Taido Training Tips

You Need Reminders

It happens to the best of us: we get caught up in the process of going to the dojo, putting on our uniforms, warming up, practicing techniques, etc. We get lost in the ritual of training and the time flies by. Unless we make a concerted effort, it can be difficult to focus on the fundamental skills and habits that make everything else work.

Just a Quick Fix

You’re in the middle of a session, putting everything you’ve got into mastering a technique, or maybe a hokei. Perhaps, somebody will remind you to pay attention to your breathing, and you’ll think “Of course, I know that.” And you do know, but you weren’t thinking about it until somebody reminded you. We all need reminders, and we need them, by definition, when we’re not thinking about asking for them.

Training tips are useful reminders about ideas or techniques that are often forgotten or overlooked during training. Here’s a good one:

Mindful practice will improve your skills much more quickly than would mindless practice. I suggest you keep a small notebook you can carry in your gym bag. Making notes of your own observations will help tremendously. Just take a few seconds to remember your goals before practice and a couple of minutes to write down your thoughts afterward.

You’ll find that this simple habit can increase your awareness and accelerate your progress dramatically. Really.

The Plan

I used to offer an email coaching program consisting of one such reminder every one or two weeks for you to think about during your normal practice.Several people told me they got a lot out of following them, so I’ve decided to forgo the email delivery system and just post them here on the site. It just seems like a much simpler way to do things.

I’ll begin by posting the original ten+ tips I had been sending out via email. They’re still really useful, and I think you can get a lot out of putting them to work in your training – even if you already followed along once before.

Once all the previous tips have been published, I’ll begin adding fresh ones that I had planned but never got around to sending to the email list (sorry…).

ach week, I’ll upload a new tip – every Thursday. So stay tuned.

I’ll be announcing new posts on the Taido/Blog Facebook page, so make sure you follow along by “like”-ing Taido/Blog there.

What To Expect

The tips themselves will usually be very simple – all you have to do is remember to pay attention while you go about your usual training. The goal is to build good habits for practice.

Nothing I’ll present in this series is meant to change the way you think about life. They are just quick suggestions that can improve your Taido practice. They’re not new or sexy, but if you can focus on each one for a week’s worth of training, I promise you’ll see progress. The best part is, following these tips will make your training more effective whether you’ve a beginner or a veteran, because they help you develop the most basic and important skills in any discipline: self-awareness and consistent action.

Lots of people use this site as a resource for learning technical details and Taido theory. I think that’s spectacularly good, but there’s more to Taido than memorizing the gojojun and watching videos of hokei from some tournament five years ago.

Bringing greater attention to your own learning process and thinking actively about your training will pay of big time for your skills and understanding. Be on the lookout.

Tip #1: Log Your Training

I suggest you print these tips out or copy them into a small notebook you can keep in your gym bag. Making notes of your own observations will help tremendously. Just take a few seconds to remember each point before practice and a couple of minutes to write down your thoughts. You’ll find that this simple habit can increase your awareness and accelerate your progress.

And that’s actually the first tip: keep a training journal.

Even just a very simple one can help. I recommend a sturdy notebook that’s small enough to keep in your bag, but large enough that you don’t loose it easily. If you need ideas for how to structure a journal, or are simply curious, you can check out my (old) Taido Training Log.

Keep in mind that there’s no reason you need to keep an elaborate record of everything you practice. I suggest noting the date and length of your practice along with what you spent most of your time working on. Also write your impressions of your own performance or anything you want to remember to practice more next time.

Spend a couple of minutes before each practice reviewing the last session, and then a couple of minutes after practice to reflect and make notes. That’s all. Spend two weeks building this habit, and you will find it much easier to apply the tips that follow.

Remember

These tips are not meant to change the way you think about life. They are just quick suggestions that can improve your Taido practice. They’re not new or sexy, but if you can focus on each one for a week’s worth of training, I promise you’ll improve.

Tip #2: Relax

This week, I want you to remember to relax.

It’s probably the most common advice in the world as it can pertain to anything we do in life. Of course, learning to relax can improve your relationships, your health, and your mood. But what we’re most interested in here is how relaxation can improve our Taido.

