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: 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.

Kangeiko

Growing up in Uchida Sensei’s dojo, kangeiko was always one of my favorite Taido traditions. Everybody came to kangeiko, even if they couldn’t make it to practice very often during the rest of the year. It was always like a family reunion. And the workout was HARD.

We always started at 6am, and the floor would be freezing. We started by warming up thoroughly and running through all of the fundamentals. Lots of punches, lots of kicks. Then we’d practice each of the Taido kihongi and, after that, hokei. Despite the cold, everybody managed to get up a good sweat by the end of it.

Then we would all line up and, one at a time, sit with Sensei and exchange New Year’s greetings: “Akemashite omedetou gozaimasu. Kotoshimo yoroshiku onegai shimasu.” Then we’d drink sake (if you were under 21, it was “just a little…”) and clean the dojo.

I hear that American Taido kangeiko is a much different affair now. That’s cool. Things change, and nothing is so perfect it can’t be improved.

I don’t know much about the traditions of Taido dojo in other countries. Do you do kangeiko in Europe? How about Australia?

In this article, I’m going to give a little background on what kangeiko is, where it comes from, and how it’s practiced in Japan.

Kangeiko History

According to “ancient tradition,” kangeiko is held early on a Saturday morning in January. All students (even those who are unable to practice often) congregate at the dojo for the ostensible purpose of beginning the year with good spirit in training. Everyone works out, and the focus is on kihon – the basis of fancier skills.

Following the practice, the students greet their teachers and wish them a happy new year (“akemashite omedetou gozaimasu“) and ask the favor of continued tutelage in the new year (“kotoshimo yoroshiku onegai shimasu“). The deal is sealed with a Japanese handshake – bowing and drinking sake.

Then, everyone participates in the osoji – big cleaning. Students and instructors take pride in maintaining their practice space and equipment. And then there’s breakfast and more drinking.

That’s the kangeiko I remember.

Meaning and Origins

Kangeiko is a Japanese word made up of three characters and means “cold training.” Why would one want to train in the cold? The concept is a type of toughness training – forcing oneself to perform under difficult or even painful conditions. In theory, this strengthens the “fighting spirit” by helping us find our true limits and quieting the inner-weakling that keeps telling us to give up.

This idea of subjecting oneself to harsh treatment in order to strengthen the resolve owes to the influence of Buddhism (in Japan, anyway). Ascetic monks would choose the coldest days of the year to set an example and demonstrate their piety. Apparently, some dedicated samurai borrowed the practice and began subjecting themselves to intense training on these days as well. It eventually became a tradition in Sumo.

Judo adopted the practice, and as a result, most modern Japanese martial arts have some sort of kangeiko tradition. In Japan, many professional sports teams hold a sort of kangeiko, and even some large corporations have “kangeiko” for their executives.

Kangeiko’s Importance as a Martial Arts Tradition

In general, kangeiko has a reputation in the martial arts of being a serious challenge. There are all sorts of stories from “the old days” about extremely tough (and often stupid and dangerous)kinds of training that various dojo have put themselves through in the name of strengthening their spirits.

Martial artists love telling stories about how tough things used to be. My father summed up the tendency nicely: “Never let the truth get in the way of a good story.” These stories are often more romantic than realistic, but I think they serve a purpose. I look at these “legends” like a challenge – not necessarily to dive into a sub-zero lake and do 10000 punches in my frozen uniform – but to occasionally engage in practices that bring me closer to my limits.

Which is really the whole point. You don’t have to do fifty hokei in your underwear on the coldest day of the year. But as martial artists, we do have to push ourselves to overcome stress. Since this can be uncomfortable, many groups ritualize the challenge as a tradition.

Kangeiko is just a tradition. It’s serves the same purpose that other traditions do: reinforce group identity and group values. Severe training is also worthwhile, but it’s not necessarily the most vital part of kangeiko.

Two Kinds of Kangeiko

There are basically two schools of thought on what kinds of things kangeiko should entail: the hard core GUTS! school and the more austere and subdued school.

GUTS!

“Guts” type training is what we usually associate with “tough guy” schools. An example of a hard core kangeiko might start at 5am with 1000 punches and 1000 kicks before moving on to work routines and sparring. Maybe it would also include a few hundred push-ups and sit-ups.

Of course, all of this is done in an unheated dojo, which is almost the same as doing it outside. Traditional Japanese architecture doesn’t include much in the way of insulation. Martial arts dojo tend to have as much window as they do wall, and though we may use fans during the summer, finding a heater is extremely rare.

Some schools actually do train outside – running a few kilometers or even training techniques on the frozen ground. Just this past week, I saw a news report about a karate dojo in Osaka that waded into the harbor and did some punches in the freezing water.

