There is an outlined method for practicing Taido movements. I have also spent a good deal of time researching various training and practice methods as well as general educational theory. Using the standard method as a framework, I have made additions and adjustments that I think are applicable to most skill acquisition scenarios we are likely to encounter in Taido practice.
There are two sets of five steps we need to consider: one is for generally learning the movement and the other is for practicing it. The first process is applied consecutively through each stage of the second, giving us five levels of iteration of the same five-step process. We’ll discuss this process first because it’s the part most likely to be taken for granted or forgotten.
The 5 Steps
- See the movement
- Understand the general theory of the movement
- Attempt the movement with as little help as possible
- Gradually add more details and parts until you are performing the entire movement correctly
- Reintegrate the theory into the physical motion of the movement
By completing each of these steps, we can be sure to convey a thorough understanding of the movement.
See the Movement
Oddly enough, the first step is the most commonly omitted, though it is also the most obviously necessary. We have to know what is expected of us. Most people are extremely visually oriented in their perceptions of the world. We are used to understanding things through visual interactions with television. We have to see the movement before we can attempt to replicate it. It also helps if we can feel it. If we get the feeling of spinning before we even try to do sentai, we will understand what we need to do much more easily.
Think About It
After we have grasped what the movement looks and feels like, we can understand the general idea a lot more readily. Once we have experienced the movement, it is time to try and figure out what the movement is for and how to get started. We can do this by simply taking a moment or two to think about and discuss some very base-level concepts about what we need to do. That’s all it really takes, but if we can grok the concept of motion well enough at this point, we’ll be able to skip a few ego-damaging screw-ups that can prove discouraging with difficult movements.
Give It a Shot
Next is the part that i’ve been trying to get instructors to try for years: let the student try. If we adequately show and explain the movement (as in the two previous steps) most students will be able to learn faster if they actually just try it. This means don’t start learning sentai by turning the front foot or setting up the hands (because nobody actually executes a sentai this way). The best way to learn sentai is to start spinning. That’s what sentai is anyway. If we get the spin, we can add the other components, but what’s really tough is taking a sentai from five discrete steps and trying to speed it up and spin when the time comes. Every student should have a chance to try every movement with a minimum of coaching before they are bogged down with steps and details.
Work the Details
Once we feel the movement, we can move on to the part we are all comfortable with. We take the movement and break it into as many tiny parts as possible: easily digestible, bite-sized pieces that won’t tax the attention span. This is the time to take everything out of context and focus on the mechanics of the skill. First, we hit the major divisions, then add in the intermediate steps and details. If the movement has multiple parts, we work on them separately at first. Then we put them back together as a whole. This technique works especially well for children. However, if we rely solely on techniques for teaching children, we will have students who perform like children. At this step we must remember to repeatedly engage our students’ big, adult brains by having them place each new part back into the big picture and repeat step two – just try it. Steps two and three work in an iterative loop until the student is performing the proper mechanics.
Now that we’ve taken the student through all the bare-minimum steps to be able to do a fair skill, we’re done, right? Time to move on to the next technique. That may be what we’re used to doing, but it’s far from optimal. We have to finish. Americans never finish anything. If you doubt this, really think about it for a few minutes. Make a list of projects you thought about starting in the past month and then check off how many of them you have finished. You will probably abort this thought experiment before you reach a sound conclusion (therefore, you will not have finished it, which is the point I was attempting to demonstrate).
Before we’re ready to move up to the next level of practice, we have to reintegrate the theory into our understanding of the movement. Earlier, we thought about it to help get the feeling, but feeling is not enough. We must also know and understand. Psychologists call this closure, among other things. In business, it’s the follow-up call. In an argument, it’s the synthesis. The only discipline that isn’t aware how important it is to finish one thing before moving on to another is education.
And before you even say it, yes, I know that we never “finish” learning. But we have to complete one step before we can go on to the next. Try to remember reading some really dull book in school. If you are an american, anything early American Lit will do. After spending 2 weeks struggling through The Federalist Papers, you probably still didn’t have the slightest clue what the big deal about Hamilton was, or why he was so opposed to having competing currencies. Why? The concepts are simple, and the exposition is clear. The reason you couldn’t formulate a thesis is that you kept reading on before you understood the part you had just finished. When you read words you didn’t understand, you skipped over them instead of taking one minute to look them up. When you didn’t understand one sentence, you assumed it would be explained in the next. You didn’t finish.
