Bad Calls in Taido Tournaments

From the 2009 world Taido championships:

Kanaeko, the Japanese player, received a score for a kick which obviously missed his opponent. Antti, the Finnish player, displayed much better movement during the match, yet lost on a bad call. Adding insult to injury, Kaneko went on to win first place and yet another gold medal.

There’s no getting around it: if you have tournaments, you will have controversial decisions by judges. It’s simply not possible to please everyone, and even the best judges make mistakes.

However, some calls are just bad. They’re obviously bad, and this hurts Taido.

I’m not going to be writing a lot about how to improve judging in this article. Fixing Taido tournaments is task that I’m not up to accomplishing this morning. So before I get ahead of myself, I want to limit the scope of this post. I’m going to refrain from offering any solutions here. Not today at least. I’m also going to hold off on describing the various kinds of poor judging and bad calls. I’m not even going to give any examples other than the one in the video above.

This article is about just one thing: why reducing the number of bad calls in Taido tournaments needs to be a major priority for all of us.

What is a “Bad Call?”

For our purposes here, a bad call is any time a judge makes a major fuck up. That can mean giving a score for a non-connecting technique, failing to give a score for a worthy technique, showing an obvious bias for a particular competitor or team, or otherwise deciding in opposition to the facts of the match.

Things that I won’t classify as bad calls: scoring discrepancies in hokei matches and decisions in matches where neither competitor displays quality technique. It’s difficult to see everything when judging hokei, and that’s why we have three judges whose scores carry equal weight. As for the latter case, I can think of very little more difficult than judging low-level jissen matches in which both competitors show a total lack of understanding of unsoku and distance. As such, I tend to be lenient on judges in that situation. Honestly, those calls never affect the results of a tournament, as neither player has any real chance of winning anyway.

In tournaments, there are going to be winners and losers. There will also be losers who thought they should have been winners. This is a natural state of affairs that cannot be avoided in competition. What we can hope to minimize is the number of times we let bad calls hurt our art.

Who Loses When a Judge Makes a Bad Call?

Simply put: everyone loses. Here’s a brief look at the how various people are negatively affected by bad judging calls in tournaments:

  • The Winner – A player who wins due to ill-gotten points receives reinforcement that his performance is correct and worthy of a win. He has less motivation to improve than if he had lost.
  • The Loser – A player who knows he was robbed of a point will feel disenchanted and resentful. Tournaments can lose their appeal after a bad experience like this.
  • The Judge – A judge who consistently makes bad calls gets a bad reputation and loses the respect of his own students and those from other dojo.
  • The Audience – The spectators who witness bad judging decisions are often confused about the rules and scoring system. As a result, they conclude that Taido doesn’t make sense or is generally bullshit.
  • The Organization – An organization that certifies poor judges cannot retain the respect of its students. Any organization that hosts tournaments should be aware that the quality of judging is one of the very most important factors in creating an event people remember fondly. Further, an organization that cannot uphold solid rules invites politics.
  • The Art – When outsiders see videos of Taido tournaments, they judge our art based on what they see. Most of the videos we present are taken in tournaments, which means that people will judge us based on the quality of our competitions. Advertising our bad calls to outsiders gives Taido a bad reputation.

In other words, nobody is immune from the negative effects of bad calls in tournaments. It is not a minor issue as it affects, not only how current competitors feel about their participation, but also how prospective students view our art. If Taido cannot get it’s tournament system to work at a higher level, we will be unable to attract new students in the future.

Judging Tournaments in the US

I should mention that every Taido organization has a somewhat different system for handling their competitions and judge training. Since I live in Japan, a lot of my criticisms are directed mainly at Japanese judges. However, bad calls at the 5th WTC were not limited to Japanese judges.

Most of my judging experience was in America. We didn’t have many tournaments when I trained and taught in the States, but we took them extremely seriously when we held them.

Uchida Sensei understood that tournaments we not only for the benefit of the school and the competitors, but also for the parents, friends, and spectators. He made sure that each judge knew it too. Before every tournament, we would have several meetings and seminars for the judging staff covering every aspect of judging, from rules, to scoring, to making calls and giving on-court instructions. He wanted all of us to represent Taido in the best possible way so we could inspire the competitors and earn the respect of the spectators.

