Bottom Eleven

[Begin rant…]

Not to be negative, but these things bug me. I have compiled my list of the top eleven problems with Taido as things currently stand I understood them when I wrote this ten years ago. This list is unique to me and represents my personal values for what Taido is and should become. I can cope if people don’t agree, but meanwhile, I’ll be working on moving things in a direction that I feel is healthier and more effective all around. Maybe I can change a few minds, and maybe I’ll change my mind too as things go forward. For right now, here (not really in any kind of order) are what I see as the eleven biggest things holding Taido back from its potential:

The Slogan: 21st Century Art of Self-Defense

Back in the 20th century, “21st century” sounded cool. But you know what? We are now in the 21st century, and it just sounds dull.

Why don’t we get a new slogan. How about one that describes what Taido is all about, like “three-dimensional combat sport.” Notice I wrote “combat sport” instead of “art of self defense.” That’s probably a better English expression for budo.

The Chicks Women

Women can be strong, and they can do amazing things. In Taido, women do not seem to get good at nearly the same rate as men. This is because we don’t teach them as well as we teach men.

I understand that there are physiological differences between the sexes. That’s fine. But look – all the women in the last all-Japan championship had terrible maai in jissen. Why? There is no good reason for this. I can understand that women’s musculature doesn’t support explosive power, therefore making it more difficult for them to do nenchu and such, but there is absolutely no reason that they can’t learn how to use the seigyo and sotai properly. None whatsoever.

Why don’t we teach girls real Taido? I think it has to do with cultural factors, especially the lingering inequality of the sexes in Japanese society. This is unacceptable. We should do better by our sisters, and teach them with every bit as much attention and care as we do men.

The Attitude of Superiority over Other Arts

Taido is really cool, and at high levels of proficiency, students learn to do things that most other styles don’t seem to teach openly. However, Taido techniques work best against Taido techniques. Taido students practice “using” their techniques only against other Taido students, in a tightly controlled environment with rules that disallow things like driving in with straight attacks, grappling (except in America), or contact to anywhere fun.

Taido has really cool theory, but it is probably not the best possible training for self-defense. Jissen is not “real combat.” It is a game, and like all games, it has a set of rules that determine who wins. I sincerely hope that no Taido students ever have to actually fight.

So let’s just drop the idea that Taido is the ultimate martial art that will teach little guys to kick ass on big guys (this is true for Taido tournaments only). In theory, Taido has a lot of aces up the proverbial sleeve, but we don’t practice most of those. Until we are teaching students how to use Taido as budo (as opposed to playing Taido as a sport), we need to just forget about Taido’s superiority.

Japanese Monopoly

Taido is a martial art that originated in Japan. I do not believe that Taido’s founder aspired for Taido to remain a Japanese martial art. Every time I heard him talk about it, he seemed to be of the opinion that Taido should be an international martial art – a world martial art. He said that Taido had “universal character.” Now it seems as if Taido students in other countries are expected to adopt Japanese character in order to learn Taido. This is wrong.

Now, I’m not going to put all the blame for this on the Japanese. There used to be is a World Taido Federation that is trying to encourage the development of Taido worldwide.

In order to get Japanese Taido teachers to really care about sharing information or working together on developing the art, other countries are going to have to agree to meet Japanese standards on a variety of issues. Part of the problem though, is that these standards are still somewhat culturally biased. They don’t work as well in other countries. For example, Americans want to do Taido “American style,” but they want to be included in all tournaments.

Easterners and Westerners have different social values, and as long as both consider the other one to be “wrong,” we will continue to have friction.

Why can’t we just accept that we all have different ideas, and agree to work together where we can and respect our differences at the same time? Is it asking too much to hope that all the different countries practicing Taido can play together like big boys and girls? So far, it has been.

Politics and Organizational Hierarchy

Part of the problem here is the same as above, but there is more at play than gang rivalry.

I would like to see Taido run more collaboratively. I haven’t worked out exactly what steps I think we should take to run our organization more effectively, but I am thinking seriously about it. I will write more on this topic when I can make suggestions.

Training Methods

At best, the methods used in most dojo I’ve visited (dozens) are over thirty years old. We often do things that any qualified sports trainer would tell you are unhealthy and dangerous. Why does a “scientific martial art” continue to use ineffective means of training it practitioners?

