2008 Kansai Year-End Tourney

On 23 December 2008, the Toyonaka Dojo hosted the 20th Kansai Region Year-End Tournament. There were a total of about 30 participants from Osaka, Kyoto, and Kobe Gakuin University.

Since this year’s National Championships were so late, we only had about two weeks to rest and prepare before this event. This included creating tenkai and team hokei. The schedule was so tight that the two tenkai from Osaka only got to practice for a total of about an hour each.

Because of the small number of competitors, we made three-member teams for tenkai, team jissen, and team hokei. My team managed to take second in hokei and first in both jissen and tenkai. Here’s the tenkai:

Not too bad considering the circumstances. Well, aside from my kamae, which was awful…

Personally, I also managed to take second place in individual jissen, losing the top spot to Mr. Manji. Embarrassingly, he scored the deciding point with a manjigeri – didn’t see that one coming.

I didn’t fare as well in hokei, losing to a college student. Later, Shinzato Sensei told me that my hokei was almost perfect, but he scored against me because my kamae changed levels a couple of times. OK, I get the message – I need to work on my kamae this year.

Of course, the results aren’t as meaningful as those of larger, more serious tournaments. Just for one example, former all-Japan champion Sato only placed 3rd in jissen this time around, despite being clearly better at jissen than those to whom he lost.

Still, it was a fun tournament and nice to get some good-natured competition going among dojomates. Nakata mentioned making this the final year of the Kansai tourney, but I really hope we can change his mind over the next ten or so months. I think it can be educational since our dojo can’t make it to Tokyo for tournaments more often. It was also a lot of fun.

2008 Tokushima Training Day

This past weekend, I traveled to Tokushima for a one-day training camp and learned a few things. All together, there were almost twenty of us coming in from Tokyo, Kansai, and Hiroshima. Among these were a few people I hadn’t met before and a few I met at the recent camp in Tottori.

Tokushima Taido

Tokushima is located on the island of Shikoku and takes about two-hours to get to by bus from Osaka. There’s actually no Taido dojo in Tokushima, but a guy named Izumi is hoping to change that.

I met Izumi in Tottori. He was a couple of years behind my friend Takeo in uni, and now lives in Tokushima for work. He’s been getting lonely out there, and he’s been commuting from Shikoku to Honshu for practice when he has the chance. That’s not sustainable, so with some help from Takeo and Uchiyama, Izumi is trying to set up a dojo in Tokushima.

As yet, there are no set training times and no students. But if this weekend’s training was any indication, Izumi will have all the support he needs once he gets things organized.

Training

The theme of this training was jissen. With the student championship next week and the all-Japan tourney coming up in a little over a month, everyone is trying to get their skills together. Who better to lead a jissen training than someone who has won just about every award at just about every tournament for the last few years? You can’t do much better than Tetsuji Nakano.

Nakano is basically one of two guys in the world that consistently wins tournaments at every level (the other is Kaneko). He’s won both jissen and hokei in the all-Japan, kicked ass in the world championships, and pretty much only loses anything when he is injured. I’m not a huge fan of tournament-oriented Taido, but I have to respect Nakano’s ability as a competitor as well as his athleticism.

The training was broken up into two sessions, and each of those consisted of two parts. In session one, Izumi and Nakano led the training; in session two, Nakano took the first half, and Kitamura from Hiroshima led the second half.

Session One

Izumi started things off with a thorough warm-up and basic unshin. Then we went right into some games to practice unsoku. The goal of the practice was using unsoku to control territory on the court. We tried several variations on the theme of protecting our own territory versus advancing into the opponent’s territory.

In the most basic version, one person stands at one end of the court and tries to prevent the other person from crossing to the other side. First, we just ran, and then we repeated the drill using unsoku. After everyone had gotten the idea, we added the rule that the defender could punch. Then we added the rule that the attacker could use any technique. There were a few variations as well, but you get the idea.

Then Nakano took over, and we worked on some more technical drills. Nakano is best known for his unshin, but he’s also fast as all hell, and he showed us a few tricks for beating our opponents to the punch (literally). Roughly half of Nakano’s jissen strategy is based on how to score with ejizuki, he devoted a lot of time to drilling his method of scoring with punches in jissen.

