Genkaku: What’s the Point?

Genkaku is probably the most-reviled rule in tournament Taido. Players hate it. Judges hate it. In fact, most judges never force genkaku in jissen. Many tournaments explicitly forbid it.

I don’t think genkaku is all bad, but it’s definitely not my favorite part of jissen. I’m more into the meat – the part that involves hitting people. However, I can see some value to training genkaku and even in occasionally using it in jissen. After all, it was good enough for Shukumine…

Could it be that genkaku has some meaning besides giving people a chance to flip out like ninjas during jissen?

What’s the Point of Genkaku?

I’m actually not bad at genkaku. I can do the exciting flips, and I can do continuous rengi too. The two times I’ve had to do genkaku in competition, I’ve been awarded yuko for out-genkaku-ing the other guy. In one case, that yuko was the deciding factor in me winning the match.

In discussing Taido with some friends online, I mentioned that I was a little embarrassed about winning by genkaku. Here’s where the discussion went from there:

You were embarrassed? Great comment. I´m still laughing.

I´m not sure on my opinion about genkaku, especially in the middle of jissen. Maybe if it was something apart, a complement… but during jissen I´m not sure.

I think that’s a very common attitude. I responded with:

Well, it’s good to force some action when both opponents are stalling or failing to take an offensive. In some cases, two players will be very closely matched, so genkaku gives the judges a chance to see what they do in a non-standard situation. In theory, the superior player will be able to perform with aplomb even when forced to do strange things (and genkaku is certainly strange).

Maybe I should clarify – I wasn’t embarrassed to win, but that I couldn’t get a better score besides my yuko advantage from genkaku.

Then we got

What can you get out of Genkaku?
That is a good question, and I don’t really think you can get much out of it, because you just apply already known techniques on Genkaku. But you must do them faster !! (ok, maybe there’s something to get out of it )
You can try to misguide your opponent and getting a point out of it. But it’s hard, at least for me it is :) And usually I only get myself trapped again in a corner.
Maybe that’s the thing…trying to make the opponent think you’re going one direction, and then changing it, so you can reach the other corner in safety.
Then Genkaku is all about speed and/or misguidance! :)

And that’s certainly one way to look at it. Personally, I think genkaku is about encouraging people to use unshin and rengi:

Well, the purpose of genkaku is to encourage high-level technqiue in jissen. The corner guy tries to use nice tengi and the inside dude can use tengi or try a rengi combination of three or four techniques in series. The practice is to perform them while being aware of where you and the other guy are so you can transition back into combat mode effectively.

As for what you can get out of it, it really depends on how you practice. If your usual Taido practice is complete, practicing genkaku only helps make you better at genkaku in case you have to do it in a tournament. I don’t think it was designed for training. Just a chance to break up the game and being in higher-level movement.

So what do you think?

I’m curious for others’ opinions about genkaku. At the WTC in 2009, I remember hearing that a lot of Europeans think genkaku is pretty stupid – though I’m sure there are others who enjoy the practice.

When I come across something I don’t like or understand in Taido, the first thing I try to do is think about why Shukumine would have included it. That also entails trying to understand what his goals were for Taido. Then I look again at my own goals and vision of Taido and figure out how I can make genkaku, or whatever, work for me in that context.

Any ideas?

Are You Good Enough to Teach?

Andrew posted about one of the classic sticky issues in the “martial arts industry”:

Random question: how important do you think it is for a teacher to be as good or better than his/her students when teaching them something? I don’t have any students per se, but I do try to help people out when I see them making the same mistakes I do. Sometimes I feel somewhat like a hypocrite telling someone to do something that I am not able to do myself.

On the flip side, I have a hard time taking instruction from someone who can’t do what they’re telling me to, or who does it really crappy (I’m not including older people of course). I am more than willing to concede that it is just my arrogance that produces this attitude and most of the time I try to glean whatever good advice is there to be had, but I honestly feel like I will always need someone better than me to instruct me. Now, this has not been a problem thus far since all the instructors I’ve had at Tech can rather effortlessly outdo me in pretty much anything they instruct me on – I like that, it keeps me humble and gives me something to work towards.