Everyone remembers learning to punch. We all started out in the same place: trying to use our arms and shoulders to push our fists forward into the target. As we kept punching, our shoulders inched higher and higher.

Eventually, we all learn to relax our shoulders when punching, and we know empirically that it increases speed, power, and accuracy. So why do we carry around so much tension in our other movements?

Relax. Everyone says it, everyone forgets to do it.

Awareness

It all starts with becoming aware of tension.

If nothing else, over the next couple of weeks, try to pay attention to the tension in your shoulders during practice. Notice this tension when you punch, when you’re standing in chudan kamae, and when you’re doing hokei. If you can just be aware of the tension, you can remember to let it go. Make a concerted effort to be aware of any tension you find yourself holding. It may not be in your shoulders. Some people tend to keep a lot of tension in their hips and bellies. Others in their hands.

You’ll have to pay attention to figure out where you keep your unnecessary tension. Then, it’ll just a be a matter of releasing that tension when you notice it.

Face It

If you’ve ever watched a kung fu movie or even a video of a Taido practice or tournament, you’ve probably noticed that strange facial expressions are very common in the martial arts. The truth is that our facial expressions reveal a lot about our internal states. Obviously, we show our emotions on our faces. It works the other way around, too. Smiling actually releases chemical that make us happy.

By the same token, relaxing the muscles of the face signals other parts of the body to relax as well.

If you can, try to get some video of yourself practicing, and notice your own facial expressions. What movements or techniques cause your face to tense up?

You can increase your overall relaxation by periodically relaxing your face during practice. Clench your teeth, then stretch your mouth wide, as if your were yawning. Shut your eyes tight, then relax and blink a few times. Relax your jaw and shake your head vigorously from side to side with a deep exhale. All of these things can help loosen your facial muscles and relieve general tension.

Techniques

There are lots of things you can do the help yourself relax, the most basic being to simply LET GO. For some people, this will be a significant process that is more psychological and physiological. For others, it might just mean bouncing up and down a few times while shaking the tension out of your arms and legs.

Figure out what works for you and start reminding yourself periodically during training to relax.

Tip #3: Breathe

Everyone knows that breathing is important in Taido, just as in… well, pretty much everything.

Learning to use your breath is a big part of Taido’s taiki (“body energy”) idea. Every hokei includes techniques for learning to master the breath, and we all know what it feels like to be “out of breath.” This tip is about one half of breathing.

Remember to Relax

One of the reasons that exhaling is important is that it helps us to relax. Everyone has experience with this phenomenon in the form of yawning when we shift gears to prepare for sleep. When we need sleep, the body begins to progressively relax in order to reduce energy consumption and lower core temperature.

In much the same way, the “hold your breath and count to ten” method of anger management works by forcing a full, deep exhale at the end. This helps us relax and let go on anger and frustration.

Exhaling is a physiological trigger for relaxation, so it naturally works in tandem with the first tip.

Kiai!

Of course, the most obvious example of a focused exhale in Taido is the kiai. Done correctly, the kiai is short, focused, and doesn’t strain the vocal chords. If you get a sore throat from doing too many loud kiai, you should practice relaxing your mouth and neck while forcing the air out from your belly.

When you kiai during practice, try to think of it as a sharp exhale rather than a shout. Most of us kiai quite often, so changing this emphasis (from shout to exhale) offers many extra chances to practice exhaling during practice.

Stop Holding Your Breath

Again, we all have had experiences where we stopped breathing, and the results are never positive.

Often, when excited or threatened, we’ll take a sharp inhale and forget to let it go. After a few seconds of holding our breath, we may feel lightheaded or simply stressed out. Part of this has to do with the increase in blood pressure when we hold our breath. The cure is to simply exhale.

How many times have you been moving at a frantic pace (either in practice or in the real world) and found yourself gasping and panting? It’s a physiological stress reaction that may have served a purpose in the early days of our species. But it just gets in the way when we’re trying to learn.

