Building International Community

As I mentioned in my top 11 article, one of my favorite aspects of my Taido experience has been the opportunity to participate as a member of an international community. There are people all over the world that share my passion for Taido, and I’ve really enjoyed meeting so many of them. There are plenty of others whom I have not yet had a chance to meet, but I hope to get around to it.

The Taido World Tour

One of my goals for the next few years is to visit every country where people are practicing Taido. So far, I’ve trained in America, Japan, Australia, Finland, Sweden, and the Netherlands. That leaves Denmark, France, Portugal, and England. I hope to make it to all of these places at least once before I turn 45.

My reason for wanting to do this is to learn more about how Taido is practiced and what kind of people practice it. The more I can learn about the people who do Taido and the practices in which they engage, the better I can understand what Taido actually is and, more importantly, where it’s going. It’ll give me a chance to influence this evolution as well.

Taking Personal Action

In the past, we have left the international connections to organizational ties between the lead instructors. In terms of community-building, I think this approach has mostly failed. It seems that the real friendships we develop with Taidoka from other countries almost happens in spite of organizational intervention, rather than because of it.

Open-Door Policy

In my vision of Taido’s future, all Taido dojo and groups will welcome any Taido student from anywhere, without regard to what rank that person holds from what organization or dojo. I think we should open our doors and accept all Taido students to share their experiences with us. In return, we will can give them the benefit of our own ideas. This should be a free exchange, and it should not be limited to instructors or tournament champions.

I think most dojo are fairly open to visitors, especially from other countries. We can also be open personally to receive Taido guests. If someone visits your dojo, why not invite them out to eat or have a drink? Training together is fun, but getting to know that student as a person is much more rewarding. It can be a great experience for both parties to share their thoughts and culture. Even if the visiting student doesn’t speak your language well, it can be a lot of fun to try and communicate.

The Other Side of the Coin

Being open for visitors is great, but it’s only half the battle. We also need to actively encourage our students to visit other dojo. We need to give students incentive to travel to other Taido countries and bring back their experiences. This benefits everyone in a school.

For example, if a student in your dojo travels to another country and learns a different way to do a certain technique, he has expanded his own skills. If he comes back and shares what he learned with other students, they can benefit too. It’s not that any one way is better than another, but every variation has the potential to teach us more about Taido.

Make sure to ask your dojomates about their Taido experiences abroad. You can learn a lot from their stories. It also helps to build excitement about travel and international Taido friendship, which encourages everyone to get out and experience more.

I Love Politics!

Part of the problem may be that we have some negative political history between various Taido organizations. Some of these problems go back to (and I am not even slightly exaggerating here) thirty-year-old rivalries between former college classmates that are now instructors. I don’t see any good reason that this should have any effect on students in Taido. I feel that we should value the desire of students to create connections and friendships with students in other schools and other countries. The better we promote this kind of connection, the more we can be sure of better and more widespread Taido in the future.

Global / Local

We have an international network of Taido organizations. Let’s leverage that network to create an international community of individual Taido students. We are all practicing the same art, even if we practice it in different ways and for different reasons. This variety is rich with opportunity for the future of Taido. We have much to learn from each other if we can get together.

This is already happening on a small scale with certain individuals. I know that several Japanese Taidoka taught at dojo in France and Australia. A few instructors are known to travel whenever they have the opportunity. However, I’d like to make this international community accessible to all Taido students on a wider scale. This need not be limited to instructors or even large dojo.

Chances are, someone in your dojo has some contacts in another country. Seek them out and ask for advice. Make the effort to invite students from other dojo to visit and practice with you. Then make sure to go see them too.

Making Contact

Since moving to Japan, I have been able to cement stronger friendships with Japanese Taidoka than I had in the past. These are not just connections through my instructor – they are personal relationships built through shared practice and discussion. I’ve also made friends with several of the students in Australia and in Europe.

Through this website, I have made contact with Taidoka from everywhere in the world, and they mostly seem very cool. I want to visit all of these people at their home dojo, and I plan to invite each of them to my own.