It is important in Taido that we finish one aspect of learning a skill before we try to move it to the next level. A student who doesn’t understand how to initiate sentai by moving the hips and hands together is going to have a hell of a time trying to do sentai while moving out of unsoku. Let’s take this opportunity while we have it to reiterate the theory we discussed earlier. This time, we can add some detail, and the student will be able to understand even better now that he has a little more experience.
We have tools for teaching theory. Primarily, we can use the doko5kai. If we consistently combine theoretical study with physical practice, we will more readily see the similarities between movements. This will result in being able to learn advanced movements more easily. Sentai shajo is simple if we understand how sentai works and how hentai works. If we just know what sentai and shajo look like, putting them together will be a lot more difficult. Students who understand that sentai descends into the spin will readily connect that to the lever action of hentai. With this understanding, Taido makes sense.
So, that’s five steps. It’s really a pretty simple process, but if we don’t consciously apply it every time, we will fall into bad habits and our skills will suffer. We must get around to working through all five steps, every time, with every student. Then we can do them again at the next level.
5 Stages to Mastery
There are five stages to the practice of each movement. This is the system that my instructor used to take us through in kishi kai. Each movement has to go through each stage to be complete. What’s more, by taking a movements through each stage, we often come up with interesting new variations. In fact, it’s also the exact method for making new movements. The stages are –
- 1-dimensional practice
- 2-dimensional practice
- 3-dimensional practice
- 4-dimensional practice
The first stage of practice is what Uchida called “point-practice.” For consistency, I will refer to it as one-dimensional practice. This includes practicing the movement in one place (from kamae) and focussing on form and posture. The major goals here are to develop accuracy, speed, and power, in that order. We go through each of the five steps outlined above until we can perform the movement satisfactorily from a static position. Unfortunately, we often stop here, and it’s common that many black belts have never taken but a few of their basic techniques beyond one-dimensional practice. For proof, ask any black belt to do unsoku happo in jodan kamae. Most of them cannot.
The second stage is two-dimensional (also referred to as line) practice. This is where we begin to deploy the movement in various directions and from all three kamae. Variants such as ni no ashi, ushiro, and gyaku are included here as well. The practice goals mirror those of stage one: accuracy, then speed and power. Each variation should be practiced through the entire five step process described earlier if they are to be effective, but this can take as little as five minutes start-to-finish for movements we know well. For example, learning sentai enpi, sentai shutto, sentai gyaku joate, etc takes very little time so long as sentaizuki was practiced properly in the first place. Every movement has variations that should be practiced. Those who learn quickly can learn more variations.
Stage three is three-dimensional. Now we move out of the static plane and begin executing movements in all six directions. This includes variations like tobi and tobikomi, but more-interestingly, we are now using unsoku and unshin. We still need to look at developing accuracy, speed, and power through the five steps, but we’re also trying to move around. At this point, becomes valuable to imagine an opponent at various ranges and positions, though it isn’t necessary that he move around too much yet. This is still not application practice; it is technical skill development. Students need to practice adjusting their skills for direction and distance. Otherwise, they will be mystified when their well-practiced techniques are consistently ineffective.
Next is four-dimensional (x,y,z/time) practice, which is what real Taido actually looks like. Now we are executing movements directly out of unsoku and unshin as well as other movements, often against a real or imagined opponent. The key here is spontaneous transition between movements and the newly-included time dimension. Practice moving smoothly between movements and unsoku. The most common practice methods for this level of movement are jissen and kobo, but don’t neglect other types of practice. Combinations with unsoku/unshin can be practiced through all five steps with or without a partner. Again, let me reiterate: the transition is the critical element of this stage of practice – for now, just trust me on this one.
The final level of each movement is the synthesis or mutation into a complete, or even new skill. Very few students ever get any of their movements to this level. Even our best black belt competitors only have a few. This is the level at which the movement is effortlessly usable at any time and from any position. The motion will be natural because the student has fully grasped the theory and internalized the feeling of every motion connected with the movement. This is often referred to as mastery. We need to get all of our movements to this level. At this point, actual form practice is seldom necessary, and the movement often mutates into previously unexpected forms. This is how new movements evolve.
The key to remember is that each of the five levels or stages of practice goes through each of the five steps for learning movements. This reiterates and reintegrates physical practice, instructor feedback, and theory at each stage of practice.
This method is probably similar to the natural way Taido instructors teach their students when they think about it. The problem is that we don’t always give things the consideration our students deserve. Try incorporating this method on a conscious level in your teaching and training. Remembering to finish each step along the way to master of each skill will help you remain focussed and effective in your practice.
In the future, I will be making a big deal out of ways to teach that work better for students than the traditional martial arts methods. For now, just give this a shot, and then you will have a better feel for whether or not my later suggestions are worth your effort to try.