Let me ask the same thing a different way. How good do you have to be at doing taido in order to competently instruct it? Knowing the theory behind stuff is all good and needed, but theory did nothing for me last night trying to learn hangetsu ate – I didn’t really get it until I saw Bryan do it.

I know there’s no real measuring stick as to how “good” someone is at doing taido, but hopefully you get the idea of what I’m asking, even if I’m not expressing it as clearly as I would like.

I have reposted my reply as a comment below… – Andy.

Is Taido Too Difficult To Be Popular?

In America, there are basically just two types of martial arts schools: big ones that make money and small ones that don’t. There are a lot of stereotypes regarding which extreme is better, but as with all flat generalizations, the reality is not so simple. In converse to the prevailing trend, there exist very large dojo that produce fantastic martial artists. There are also small clubs that accomplish very little.

My point is that the size of a dojo has little to do with its quality – whether in commercial martial arts schools or not-for-profit groups. The overall quality of a school and its students will always come down to the instructor.

Playing the Percentages

Every club wants to be successful, and every club defines success in a somewhat different fashion. Most instructors have an idea in their heads of an ideal number of students and level of achievement these students reach. Some instructors want to have a huge club. Some only want to teach a small number of dedicated students. Some instructors push their students to grade to higher and higher levels as often as possible. Others may leave it up to each individual.

No matter how many students we teach, a certain percentage will quit; a certain percentage will lack the motivation to rise above mediocrity; a certain percentage will become outwardly identifiable as great. If there were some objective measure of Taido greatness, I could probably show that student achievement follows some sort of bell curve.

Assuming this is true, only 20% of all Taido students would ever get “good.” The remaining 80% would either quit or just hang around indefinitely with no real improvement.

The law of averages suggests that our chances of reaching whatever numerical goals we set for ourselves increases directly proportionally to the number of students who join the class. In order to increase the number of great students, most instructors tend to assume that they need to teach more students. This assumption is based on the idea that the average percentage of students that have the capacity to become great is not going to change much. As a result, instructors focus on becoming popular in hopes of attracting those few great students.

To me, it makes more sense to work on altering the percentages.

Making Taido “Accessible”

In general, a reduction in standards for the purpose of inflating the perceived rate of achievement is called “dumbing down.” A major reason to dumb down your instruction and play up your numbers is economical. Assuming that certain special students will become great regardless of how poorly they are taught (these people are called naturals, and they are rare but not nonexistent), in a large enough sample, there will always be a few people in the dojo that really kick ass. This will inspire new folks to sign up in the hopes that they can reach the same level, but without quality instruction, it’s not going to happen. Some of these students will stick it out indefinitely, and others will quit, making way for new entries.

In a commercial setting, all of them pay. Having two hundred people pay tuition for one year is more lucrative than having 20 people pay tuition for ten years. The income derived from the initial sample is the same, but after a year, the larger dojo repeats the process. Working for numbers increases a dojo’s finances simply because more people are paying.

I believe that there should be no dumbing-down of Taido. Though Taido itself has the potential to be for everyone (e.g. popular), it won’t necessarily be the case that every dojo will suit every potential student. When I lived in Gunma, I traveled four hours each way to go to a dojo I liked. There are different ways to teach, and class atmosphere/personality is as much a factor for most students as the art they practice. Some people won’t be interested in the type of practice at a particular dojo, and some people may not be at an appropriate stage in their development to benefit from Taido.

How to Improve: Do Better

Doing good Taido is priority one for me. Since Taido is complicated and difficult, students will have to develop their capacities for complication and difficulty. As an instructor, I feel that it’s my responsibility to teach them how to do this. This doesn’t mean that I have to teach less Taido; it means that I have to teach Taido better.

There are advantages and disadvantages to growing a club. The advantage of larger numbers of students is… numerical. More students means more training partners and greater financial ability to provide a quality training environment. The disadvantages are logistical. It can be difficult to handle the administrivia with a large group of students, and there are times when students may not get enough individual attention. Especially in a situation where most students are beginners, it can be a real challenge for instructors to teach the basics accurately while also challenging the more-advanced students. This has been a challenge for me in the past when I was teaching almost solo.