You don’t have to relocate or start a website to make friends in Taido. Visit the Australian Taido Forum and introduce yourself. Start a discussion or ask a question. Everyone will be excited to get to know you.

Also, keep up to date with tournaments and training camps. Besides the World Championships, we have regular International Friendship Games, European Championships, Australia’s Asia Pacific Games, and American International Tournaments. Clubs in Europe often host training camps – get in touch and ask if you can attend. American Taido summer camp is a great event for anyone who wants to visit the US and hang out at the beach.

Make a plan to attend a Taido event in another country. You will not regret it. The first step is to get in touch. Send an email and introduce yourself. Then ask about any events during the next few months. It really is just that simple.

The Invitation

I previously posted an open invitation to all Taidoka to visit my dojo at Georgia Tech in Atlanta, USA. In 2007 and 2008, we hosted visitors from India and Japan.

I will repeat that invitation now for any Taido practitioner who is interested in visiting Osaka. Osaka is a very different Japan from Tokyo, and Taido here is less tournament oriented. I will make a commitment to provide lodging, practice, and plenty of hanging out to any Taido student who can make it to Osaka. I’m pretty sure that other dojo members would offer to host visitors as well.

The Challenge

I challenge every Taido club worldwide to take this step toward a creating real community of Taido students. Lots of clubs are doing this, and the benefits are very tangible.

American Taido has had Japanese guest instructors for periods of up to five years. Maya Tabata spent a good bit of time in America and France. Masa Ohashi is back and forth between Japan and Australia constantly, it seems. Now there are a handful of French Taidoka living in Japan. I know there is fairly frequent exchange between the major dojo in EuTai. Lots of us from various countries have come to live in Japan for extended periods. Every time a Taido student practices at a foreign dojo, for one night or for a few years, everyone learns something.

Simple arrangements will do more for the future of international Taido than all the political nice-talk in the world and also allow the World Taido Federation to devote their official energies to developing Taido, supporting instructors, and creating educational materials.

Indeed, if individual students take the initiative to build their own community, the instructors can better focus on teaching, and the organizations can better focus on organizing. Perhaps then, instead of wasting time and money with marginal legal issues, Taido Honin can actually begin working to spread Taido. Wouldn’t that be nice?

Let’s all take the initiative together for creating an international community of Taido students. Get in touch, make friends, and meet up.

A Kobo Parable

I love coffee. Always have, as far back as I can remember actually knowing what coffee tastes like. So when I was looking for a job during a break from school, it was only natural that I should apply at Starbucks. I did and was hired. Actually, I worked at Starbucks several times, as well as a few other coffee shops, but this story takes place at the Starbucks store at the Perimeter Pointe shopping center in North Atlanta.

The last time I did a stint at Starbucks was the second half of 2001, and the manager of our store was a woman named Sherri. She was nice-ish, but the two of us had problems getting along. Though we both had good intentions, we seemed to go about everything in totally different ways. Of course, my way was infinitely superior…

At least my drinks were better, and this I know because regular customers and other staffers often told me so. The thing was, nobody seemed to understand why. I would often ask them how they could tell the difference. We both used the exact same recipe for every drink on the menu. Even my coworkers were hard-pressed to put their fingers on exactly what is was about Sherri’s drinks that didn’t taste right. The answer was obvious, once you thought about it.

Sherri and I were the two fastest drink makers in the store, and we both worked mornings – the busiest shift. When you have a line that stretches to the sidewalk, you always want the fastest person possible to be making the drinks, because that’s the most labor-and-time-intensive part of giving each “guest” the “Starbucks experience” (you have to use this kind of terminology when you work for a corporate chain). To be even more precise, the thing that takes the most time is steaming the milk for things like cappuccinos and lattes.

