More Questions About American Taido

Since I’m one of the few American Taidoka who has any contact with Taido in the rest of the world, the students in the rest of the world ask me a lot of questions about Taido in the US.

Though I have NOT been affiliated with Uchida Sensei’s US Taido Association since early 2007, I was one of the lead instructors in his organization for quite some time before moving to Japan in 2003. To be honest, the past few times I’ve visited Atlanta, I haven’t been too interested in what’s going on the the “Taido Karate” school there. As a result, I can only offer historical insight towards answering any questions about Taido in Atlanta and Ft. Lauderdale.

In any event, one thing I can easily say is that American Taido Karate is quite different from the Taido practiced everywhere else.

A couple of days ago, VP Turpeinen commented asking:

My main cause of surprise is the observation that American taidokas don’t seem to wear hakama and taido-gi but instead an outfit similar to karate-gi (according to the material I have seen around the Internet). I would like to know the reason for that. Some students also seem to wear black pants instead of the usual white. Does this indicate something?

I’ve discussed uniforms in the past on Taido/Blog and also on the Australian Taido forums.

As for the students in Ft. Lauderdale wearing black (non-hakama) pants, that’s just what Tom decided he wanted to do at his school. There is no real significance, since it’s the standard uniform at that dojo.

Another thing that keeps me in confusion is the belt system

Some of this is explained elsewhere, but I can see how it would be confusing to the majority of Taidoka who participate in the World Taido Federation and use the standard ranking system that every other country has agreed upon. To make a long story short, Uchida Sensei began adding the tape stripes as in-between ranks a very long time ago. He added more colored belts to the children’s curriculum to give them more frequent feedback and testing opportunities for encouragement.

…made me think about the time required to achieve black belt.

Regarding the amount of time it takes to achieve a certain rank, I think it’s important to look at quality over quantity, and even then to look at number of hours actually training rather than the number of years. I’ve heard of some people bragging about doing Taido for X number of years, when they only go to the dojo once a week, change clothes, and stand around. There are also widely varying lengths of standard sessions in different dojo – ranging anywhere from 45 minutes to four hours.

“Quality” is a sticky issue and hard to nail down objectively, so let’s stick with time for right now.

If you want to see people moving through the ranks very, very quickly, you need to check out the Japanese university clubs. It’s possible for a dedicated student to reach 4dan in four or five years if they take shinsa at every opportunity. Of course, Japanese uni students don’t have to study much, and are required to spend a certain amount of time on club activities. It’s not unheard of for some Taido clubs to offer up to 20ish hours/week of training opportunities, so one shouldn’t be surprised to see them advance quickly.

I can tell you that it took me almost eight years to reach shodan from the time I began training as a child in the US. And I can tell you that it takes considerably less time now.

Additionally, the requirements for achieving a higher grade interest me. What do you usually need to present when attending shinsa? Kihon, -tai/-in hokei, more complicated hokeis such as -mei hokei, kobo, perhaps even jissen?

In the past, American shinsa included kihon, hokei, and kobo/jissen. Shodan shinsa lasted several hours. Advancement to 2dan and above was always just a formality, and was fairly political. I can’t comment on the current system.

I have more questions that still require answers, but this may not be the right time and place for them as they don’t have much to do with those two issues.

Feel free to send me an email, and I’ll try to help you out – either with a reply or with a new post here.

Kangeiko

Growing up in Uchida Sensei’s dojo, kangeiko was always one of my favorite Taido traditions. Everybody came to kangeiko, even if they couldn’t make it to practice very often during the rest of the year. It was always like a family reunion. And the workout was HARD.

We always started at 6am, and the floor would be freezing. We started by warming up thoroughly and running through all of the fundamentals. Lots of punches, lots of kicks. Then we’d practice each of the Taido kihongi and, after that, hokei. Despite the cold, everybody managed to get up a good sweat by the end of it.

Then we would all line up and, one at a time, sit with Sensei and exchange New Year’s greetings: “Akemashite omedetou gozaimasu. Kotoshimo yoroshiku onegai shimasu.” Then we’d drink sake (if you were under 21, it was “just a little…”) and clean the dojo.

I hear that American Taido kangeiko is a much different affair now. That’s cool. Things change, and nothing is so perfect it can’t be improved.