We sometimes tend to think of smaller groups as having more “soul” and larger groups as sell-outs. Reversing the perspective, larger groups appear successful and smaller ones give the impression of being unprofessional, unreliable, and flaky. These are stereotypes that rest on long-standing traditions from a wide range of our experiences. They stem from heuristic polarities such as scarcity/abundance, quality/quantity, morality/popularity, etc. Most people learn from society that it is necessary to make a choice between their desires (thinking big) and their values (thinking right).

We can achieve both. I see no reason that a club cannot have a large enough number of students to benefit from the variety and strength that numbers afford, without losing the individual attention and quality we associate with smaller classes. As I mentioned above, it’s all a matter of percentages. Dumbing down results from assuming the percentage of students achieving greatness is fixed; We can realize the same output by increasing our success rate. In other words, we must change our percentages.

Doing so will always come back to this: we have to teach better. If we never change our methods – never grow or adapt – our success rate will remain constant, and the only way to ensure the success of more students will be to increase the total number of students. This also increases the number of failures, but you won’t see any dojo advertising that only 20 percent of their students ever moved beyond white belt.

Optimizing Taido Instruction

By teaching better and managing better, we can change these percentages. I don’t have the answers for this. We have to experiment within our own dojo to find the solutions that will work in our own situations. This is called “optimizing.” Every student and every dojo faces their own challenges, so no one cookie cutter curriculum or management style is going to work for all of them.

This is the challenge of a manager and instructor. By finding better ways to teach things that are complicated, we can make difficult concepts accessible to more students. Some students get certain aspects of Taido better than others. Georgia Tech is one of the best engineering schools in the world, so when I taught there, I never had to explain that unsoku controls the spacial relationship with the opponent. But scientifically-minded students have a hard time improvising, so we had to use a lot of games and drills to teach jissen.

By finding better ways to manage resources such as training time, space, equpment, and instructors, we can get the most benefit out of whatever numbers of students and instructors happen to be members of our clubs. Taido training has to include skill practice, physical development, and applied strategy, but no one class has to do everything. There’s no law that says everyone in a club has to be practicing the same things. We can cycle people through various types of training in ways that give everyone the best chance to improve.

The key is working towards what Bucky Fuller called “ephemeralization,” or doing more with less. The active agent of ephemeralization is synergy. From an organizational perspective, synergy manifests as collaboration; from a training perspective, it’s achieved by intelligent balancing (and cycling) of methods. Building a structure that supports these functions should be a continual project for Taido instructors.

Taido will always be hard, but it gets easier when it’s done correctly. The better we get at applying Taido to itself, the less we will find ourselves struggling with traditional debates like quality/quantity. Taido is all about oblique strategies to problem solving (hengi, anyone?). It’s going to take a little bit of mental-unsoku practice, but we can use our practice to discover solutions – it’s really only a matter of trying new things in the dojo and using what works.

Ebigeri: Where to Look

A few days ago, I got an email from one of the students in my email coaching program, and I thought it was worth sharing.

I’ve got a question about this week’s Taido tip, you mentioned that the back should be straight during ebi geri. Why is this, what is the advantage (other than bringing your head in to safety)? I always have it bent because otherwise I’m not able to see my opponent.

Here was my reply:

Good question with lots of good answers.

Mechanically, a straight line from head to heel means that the force of the kick transfers more directly into the target. Experiment: slowly kick a wall with ebigeri that way you normally do, and see where your body absorbs once your foot touches the wall. This is the weakest link in your kick, and I bet it’s your lower back. Keeping your back straight means that the force of the kick has only two places it can be released – the target or the floor, through your arms. Since your hips should be moving toward the target, momentum favors the force going that way.

From the perspective of building good habits, straightening your back will require you to bend your stationary knee further, which is good for balance and stability. The knee also helps you gauge how straight you are; if the knee is bent, you can tell how far it has turned, but this is more difficult if the knee straightens while turning. I don’t know why, but that’s just the way those mechanoreceptors work.

As for looking… are you fucking kidding me? If your ebigeri is so slow that you have to watch while you’re kicking, you’re not going to hit anything anyway. Here’s the funny thing though: looking at your kick will actually decrease your accuracy. The simple truth is that your brain doesn’t process an upside-down world very well and has a hard time adjusting to what you see. You’re far better off to look at the floor and focus on lengthening your spine. Aim before you kick. Aim where the target is about to be. Kick fast.