Apparently, only a couple of them suffered from hypothermia. That was probably because it was a publicity stunt, and the students were only in the water long enough for the camera crews to capture the event. Of course, it the old days, they would have stayed in for longer…

The content of “guts” type training is less important than the intensity. The idea is to push ourselves until we don’t think we can go any further, and then to go further. Your muscles say “no,” but your mind commands “yes.” Through pain and exhaustion, you find that your true limits lay well outside your usual comfort zone.

Doing this kind of training sucks. But it’s great.

Pushing past our perceived boundaries builds mental toughness. It’s great for reminding ourselves just what we’re capable of (as opposed to what we enjoy). The body can’t handle this kind of thing too often, but doing it a few times a year can help push us to the next level mentally.

A hard core kangeiko is guaranteed to “make a man out of you,” unless you’re a woman.

In dojo that have an extremely intense kangeiko, students sometimes have to rest and recover for up to a week or even longer before returning to training. If training injures you, it’s no longer training – it’s punishment. Forcing your body to the breaking point is not “guts,” it’s stupid.

Balancing challenge with insanity is the art of this kind of training.

Another Approach

A lot of dojo aren’t so much concerned with being tough. They practice for sport and recreation. Dojo with a lot of older adults and children aren’t going to convince many students to show up for a physically intense workout. Instead, they follow a more subdued approach.

Just as with the hard core dojo, most “normal” dojo will focus their training on basics. They may do a certain number of repetitions of each kihongi, but the pace is usually relatively slow. Usually, few words are spoken, and each student is left to consider how to perform each repetition better than the one before it. This can sometimes go on for quite a while.

Even without breaks, this kind of training is not going to make anyone pass out or vomit. The physical intensity is low. but it’s not easy. In fact, it can be just as intense mentally as the hard core style is physically. It’s just a different kind of intensity.

The objective is to practice with total concentration. Instead of diving into freezing water, you’re trying to submerge yourself in each technique. The challenge is to get inside the technique, and that’s something you can only do with a lot of effort and repetition.

The first few repetitions may be kind of rough as you get warmed up. Then you’ll fall into your typical habits for the next few. Doing the same technique eventually starts to get boring, so you start trying to move faster and stronger. As you tire, you’ll begin to shift your emphasis to clean, efficient movement. After doing fifty or so in a row, you notice that your last repetition was far better than the first.

Training like this helps refine your technique and calm your mind. After working through a variety of techniques in such a manner, you’ll find that you feel very calm and relaxed. Though you’ve probably been sweating profusely, you won’t feel very tired.

This state of ease is the perfect time to reflect on your progress and goals for the next few months of training. You may take time to consider the 5jokun or otherwise think about what Taido is to you and what you hope to get out of it.

This is a more personal kind of training, even though it’s performed as a group. Each student is responsible for managing their own intensity and focus. The results are often similar to the more-extreme style of training: it can help push you into the next level mentally. It’s a different way of reaching for the same goal.

Taido Kangeiko

Of course, since kangeiko is an “ancient martial arts tradition,” it’s an important part of the spirit of a dojo. In fact, it’s such an important part of Taido tradition, that most clubs in Japan don’t do it. Some do, but it’s definitely not the norm.

Those dojo that do have a kangeiko tend to follow the second blueprint. A few university clubs may do killer workouts, but most dojo will do less extreme training and work on increasing the mental intensity.

None of the dojo I’ve been a member of in Japan have had a formal kangeiko. Instead, we just resume training in the new year as usual. But several Japanese clubs have posted blogs about their kangeiko training this year, and none of them went swimming in their dogi…

What’s Your Kangeiko Like?

By this time, many of you have already had a kangeiko at your dojo. Maybe it was similar to one of the patterns I discussed above, or maybe it was something totally different.

The most important thing you can get out of kangeiko is to give it your best and start off the new year of training with a positive attitude. Beyond that, take it as a chance to push yourself to the next level by challenging your body or your mind with more intensity than usual. Being outside your comfort zone will help you grow as a martial artist.

If you’ve had any interesting kangeiko experiences you’d like to share, please post them in the comments.

2008 Shakaijin Taikai

Every year, the Japan Taido Association hosts four national tournaments, one each for children, students, and adults, and the all-Japan championship. The Shakaijin Taikai is a tournament for “members of society,” which can be taken to mean adults. Basically, it excludes children and undergrads, but anyone else is free to compete. This year’s event included men and women from their early twenties to late sixties.