I don’t know much about the traditions of Taido dojo in other countries. Do you do kangeiko in Europe? How about Australia?

In this article, I’m going to give a little background on what kangeiko is, where it comes from, and how it’s practiced in Japan.

Kangeiko History

According to “ancient tradition,” kangeiko is held early on a Saturday morning in January. All students (even those who are unable to practice often) congregate at the dojo for the ostensible purpose of beginning the year with good spirit in training. Everyone works out, and the focus is on kihon – the basis of fancier skills.

Following the practice, the students greet their teachers and wish them a happy new year (“akemashite omedetou gozaimasu“) and ask the favor of continued tutelage in the new year (“kotoshimo yoroshiku onegai shimasu“). The deal is sealed with a Japanese handshake – bowing and drinking sake.

Then, everyone participates in the osoji – big cleaning. Students and instructors take pride in maintaining their practice space and equipment. And then there’s breakfast and more drinking.

That’s the kangeiko I remember.

Meaning and Origins

Kangeiko is a Japanese word made up of three characters and means “cold training.” Why would one want to train in the cold? The concept is a type of toughness training – forcing oneself to perform under difficult or even painful conditions. In theory, this strengthens the “fighting spirit” by helping us find our true limits and quieting the inner-weakling that keeps telling us to give up.

This idea of subjecting oneself to harsh treatment in order to strengthen the resolve owes to the influence of Buddhism (in Japan, anyway). Ascetic monks would choose the coldest days of the year to set an example and demonstrate their piety. Apparently, some dedicated samurai borrowed the practice and began subjecting themselves to intense training on these days as well. It eventually became a tradition in Sumo.

Judo adopted the practice, and as a result, most modern Japanese martial arts have some sort of kangeiko tradition. In Japan, many professional sports teams hold a sort of kangeiko, and even some large corporations have “kangeiko” for their executives.

Kangeiko’s Importance as a Martial Arts Tradition

In general, kangeiko has a reputation in the martial arts of being a serious challenge. There are all sorts of stories from “the old days” about extremely tough (and often stupid and dangerous)kinds of training that various dojo have put themselves through in the name of strengthening their spirits.

Martial artists love telling stories about how tough things used to be. My father summed up the tendency nicely: “Never let the truth get in the way of a good story.” These stories are often more romantic than realistic, but I think they serve a purpose. I look at these “legends” like a challenge – not necessarily to dive into a sub-zero lake and do 10000 punches in my frozen uniform – but to occasionally engage in practices that bring me closer to my limits.

Which is really the whole point. You don’t have to do fifty hokei in your underwear on the coldest day of the year. But as martial artists, we do have to push ourselves to overcome stress. Since this can be uncomfortable, many groups ritualize the challenge as a tradition.

Kangeiko is just a tradition. It’s serves the same purpose that other traditions do: reinforce group identity and group values. Severe training is also worthwhile, but it’s not necessarily the most vital part of kangeiko.

Two Kinds of Kangeiko

There are basically two schools of thought on what kinds of things kangeiko should entail: the hard core GUTS! school and the more austere and subdued school.

GUTS!

“Guts” type training is what we usually associate with “tough guy” schools. An example of a hard core kangeiko might start at 5am with 1000 punches and 1000 kicks before moving on to work routines and sparring. Maybe it would also include a few hundred push-ups and sit-ups.

Of course, all of this is done in an unheated dojo, which is almost the same as doing it outside. Traditional Japanese architecture doesn’t include much in the way of insulation. Martial arts dojo tend to have as much window as they do wall, and though we may use fans during the summer, finding a heater is extremely rare.

Some schools actually do train outside – running a few kilometers or even training techniques on the frozen ground. Just this past week, I saw a news report about a karate dojo in Osaka that waded into the harbor and did some punches in the freezing water.

Apparently, only a couple of them suffered from hypothermia. That was probably because it was a publicity stunt, and the students were only in the water long enough for the camera crews to capture the event. Of course, it the old days, they would have stayed in for longer…

The content of “guts” type training is less important than the intensity. The idea is to push ourselves until we don’t think we can go any further, and then to go further. Your muscles say “no,” but your mind commands “yes.” Through pain and exhaustion, you find that your true limits lay well outside your usual comfort zone.

Doing this kind of training sucks. But it’s great.