Nakano’s main point was that scoring with a single technique is not a feasible strategy – the opponent will probably be able to avoid your first attack. Why? Because you have to cover a lot of distance to attack from the outside, and this takes time. Nakano suggests using your first attack to close the distance and force your opponent to react. Then you have the chance to punch – if you’re fast enough.

Nakano is definitely fast enough. For those of us who aren’t quite as fast, he shared a couple of tricks. The first one can best be described as a stationary sentai. Think of pulling the front foot back (as if you were doing in-soku) and immediately stepping in with the rear foot for senzuki. Then combine both movements simultaneously. If you are already close enough (after feinting with your first technique), you will be able to hit your opponent easily.

Of course, punching quickly is nothing new, and there are a hundred ways to do it. But how can we make sure that our punches score? There are two keys: correct eji and strong gentai.

Nakano emphasized using a proper ejizuki instead of simply throwing a punch from whatever position. Putting your body behind your punch aligns your power and makes it look as if you know what you’re doing. The same thing goes for putting the knee towards the ground. This sounds like a very simple thing to do, but lots of people do half-assed punches and wonder why they aren’t getting points. Nakano says that if you want to get a point, you need learn to punch properly. I couldn’t agree more.

The other thing about making sure you get points for your punches is to emphasize your gentai. Don’t just punch and then wait in ejidachi for the judge to blow the whistle. Kiai like hell and back up into a confident looking kamae. It won’t make your actual punch any better, but it will increase your chances of getting points. If you want to win tournaments, points are your number one goal.

Nakano drilled us for about an hour on executing a strong ejizuki with gentai. We practiced applying this strategy to a number of situations including defenses to common attacks and as kimegi in rengi situations.

Session Two

After a break to eat, Nakano picked back with more jissen strategies. Since we worked on punches for the morning session, he devoted the afternoon session to kicking.

Basically, there are two keys to hitting your opponent with a kick. The first is to kick where the opponent is going (not where he is now), and the second is to keep your opponent in sight. We did a lot of drills on watching the opponent while you are kicking. We also tried various techniques for anticipating where the opponent will move when we begin attacking. These drills are difficult to describe in words.

After Nakano was finished, Kitamura took the lead for about an hour. His presentation was pretty much similar to the practice he lead in Tottori (developmental kobo drills) with a little more emphasis on continuous techniques.

The Real Basics

In all, it was a good day of practice. A lot of the actual concepts we worked on are very basic – distance, combinations, eye contact – but that doesn’t make them unimportant. The fact is, the thing that most people have the most trouble with is applying the basics consistently. For example, how many times have you practiced avoiding manjigeri? And how often do you still get hit with manjigeri? Probably too often. We all have holes in our games, and those holes usually come down to a problem with the basics.

Basics are important. Everyone knows this, but we tend to make the mistake of confusing “basics” with basic techniques. The true foundations on which Taido is built have only a little to do with the shape of the techniques and everything to do with applying certain core ideas in a variety of situations. At the heart of all martial arts are a finite set of principles that define what happens when two human bodies are set to the task of controlling each other.

The day’s stated theme was jissen, but the actual practice was about applying the “real basics” of combat. Without these basics (outlined in the seigyo chapter of Taido Gairon), winning in jissen is simply a matter of strength and luck. Practicing the basic principles is the way to build true skill in Taido, and I think everyone’s skill level went up a notch in Tokushima.

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.

2008 Shakaijin Taikai

Every year, the Japan Taido Association hosts four national tournaments, one each for children, students, and adults, and the all-Japan championship. The Shakaijin Taikai is a tournament for “members of society,” which can be taken to mean adults. Basically, it excludes children and undergrads, but anyone else is free to compete. This year’s event included men and women from their early twenties to late sixties.

The Other National Tournament

If the national championship is the most objectively important tournament, the shakaijin has taken on a subjective importance as an unofficial warm-up for the all-Japan. Until a few years ago, the Shakaijin was a pretty relaxed affair, with a relatively small number of participants. Recently, it has grown in popularity, and this year, over 150 people joined the competition. Black belt Men’s jissen was especially competitive, with almost seventy entrants.

 

One reason for this growth is that there are no limits on the number of competitors from each prefecture/dojo nor on the number of events in which any one competitor can enter. The all-Japan has a limited draw, and a lot of good people don’t manage to make the cut. The shakaijin is a good tourney for them, but in the past few years, people that usually compete in the all-Japan have started to enter the shakaijin as well. As a result, the overall level of competition has increased.