This is a fairly innocuous step in the making of an espresso-based beverage. All of the Starbucks literature goes on and on about the careful roasting and special packaging of the coffee beans. The cups describe the “perfect” shot of espresso – a twenty-second pour of one ounce of 192-degree water through I forget how much ground espresso beans and what pressure. Nobody ever really says much about the milk because milk is milk, and you can’t screw that up, right?

The process is actually very simple. Cold milk is poured into a stainless steel pitcher. Then the pitcher is brought up under the steam wand. The tip of the wand goes a little under the surface of the milk, and the “barista” opens the valve to allow hot water vapor to pass through the milk. The air froths the surface of the milk up a bit, and then the wand is pushed down into the bottom of the pitcher to heat the milk evenly from the bottom. Once it reaches about 140-150 degrees, it’s considered done, but it’s still good up to 170-something degrees, at which point it burns.

Now there are two ways to go about this. First, I’ll tell you how Sherri did it. When things were busy, Sherri didn’t want to have to wait for milk to heat up before putting it in drinks. So she decided that the most efficient way to do things was to fill the pitcher with as much milk as possible and steam it until it was as hot as possible. That way, she would have plenty for several drinks, and it would stay above 140 degrees for longer.

On the other hand, I would only steam small amounts of milk at a time, and only to the bottom end of the temperature spectrum. It would seem that this would require more steps when making a lot of drinks, but it actually requires much less time to steam a small amount of milk than it does to steam a whole pitcher, especially to a lower temperature. Instead of putting the pitcher on the rack at full steam blast, I would actually stand there and hold the pitcher while I kept the steam at a low level to heat the milk gradually. This made all the difference.

With the Sherri-method, you end up with milk that is unevenly heated. Some parts of it are nearly-scalded, and some of it is nearly-raw. This mixes together and gives a sour flavor to the drink. You can’t detect this right away, but the more you cook milk, the faster it goes stale as it cools. So what often happens is that you buy a drink at a place like Starbucks and, by the time you get to the bottom half, it doesn’t taste good anymore.

However, if the milk is steamed gradually and evenly, and doesn’t ever get anywhere near it’s scalding temperature, it retains its fresh flavor for much, much longer.

So what, if anything, does all this have to do with kobo? Well if you’re practicing kobo correctly, it’s a lot like gradually heating and frothing milk. If you practice the way most people do, you’re trying to build algorithms for jissen, and those algorithms can never be adequate practice for something so dynamic. What about the scalding milk? That’s what happens when you try to learn jissen without a rational progression through proper use of kobo methods.

Two Original Hokei

In light of the recent hokei assignment I gave the Tech Taido black belt candidates, I decided to post some notes on a couple of hokei that I have created. Though neither one would fulfill the requirements I set forth in the assignment (because they were designed for reasons to be outlined below), their presentation may prove beneficial to the candidates as an example of the kinds of thinking that may be useful in the creation of a new hokei.

Hen/Hen no Hokei (“double weird”)

Sometime around 2000ish, I got to the point that I had become competent in performing every hokei in the American curriculum, and a couple of others that only a very few older instructors had ever seen. While I could have continued to practice them forever, continually discovering greater depth, our organization was in a very expansive mood at the time, in terms of technique. I thought some creative hokei interpretations would be a good idea.

I decided to make newer versions of each of the -tai hokei. I chose to begin with hentai no hokei because hengi are archetypical of Taido, and because the routine appears to be very closed to interpretation in its original form. In Japanese, “hen” means changing, strange, or weird, among other things. Since I was changing hentai no hokei, I decided to call it hen-hen, or double-weird, hokei.