Pushing past our perceived boundaries builds mental toughness. It’s great for reminding ourselves just what we’re capable of (as opposed to what we enjoy). The body can’t handle this kind of thing too often, but doing it a few times a year can help push us to the next level mentally.

A hard core kangeiko is guaranteed to “make a man out of you,” unless you’re a woman.

In dojo that have an extremely intense kangeiko, students sometimes have to rest and recover for up to a week or even longer before returning to training. If training injures you, it’s no longer training – it’s punishment. Forcing your body to the breaking point is not “guts,” it’s stupid.

Balancing challenge with insanity is the art of this kind of training.

Another Approach

A lot of dojo aren’t so much concerned with being tough. They practice for sport and recreation. Dojo with a lot of older adults and children aren’t going to convince many students to show up for a physically intense workout. Instead, they follow a more subdued approach.

Just as with the hard core dojo, most “normal” dojo will focus their training on basics. They may do a certain number of repetitions of each kihongi, but the pace is usually relatively slow. Usually, few words are spoken, and each student is left to consider how to perform each repetition better than the one before it. This can sometimes go on for quite a while.

Even without breaks, this kind of training is not going to make anyone pass out or vomit. The physical intensity is low. but it’s not easy. In fact, it can be just as intense mentally as the hard core style is physically. It’s just a different kind of intensity.

The objective is to practice with total concentration. Instead of diving into freezing water, you’re trying to submerge yourself in each technique. The challenge is to get inside the technique, and that’s something you can only do with a lot of effort and repetition.

The first few repetitions may be kind of rough as you get warmed up. Then you’ll fall into your typical habits for the next few. Doing the same technique eventually starts to get boring, so you start trying to move faster and stronger. As you tire, you’ll begin to shift your emphasis to clean, efficient movement. After doing fifty or so in a row, you notice that your last repetition was far better than the first.

Training like this helps refine your technique and calm your mind. After working through a variety of techniques in such a manner, you’ll find that you feel very calm and relaxed. Though you’ve probably been sweating profusely, you won’t feel very tired.

This state of ease is the perfect time to reflect on your progress and goals for the next few months of training. You may take time to consider the 5jokun or otherwise think about what Taido is to you and what you hope to get out of it.

This is a more personal kind of training, even though it’s performed as a group. Each student is responsible for managing their own intensity and focus. The results are often similar to the more-extreme style of training: it can help push you into the next level mentally. It’s a different way of reaching for the same goal.

Taido Kangeiko

Of course, since kangeiko is an “ancient martial arts tradition,” it’s an important part of the spirit of a dojo. In fact, it’s such an important part of Taido tradition, that most clubs in Japan don’t do it. Some do, but it’s definitely not the norm.

Those dojo that do have a kangeiko tend to follow the second blueprint. A few university clubs may do killer workouts, but most dojo will do less extreme training and work on increasing the mental intensity.

None of the dojo I’ve been a member of in Japan have had a formal kangeiko. Instead, we just resume training in the new year as usual. But several Japanese clubs have posted blogs about their kangeiko training this year, and none of them went swimming in their dogi…

What’s Your Kangeiko Like?

By this time, many of you have already had a kangeiko at your dojo. Maybe it was similar to one of the patterns I discussed above, or maybe it was something totally different.

The most important thing you can get out of kangeiko is to give it your best and start off the new year of training with a positive attitude. Beyond that, take it as a chance to push yourself to the next level by challenging your body or your mind with more intensity than usual. Being outside your comfort zone will help you grow as a martial artist.

If you’ve had any interesting kangeiko experiences you’d like to share, please post them in the comments.

Top 11 Reasons I Love Taido

I present my Top 11 -the things I love most about Taido.

Unsoku/Unshin

Let’s start at the technical end of the spectrum. I love Taido because of this ingenious strategic interjection. Unsoku per se is nothing new to martial art, but its implementation in Taido is quite unique. All martial arts of which I am aware have some notion of footwork since they were designed by and for bipeds. Moving on our feet is natural for humans, and this is exactly why most humans do not consider the strategic capabilities of their footwork.

Footwork, as defined in many martial arts, usually means one of three things: stepping to control distance, stepping to dodge an attack, or shifting stance to facilitate deployment of a specific technique. In such cases, there is often no method for using footwork. Rather, stances and techniques are drilled, and footwork manifests as whatever specific stepping adjustments are necessary to translate the kamae and kihon practice for kumite purposes. Footwork tends to arise in performance. This is not true for Taido.