Even though the shakaijin is a lower profile event than the national championships, people have begun to take it much more seriously than before.

Results

Here are the winners of the various events:

Beginners’ Hokei

  1. Kazuyuki Sugimura
  2. Manabu Kitami
  3. Hiroaki Tanaka

Kyu-Level (Rainbow Belt) Hokei

  1. Satomi Shigeno
  2. Shiori Oi
  3. Jason Maher

Kyu-Level -Mei Hokei

  1. Yasuhiro Miyamoto
  2. Mineko Komazawa
  3. Tadashi Ichikawa

Men’s Black Belt Hokei

  1. Tetsuji Nakano
  2. Hiroyuki Miyashita
  3. Tomokazu Kaneko

Women’s Black Belt Hokei

  1. Yayoi Masaki
  2. Aiko Hirayama
  3. Akiko Sato

Black Belt -Mei Hokei

  1. Noriyoshi Tone
  2. Hiroshi Asaoka
  3. Andy Fossett

Men’s Jissen

  1. Tomokazu Kaneko
  2. Kimio Tanno
  3. Ryota Horigome

Women’s Jissen

  1. Hiromi Chiba
  2. Maho Yamagiwa
  3. Tomo Ichihara

Dantai (Team) Hokei

  1. Tanaka Taido School
  2. Kanagawa Power
  3. McNegishi

Dantai Jissen

  1. Oe, Mashima, Tsukanaka, Doi, Iwase, Tabata
  2. Horiuchi, Osaki, Brunet, Kaneko, Takahashi, Shimamiya

Surprise!

OK, so there actually weren’t that many surprises in the winners this time around. Kaneko won jissen; so what? Nakano won hokei; again, so what? Well, it proves that nobody else is going to win by trying to outdo them; e.g. nobody is going to feasibly do a Nakano-style hokei better than Nakano, and nobody is feasibly going to beat Kaneko at jissen without making a careful study of what he does well and where he is weak.

Looking over the results from the last 17 shakaijin taikai, one often sees the same names again and again. The same is true of the forty or so years of national championships. Kaneko won jissen at the all-Japan five times in a a row. That’s not a fluke. We get in ruts sometimes with out practice methods and forget to stop and analyze our training in light of our results and those of other competitors.

For example, everyone sees Nakano’s hokei and thinks the way to win is to do a really fast hokei with impressive flips. Well, that’s the way for Nakano to win, but he’s got an edge on anyone else who tries to use that tactic – he’s better at it because he’s been doing it longer. The way to beat Nakano is not by trying to be like Nakano.

Of course, these two guys are just the most obvious examples. There are lots of great competitors in similar positions. Every time I see the same people winning with the same tactics year after year, I get this feeling that things aren’t evolving the way they should. I guess my point is that simply practicing to “get better” isn’t going to take Taido to higher levels. We have to actively analyze our current results and apply creative thought to improving them.

Logistics and Statistics

On the whole, the tournament ran really smoothly. Due to the large number of competitors, the events had to be split up into two separate dojo. The elimination rounds for the hokei divisions were held upstairs on a hardwood floor. This didn’t turn out too badly, since the first two rounds of the -tai hokei required untai. The biggest disadvantage was that it made it impossible to see one event if you were competing in another. I didn’t get to see any of the women’s hokei eliminations because I was competing in jissen downstairs.

The judging in this tournament was pretty excellent. I’ve been pretty outspoken about the inconsistent and often clearly biased judging in some Japanese tournaments, but I was pleasantly surprised overall with this event. Abe and Watanabe especially showed clear judgment and excellent control of the matches. There were lots of warnings given for unsoku, kamae, and poor technique. Even better, I only saw a couple of points given without good contact or for crap (unbalanced, uncontrolled, weak, or generally stupid) techniques. Honestly, this is a big step in the right direction, and I hope the trend continues to the all-Japan and the World Championships next year.

This year was also the most international shakaijin to date, with competitors from France and Australia. And some American guy too. Between Jason and I, we managed to double the total number of foreigners to win medals in individual events in the shakaijin (Lars Larm and Alvar Hugosson have also taken bronzes home in the past). Someday, one of us is going to have to win an event outright.

Me, Me, Me

Since this is my website, yet get to read my totally biased account of the day’s events. Lucky you!