Not so say that we didn’t make bad calls. My point in relating this is to say that, in US tournaments, we were keenly aware that bad calls could destroy the tournament and have negative consequences for our school and students. We worked very hard to minimize that possibility.

Let’s Make this a Priority

That’s all I’m asking: let’s agree that this is a very serious issue and needs to be addressed by all of us who teach and judge. We need to be working with our organizations to improve our judge training and reduce the numbers of bad calls we make. At the very least, in time for the next world championship (Finland 2013), let’s take some concrete steps to make our tournaments better.

I’ll write more about what I think some of those steps should be next time. I’d love to see your comments.

Poll Results: Which Technique is the Most Fun?

This poll ended up running a little longer than I had planned, but the cool side benefit is that it gave more people time to vote and share their opinions.

Let’s Make Taido Fun

I think Taido is crazy fun to do, and I don’t seem to be the only one. At the seminar for rainbow belts prior to the recent World Taido Championships, I helped Saito and Tanaka Sensei give a presentation on how to enjoy learning Taido. The central point, of course, was that Taido is something we do for both ourselves and society, and that we can get a lot more out of it by making it fun.

In that seminar, we tried several ways to put a little bit more interest into training kamae and unsoku – things that may get tedious after a while unless we use some creativity.

There are lots of ways to make training fun, but one of my favorites is to boil down the basic sen, un, hen, nen, and ten movements to fundamental motor patterns and drill them that way. At my dojo in Osaka as well as at recent trainings I gave for students at Kobe Gakuin and Kitasato Universities, I’ve shown students various ways to get more creative with their kihon training by approaching the movement as separate from technique.

Fun is Relative

One thing I always notice when I do these training is that some people like certain movements more than others. Some people like to spin, and others like to jump. Some people seem to enjoy unsoku, while others will do almost anything to avoid stepping sideways.

This is also true of various types of practice. Young men tend to think that jissen is the most fun method of training Taido. Most female college students seem to prefer hokei. Then there are some that love constructing tenkai. I know plenty of people in Japan that enjoy the team events more than then individual ones – especially dantai jissen.

The point being that everyone has a different idea of fun.

Results

If we’re trying to find ways to have fun training Taido, it’s a good idea to know which techniques people enjoy doing. Here’s the breakdown:

  1. Hentai – 41% of total votes
  2. Sentai – 39%
  3. Tentai – 38%
  4. Nentai – 27%
  5. Untai – 21%

There were a total of 56 votes in this poll, and each one cast two votes for their favorite techniques to practice. Hen, sen, and ten were pretty even with 23, 22, and 21 votes, respectively. My picks, nen and un, were considerably less popular with with only 15 and 12 votes each.

So what does that mean?

Well, it’s hard to say. I’m not surprised that nengi isn’t very popular, as it’s the technique of which most students know the fewest variations. I am somewhat surprised that ungi isn’t considered more fun – maybe because jump training is so tiring? I had expected tengi and sengi t be popular, but I would never have guessed that so many people would think hengi is fun.

Sure, hengi is cool. It’s interesting. It’s the most popular technique in jissen. But I don’t really see it as a fun movement. Maybe I’m missing something…

Moving Forward

While you’re here, don’t forget to vote in the new poll: What kind of Taido videos would you like to see more of on YouTube?

If you have a suggestion for an answer that isn’t included, let me know, and I’ll post it.

Thanks.

A Little About Breathing

rather than simply pointing out flaws, i’ve always been of the opinion that we should present better alternatives. i feel that the exercises i will outline below can lead students to develop a better method of breathing for taido. i find that these exercises lead to a very natural way of breathing while moving that is highly adaptable to taido technique (adaptation being one of the five tenets of taido’s philosophy). because i want to encourage others to experiment with these exercises (and because providing evidence that the current theory is inadequate is tedious), i will first present my “better alternative” before attempting to nitpick shukumine sensei’s method in a later article.

There are many ways to breathe. I feel that the exercises I will outline below can lead students to develop a better method of breathing for Taido. They lead to a very natural way of breathing while moving that is highly adaptable to Taido technique (adaptation being one of the five tenets of Taido’s philosophy). Because I want to encourage others to experiment with these exercises, I will first present my alternative method before attempting to write an analysis of other breathing methods.