Of course, I don’t want to make too many broad generalizations about specific martial arts. I am not an expert on martial art. I do know that, contrary to what my instructor claims, there are martial arts with sophisticated footwork, including some schools of silat and aikido. It could also be argued that wrestlers use a form of unshin.

My point isn’t really about what arts use what kind of footwork though. What I find absolutely cool about Taido’s unsoku/unshin is how it fits between kamae and waza as a strategic link. It’s not simply a by-product of translating from practice to application. In Taido, we teach specific movement strategies even to beginning students. What’s more – the unsoku/unshin movement is connected – integrated – with the overall attack/defense method. In skilled Taidoka, it is difficult to discern where unsoku ends and sotai begins.

I also love that unsoku can be used as a strategic method for non-combat applications, as I wrote I an earlier article. My mental unsoku often works as a heuristic between the observation and thinking/planning stages, helping me to determine the observations on which I should base my planning. As in jissen, this unsoku helps us to filter opportunities so we can find our best chances for success.

International Community

Through my Taido experience, I have made some of the best friends of my life. I’ve met some truly fantastic people from various countries that I would not have had the opportunity to meet through other means. In the past couple of years, especially, Taido’s international community seems to be growing larger and stronger at a faster pace than ever.

This isn’t so unique to Taido – many martial arts promote international exchange, allowing access to other cultures and ideas. Actually, I think that this point currently stands as one of the key areas we, as Taido students, need to put our energies into improving.

Nonetheless, we are getting somewhere. Due in no small part to the internet, we Taidoka can now communicate internationally and share our experiences and ideas. There have been Taido websites (that I was aware of) since 1997, but now most schools have their own homepages. This means that we can easily get in touch with Taido students at almost any dojo in the world. This is a very good thing, and it holds great potential for the future of our art.

Evolving Applications

This is another aspect of Taido that can be individually empowering for students. I think it’s obvious that Taido’s technique looks a little different every year. It’s cool to see new ideas come up, be tested, and either get adopted or dropped. This is true in the tournament events as well as in practices.

I have a lot of friends who practice Shotokan karate. Looking back at Shotokan’s history, many of them joke about organizational splits that began over such trifles as the correct way to keep score in tournaments or the exact hand position in kamae. In Taido, the techniques and methods evolve and change. This is a very good thing because it allows us to continue working together – even if we have different ideas. We can get together, share, test, and decide.

I love how Taido is designed to change. Being an incorrigible customizer, I enjoy spending a good portion of my time looking at how things are currently done and asking myself “how could we do this better?” I do this with individual movements, strategies, practice methods, curricula, competition methods, judging methods, and anything else I can think of. I even analyze my own thought process to determine if I can find a better mental model for the problem at hand. Through my teaching and through this website, these thoughts necessarily fuel the evolution of Taido because they influence other students.

If I can get things wrong enough, eventually somebody will find a way to make it right – and that makes for better Taido.

Theory Integrated at Every Level

You may not have noticed this, but a lot of my articles link to others of my articles. There is a good reason for this: in writing about any one aspect of Taido practice, I am also making statements that can be applied to other aspects. This is because Taido has an integrated theory at its core. Let’s not underestimate the power and uniqueness of this point.

In many martial arts, the theory is actually reverse-engineered from the technical applications. Students practice punches and kicks until they can reproduce them with perfect form, and then start thinking about how to apply them and why they work (or don’t). In Taido, we have the opposite paradigm – techniques are extrapolated form the theory. As an example, I created my dice game as a means of theorizing possible techniques before I actually attempted them. There is no process for doing this in most arts.

I look at Taido’s theory as being the martial equivalent of the harmelodic theory in music. Basically, it accounts for everything, whether it specifically intends to or not. There was a lot of stuff that Shukumine didn’t explicitly include in Taido, but I have yet to find anything that his theory doesn’t address.

Works with Any Technique Set

As we are discovering in American Taido right now, Taido’s theory holds true even for technique sets that are not traditionally part of Taido practice – specifically, grappling. American Taido students are finding that they can apply Taido’s theory to no-holds-barred fighting just as well as they can to jissen. Taking this even further, I suggest that we could also apply Taido theory to the use of weapons, including firearms.