I’ll begin by describing the moves for the current incarnation of hen-hen. Here’s an outline:

The routine begins from gedan kamae and faces left in the usual fashion. However, I use jodangamae instead of chudan here.

part 1:

(from hidari jodan) senjo-ebigeri (without touching the kicking foot to the ground in between), ushiro nukite (fudodachi), stand up, repeat on other side

part 2:

face front in hidari chudan, untai keri tsuki, gyaku shajogeri, ushiro sentai gyakujogeri, kiai, return to kamae, untai keri tsuki, gyaku dogarami, untai keri tsuki, turn and morote nukite, step left to hidari jodan

part 3:

sentai no tsuki, gyaku shajogeri, kaeshi ejizuki, gyaku ebigeri, step forward to kamae, step forward again, repeat on other side

part 4:

(from migi morote gedan) bakuchu moroashigeri, fukuteki

part 5:

step up to 45 degree angle (hidari chudan), keri moroashigeri, turn and repeat on other side, kiai, return to genten

Since this is based on a hokei you all know, I think you can get the gist of what I’m doing here. It should be apparent that I haven’t really changed the “flavor” of the hokei at all. If anything, i’ve increased the things that make hentai no hokei so interesting (to me, that is) in the first place: more changing directing, more hengi, more complexity. I’ve also gotten rid of the non-hengi for the first kiai, which has always bothered me (yes, it’s still technically sengi, but the actual strike is hengeri…). In general, I think my hen-hen hokei is very much like the original, only more so.

So why bother, if it’s going to be so similar? Well, for starters, I didn’t want the hokei to be unrecognizable. It’s still hentai no hokei – just a different version. The original hokei is great practice, and I love it. I just wanted to see how I could “max-out” the framework that the hokei provides. Have I done a good job? Well, that depends on what you think Taido should look like.

I’m sure some folks would think the use of jodan kamae is erroneous. However, I’ve always liked using jodan with sentai and hentai movements, and since the hokei has techniques working in opposite directions, it seemed like a natural fit. Some folks might wish for more unshin, since the original hokei only has one chance to earn extra points in competition, but i’m not very competition-oriented, so it’s not much concern to me. I think hentai no hokei is about changing – changing the body axis, changing direction, changing level (height), changing kamae for various uses, etc. The notion of change is central to my version of the hokei.

I feel that the outline above is pretty self-explanatory. Since the “point” of the hokei is unchanged, I won’t give much in the way of analysis of this routine. However, please note that the techniques do “flow”. There is nothing arbitrary or non-functional. The principles employed are the same as the original hokei. The techniques are (almost entirely) hentai. The routine does what it sets out to do by sticking to its theme and providing a useful practice of hengi at a higher level than the original version.

Now let’s look at my most recent creation:

2006 Asia-Pacific Games “Taido no Hokei”

Later this week, I will travel to Sydney to participate in the second annual Asia-Pacific meet. This year’s competition event includes a category called “Taido no hokei”. Briefly, the rules indicate that the player must create an individually unique hokei, based on a standard enbusen pattern used in the existing -tai hokei. The hokei should make use of each of the five sotai movements and contain some interesting/difficult techniques. It also has to be symmetrical. That about sums up the stipulations.

Lately, I’ve been spending most of my training time on the -sei hokei series, which are designed to practice go no sen application as opposed to the sen no sen of the -tai and -in hokei. This distinction primarily means that the -sei hokei use techniques, and are practiced in an attitude, conducive to application in a defense situation. For example, the -tai hokei (sen no sen) consist of straight-line techniques deployed offensively against one opponent at a time (usually). In the -sei hokei (go no sen), the performer defends against several attacks (sometimes by multiple assailants) in various directions. The -sei hokei use less kicking, no unshin, and more-complex unsoku than the -tai hokei, as well as lots of elbows, punches, and grabs.

I’ll get more into this difference in a future article, but the point is that I really am enjoying the go no sen feel of the -sei hokei, so I decided that I would attempt to bring more go no sen timing into my “Taido no hokei”, despite the fact that it has to follow the basic form of a -tai hokei.

