Is Taido Still Japanese?

Note: What follows is not a completed thought, and it may not even be all that important to most students. However, I feel it is extremely important to teachers, and it’s the kind of thing that has been popping into my head a lot when I think about Taido lately.

I’d love to hear your opinions, so be sure to drop a comment with your thoughts.

I’m going to go ahead and make a blunt assertion, which you can choose to accept or reject: Japan Taido believes that Taido belongs to Japan. I’m not going to make a case for this here, but it is true. I practiced Taido in Japan for a long time, and the feeling amongst the vast majority of people practicing Taido there is that Taido is a cultural artifact of that country.

Of course, you might not think that’s a very big deal. Taido is from Japan after all. Yet, if Taido belongs to the Japanese, can it really be for anyone who is not Japanese or in Japan?

So long as non-Japanese Taidoka can agree that the Japanese way is best, this isn’t a problem.

If we “foreign” Taidoka can accept that Taido is not ours and dedicate ourselves to learning the proper way to do Taido by emulating our Japanese teachers, then everyone can get along easily. It’s generally assumed by many of the Japanese Taido teachers I know that this is the ideal, that non-Japanese Taido teachers (even those with over 30 years experience) should obediently follow Japan’s lead in all decisions regarding what Taido is all about and how it should be practiced and used.

Things get tricky here. When somebody in Europe, for example, spends thirty years training and studying Taido, we should expect that this person will come to understand the art at a high level. At least we would hope so.

But how much can one really understand of Taido without having read Taido Gairon (which is something very few Japanese Taidoka do either – for one thing, it’s a very difficult read)? Can we assume that somebody without much Japanese knowledge will make the connections hinted at in the Japanese naming of various techniques and concepts?

And this is only a small matter. The larger problem is culture.

Taido is said to be created for the benefit of society. Now think for a moment about how similar Japanese society is to your own. You probably don’t have a point of comparison unless you’ve lived there.

To put things in perspective, let’s posit that Taido was created for Japanese society as viewed by its Japanese creator at the time in Japanese history when he created it. Yes, Taido has changed since then, but understanding our origins is important. Shukumine created a martial art for his generation. Very few non-Japanese practicing Taido today are of that generation. In fact, I’d put the figure at around zero.

If Taido is for the benefit of society, it will need to adapt to the society in which it is being practiced. Now I’m going to make another unsupported assertion that you can choose to reject (but that is correct): in general, Japan is socioculturally at least a decade (if not two decades) behind Europe in most things.

The Taido created by Japanese for the benefit of Japanese society will probably not serve the needs of those living elsewhere in other societies.

I’m curious about the implications of this line of thought. How does Taido change when it crosses national and cultural borders?

When it changes, is it still Taido?

Poll Results: How Flexible Are You?

Overall, the consensus is,

I can move pretty well, but there’s always room for improvement.

It looks like most Taidoka are pretty comfortable with their current levels of flexibility, but recognize that they could benefit from more (or more effective) stretching. Here’s how the results for each response broke down:

How Flexible Are You?

  • 52% – I can move pretty well, but there’s always room for improvement.
  • 33% – I can touch my toes, but that’s about it.
  • 11% – Full splits, baby.
  • 4% – I can’t see or touch my toes.

This is about what I had expected.

52% of those who responded are pretty mobile. We can do most of our techniques without difficulty. We can get around the court pretty quickly and almost always get our legs in the general direction they need to go in order to kick. That’s good, but we can do better.

33% say they can touch their toes, but this is where their contortionist tricks end. That’s too bad, but it doesn’t have to stay that way. With consistent stretching, these people can be moving faster and stronger within a couple of months.

4% can’t see or touch their toes. Hey, we’ve all got to start somewhere, right? Seriously, most people don’t begin Taido already having the ability to do all the movements. that’s why we train. Hang in there and work on your flexibility, and I promise everything else in Taido will start to open up for you as well.

11% report being able to do a full split. This may actually be a little high. I know for a fact that the number of Japanese Taidoka who can do a full split is less than 10%. This has historically been the case in America as well, though things could have changed over the past couple of years. What about you guys in Australia and Europe? Can one in ten students really do a full split? If so, you’re doing something right. Keep it up!

For the rest of us, there’s nothing that says we have to be content with our current abilities. If we were, there would be nothing to train for anyway. In other articles, I’ve given you some ideas for increasing flexibility for Taido. Let’s put that knowledge to good use.

2007 IFG/ETC

I recently returned to Atlanta from Leiden, Netherlands, site of the 2007 International Taido Friendship Games and European Taido Championships. The five-day event comprised two international tournaments and three days of seminars. There were also plenty of chances to meet new people and get to know them by eating, drinking, and playing Taido together. It was crazy good fun.

I landed at Schiphol entirely clueless as to what the week would have in store for me. This was my first trip to Europe and my first meeting with many of the European Taido members. I”ll say up front that I was not disappointed with the quality of character or technique demonstrated by the various national delegations. I even managed to learn a few things.