The techniques we use are just a vocabulary. Two of the things that give meaning to words are context and syntax – situation and use. In Taido, we can think of the theory as a grammar for martial art. The different engagement venues (jissen, grappling, whatever) could be considered dialectic, and the techniques are created, adopted, and discarded more quickly than most people realize. The thing that defines the language (Taido) is the grammar – the specific rules of arranging the nominals, verbals, and etc into meaningful sets.

Applicable to Everything I Do

Since the theory integrates across all aspects of practice (if done well), application is unlimited. When you begin to realize this in a big-picture sense, it almost feels like magic. Just as I can apply Taido theory to jissen and general scrapping, I can apply it to music, my job, and my relationships.

Being a man of many and varied interests, I find it disagreeable to commit too much of my energy to any one of my passions. I like being able to kill two (or five) birds with one stone (and sometimes, I use poison). Thinking of ways to apply one of my passions to another gives me the joy of doing each in half the time. Though my nearest Taido dojo is four hours away from my home, I am able to practice an average of eighteen hours every day. This is because I am always thinking about how to Taido-ize whatever else I may seem to be doing.

Integration with Lifestyle

Similarly, the physical practice of Taido movement supports my health. Some of my friends think I am a “health nut” because I read medical journals and study such things as exercise physiology. I consciously avoid known carcinogens (such as artificial sweeteners, cooked oils, burned foods, aluminum, cigarette smoke, and chemical cleaners) and take multi-vitamins. To some, this behavior seems excessive or silly – even though I am very relaxed about my health practices. My response is always the same – “I would say ‘I told you so’ when I reach 120 years, but you’ll be long dead by then.” I am not exaggerating when I say that I won’t stop practicing Taido until I have done it for at least a hundred years.

I feel that Taido supports my health in a number of ways. Obviously, it is exercise that builds my physical attributes, and it offers many positive mental effects as well, but there are other things that Taido offers over most sports. In common with other martial arts, it’s something that I have to do myself – my performance belongs to me rather than to my team. I also have the chance to test my performance against a resistant partner or opponent. These two alone are priceless.

But even from a strict movement perspective, Taido offers things that most martial arts do not. The focus on sophisticated, interesting, and beautiful technique is one thing. Specifically, Taido is designed to move in 3-space, just as the human body exists in 3-space (plus…). Taido’s techniques naturally move all the joints and tissues through their ranges of motion. In contrast to weight training or martial arts like Shotokan, in which the movement is typically linear, Taido tests the body to the edges of its anatomical limits.

In addition of all of that, Taido gives me more opportunities to teach things that I feel are beneficial to others. As an instructor, I have the ability to change peoples’ lives – and I feel I have had a positive impact on a large number of others through Taido. I’ve also been on the receiving end of this phenomenon.

Taido is my family, my hobby, my job, my primary area of study, my sport, my relaxation, my workout, my excuse to travel, and during some lonely periods, my girlfriend.

Simultaneous Offense/Defense

This is one of those things that I just think is really damn cool. Since most people don’t know anything about Taido, I’m often asked how Taido is unique. My response is usually to demonstrate ebigeri, then I help them stand up (just kidding). I show them how it avoids an oncoming attack and counters simultaneously by changing the body-axis. It’s such a simple, elegant technique when applied properly. Most people are pretty impressed with the notion.

This kind of movement is of course not limited to ebigeri; all of the hengi use this concept, and it is also inherent in rendo rentai seiho (control by continuous movement). Very skilled jissen players score most of their points while avoiding their opponents’ attacks as well.

Like everything else in Taido, this idea isn’t limited to combative application. It can be used, just for one example, in the persuasion process. When you are trying to convince someone to see things your way, they often have objections or issues that run counter to your desires. One of the better ways to deal with objections is to understand the values behind the objection (why this person is telling you no) and use those values to turn the objection into a potential benefit.

Sophisticated Movement

There is no denying it: Taido is complicated. I think this is a very good thing. I get bored doing the same things over and over. Anything too easy isn’t worth my time. Taido is complicated and difficult, and this makes it interesting.