Since breath-holding always begins with an inhale, the best way to avoid it is by remembering to exhale. Exhale whenever you kick or punch. Exhale when you complete your kamae. Exhale when you are resting between techniques. Just exhale, and do it often. The more you remember to exhale, the easier it will be for you to remain relaxed.

Focus on the Exhale

If you just remember to exhale, your body will inhale naturally. It’s a simple fact of biology that our bodies need oxygen to continue living, so don’t worry about inhaling – your body will handle that for you.

Try it right now: exhale.

Exhale as much as possible. Now relax. What happened? Of course, you inhaled, but without having to try. This is called passive inhalation.

Your body expels air by compressing the lungs and releasing that compression results in a natural inhalation. You never have to worry about inhaling. It will come if you relax. Your body knows what it needs to survive, and it will always override your instructions when survival is at stake.

You cannot prevent your body from inhaling when it needs to. So just let it happen. Don’t worry about it. Inhalation is taken care of, so you can put your attention on exhalation.

Focus on the exhale, and let this become a trigger for relaxation. Experiment with this in your training for a few days and see if you don’t feel more relaxed and move more smoothly.

Tip #4: Balance

Work on your balance. Everyone knows that balance is important, especially in sports. Most sports movements take place on one leg, or by transitioning the weight from one leg to another. This means shifting our balance.

In Taido, the balance shifting is extremely important since we use dynamic, full-body movement through all three dimensions. Learning to control our balance is extremely useful.

I wrote about this before in my article on warming up. Balancing brings together a lot of the body’s resources, so it’s an excellent addition to your warm-up.

Challenging your balance helps “tune and prime” the nervous system’s use of mechanoreception information along with visual and vestibular sensation. It also “turns on” fine motor control of muscles used in stabilizing the body. Another good reason to include balance training during your warm-up is that you warm up before every practice. This means that you will do balance training at every practice. Simple, right?

It’s difficult to improve without consistent practice. Balance is no different. Of course, just doing Taido movements will result in improved balance, but focusing your attention specifically on balance for a couple of minutes during your warm-up will accelerate your improvements exponentially.

Plug in some balance training every time you practice, and you’re overall agility and coordination will begin to improve rapidly. Your techniques will get better too.

Slow Kicks

The easiest way to practice balance is by doing slow kicks. Try doing five slow front kicks on each side, focusing on keeping your stationary foot flat on the ground. Hold your gaze steadily on some point in front of you and attempt to move your kicking leg slowly with as little loss of balance as possible. Start with low kicks and gradually work on kicking a little higher each practice. You can do five low kicks and five middle-height kicks on each side (remember, slowly…) and then move on to practice at normal speed.

Remember to breathe. Holding your breath makes this exercise much more difficult. As you extend the kicking leg, exhale slowly. It may help to count out three to five seconds as you extend the kick. Also, don’t just extend the leg and then let it drop. Practice controlling your balance for the full path of the kick. For many reasons, the return trajectory that the kicking leg follows is just as important as the extension. Extend the leg with an exhale, inhale, and then exhale slowly again through the return to kamae.

After you are comfortable balancing with the most basic kick, progress to using other kicks as well. Kick to the side and back. Don’t worry too much about kicking technique at first – you’ll probably tense up and have difficulty balancing. Work on balance, then gradually improve your technique while balanced.

The Balance Drill

This is a drill that is just for training balance. It may work better for some people since it doesn’t look like a kick. If you have trouble focusing on balance instead of technique, try the “four corner balance drill,” 4CBD:

You don’t have to hold each position for very long, and you don’t have to hold your leg very high. At least, not at first. As your balance and leg strength improves, you’ll want to gradually increase the height and duration of the holds in each position. This ensures continued improvement. You have to keep the drill challenging if you want to keep getting something out of it.

Lots of Benefits

Obviously, you can expect your kicks to improve tremendously when you start making a habit of training your balance at each practice. You’ll also notice increased foot-eye coordination and surer footing when stepping and moving in unsoku (due to increased foot and leg sensitivity).

I do some balance drills each day, but you can get some excellent results just by devoting 30 seconds during your Taido warm-ups to building your balance using the drills in this mail.