to Okinawa for college, Anton saw an opportunity to grow Taido and founded the Ryudai Taidobu.

I first met Anton in Leiden, Netherlands at the 2006 International Friendship Games and European Taido Championships. We got into a good deal of trouble together then, and got together again at the last Shakaijin Taikai. I told him that I had been planning to visit Okinawa soon, and he invited me to drop by the club. So I did.

Tourney Training

When I showed up at 11am on Saturday morning, the club members had already been practicing for over two hours. The All-Japan university Taido championships are coming up really soon, so everyone was in full-on competition-prep mode.

This is the first year that the club has any female black belts, so two girls asked me for some jissen advice. I’m not a jissen expert, but it doesn’t take a genius to see that the overall level of women’s jissen in Japan is much lower than that of the men. There are a lot of reasons for this, and it’s beyond my influence to drastically alter the way Japanese women think or practice. However, if we look at jissen simply as a game, we can identify within the rule structure two major points that prevent them from being able to score points: maai and gentai.

We began doing some work with maai – distance for defense and attack. If techniques are initiated either too near to or too far from the target, they are ineffective. Working from the outside, I showed them how to use ninoashi to close the distance between unsoku and attack. Then we looked at the more common problem, which is getting stuck too close to attack. After introducing a couple of general strategies, I drilled them on stepping away and returning directly with techniques.

As for gentai, I think the biggest problem is a lack of confidence. Japanese women tend to wait to be told what to do, especially in group settings. In jissen, they have a difficult time being aggressive. This leads to an interesting problem: after an exchange of techniques, both competitors will usually stop where they are and wait to see if the judges will give them some instruction. They’ll kind of just sit there and look at the judge as if asking “Was that a point? Now what do we do?” The judges usually won’t give points without a clear break in the action (whether or not this is actually a hit is another story entirely). The best way to create such a break is by making gentai.

We did a few drills focussing on returning to kamae quickly and decisively after throwing techniques. I told them that if they even get close to hitting, to use a loud kiai and return to kamae as confidently as possible. It’s true that if you look as if you believe you hit your opponent, the judges will be more inclined to believe it themselves, and everyone I’ve ever seen that consistently performs well in jissen competition uses this tactic.

After half an hour or so, neither of them were moving any better, but they were looking better. Then it was time to work with the men.

Among the male team members, there’s a pretty wide variety of levels and physical types, so we couldn’t work too much on any specific strategies. Anton is over six feet tall (extremely rare in Japan – but he’s half Dutch), so what works for him certainly wouldn’t work for most of his teammates. So I wanted to focus on applying something that I think of as a universal principle: freedom is a necessary condition for creativity.

Taido is about moving creatively to attack and defend. And we have to respond to our opponents’ movements in the process. Being creative relies on having the actual physical ability to go where we need to go in the moment. This means building up a base of movements, and in Taido, we use sen, un, hen, nen, and ten. Everyone learns to execute these techniques, but the hard part is learning to transition smoothly between them.

In order to achieve this, I began by teaching them a couple of yoga poses. We didn’t put on tights or worship crystals or anything, but we did put our bodies in a few strange positions. After laying this foundation, I asked them to work on finding transitions from one pose to the next. We practiced a few of the more interesting of these transitions. Then I showed them how to use the same movements to move between techniques. The actual practice is a little difficult to describe in words, but it’s basically a way to isolate a couple of positions (that are similar to techniques) and find the best way to go from one to the next. When the transition gets smooth, it can be applied to the actual techniques.

I’m not going to say that I changed anybody’s life, but I think I was able to give everyone at Ryudai a few more options and a little more confidence than they had when I arrived.

Okinawa Soba

After a couple of hours, we were all hungry, and the Judo club was wanting to use the dojo. We called it a day and headed to a nearby restaurant that is apparently somewhat famous (but in Japan, that doesn’t mean much). I ate Okinawa soba, which is a hot noodle soup with lots of pork.

Then It was time to leave. We all said goodbye, and went our separate ways, but I’m pretty sure I’ll see most of them again before long.

Okinawa: Check!

So now I’ve checked Okinawa off the long list of places I haven’t been. I hope to go back as soon as possible – there’s a lot to explore, and a weekend just isn’t adequate. On my next trip, I’ll probably visit some of the other Ryuku islands too.