Here’s an outline:

Firstly, I should say that I am basing this on the movement pattern seen in untai and sentai no hokei. However, I have made a couple of tweaks. For instance, from the initial gedan kamae, I turn to the left by spinning about the front foot, clockwise, so that I arrive in migi chudan, one step westward (assuming the front to be north) of the standard opening step. This is to set up the idea from the beginning that I am facing two separate opponents simultaneously attacking from opposite sides. Other alterations to the pattern should be apparent as I proceed.

part 1:

(from migi chudan) sentai shajogeri, renzoku nentai ejizuki, gyakuzuki, ushiro gyaku dogarami, tobi 3dangeri and morote nukite (hidari ejidachi), make hidari chudan in place, repeat on other side (migi ejidachi, rear foot on genten), spin counter-clockwise about rear foot to face front (hidari chudan)

part 2:

untai keri tsuki, turn and morote nukite, bakuchugeri, turn to north, zenten junzuki (migi ejidachi), kiai, left leg steps west to hidari chudan

part 3:

ka-soku sentai jun-hangetsuate (at 90 degrees), return by reversing the step in gyakusentai fashion, gen-soku, look to rear (east), ushiro nukite (migi ryunendachi), senjo-ebi-moroashigeri, return facing east, shotebarai, sentai kinteki enpi, kaeshi sentai gyakujoate (eastward), nage kuzushi (hidari ejidachi, facing west), turn in place to migi chudan, repeat on other side (migi ejidachi, facing east, right foot on kidosen), left leg steps north to migi chudan (facing genten)

part 4:

untai keri tsuki, turn and morote nukite, bakuchugeri, turn to south, zenten junzuki (hidari ejidachi), right leg pulls 135 degrees clockwise to hidari chudan to northwest

part 5:

untai oshikuzushi, step-in ryunen enpi, uraken, turn 180 degrees to northwest, torite, assist with right hand, left leg steps along the same line in front of the body to fudodachi, migi ushiro enpi with arm-break across left shoulder, left leg steps back to torite position, drop-enpi, left leg steps in front of body to genten, right leg spins 90 degress clockwise, repeat other side, kiai, return to genten, have a beer, go to bed

Parts of this are going to be difficult to understand in writing, and that’s ok. I may post some video someday, but I’m hoping to avoid turning this site into a media-heavy affair with too many stimulating visuals. In the meantime, use your imagination and try to figure out for yourself what these techniques are, and how they are being used. The discussion below may be helpful in this respect.

How did I meet the requirements?
Well, I followed the pattern symmetrically, and I used every sotai at least twice. What’s more, I tried to use each of the five techniques together in combination. In terms of interesting (or perhaps even new) techniques, I have a few combinations that I have never seen elsewhere. The shajo renzoku nenzuki is all mine. The senjo-moroashigeri is the advanced level of the senjo-ebi I use in the hen/hen hokei. Tobi 3dangeri was suggested as a possible point-winner, so I felt I should throw it in. I think I have met the requirements very well and even pushed beyond my knowledge of the expectations.

How did I exhibit go no sen?
This is a more interesting question. During each combination (save the kiai portions), I have two opponents attacking form opposite sides. The combinations deal with each opponent without neglecting the threat of being struck from behind. For each opponent, there is a defensive move, a time-buying move, and a finishing move. I’ve also included a good number of throws, joint attacks, and close-in striking. I’ll let you stretch your imagination a bit by figuring out the bunkai (though I may teach this routine and its applications to black belts someday). The main thing is that I think it’s pretty obvious that I am defending against multiple attackers in this routine. And that’s what I had hoped to accomplish.

The only thing I wish I could have done differently is to make use of more tengi techniques (not just in the “up and down” parts) or some better-integrated close/joint work. The tengi and close-in parts are kind of separate from the sen-un-hen-nen parts, which are very integrated. I would have liked it if I could have found a way to make everything fit a little more tightly together, and I may be able to do so in a future incarnation of this routine. As it stands now though, I had to cut out about half of the techniques I really wanted to include because my original draft would have killed me on endurance (it took about six minutes to do a mental walk-through). I traded the opportunity to create the “ultimate” hokei to end up with a performable hokei that includes plenty of flash while holding on to its purpose.

The End

So that’s the end of my notes on these two hokei. I think they show different sides of hokei creation in response to different requirements. One was designed as an update of an existing hokei, and one was designed for competition as an omnibus collection of interesting combinations exemplifying go no sen.

