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?

19 thoughts on “Is Taido Still Japanese?”

  1. If there is an “Osaka-taido”, of course there is also a French taido, Swedish taido, Finnish taido etc.
    But this is more a difference of style. It is all taido, but the style or way of teaching might be slightly different. Then again, even within the Tokyo area the way of teaching is different from dojo to dojo. Of course we have to agree on some common points, or else it would be impossible for competitors and judges to know how to move and judge.

    Taido is for the benefit for society – but in what way? If you think about how taido can change the behavior of a person, this would be universal for any country – but also similar to the effect of many other martial arts.

    If you think about the fact that there is made a difference between men and women, then you could say that taido is not at all to the benefit for society, especially when you come from Northern Europe.

    Since taido is very flexible, you can “bend” the rules and choose to read more or less meaning in the different parts, which means that maybe there is not a difference between men and women, but only a choice of styles. Maybe “in no hokeis” should be thought as the “feminine” way of moving, because women naturally have a slightly different way of moving, so it might be easier for women to move in one way whereas it is easier for men to move in an other. Of course ideally men and women should train both styles. To me, Taido is not meant to be divided in genders. If so, I would almost say that men should do “in” and women “tai”, because taido is also about mastering your weak points and not only getting better at what you are good at already.

    Often, we spend a lot of time going back in history, reading the foundation of our beloved martial art. We try to understand where movements came from, why and so on. Nevertheless we also like to say that Taido is a modern martial art. That it is the martial art of the future. We therefore have to be careful of not spending more time on looking back than moving forward. It is essential to any art form for us to know and understand the background, but the detail of it is not always as important as finding a way of adapting to the new generations.

    Non-Japanese might not be able to read or understand some books, but we have all got minds. We are able to think and reproduce, what is written in any book. Mostly we come to the same conclusions as in the books, so I do not find it a problem, that some people are not able or maybe do not take an interest in reading. I can help, but it is not vital.

    If a martial art, or any art in which you use body movements or even your thought, is based on what is natural to us, then it is more important to find the natural movements and logics within us. Then it is more important to dig out the instincts and senses that are already latent in us. The books are merely tools to help accelerate the process. The books are written by people who have studied and found systems and reasons for us to be able to continue the evolution from where they stopped. So if you use all your life on reading, understanding and reproducing that same book, the book itself would have been useless. Your lifetime is meant to be spent on a little amount to assimilate the book of someone else and the rest and most important amount of time on writing your own book, partly based on the knowledge from the old one. There is a reason why Saiko Shihan told his pupils to forget all about Gensei Ryu and start on a fresh with Taido. Because the elements from Gensei Ryu which are necessary for us to master are have already been selected, modified and put in Taido. There is a reason why Saiko Shihan changed the name of the martial art, that he practiced.

    But now that Taido is made so flexible, we might not even have to change the name every time we would make a major change. We would not even see any major change because we change regularly, so the development of Taido is gradual.

    Taido is meant to be a martial art for society, peace and therefore for the world. At the last world championships, in Hiroshima, the theme was world peace. Does that not imply, that Taido IS universal? Taido has no borders.

    Of course we have got at generation gap in our ways of thinking, which mostly shows in the older Japanese generations. To have an open mind is not natural to all taido practitioners. The newcomers might then have to be patient about making some changes. But this is, I guess normal in any group. This is why we have to be diplomatic and good communicators, isn’t it ;)

    Edit: I added some whitespace to make this easier to read. ~ Andy

    1. Ha ha! Yeah, well there is definitely an Osaka Taido, and it’s quite different from the rest of Japan – and that was even prior to my influence…

      It’s interesting that you bring up the gender division. In my experience, this is only an issue in Japanese Taido. In other Japanese Budo, women train together with men on most things. When I practiced Judo, I did randoori with women as well as men. Yet, in Japanese Taido, the practice is very segregated in many dojo. To me, it’s quite bizarre, so I also try to look at -tai and -in hokei as two sides of the same coin and necessary for both sexes.

      Personally, I took the “world peace” theme of the Hiroshima WTC to be unintentionally ironic. While there was a lot of talking about international brotherhood, the message on the court was that any innovations from other countries that did not match the official interpretation of Japan and Honin were wrong. Furthermore, several ranked Japanese instructors remarked openly that some of the competitors from various countries didn’t seem to understand Taido.

      That’s my real concern here: Obviously, everyone practices to match their understanding. But if they don’t understand correctly, they practice will suffer. If Taido is in fact Japanese property, the only right way to practice will come from understanding it as they do.

      And I’m not sure I can agree with that conclusion.