I totally believe that experimentation with various methods leads to far greater mastery than blind acceptance of any established method. So please try the exercises below several times over the course of a couple of weeks. If, after giving them a shot, you can’t figure out how they may be applicable to your Taido practice, feel free to drop me a line.

Now let’s work on developing some better breath skills…

You need to understand one fundamental that contrasts with the manner in which most people normally breathe. Basically, I am going to ask you to exhale actively and inhale passively. Usually when we think about our breath (which is rare for most folks), we begin by taking a deep inhalation into our chests and then letting it fall to exhale. This requires a good bit of energy if you think about it (which is why we don’t naturally breath that way) and doesn’t really incorporate the lower half of the lungs (the larger half) or the diaphragm.

First thing’s first: you have got to start breathing lower into your abdomen before we can do very much else. If you ever notice your breathing when you are very relaxed or after you just wake up on a saturday morning, you will see that you breathe most naturally by expanding (actively, though unconsciously)and contracting (passively) the belly. This brings air deep into the bottom of the lungs and allows more oxygen to be absorbed into your blood. This equals greater efficiency.

Why do we kiai in Taido? The kiai is to remind us to tighten the body, especially the abdomen, and focus our air out in a powerful burst when we strike. Since most strikes include a general bodily contraction, the kiai (exhale) here makes good sense, as we will see later. Anyway, using kiai teaches us to breathe with our bellies when we are doing athletic movements that require our bodies’ optimal output.

Understanding this, we can now “reverse” the emphasis of the breath by focusing on the exhale. In all of the exercises below (except the first one), you will concentrate on removing the air form your lungs by putting pressure (either mechanical or muscular) on your lower abdomen. Inhalation will take place as a natural consequence of the release of this pressure.

Some Preliminaries

preliminary exercise #1

Standing or sitting with good posture (feeling as if your head is filled with helium – spine long and head high. Posture is super-important for your techniques and health. I suggest you spend some time paying close attention to this), fully expand your chest, though not to the point of discomfort. Breathe deeply into the bottom of the lungs by expanding the abdomen (thereby pulling the diaphragm downward). By doing this, air is sucked through the entirety of the lung, from top to bottom. In other words, you are breathing with the entire lung instead of just the top portion of it. If you don’t continually fill and empty the lower lung, it stagnates with stale air that offers no benefit. This is inefficient and could potentially allow greater chances of various infections.

So that is step one. Breathing into the belly. Now the next part is a little more difficult to get the hang of. I want you to reverse your breath. What I mean is this: instead of expanding the belly outward and then letting it fall, I want you to suck the belly in, forcing all the air out of your lungs. Then relax the abdomen and let the vacuum pressure pull air in passively.

preliminary exercise #2

Standing or sitting with good posture, try to squeeze your abdominal muscles as tightly as possible. Feel as if you are going to press your belly button into your spine. Hold this for a few seconds and then relax. When you hold the contraction in your abs, take care not to close the epiglottis (the skin flap in your throat that “caps” the lungs). You want to relax your throat and let your stomach do all the work.

Contract again, and really try to hold a tight tension in your gut. Contract a little tighter and exhale, trying to remove as much air from your lungs as possible. After a few seconds, relax again and let the lungs naturally fill up as the abdomen drops, taking the diaphragm with it. Do this several times and try to feel as if your entire breath is working as a result of your contraction and relaxation of your stomach.

This is actually one hell of an excellent ab workout, if you haven’t already noticed. The interesting thing is that you are working an entirely different set of abdominal muscles here – you inner abdominals (the technical name of which I can’t seem to remember off-hand). These muscles are seldom exercised in most peoples’ daily lives, so they get weak. Our culture is obsessed with the appearance of the outer abdominal muscles (everyone wants the six-pack), but as important as these muscles are, they aren’t nearly as vital as the ones below (behind?) them.