Taido has, by far, the most sophisticated movement palette of any formalized martial art I have ever seen. I think that’s great. The techniques are beautiful to watch and fun to perform. They may be a little challenging for beginners, but as our training and teaching methods improve, I believe that this will be less of an issue. Taido:s sophistication is definitely not to be viewed as a limit or detriment – greater sophistication is a natural part of the process of moving toward self-actuallization.

Ability to Use Modular Training Practices

Since Taido’s theory is built around a thought process (see, think, try, practice, think, apply), each step can be practiced individually as well as I series. The same is true for the technical methods and hokei. Being able to zero-in on a particular aspect can be really helpful in training. For one thing, breaking things down to into chunks gives us a better ability to measure our performance and create achievable goals for improvement. Another thing we can do is create incrementally more-sophisticated drill patterns.

It sounds complicated and technical when you are reading about it, but with just a little bit of practice, it isn’t difficult to make use of modularity in your own training. I’ve outlined some practices that make use of modular thinking here, here.

Always New Things to Try and Learn

There is limitless potential to challenge myself and grow by practicing Taido, because, as soon as I get one thing down, I find new ways to do it that make it even more fun. There are always new ways to kick, punch, and move in Taido.

Beyond the obvious stuff, my interest in Taido inspires me to study various related fields like physiology, kinesiology, and exercise science. My interest in teaching Taido inspires me to study pedagogy, developmental psychology, and communication. My interest in running a Taido club inspires me to study business, group dynamics, and management. And those are just the books I read last week (really).

The super-cool part is that, as I apply all of these studies to my Taido practice, I can also apply my understanding of Taido to my studies of these other related disciplines. In putting together this website, i’ve had to learn a lot of stuff that I had never thought about before. It would be difficult to describe how I apply Taido to the design and execution of this site, but Taido theory is on, in , under, and around every aspect of the Taido/Blog project.

And so those are my “Top 11.” Please leave a comment and share your favorite things about Taido too.

Uniforms

Note to those practicing Taido outside the USA: American Taido students typically wear standard karategi for Taido practice.

I started practicing Taido in 1984, when I was seven years old. For those of you who don’t remember, the 80s in America were all about flash, and the martial arts were no exception. I remember looking through martial arts magazines as a kid and seeing guys in American flag satin gi (the word “uniform” hardly applies), pink and black tiger-stripe gi, and all kinds of crazy patterns with patches for just about everything all over them. At one point, Century was even marketing “rugged” stone-washed gi that looked as if they’d ought to have been worn by the likes of Motley Crue.

You may laugh at the idea of seeing a karate school full of hair band rejects, but it’s not such a silly deal. In all seriousness, one could easily say the traditional white pajamas are just as silly in this day and age. Especially here in the West.

Just look at the standard uniform – the whole deal is made out of heavy white cloth that is rough on the skin and doesn’t breathe very well. In an environment that includes rolling around on dirty floors as well as loads of sweat and occasional blood, white is the worst of all possible colors, and cotton is not the best choice of fabric. The pants are cut from what appears to be a one-size-fits-some pattern with a drawstring that cuts into your midsection and bunches around the crotch. The jacket is secured with flimsy ties that frequently break off, begging the question of why they are included in the first place. But if the belt is tied tight enough to keep the jacket closed, it becomes difficult to move the arms and shoulders to any reasonable range.

On the plus side, the jacket looks sufficiently Japanesey to remind us of our samurai heritage (that’s funny – samurai heritage). It also makes it easier to see what color belt someone is wearing, which we all know is the most important part of practice. The cotton canvas material usually doesn’t rip unless you do grappling (in which case you should be wearing an even heavier and less comfortable Judo top), except for the knees which will rip frequently no matter what you do.

Of course, I’m not trying to imply that there are no good karate uniforms out there. There are some very good ones (Tech Taido orders ours from kamikaze). It’s just that most of the good ones cost a lot of money. This makes them out of reach for anyone other than instructors who will be spending a considerable quantity of time in them.

Of course in countries where students pay only a small association fee for instruction, the approximately $160 for a Taidogi is no problem. However, the Atlanta honbu dojo is the only place I am aware of that offers students the opportunity to practice six days a week in a purpose-built facility with professional teaching staff. This costs money in the form of tuition. Not to mention that students practicing several days a week often like to have more than one uniform. This makes the karategi (costing less than a third the price of a Taidogi) a lot more attractive – to new students especially.