This was my first time to compete in the shakaijin tournament, and I’d be an ass if I claimed not to be pleased overall. There were things I could have done better (see below), but the results beat my expectations.

My first match started right at 9am, and I was a little nervous. I was the youngest competitor in the -mei (breathing) hokei division by a margin of probably twenty years. I fully expected that my age would preclude my winning any matches. I was wrong.

The thing with the -mei hokei is that they are designed for older people. Not necessarily really old people, but adults. I learned seimei no hokei (the required form for the first two rounds this year) when I was about eleven years old. I can’t say that I’ve plumbed its depths, but I have practiced it for twenty years and believe that I have a fair understanding of what it does and how it works. Practicing Yoga and T’ai Chi off and on through the years hasn’t hurt in that respect. Still, I’m a young guy with a healthy and fairly strong body, so I tend to move by exerting force. Properly performed, the movements in the -mei hokei are accomplished by directing natural energy – a fancy way to say that the internal process of the movement is more important than its external appearance. Anyway, older people have an advantage in learning to do this because, having less physical strength with which to push, they can allow themselves to flow.

So imagine my surprise when I won the first match. It was probably a fluke, since I’m pretty sure that Takahashi screwed something up (he’s been competing in the -mei hokei division for lots of years and has won it more than once). I got a little excited and that tension didn’t help me out in the second match. Still, I managed to find myself in the finals.

Since I had fully expected to lose, I hadn’t practiced enmei or katsumei at all in the few weeks leading up to the tournament. So I had no choice but to perform seimei again in the finals. For some reason, I decided to do both the front and back halves, which I hadn’t done for at least a year. Nishi is a veteran -mei hokei competitor, I didn’t give myself good odds for beating him, but I tried to clear my mind and do as good a hokei as possible. Despite a slight loss of balance at one point, I felt OK with my performance. After the final bow, I kind of zoned out while waiting for Nishi to finish up, so I was somewhat stunned when I noticed the flags going up in my favor. Third place.

Jissen didn’t work out quite so well. My first match was against an inexperienced opponent, and I took it as a opportunity to warm up. I scored the first wazaari and then just kind of hung out until time was called. The jissen style in Osaka is a lot more direct and aggressive than most dojo, so it took a while for me to get used to the flow of standard jissen again. I won, but I didn’t feel that I was flowing the way I wanted to.

When my turn came back around, my opponent was none other than Kimio Tanno. Tanno’s strong (he’s one of the few Japanese Taidoka with any appreciable muscle) and tricky – he changes his tactics in almost every match. The first time I ever saw him compete was when he beat Mitsuaki Uchida in the American 30th anniversary tournament. In this tournament, he beat me (and a bunch of other people).

I don’t really know what happened in this match. I’m not trying to make excuses, but for some reason, I just wasn’t able to keep my mind on what was going on around me – it was like I was somewhere else. At least I didn’t make it easy on Tanno – he couldn’t score on me, and I lost by a warning. We both landed a few glancing blows, but nothing solid. I felt that we were both struggling to figure out how to approach each other, and then time ran out. Tanno got his game together in subsequent matches and went on to take the silver medal.

The Osaka Team

Osaka doesn’t have the most distinguished tournament history. A couple of the guys have managed to place in one or two tournaments a number of years back, but they haven’t been able to repeat those performances since.

This time, only three of us advanced beyond the first jissen elimination, and one made it to the fourth round. As I alluded to earlier, I think the Osaka group has a much more linear style of Taido and a focus on strong single attacks rather than continuous combinations. This is unfortunate, since the judges rarely give points for that sort of Taido anymore. Part of the issue is that Osaka is so far removed from the mainstream of Taido competition. People practicing closer to Tokyo have a distinct advantage in access to a greater number of training partners and competitions.

All of our men lost during the first round of -tai hokei, and Tamura fell just short of the finals in the kyu-level hokei. On the whole, Osaka isn’t very strong at hokei – most of my dojo-mates are more interested in jissen. Tone Sensei is the exception, usually winning or placing in the -mei and sonen hokei divisions. He took first place in -mei this year, and I give him a good deal of the credit for helping me do as well as I did.