In Taido Gairon, Shukumine says that Taido training is more sophisticated than sports training because it includes a means to concentrate the breathing. That might have been the case in Japan when the book was written, but today that is not the case. He also says that sports training is usually not scientific. Likewise, that might have been the case in the 1980s but today that is not accurate.

Sport is a high-dollar industry. Sports training is essential R&D to professional athletes and teams who make their livings off of their physical performances. One doesn’t simply stumble onto being capable of world-record physical performance. Sports training is very scientific and sophisticated, and we can learn a lot from the literature that is available on the subject (much of which pertains to breathing and mental skills).

Our educational model should also be updated with current theory to provide better results for our students. We currently are relying on the same method of instruction that has been used in every other martial art since the beginning of time. If you look at the number of people who start Taido and the number of people who get good at Taido, I think you will see that our track record for teaching is not as high as it could be. Let’s work on this.

Psuedo-Scientific Martial Sport?

Keiraku is not the most up-to-date metaphor for the body’s energy systems.

Scientists have been able to find the mechanisms of phenomena formerly associated with ki energy to functions of the nervous system. If Taido is scientific, we should choose to explain this stuff in a scientific idiom.

Let’s get with the times and find better analogies for our bodies’ energy systems. Through better understanding, we will be better equipped to improve our methods of accessing our potential energy production and efficiency.

Sport or Martial Art

Well, which is it? A martial art is concerned with fighting. A fight includes absorption and delivery of force, possible multiple assailants, possible weapons, escalation and deescalation, and a ton of other factors that Taido practice either neglects totally or glosses over. I’m not saying that the theory behind Taido doesn’t address these things, but the way Taido is usually practiced does not. Taido is practiced as a sport. We practice game rules, not combat. And that’s just fine.

We just need to decide. It’ll be hard to try and be both. We can’t practice sport all day long and then say “but if it were a fight you would just hit harder.” That is impractical. Practice is specific. If you don’t practice for fighting, you are not practicing martial art. Simple as that.

Nebulous Rules of Competition

If we go on and concede that Taido is not a martial art but a sport, please, let’s set the rules and stick to them. Write them down and have everyone agree on them. Translate them into all the languages of the countries in which Taido is practiced (and spend the money to have this professionally done). Retrain all of the referees in the new rules. Test them. Teach the students the new rules. Test them. When we have competitions, enforce the rules – all of them, all the time. Repeat this process every time any rule needs to be changed.

Codified Techniques

One legacy of our karate heritage is the notion of kihon. Kihon is one of the things that keeps karate static. Why do we need that in an evolving art? Answer: we don’t.

Just think about it: we have five techniques (the sotai), two strategic methods (unsoku and unshin), and three broad categories of force delivery (striking, kicking, and grappling). Sentaizuki could have an infinite number of possible executions. So could tentaigeri. So why do we limit ourselves to the “classic” named technical variations? Because that’s what everyone has always done. Illogical reason, right?

The Belt-Ranking System

This is always something that martial artists struggle with. It’s a necessary evil, but it’s not optimal.

So there you have it. My Top 11 things that I would like to improve about Taido. I plan to revisit this list periodically and update/adjust as I see fit. I will also be writing longer articles about each point when the time and inspiration strikes. Until that time, now you know what I really think, and if you are smart, you will agree (OK, just kidding about that last part).

[…End rant]

You may also wish to check out the converse of this list: the Top 11.

5 thoughts on “Bottom Eleven”

  1. Hey Andy, Although I’m not a Taidoka I empathise with you on the deficiencies you find within a large organization and its practices. I think the gripes about methods and practices are a legacy of the Japanese penchant for tradition and kihon. Shotokan, Kyokushin and many other Japanese martial arts are hampered by the traditional way of doing things. Tradition has value when it perpetuates a distinctive flavor to the art. Tradition should be discarded when superior methods, science or technology can be applied, or if when examined are recognized as flawed or unsupportable by the natural laws.

    Emphasizing sport, and the science required to continuously improve performance, is good for martial arts. I don’t think “budo” and sports training are mutually exclusive. Of course traditionalists will balk. These are the same people who would propose to push a stalled car from the Zenkutsu dachi stance. ( I remember your post in KU on that thread and laughed to myself in agreement with you)

    Rock on

  2. Belts …

    On the one hand, I think belts are useful in martial arts for two reasons: to tell you what to learn, and to tell you who’s teaching. It is useful, for me, to learn “packages” of information at the white, purple, green, and brown belt level. On the flip side, a brown belt is a useful signal of a teaching assistant and the black belts a signal of someone who’s got at least some knowledge, even if they’re not the senseis.