Of course, that means that line and target training are all the more important. Lots of people look at their kick in ebi, but that doesn’t make it ideal. Proper body mechanics are the highest law of technique.

Followup from the student:

Thanks for the answers!

By the way, right now I don´t look for aiming purposes; I look to see my opponent. If he does kosuku for instance, that means that I have to get up at a different angle so that I immediately face my opponent – or he will be at my flank.

Or is speed again the answer, kicking and getting back up and doing so faster than the opponent can do a kosuku…?

My reply:

I see where you’re coming from. Consider the fact that nobody throws ebi as an attack in jissen. There’s a good reason. It doesn’t work very well, and this is part of the reason. Ebi is a straight line technique that Shukumine created for defending against a charging opponent in a confined space. When unsoku isn’t an option, ebi is a good defense, but it’s not really viable as offense (you’re turning a portion of your momentum away from the target after all).

In some ways, yes, speed is a factor in what you describe. A fast ebi really shouldn’t give the opponent much time to move. Beyond that, you should get in the habit of executing techniques that are directed where the opponent is heading to, not where he already is. This means attacking within the flow of unsoku instead of after a step is complete. One of the many benefits being that, if you know where he’s about to be, you don’t necessarily have so see him all the time (though seeing is good – it’s not not required for the entire movement).

The reason I wanted to share this is because, as I wrote above, a LOT of people do ebi this way, while looking at the kick. I want to emphasize that, in 99 cases out of a hundred, I really do recommend keeping your eye “on the ball” while kicking. It’s just a good idea in general, but every rule has exceptions, and this is one of them.

The main point here is about mechanics. Good mechanics are what makes any technique work.

Taido is perhaps most accurately translated into English as the art of the body. It only makes sense that we way he use our bodies is going to have a big impact on how well we are able to perform Taido. What’s less obvious is that there are at least two levels on which this is true: the mechanics of the technical (punching and kicking) movements and the overall mechanics of human physiology. Good technique requires that both be sound.

Technical Mechanics

Technical mechanics are spelled out in Taido Gairon, specifically the chapter on doko, which appropriately could be translated as “how to move.” This includes the doko5kai – five principles of mechanics for each of the basic techniques (which I’ve outlined here: sentai, untai, hentai, nentai, and tentai).

The technical mechanics are unique to Taido and differ from one technique to the next. Furthermore, their execution may differ among techniques even of the same general class. For example, the instruction kihatsu seisoku for ungi suggests that the be careful with your rear (kicking or lifting) leg so the opponent can’t stop your technique. This applies to all ungi, but its application will take different forms in standing techniques versus jumping technique.

General Mechanics

By general body mechanics, I’m referring to the natural structure and movement of the human body. We can call it physiology, biomehcanics, or really any number of things, but the point is that the body is built in a certain way that favors certain types of movements and positions over others. There are limits to how we can move without injuring ourselves. There are also ways to move that produce greater force than others. I’m oversimplifying, but you get the picture.

General mechanics are not very thoroughly spelled out in Taido texts, possibly because they are universal. However, being universal doesn’t mean that most people practicing Taido understand or demonstrate them well. For example, though we all know that posture is important, few of us have consistently good posture. But good mechanics go far beyond good posture and extend to correct alignment and use of all our joints. It takes practice, and that’s the trouble: when we practice Taido, we want to practice techniques, hokei, and jissen – not some kind of abstract poise, or use (as the Alexander folks call it).

So we tend to ignore, or at least gloss over, the issues of body mechanics in our practice, because we want to prioritize our training time for Taido. And that’s really OK for rainbow belts. Taido is complex, with a lot of movements and ideas to internalize. But then we have to work even harder to relearn everything with good mechanics later.

Back to Ebigeri

Anyway, to return to the original discussion, check out this video from the finals of the 2009 World Taido Championships. Nakano and Pylvainen both have fantastic body mechanics all around, but specifically pay attention to how straight their backs are when they kick tentai ebigeri after the first kiai – direct line from head to heel.

That’s what we should all strive to look like when performing this kick.

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.