Apparently, this year was par for the course as far as my dojo-mates are concerned. Maybe I can convince them to try some different practices in the hopes of fairing better next time. As Einstein famously pointed out, doing the same thing and expecting a different result is insanity. I’m not suggesting that the Osaka dojo is doing anything necessarily wrong, but they’ve settled into a routine that doesn’t allow them to improve at the kind of pace that would make them competitive. I really enjoy a lot of the training we do currently, but maybe this is a good time to consider making a few changes.

Me, Again

I seriously think that I need to alter my approach too. One thing I realized a couple of days before the shakaijin is that I don’t take my participation in tournaments seriously enough. I want to work on changing that.

Lately, I’ve been struggling to reconcile my strong dislike of “martial sports” with my belief that martial arts practice requires competition to be of any real value besides simple PE. Being a relatively inexperienced competitor (considering how long I’ve been doing Taido), I think it’s important for me to enter as many tournaments as I can while I have the chance. However, the idea of Sport Taido without an equal emphasis on Taido as Budo is one I am very strongly against.

Perhaps I also have fear of failure /fear of success issues with tournaments that have prevented me from earnestly preparing and participating in the past. This isn’t the place for self-psychoanalysis. What I do know is that I want to take things more seriously when I compete in the future. In preparation for the shakaijin, I probably practiced seimei no hokei about fifteen times and did nothing special to practice jissen.

I’ve noticed that this is my pattern: to do the absolute minimum preparation for tournaments with the mindset that I won’t win anyway since tournament-style Taido isn’t my interest. That’s a really self-defeating attitude and a sure way to never win anything. It’s true that the Taido seen in tournaments resembles a game more so than it does anything else, but winning that game can only improve my Taido and wouldn’t appreciably weaken my martial instincts. I’ve decided to make an honest try against some stiff competition in the all-Japan.

So, this really was a warm-up.

Though tournament training will never be the main focus of my practice, I’m going to work harder on preparing for the all-Japan. I’ll be competing in the regular hokei division and probably something else.

The shakaijin tourney showed me what I need to work on between now and then. My untai is pretty good, but I’ll need to improve my tentai hokei to be competitive. I also have some ideas regarding training for dantai jissen that I hope to put into practice for our team. We have a little less than three months to apply what we learned in the shakaijin taikai.

2008 Tottori Training Camp

This past weekend, my dojo joined Taido students form several other prefectures in Tottori for some training and play.

Tottori is a small costal city. It’s known for fishing, hot springs, and the sakyu (about which, more later). The local Taido scene is a small, loose-knit group held together by a guy named Uchiyama. Uchiyama is a neurologist and moved to Tottori about five years ago. Before that, he studied and taught Taido at Chiba University. He’s a senpai to a few of my friends.

This year’s attendees included six of us from Osaka, a few from Tokyo (including one student who is originally from Denmark), Hiroshima, Ryuku University on Okinawa, and the group in Tottori. All together, there were almost thirty participants.

Arrival

When our bus dropped us off at Tottori Station, I must have seen something that reminded me of My Neighbor, Tottoro, because I began singing “Tottori, Tottori” to the tune of the Tottoro music over and over. I couldn’t get the tune out of my head, and it eventually became a kind of soundtrack for most of the weekend, thought I was generous enough not to share my torture with too many other people.

After a few minutes wandering around on the North side of the station, we found Uchiyama and a few others waiting for us on the South side. The Osaka group was the last to arrive, so everyone else was already waiting at the dojo.

Session One

After a short ride, we were there too, and practice began about ten minutes later. The first session was in three parts.

After the warmup, Uchiyama led the training for the first segment. The focus was posture, distance, and jump timing. We did some stepping line work, forwards and backwards, then again with partners. After a while, we added stepping kicks and progressed to jumps. Finally, we worked on stepping up into jumping kicks. In the last exercise, we worked on timing the initiation of the kick at the apex of the jump.

The next segment was a short one, led by Izumi, one of Uchiyama’s kohai from Chiba. The basic premise was that most people don’t strike with any power in jissen. I couldn’t agree more. We paired off and were told to hit each other with various strikes to various targets. While a good practice in theory, there was no discussion on gradually increasing the power to learning how to effectively absorb the impact. In the end, nobody wanted to hit anyone “too hard,” so the exercise didn’t accomplish very much.

My friend, Takeo Suzuki led the last bit. The idea here was in trying to use the force of gravity for punches. We practiced dropping into punches from various positions, then we did it again with partners. There was also some practice on tobikomi ejizuki, working on retranslating the force from dropping to a lower level into a horizontal slide. A lot of people ended up scraping the skin off their knees and feet on this one.