When I teach this in classes, some people have trouble feeling as if they are getting a full inhalation by simply relaxing and releasing the abdominals after contraction. I’ve been doing some thinking about this, and the best explanation is can think of this that these inner abdominals aren’t yet strong enough to contract fully yet. If you can’t contract tightly, there won’t be enough pressure to fill the lungs adequately. This has nothing to do with your overall fitness, it’s just that some folks don’t really develop these muscles enough in their day-to-day experience. The good news is that by practicing this breathing technique, you can strengthen the inner abs to the point that a full contraction and subsequent release is possible.

preliminary exercise #3

If you have trouble experiencing this sitting or standing, I would suggest trying to practice lying down. Relax your spine (and elevate your head a couple of inches to retain the natural curve of your neck) and bend your knees, with you feet about shoulder-width apart. You can put your hands on you stomach if it helps you be aware of your body.

When you make the contraction, tighten your abs enough to actually lift your butt off the floor. You want to feel your hips tilt up towards your head, meanwhile pressing your lower back to the floor. At the same time, you should squeeze your cheeks. Pranayama yoga (which is where this style of breathing originates) teaches that you should bring your belly button and your anus as close together as possible. Of course they don’t actually move any closer together, but the visualization may help you get the hang of this. Finally, remember not to force-hold the breath by closing the glotis, use your muscles.

I would suggest practicing this several times a day if you can. Just lie down and exhale and hold. After about five seconds, simply let your hips fall and your belly relax. If you don’t feel you’ve had an adequate inhalation, you can breathe normally once or twice before the next repetition. Do this five to ten times in a set, and then rest. If you do this a couple times a day for a couple of weeks, I believe you will notice some changes in your breathing and posture even without consciously attempting to improve them.

So that is the basic breath. Squeeze the inner abs to exhale. Relax and release to inhale.

Now let’s go over some further explorations.

exploratory exercise #1

Standing with your feet apart (about fudodachi-width) and your back straight but relaxed, I want you to allow your body to simply drop forward, bending at the waist. Provided your glottis is relaxed, you will find that this motion naturally expels much of the air from your lungs by compressing your trunk. In this case, you don’t have to contract the muscles at all – gravity is exhaling for you. Next, I want you to bend backwards (as in our warm-up calisthenics) a little beyond straight while staying very relaxed. Notice what happens. If you make an effort not to interfere with your breathing, you will find that your lungs “magically” fill up as you open upward and back.

Try this several times, slowly at first, and then at varying speeds. Think as if your midsection is an accordion or bellows. Your breathing should require no effort, instead occurring as a mechanical byproduct of your motion. Try to keep your spine elongated and your lungs fully expanded as you do this to feel the full effects.

exploratory exercise #2

Now we’re ready for the half-backroll. Same thing as before, only this time, you are actually using your abdominals to lift your legs overhead, so the feeling of “auto-breathing” should be even more pronounced.

Sit with your knees bent and roll backwards, careful not to put any stress on your neck. When your feet reach the floor, stop. Then roll back to the original position. If you relax, you will notice the air being expelled as you compress your abdomen by folding your legs overhead. When you release this compression, you will inhale.

When you roll back forward, try not to rock forward from your shoulders to your hips, but rather to relax the spine while using your back muscles to shift the hips forward. You should feel as if each vertebra touches the floor in turn until you are lying flat. As you relax into this supine position, your lungs should mechanically fill with air as the back straightens. Sit up and try again.

exploratory exercise #3

When you have mastered the backward portion of the exercise, you can add a second out/in to the exercise. You do this by rolling forward (to a position akin to a a hamstring stretch) instead of lying down. Doing this requires using the abs, so again, you can really feel how the mechanism operates. So the way this works is that, from sitting with your legs straight out, you: lay back (inhale), pull your legs over your head (exhale), roll your legs back to the front (inhale), bring the upper body with them and allow it to collapse as far forward as your flexibility allows (exhale). Repeat.

exploratory exercise #4

After you get comfortable with this, you can try the same exercise with front rolls. Tighten into a ball and exhale. Roll and then open into a squat or standing and inhale. All of your front and back rolls and flips are obvious contenders for practice along these lines.

exploratory exercise #5

When you are starting to feel sensitive to your breath and want to feel something a little freaky, revisit the standing version. Same as before, drop forward and let gravity passively empty your lungs. This time, instead of leaning straight back, I want you to roll back across either side (like half a trunk rotation) until you are leaning back. If you are really in tune with your breath and totally relaxed, you will be able to feel one lung filling before the other one. This is because the side to which you are rolling is compressed, but the other side expands. When you reach the fully-back position, both sides will be expanded.