      1. Yes, I agree with what you are saying. But what I have noticed in Japan is, that as a matter of fact there are a lot of Japanese taidokas who really do not understand much about taido and budo and the movements that they are doing. So many times I have come to think, that it might be a good thing to be a foreigner, because you try harder to understand, what you are not able to look up in a book. Also, many Europeans choose a budo, because they have a fascination for the culture and philosophy that comes with it. Many Japanese just choose it for fun, for the sports or for getting extra points to their university grades.
        I think that some of the older members in Japan are very focused on following precisely and interpreting as correctly as possible what they got from the founder, but then they miss the whole idea of what taido really is, and even though I never met Saiko Shihan, I think that he would have told them to be more flexible and open minded. Maybe it is also a question of fear. Fear of loosing the origin of taido.
        The more flexible taido is, the more it will spread out in the world, because anybody will be able to practice some sort of taido. If taido really IS a martial art for society, then it should be as bendable and shiftable as people’s daily lives.
        But maybe it is also a problem to then call it a “martial” art, because on a daily life basis, all we have to fight is more psychological than physical and it is more about ourselves than real enemies.
        I found that many members of TTS and Kitasato University think a lot about what taido means in your daily life and this is very interesting. We always end up spending so much time on discussing it, that the waiter of the restaurant has to kick us out because they are closing :) so, to some people even going to play golf can be a part of taido. Is this too much thinking and bending the concept? maybe, but for some people, this works and motivates them to continue practicing taido, and isn’t that the most important thing?
        Yeah, the gender division is very strange and as a woman, I really hate it! It actually almost made me quit practicing taido, because it slows down the progress of any female practitioner. It even puts a limit to what they are really capable of doing. So I am kind of lucky to have found some dojos where there are almost no women, because then we are forced to train together. The gender division is also contradictory to the concept of a budo, where people are supposed to be seen as equal human beings. Or else we would have had two different kinds of clothing as well.
        The effect of the gender division really shows in the international competitions, because like you said, in Japan that division is much stronger. We really see the difference of power between Japanese women and the foreign women in competition. This is a problem for Japan, if they want taido to be purely Japanese, because they are falling behind in the evolution.
        I think that the Japanese need to get more out in the world. We need much more Japanese taidokas to move around and travel to communicate, exchange ideas, teach and learn. In other martial arts it is common to see a Japanese sensei settled in a foreign country to teach. Is there any Japanese taido sensei settled in an other country than their original one? I have never heard about it. That is a big mistake, I think.

        1. Yeah, I did NOT mean to imply that all Japanese students understand Taido in any real sense. In fact, I’d go so far as to suggest that most Japanese students have only a minimal understanding of how Taido works or why it works the way it does.

          That might seem like a really dismissive blanket statement to make, but I have trained with a LOT of people, and I feel my opinion is qualified.

  2. First of all I have to state I ‘ve only practiced Taido for 2 and a half years which makes me by no means an expert. But one of the first things I was told when I started was that Taido’s core was its adaptability. It was unlike Karate not a fixed martial art but one that was still in evolution and that could and would change to suit different cultures, different practicioners and different opponenents with different styles. So if Taido changes to suit European, American or Australian culture I would say its still Taido because the ability to adapt is it’s core and it’s being true to it.

    1. You don’t need to be an expert to comment. I think the perspective of beginners (not that you are still just beginning) is not heard enough.

      Your point about Taido’s core being adaptability is excellent. Truly, of what value is a screwdriver that only works in Brazil? Taido is valuable because it can change.

  3. Interesting point of view. I think that Taido and other martial are universal.Basic goal is to find your opponents weakness and destroy your opponent. Simple as that. Social and cultural factors are secondary,thats my opinion. Strict behavioral rules are big and important issue in Taido and,if I have understood correctly,in japanese society. So in that way japanese and finnish societys are different. But is that reason to say I havent practised “real” Taido? I dont think so.

    Of course I can’t totally understand what it is to live in japanese society and how different social things impress practising Taido. And do we “foreign” taidokas get all “secret” teaching that are only exclusively to japanese taidoka…

    “When it changes, is it still Taido?”
    Thats interesting way to examine Taido. Is there Finnish Taido, Swedis Taido,Dutch,French etc… I think that there is basic Taido that we all practise and then these national cast gives flavour to it. And I think that riches Taido. I wanna believe that Shukumine-sensei wanted Taido to be universal, not only japanese. I can be wrong but…there are great moral teachings in Taido that are valid outside dojo, regardless where you live.