While neither of these would be acceptable for the hokei assignment as given, they could be interesting source material for students (or anyone) hoping to build their own routines. In addition, this article may be helpful in deciding how to structure the essay portion of the hokei assignment (though the descriptions would be unnecessary).

I hope this demonstrates that the contents of a hokei or routine are designed to be functional practice for combination techniques. While it’s always nice if a routine looks badass, this is meaningless if the techniques don’t fit together with some overall purpose. The two hokei outlined above are both pretty good examples of these points.

I have created several other hokei over the past five or six years (not to mention the ones I made up as a child – but I was more interested in tenkai in those days). In addition to “updates” of all the -tai hokei (including both versions of untai) as well as ten and nen -in, I have done several combined-sotai routines: sen-un, un-hen, sen-nen, and ten-hen. I’ve also played with the -sei and -mei hokei along the same lines, but I haven’t finalized any practice that I feel really meets the standards of being called a “hokei”.

This kind of tinkering with preset routines doesn’t have to be limited to hokei. In america, we practice a lot of shorter routines for various techniques. I am currently working on making new versions of all of these too, at both easier and more difficult levels. The idea is that students can learn simple routines early on, and then increase the complexity and difficulty with variations on the theme as they progress. For example, I have a variation on the simple 8-step chudan kamae turning drill for each belt level. Black belts find themselves losing balance and tripping over their feet when they practice my advanced sentai routine.

Perhaps some really forward-thinking students may be interested in the idea of altering existing hokei and routines as a means of creating incrementally progressive drills of gradually increasing difficulty to improve capabilities in some or other theme of movement. And if not, i’ll get around to writing an article about it someday before too long…

What is (My) Taido?

I see Taido as a system of principles which prescribe creativity in movement and thought. In my practice, I focus on health, mobility, and personal development through the exploration of creative movement. And I also hit people.

Freedom is a necessary precondition to creativity. In terms of motion, you are limited in your potential performance (your creativity) by your mobility and strength (your freedom to manipulate your body). Taido will increase your agility, strength, and endurance, as well as contributing to your overall health. Taido can be an integral part of a healthy lifestyle. Despite its sophistication, students of all ages, skill levels, and cultural origins, including those with physical and mental disabilities, can learn Taido.

Taido is based on five types of movement: rotation about a vertical axis, vertical displacement, axial tilt, rotation about a tilted axis, and vertical displacement with rotation about one or more axes. These five movements are deployed through two locomotive methods that act as a framework for strategic development. Combined with various hand or foot strikes, throws, and joint manipulations, the five movements and two methods create an infinite variety of possible techniques. These techniques are practiced in formal chains (hokei) and partnered drills (kobo) that progress in a logical manner from basic mobility to complex combative application (jissen).

I don’t believe that Taido can be practiced as a traditional art – it is a radical art. When Seiken Shukumine synthesized Taido, he intended to take the martial arts out of the two-dimensional world of karate and into the multidimensional universe of Einstein. In fact, he referred to Taido as the “three dimensional art of defense” (though I would argue that it serves us better to think in terms of four dimensions). He hoped to release the full potential of human motion for application to martial science. The result is an athletic style of near-gymnastic combat. Watching Taido, one can easily see how it differs from “traditional” karate.

Since Taido was founded in the spirit of evolution, we are all responsible for continuing to evolve the art to greater levels of sophistication and usefulness. This is as true for Taido theory as it is for technique – meaning: I am not pushing any dogma in any aspect of Taido. I don’t believe in canonizing a technical curriculum nor allowing training methods to stagnate. Taido is about changing with science and society and making its practitioners successful in coping with those changes as well.

Taido is for people who want to evolve and develop as humans. This means realizing our full creative potential in all aspects of our lives. Taido can improve your performance in everything you do, and it all begins with learning how to move.

Note: The first few comments below refer an older version of this post. I have retained them because the discussion clarifies some points that may not be clear otherwise.