Drop forward again, and this time roll up the other side. Practice this several times, alternating sides. Then reverse the direction: after exhaling forward, lean straight back and breath in. Then roll down one side and feel the air expel from first one lung, then the other. Lean back and inhale, and do the opposite side. By this point, if you are able to “feel the magic,” you should be pretty excited.

And now…

Though I won’t go into them here, there are also plenty of Tantric practices that work on this same principle. Of course, I wouldn’t know anything about it personally, but I have heard that sexual stamina and pleasure can both be greatly enhanced by integrating breathing with, uh… Motion. Feel free to explore this aspect of Taido with your partner.

Aside from the mysterious lesson number 23 of Master Chun’s “chinanju” (see Remo Williams for more), there are plenty of Taido techniques that can benefit from this kind of practice. In fact, the more you look into it, i’m confident that you will find an expansion/contraction (or even out/in/out) chain in every technique you can think of. Furthermore, you will almost always find that punches and kicks connect with the target on a contraction (hello kiai).

Exploratory Exercises Ad Infinitum

Ebigeri is a pretty easy place to see a contraction, expansion, contraction. Shajo/manji and mawashi geri are obvious examples in which one side is compressed differently from the other, which relates to the final exercise I outlined above. Of course, our techniques are a lot more complicated than the exercises presented here, so it’s going to be tough to try and make it through a jissen match without having to breathe actively, but if you practice integrating your breath and motion, you will find your endurance and energy increasing (see Tantra, above) without a doubt.

Now here’s where you can really try this concept out in Taido to get started: seimei no hokei. Anyone remember the correct breathing for that? I doubt it OK, so maybe you do – if so, congrats). Who cares? Practice seimei no hokei and note the points at which your body tries to breathe for you. Now for the black belts, do the same with tentai no hokei – tentai is a killer, endurance-wise, but using the tengi do do some of the work for you can really help out.

You have to breathe all the time to stay alive, so it follows that practice breathing will improve your quality of life. Feeling healthy? Good. Now go have a beer.

Games for Jissen

Jissen is not simply a matter of one person controlling another person. Both players have the same goal: hit the other dude without letting him hit you. At lower levels, it’s often enough to simply bully your opponent, subjecting him to your will. But a strong opponent won’t allow you to do this, and you’ll find that you must respond to his actions while you pursue your agenda.

To make a long explanation of the nature of jissen very short, we need to practice responding appropriately to outside stimuli.

Though we tend to take this aspect of practice for granted, communications science has demonstrated that many of the most challenging problems in any multi-person situation arise out of the inability to read signals accurately. (Incidentally, if you don’t believe that fighting is a form of communication, you especially need to practice these next drills.) Sometimes, the problem is a lack of sensitivity; sometimes it is difficulty in distinguishing noise from information.

We will address both capacities with the following developmental drills, some of which you may recognize from childhood games.

Listening Games

Standing Push Drill

Both partners stand, facing each other and try to push the other off-balance. The only contact allowed is with the hands, and whichever partner first moves his feet or falls down is the loser.

Standing Pull Drill

You can also have the partners grasp each others’ hands and attempt to pull the opponent from his position.

Back-to-Back Push Drill

Partners stand with their shoulders and hips touching and link arms at the elbows. Pushing against each other, they attempt to force each other out of a predefined area.

Seated Back-to-Back Push

Same as above, but the drill begins with the partners sitting on the floor.

Linked Sumo Drill

In this variation the partners stand, facing and grab each others’ belts. They can push, lift, or reap their partner’s legs. This is very similar to sumo, with the exception that both partners remain linked for the duration of the drill. If either partner steps out of bounds or touches any body part other than the feet to the floor, the match is over.

Linked Tag

Partners grasp one hand and attempt to tag the other partner with their free hands. The target can be specified (knee and shoulder work very well) or free. Be sure to practice using both sides.

Linked Step Tag

Similar to the above drill, except partners attempt to step on each others’ feet. Steps and jumps can be used to avoid “attack,” and players can use their hands to help control their opponent’s balance. Make sure to practice both sides.