    Well,I hope that even some makes sense , it’s pretty hard write in english all those things what I wanted say. Thanks about great blog, Taido needs more people like You to develop :)

    -joni

    1. Joni, I definitely think the Taido you practice is real. You make some really good points too.

      To be honest, I don’t believe there are any secrets in Taido. Granted, there is deeper and deeper understanding and skill that come from continued thought and practice, but there is no “Dragon Scroll” somewhere with special ninja sauce.

      I like the idea that different interpretations enrich Taido as a whole. I think that’s a very good way to approach it.

      However, there can only be so much “enrichment” before things begin to look very different, and we are forced to decide which way is right. That’s one function of major tournaments. Looking back at the 2009 WTC, I think that the Japanese way was clearly shown to be the “official” interpretation.

      Of course, tournaments are not everything, and they are much less than what we can learn from Taido to apply outside the dojo, like you say.

      Thanks again.

    2. I think people like to make it look like there is more secrecy to it, than there really is. Sometimes it even serves as covers for the lack of understanding or knowledge of something.
      About the behavior, it’s more about using the traditional etiquette as a part of the mental training. Order, discipline and humility is always good for us to master. I have noticed that discipline is actually more present in some European dojos than in some Japanese dojos, so even though we like to think that it is originally Japanese, it might not be strictly Japanese.

      Yes, I agree! we need more developers like Andy! I will also try hard to make it happen :)

  4. For reference, I’m listing the most recently posted YouTube video I can find to represent each country’s Taido.

    Japan: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zTQohmj60oY
    USA: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xd8khpbKLdI
    Sweden: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZJqrIfkN3-k
    Australia: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pt6MHdiRlEQ
    The Netherlands: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eL_ANZXrSsA
    Finland: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-CxZ5azbthY
    Great Britain: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ILZ1pcuk2mg
    France: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gucmp_9VMOY

    Denmark and Portugal aren’t represented in videos within the past year.

    You can see that there are probably three or four distinct flavors of Taido. The interesting thing (to me anyway) is that, though the techniques are basically performed the same, the focus or intention behind them appears to be totally different.

    1. So do you think that there is a “right” intention and a “wrong” intention? A couple of people, that I talked to in Japan mentioned that you have to find “your” taido, which I guess shows by the different “flavors” as you so elegantly wrote it. This point of view seems strong in dojos like the French dojos and Higashimurayama dojo. Interesting enough these two dojos are also very connected. In the Danish dojo it has never really been mentioned directly, but we are often encouraged to think more deeply about the movements, that we do, although we are also pushed to trust and believe what our senseis and sempais say – which I guess is necessary until you reach a certain level.

      1. I don’t know if I’d call them “right” or “wrong,” but I do think that Taido is better suited to certain intentions than it is to others.

        Designed as a peaceful art, Taido is not the right tool if you are looking for the most efficient way to learn to fight. You can learn to fight by practicing Taido (if you practice the right way), but it will be like when I assembled my desk using a Swiss army knife – there are better methods to achieve that goal.

        Martial arts are only software – they run differently on various hardware (humans). You and I have different body types and ways of seeing the world, so we will have some natural difference in what we are able to make Taido do for us. Yet, I think we have similar intentions in what we like about Taido and why we do it, so we can certainly practice together and have a good time.

  5. For some reason this line if thought reminds me of the role of safety culture within an organization. There are 4 levels at which safety can be analyzed within an organization: level 1 is sharp-end (personnel), level 2 consists of procedures/work environment/training/hardware etc, culture of the organization is level 3 and the culture of the country is level 4 (perhaps we could call this society).

    I think the comparison could work quite well (with a student or teacher as level 1, a hokei or training method as level 2 and the culture within a dojo on level 3), but to be honest, this idea just popped in to my head and I’m not entirely sure where I’m going with this. Perhaps this is where I’m heading at: instead of looking at differences in culture or society, it is better to divide culture in to different categories depending on how useful they are for achieving certain goals. Culture plays an immense role when it comes to “general” ideas or unspecified goals, such as “safety” in general or “the benefit of society”. This should work well for Taido, because if there is a culture which moves people to do things for the benefit of society, this culture would work all over the world and at any time. Compare this with “fixed” solutions, which only work in specific situations at specific moments, and the importance of Taido’s adaptability is once again illustrated.

    In safety culture, 5 categories are used: http://safetydirector.files.wordpress.com/2010/05/1367810j.png

    Taido, being a progressive martial art, should aim for a proactive or generative culture. But indeed, at that level you shouldn’t expect teachers in other countries to blindly obey Japan. Instead, there should be a place to maneuver when it comes to the lower level aspects. For instance by having a freestyle hokei competition, this attitude will ensure that everyone keeps looking for improvements where possible.