Things I learned in Holland:

  • Holland is magic. Really. A good bit of the country used to be underwater, but it isn’t anymore. If that doesn’t constitute something special, I do’t know what does.
  • The city of Leiden is especially interesting. When the Spanish were out conquering most of Europe, they made it as far as the Netherlands. The Spanish army laid siege to Leiden for quite a while. Little did they know, the natives were up to something besides cringing in fear. They all moved to high ground (they had to build it first) and waited for the Spaniards to pass through the gates. When the time was upon them, they blew the dikes and drowned the invading army. Afterwards, they pumped the water back out to sea and burned the bodies of thousands of Spanish invaders. Diabolical. They retained their independence while other townships fell.
  • Kervers (president of the Dutch Taido Association and organizer of this event) lives in one of only two remaining city gates. There were originally eight.
  • Scandinavian Taidoka love sokutengeri. I had heard this rumor in the past, but had assumed it was somewhat exaggerated; it’s not exaggerated. I saw more sokutengeri in one week than I had in me previous twenty-something years of Taido. Not that ther’s anything wrong with sokutengeri, especially since they manage to score with it.
  • Now that I think of it, it’s pretty interesting how different countries seem to specialize in different techniques. In America, our jissen was traditionally focused on kaijogeri and hienzuki – pretty direct attack and defense stuff. In Japan, I noticed that sengi and manjigeri were the most common techniques in many tournaments. In Europe, it’s apparently sokutengeri. Apparently, every Taido association specializes somewhat in particular movements. The interesting thing is that the champions from each association specialize in different movements than the other competitors – that is until everyone starts copying them…
  • I wonder why this happens. Since Taido is supposed to be adaptable and evolving, it would appear that the tendency to specialize runs counter to our philosophy. However, specialization is appears to be a good way to prepare for competitions because it reduces the number of options from which a player must choose in the midst of jissen. This leads to a higher scoring ratio, but it may be weakening us in the long run.
  • Taidoka in other countries are very confused about American Taido. The most frequent question people asked me over the course of a week was “Why are there no others from America?” I found it impossible to answer.
  • Northern European people generally speak really good English. Every time I travel, I’m humbled by the fact that so many people speak my language. Why is it that so few Americans are multilingual? I guess the answer has to do with why so few Americans ever travel abroad. A lot of people tell me they don’t travel because it’s expensive, but Europeans for the most part pay incredibly high taxes and still manage to get out and see the neighboring countries at least. I think part of the answer lay in the fear of leaving our little bubbles and finding ourselves to be smaller fish than we had originally believed. I’ve discovered in the past few months that there is nothing wrong with being a small fish.
  • Taido people in any country know how to party.
  • The Swedes are hilarious dancers.
  • (Unfortunately) Taido politics are not an American invention. In every association, there are wheel-spinners – people who can’t do very much but bullshit their way into positions from which they attempt to control what others do. These people hide behind a number of excuses for why they don’t practice, but the fact of the matter is that people who don’t understand what they’re talking about should never be put in a leadership or teaching role.
  • One of the best reasons for holding international events is that everyone is exposed to different viewpoints and styles of practice. Even more, it becomes obvious whose ideas work and don’t work. With more points of comparison, it becomes obvious who knows what they’re doing and who doesn’t . Those schools that have the opportunity to practice regularly with students and teachers from different dojos are lucky indeed.
  • I got a great compliment from the guy who finally beat me in jissen . He’s well over six feet tall, and his name is Jarko. After our match one guy asked him how it was sparring with me, and he said it was “annoying.” I liked that a lot.
  • Not only did Jarko beat me in jissen; he also beat Kato Sensei in arm wrestling.
  • There happen to be quite a few people trying to develop new Taido techniques and applications. Some of it is superfluous and counterproductive, but some of it is brilliant. The later won’t happen without the former.
  • Leiden is beautiful. I want to go back there someday.
  • There are a lot of Taido clubs in Europe, and many of them invited me to come train with them. I’m really looking forward to visiting as many dojo as I can over the next few years. I heartily encourage everyone to make all efforts to do the same.
  • Finland has the world’s highest per capita incidence of both alcoholism and suicide. Maybe living in America isn’t so bad after all.
  • I need to practice more before I compete in Tournaments. I was pretty out of shape for this event (endurance-wise especially). Of course, some things are like riding a bike, but a lot of physical performance relies on the Specific Adaptation to Implied Demands (SAID) principle. Use it or lose it. My hokei and jissen both were good enough to get me into the finals, but without consistent practice, they won’t be good enough to get me a title. Moral: I need to practice with people more often.
  • Most Taido organizations really, really want to cooperate and collaborate on the international level. It’s really heartening to see that nobody wants complete control of the Taido empire for their own group. Everyone I talked to was into the idea of sharing and spreading Taido in a sustainable and egalitarian method of organization. I think that’s swell and great. Of course, wherever there is power to be wielded over others, some people will try to snatch up as much of it as possible. But the huge advantage of having an international organizing body is that no one person or group can ever claim to control too much of the whole.

    The biggest thing by far that I got out of this trip was, of course, the chance to meet a whole new bunch of really freaking awesome guys and girls who share my passion for the coolest martial art on the planet. I’m going to see a lot of them again (and again) over the next few years, and I know it’s going to be a blast. I also know that I’ll continue to be learning from all of them for quite a while to come.

    So to everyone whom I met in Leiden – Cheers, and thanks!

    To those who weren’t able to make this one – save your money and let’s all rock out together in 2009.