I belong to an international affiliation of martial arts heretics that makes a habit of questioning just about any tradition or trend in the martial arts we encounter, and it has been suggested by several of our members that uniforms are wholly unnecessary for practice. This is very true, as the techniques do not require a uniform in their execution. Especially if said uniforms are uncomfortable or expensive.

However, in a dojo setting, it is easy to see uses for uniforming from a pedagogical/organizational point of view – they help to establish group identity, remind us where we are and what we ought to be doing while we are there, and establish a standard. These are nice things to have in a class environment. Besides all that, as silly as it sounds, punching and kicking around in a uniform somehow looks and feels more legitimate than doing so in street clothes.

Living in Japan, if I practice without a uniform, I often have people coming up to me and asking if I am a kick boxer, which I happen to find quite annoying because then I have to explain to them that I practice Taido (since they can usually tell that it’s not karate). And since they’ve probably never heard of Taido, this means that I have to try to explain it to them, lest they assume it’s an American import. This includes the brief history and writing out the kanji and making comparisons to judo and karate, and takes too much time to bother with. As a result, I make a point never to workout in public unless I am wearing my Taidogi, complete with hakama (so they can tell it’s not supposed to be karate) and kanji (so I don’t have to reach in my bag for a pen). I’ve also found that it’s easier if I pretend that I can’t speak Japanese.

This brings us to the Taido uniform, as worn everywhere outside the US. It’s a big improvement over the standard karate uniform by a long shot. The jacket is woven and strong. It’s also slightly off-white, so it doesn’t show dirt and sweat quite so badly. One thing that isn’t so easy to see at first glance is that the front is cut completely differently, with the “flaps” hanging almost straight down and overlapping only a few inches. This makes the top much easier to tuck into the hakama. The hakama serve the purpose of keeping the top in place and holding everything together at the waist. They do this without bunching at the waist or crotch. The pleated design also allows for greater flexibility in the legs and less binding when kicking. However, the pants are quite a bit narrower than aiki or iai hakama to prevent tripping during unsoku and acrobatic moves. The choice of black is nice because the pants will end up getting dirty, and this doesn’t show on black pants. Not only that, but black looks good and balances well with the off-white top.

Drawbacks to the Taidogi are as follows: they cost more than twice as much to make as a medium-quality karategi; they can only be purchased from one manufacturer in Tokyo (and I think in Finland too), which means that shipping costs become a major factor as well; and the hakama necessitates a lightweight fabric that doesn’t hold up well to a lot of groundwork – in fact, you often see DIY patch-jobs on the hakama worn here in Japan. Practicing any grappling at all in hakama can be a very expensive proposition. These factors make the Taidogi less practical for us in the States than karategi, but anyone who has practiced in one for more than a few sessions will tell you that they are far more comfortable for Taido practice.

So what can we do? Well, I’ve got some ideas, but no solutions. Ideally, I would like to find a custom manufacturer to produce Taidogi in the US with a slightly sturdier hakama that includes reinforced knees, a zip-fly hidden in the front pleats (a must for instructors who are in uniform for several hours at a time), a microfiber lining in the jacket to wick away sweat (which should be standard on all uniforms anyway), and snaps instead of flimsy ties. The big problem here is that doing this would be expensive, and asking students to pay two-hundred dollars for a uniform is unreasonable. Without a large standard order, getting the prices even that low would be difficult.

Secondly (and I know a lot of folks will hate this idea), I’ve looked at ditching the “martial arts uniform” look for something distinctly western and modern. Something very much like a track suit. It would have to be made sturdy and flexible, but could be implemented without a lot of changes to any existing design. The major requirements would be slightly shortened sleeves and legs and no dangling zipper-pulls or other potentially-hazardous metallic pieces. This uniform would be relatively inexpensive and comfortable. Underneath the jacket, students could even wear high-performance sports clothes such as underarmor. The only real problems is that we find ourselves again looking like we are practicing some kind of modern dance with odd punching and kicking movements.

There are good points to not looking too martial-artsy though. For one, the Japanese-style uniform is only traditional in Japan. I am an American, and “traditional” to me means jeans or khakis, a t-shirt, jacket, and sneakers (I’ll address the issue of shoes at a later date). Modern style clothes fit better and feel like the clothes we wear everyday. Another positive is that there is no place to put a belt. To me, this is a beautiful thing.