Sakyu = Big Fucking Sand Dune

After about two hours in the dojo, we all jumped in the cars and rode to Tottori’s famous giant sand dune for a little more workout.

Most of us didn’t really know what to expect. I think some people thought we were going to a desert, and in fact, somebody had imported camels and was leading tours. Our group went in on foot.

The sakyu is really fucking big. I’m terrible at approximating measures of such things, but I think you can get a sense of it from the photos. Of course, being the sane and mature people we are, the first thought most of us had upon seeing a ginormous mound of sand was to run up it as fast as we could. We soon discovered that “fast” was not an accurate description.

From the top of the dune, we cold see the ocean reach out to the horizon. You can’t just look at a beach without wanting to go out and play on it, so we did. Coming down the dune was a lot easier than climbing up, and the sand was very soft. It was almost like skiing (and people do sandboard there).

Once at the beach, we decided to do 1000 punches – you know, just for the hell of it. It was the first time for most people, but as is usually the case, keeping count turned out to be the most difficult part. After a little more than ten minutes, we were done.

The Party

No Taido event is complete without a party. This was a good one. The food was not bad at all, and there was plenty of drink to go around. After dinner, we all convened to the room most of us were sleeping in and continued until the last of us had either passed out or fallen asleep in mid-conversation.

It was a good time all around. I got to spend a while talking with Mori, who is involved in the arrangements for the World Championship and related events next year. They’re already getting things organized – it’s a really big job, and they’re a small association. After getting to know Mori, Kitamura, and the other members of their group, I’m even more excited to visit Hiroshima next August.

Session Two

Despite severe hangover and extremely sore, sakyu-tortured legs, we began our morning workout at about ten o’clock, only about an hour and a half behind schedule.

This session consisted of two parts. First, Kitamura led a few drills for jissen. The first drill structure was a variation of my Broken-Record Drill, but with fewer iterations. We also practiced some alternate responses to high-percentage techniques like manjigeri. Of course, everyone knows how to use hienzuki, be we also practiced using a sort of sentai-fukuteki and a few other tactics. The final exercise was a stimulus/response exercise, similar to some of the ones I presented here.

In the second half, Okigawa from Tokyo showed up some exercises to build attributes that will improve unshin. He learned these drills from a friend who in turn learned them at this year’s Asia Pacific Games in Australia. The Aussies learned them from an Olympic Gymnast.

The drills themselves are all good. We did handstands, stiff-leg hops, rebounding donkey-kicks across the court, and log rolls without touching the legs or arms on the floor. All of these drills can be excellent when integrated into specific plan for jump and gymnastic training. On their own, they really just make you sore.

After all that, we finished off the training with some stretches and went to lunch.

We’re supposed to do what?

For lunch, we ate “mochi-shabu” which is supposed to be a version of shabu-shabu (thinly sliced, boiled meat) with various flavors of sliced mochi (pounded rice) instead of meat. In practice, it was more like a regular nabe (pot-dish) with some strips of mochi thrown in. It wasn’t bad, but most of us would have been really happy to have a little more protein.

The printed schedule listed the afternoon’s main activity as mountain climbing. Nobody’s legs were in any condition to climb a mountain. Luckily, it began raining while we were eating, and we were forced to decide on a Plan B. Plan B was going to a big fancy onsen – much nicer on the sore muscles.

Bye-Bye

After an hour of so relaxing in the various soaking tubs, it was almost time to start shipping out. I managed to find an open cafe and scarfed some curry and rice before we had to catch the bus. Everyone said good bye, but most of us will meet again next week at the Shakaijin Taikai in Tokyo.

As of Tuesday evening, Takeo’s legs were still sore enough that he was avoiding stairs. My legs were fine, but I ended up with some kind of mystery eye infection that made me look like I’d been crying for a month; it’s all cleared up now. This week, I’m taking it easy so I can be in good shape for the all-Japan Workers’ Tournament on Sunday.

I had a really good time in Tottori, even if I do get that stupid song stuck in my head every time I think about it. I got to meet some new folks and see a few old friends. That’s always cool. I also got a chance to practice and discuss Taido and try out some different ways to practice. I’m looking forward to doing it again next year.