Linked Step Sumo

Players link hands as above and attempt to force their opponents to the floor or out of bounds. Contact is allowed with the feet, up to knee-height for tripping, and players can use their liked hands to pull.

Free Step Sumo

The object of the drill is as above, but only foot-to-leg and hip-to-hip contact is allowed.

Have Fun

Any of the above drills can also be played with more than two partners, within a wider or narrower area, using blindfolds, on uneven terrain (use kicks mitts, punch bags, crash mats, people, etc. for obstacles), with time limits, while carrying a load (such as a partner), on one leg, on both knees, wet, naked… – whatever floats your boat, paddles your canoe, or sinks your battleship (though in all seriousness, topless variations could be very beneficial for the guys).

Just remember to hold the concept that these are games being played to improve your jissen. Don’t get too excited and get injured with this kind of practice. In a safe and friendly environment, the drills listed above and their variations can be extremely fun ways to build our abilities to “communicate” with our partners in jissen.

These drills are also great for warming up to practice kobo and jissen. Since they work skills that we don’t practice in hokei or kihongi, it’s important to return to them periodically. They can’t be mastered, so if you approach them with a fun attitude, they never get stale.

Asking the Right Questions

There is a saying I’ve heard in various forms that goes like this: do not do what the master did; seek what he sought. The wisdom here is very applicable to us in Taido.

Who’s the Master?

Who’s the baddest mo-fo low-down this side of town? Well, that would be the Shogun of Harlem, but in our case the master was Shukumine. I don’t feel that’s the end of the story though, because I think the entire point of practice is to attain mastery for ourselves.

I know it’s taboo in martial arts to aim for mastery. We’re supposed to “follow the path” without thinking of the goal. Goal fixation and the lust of results are sure ways to stultify our development. But I’m talking about something different. Mastery is not a result at which we will someday arrive; it’s a process we live. I believe that thoughtful practice of Taido is one means by which one can choose to live the path of mastery.

To live on “the path,” we have to have some goal, even in the knowledge that our goals may change. Without a goal, there is no path, it’s only a long, narrow field. Paths, by definition, exist for traveling between your current location/state and something else. Understanding our goals allows us to move on the path in one direction or another – otherwise, we just drift back and forth with no purpose and no meaning.

We all have reasons for practicing Taido. Looking how and why we have these goals for ourselves can be a difficult process, depending on how deeply we choose to dig into out fundamental motivations. Whatever we find, we can get more out of our Taido practice by comparing our goals with those of our art’s creator. By doing so, we can “seek what the master sought” in light of our own personalities and situations in life.

What did he seek?

Shukumine’s life centered around trying to answer certain questions about how a person could respond practically and creatively to the various situations that arise in combat and in life. How he answered these questions for himself will offer us few clues as to how he achieved his mastery. Doing thousands of repetitions of kushanku and bassai kata will not improve our concepts of Taido, nor will learning to pilot submarines, nor will fighting many larger opponents.

What, specifically, did Shukumine seek? The 5jokun should give us some clues. As I’ve written in a previous article, the principles show calm awareness, synergy of mind and body, skillful use of our bodies, judgment, and adaptability/creativity as valued attributes. In order to seek what Shukumine sought, we should apply our practice to developing these highest ideals he held.

Doing 10,000 sengi will not teach us what Taido is. It will make us very good at mimicking the outward form of Taido, but to understand what Taido is, we must seek Taido’s values. If we seek these values in any action, then we are to a greater or lesser degree applying Taido to what we do. Application is a much better study method than mimicry is.

How can we find mastery in Taido?

Things that will help us understand Taido better include thinking about the design of the hokei we practice, imagining ways to move in 3-space, and applying our creativity to meeting the challenges we face in life. Asking similar questions to those asked by Shukumine will put us on the path to achieving his level of mastery.

Here are just a few examples of questions we should be asking ourselves as we practice Taido:

  • How can I develop the values expressed in the 5jokun?
  • What was Shukumine trying to accomplish?
  • How would I go about seeking that for myself?

There are lots of other important questions too, but the most important thing is to ask them of ourselves, and not get caught up in how others have answered them. My answers are already written ad nauseam on this site, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t subject to change. Einstein said that “the most important thing is to keep having questions.” Let’s ask high-quality questions about Taido so we can find our own mastery through the process of seeking.