    Unfortunately, after reading what you’ve just said, I’m afraid that Taido will either have a to settle with a less useful culture (probably bureaucratic for Japan and reactive for other countries), or there might be a conflict between Japan and other countries. Both sound bad to me, so I hope we can all work on a third option that allows us to break free from bureaucracy and reach a more functional organizational culture.

    1. That’s a really cool thought, and I was unfamiliar with Safety Culture.

      When people ask me about learning martial arts, I’ve always suggested that the people we train with and the instructors we choose will affect our results much more than the art we decide to practice. My point in this distinction has always been about dojo culture – and I’ve experienced quite a few.

      If WTF and Honin and JTA could ever agree on what their relative roles actually are, it would be pretty easy to specify the levels at which standards should be maintained (and who decides those standards) and which ones can be adapted.

      It’s the same thing as saying that in hokei competition, you can choose your own speeds and kiai placement, but you cannot alter the technique choices. Except, we would apply that to the organizational side of things.

      Of course, I’m still not a big fan of top-down leadership when it comes to proscription. However, in a dream world, there could be an organization that created structures (not rules, per se) within which individual practitioners and dojo could innovate and send ideas back upstream to be tested.

  6. Nice article! As a non-Japanese living and doing Taido in Japan this issue occurs every two years or so (international taido competitions). I think we need to remember that when Saiko Shihan (Seiken Shukumine) created Taido his influences of being brought up in Okinawa (by some seem as a little outside Japan) was a major contribution to his mindset and way to look at society as a whole (mainly the Japanese at that time). Later (before publishing Taido Gairon, TG) he visited Taido outside Japan and I think that really moved his mind. The way of looking at society as he presents it in TG (printed 1988) was very different from the main stream at that time. However, I doubt that many of the Japanese Taido instructors at that time really understood what he was trying to say. On the other hand, his message was timely for us outside Japan and in a sense, I think we got the true essence of Taido better than our Japanese peers. This even if we don’t read Japanese. So while saying that Taido was created by Japanese for Japanese, it is not fully true as Saiko Shihan himself was kind of an outsider to the Japanese society and his aim was far wider than just the nation of Japan. This said, I think it is important to find a common ground for Japanese and non-Japanese understanding of Taido, and this time it might be our turn to educate the senseis that gave us the technical knowledge.

    Still hot in my office so I am not sure if the above makes any sense.

  7. You, @AlvarHugosson , are a smart, smart dude.

    That’s some fantastic perspective on Shukumine’s context in writing TG, and in what interactions I had with him I also got the impression that he saw Taido as being something beyond Japan. I think your interpretation is useful too in that I often felt a disconnect between things Saiko Shihan said about Taido and the way how things are executed in Japan.

    I agree that there is a lot the current leadership could learn by getting a more universal perspective on the technical aspects of Taido.

  8. Totally agree. Even though I am to be blamed for some of the present confusion, or rather not being able to get this fixed. My forehead is getting quite thick these days, but the walls seems to grow much faster than I can break them.

  9. I think there is a universal concept that could be shared by all people who do taido no matter their culture, etc. This universal “essence” or what ever we chose to call it, is probably more elaborated on outside Japan than domestically. But there are many “younger” people trying to find a common ground for Taido, both inside Japan as well as internationally. Language is a huge barrier which makes this communication extremely difficult. Also the individual reasons for doing what one do will color the one’s vision. Discussions like this are important and I only wish there were more Japanese involved. The guys that “have the power”, unfortunately lack this capability. So are we back on square one, or how can we move on from here?

  10. @AlvarHugosson We have to keep communicating freely and openly, and we have to encourage our younger members to travel and organizations to host them when they do.

    For example, though it’s very impressive to host a workshop and fly in a top-ranking teacher, it’s also expensive and short-lived. In many ways, it’s better to host a college student on vacation for a month and have them join your regular trainings, homestay with your students, and forge real bonds with the members of your dojo. Not only can they actually perform the movements better than most of the old guys, they still have a future in front of them in Taido. Providing such an experience can be a catalyst in helping them become the leaders down the road.

    The key to lasting change isn’t going to come from anything concerning the “old guys” in charge. They won’t be around forever, so we need to focus most of our efforts on young people, beginners as well as those who have been practicing diligently already. We need to encourage and empower them to see Taido as something that extends beyond the walls of their own dojo two nights a week.

    And the way to do this is by sharing those experiences we have, not hoarding them.

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