    Between hands, that leads to an analogy: in school, it’s useful to break things down into the freshman, sophomore, junior and senior levels, and often seniors end up leading labs and grad students end up as TAs even though they’re not the professor.

    Turning to the other hand, after you push out of the freshman level in college you can pretty much learn what you please as long as you have the proper prerequisites. Which argues more for a “curriculum” approach than the typical stratified belt approach – it doesn’t matter if you take some frosh classes as a senior and some senior classes as a sophomore as long as you get your credits before you graduate. And amplifying that some more, your “professor” might be an instructor with a masters or less and your teaching assistant might rarely end up being an assistant Dean as well, so the stratificiation isn’t that important.

    And going one step further … this structure was useful to me in college. However, when I’ve had to learn new technical subjects out of college (such as the physics of general relativity or the theory of programming languages) I didn’t bother with this system – I started backwards, with the task I wanted to perform, then the books I wanted to read to perform the task, then the books I needed to read to be able to read the first books, and backwards until I found my own curriculum of basics and could move forward. At which point I often could find existing curricula and use them to flesh out my knowledge, but I didn’t enroll myself in a virtual 101.

    So are belts needed? It seems, using this analogy for learning, that if you have one, you may not need one no more. And that the belt is only a rough approximation of what you should know … you should know not what the belts are but what you should have learned had you gotten the belt. But that’s coming from an analogy, so your mileage may vary.

    So, belts. An interesting topic.

  3. anthony:

    those are some really good insights. i’ve actually being experimenting with the idea of a somewhat customizable curriculum in taido. we actually already have a crude version of this going on, but it applies primarily to groups and is typically an unconscious decision of the instructor.

    what i’m thinking about trying to implement is a two-(or three-)dimensional curriculum that will address more of the individual lines of development students must work through. it will also be somewhat modular to allow students certain options and more individualized training.

    it’s a pretty ambitious project (and convincing anyone to adopt such a curriculum would be even more ambitious for a few years), but i think it’s the wave of the future for any martial art (or anything else, for that matter…) that wished to survive the next fifty years as anything other than tradition (the nostalgic glorification of our fear of success/failure).

  4. I definitely agree that taido as it is practiced is probably not going to help very many people win a fight. There are some combat effective techniques that most taidoka can execute. The introduction of grappling into the school is definitely helpful, though im not sure how effective it would be in some situations. In general i think that the simplest techniques are the most effective for all but the most experienced. For example, i have felt many times that in a “real” fight i would 1) not try any fancy moves and 2) could probably mutilate someone who tried using jissen style fighting. I mean really a few quick kicks to the legs and knees will put pretty much anyone out of commission.

    Perhaps we could practice a more real-life applicable version of jissen if practiced that old idea of striking full speed full force and just touching the gi (like sensei does when he feels like impressing/scarring the shit out of the students).

  5. yeah, you’re right about that. the thing is – fights suck. training for fighting is preparing for something most people will never have to experience. it is extremely dangerous to practice fighting on any sort of recurring schedule. that’s why we have controls and rules and “fight-like” practice.

    the same goes for grappling. oftentimes, grappling is pointed to as the “antidote” to the inefficacy “problem” of striking arts. while adding grappling skills to a striking skillset will make a better-rounded fighter, it’s folly to assume that this translates to real fighting ability. wrestling an aggressor into submission sounds like a great idea until his friends start kicking the shit out of you from above and behind.

    the people who do well in fights are not those who have trained to fight. they are people who have a lot to lose, people who rely on violent means to make a living, and people who don’t give a damn. in extrememly violent situations, simplicity does reign supreme – watch animal planet if you don’t believe me.

    i like the idea of doing some scenario training, self-defense workshopping, and fight simulation sometimes. i don’t believe that they should be used as frequent training tools because they have many drawbacks. all training methods have drawbacks, so it’s important to choose which methods will give you what you want while avoiding what you don’t. for most people, fight training has too much of the latter and very little of the former.

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