The Other National Tournament

If the national championship is the most objectively important tournament, the shakaijin has taken on a subjective importance as an unofficial warm-up for the all-Japan. Until a few years ago, the Shakaijin was a pretty relaxed affair, with a relatively small number of participants. Recently, it has grown in popularity, and this year, over 150 people joined the competition. Black belt Men’s jissen was especially competitive, with almost seventy entrants.

 

One reason for this growth is that there are no limits on the number of competitors from each prefecture/dojo nor on the number of events in which any one competitor can enter. The all-Japan has a limited draw, and a lot of good people don’t manage to make the cut. The shakaijin is a good tourney for them, but in the past few years, people that usually compete in the all-Japan have started to enter the shakaijin as well. As a result, the overall level of competition has increased.

Even though the shakaijin is a lower profile event than the national championships, people have begun to take it much more seriously than before.

Results

Here are the winners of the various events:

Beginners’ Hokei

  1. Kazuyuki Sugimura
  2. Manabu Kitami
  3. Hiroaki Tanaka

Kyu-Level (Rainbow Belt) Hokei

  1. Satomi Shigeno
  2. Shiori Oi
  3. Jason Maher

Kyu-Level -Mei Hokei

  1. Yasuhiro Miyamoto
  2. Mineko Komazawa
  3. Tadashi Ichikawa

Men’s Black Belt Hokei

  1. Tetsuji Nakano
  2. Hiroyuki Miyashita
  3. Tomokazu Kaneko

Women’s Black Belt Hokei

  1. Yayoi Masaki
  2. Aiko Hirayama
  3. Akiko Sato

Black Belt -Mei Hokei

  1. Noriyoshi Tone
  2. Hiroshi Asaoka
  3. Andy Fossett

Men’s Jissen

  1. Tomokazu Kaneko
  2. Kimio Tanno
  3. Ryota Horigome

Women’s Jissen

  1. Hiromi Chiba
  2. Maho Yamagiwa
  3. Tomo Ichihara

Dantai (Team) Hokei

  1. Tanaka Taido School
  2. Kanagawa Power
  3. McNegishi

Dantai Jissen

  1. Oe, Mashima, Tsukanaka, Doi, Iwase, Tabata
  2. Horiuchi, Osaki, Brunet, Kaneko, Takahashi, Shimamiya

Surprise!

OK, so there actually weren’t that many surprises in the winners this time around. Kaneko won jissen; so what? Nakano won hokei; again, so what? Well, it proves that nobody else is going to win by trying to outdo them; e.g. nobody is going to feasibly do a Nakano-style hokei better than Nakano, and nobody is feasibly going to beat Kaneko at jissen without making a careful study of what he does well and where he is weak.

Looking over the results from the last 17 shakaijin taikai, one often sees the same names again and again. The same is true of the forty or so years of national championships. Kaneko won jissen at the all-Japan five times in a a row. That’s not a fluke. We get in ruts sometimes with out practice methods and forget to stop and analyze our training in light of our results and those of other competitors.

For example, everyone sees Nakano’s hokei and thinks the way to win is to do a really fast hokei with impressive flips. Well, that’s the way for Nakano to win, but he’s got an edge on anyone else who tries to use that tactic – he’s better at it because he’s been doing it longer. The way to beat Nakano is not by trying to be like Nakano.

Of course, these two guys are just the most obvious examples. There are lots of great competitors in similar positions. Every time I see the same people winning with the same tactics year after year, I get this feeling that things aren’t evolving the way they should. I guess my point is that simply practicing to “get better” isn’t going to take Taido to higher levels. We have to actively analyze our current results and apply creative thought to improving them.

Logistics and Statistics

On the whole, the tournament ran really smoothly. Due to the large number of competitors, the events had to be split up into two separate dojo. The elimination rounds for the hokei divisions were held upstairs on a hardwood floor. This didn’t turn out too badly, since the first two rounds of the -tai hokei required untai. The biggest disadvantage was that it made it impossible to see one event if you were competing in another. I didn’t get to see any of the women’s hokei eliminations because I was competing in jissen downstairs.

The judging in this tournament was pretty excellent. I’ve been pretty outspoken about the inconsistent and often clearly biased judging in some Japanese tournaments, but I was pleasantly surprised overall with this event. Abe and Watanabe especially showed clear judgment and excellent control of the matches. There were lots of warnings given for unsoku, kamae, and poor technique. Even better, I only saw a couple of points given without good contact or for crap (unbalanced, uncontrolled, weak, or generally stupid) techniques. Honestly, this is a big step in the right direction, and I hope the trend continues to the all-Japan and the World Championships next year.

This year was also the most international shakaijin to date, with competitors from France and Australia. And some American guy too. Between Jason and I, we managed to double the total number of foreigners to win medals in individual events in the shakaijin (Lars Larm and Alvar Hugosson have also taken bronzes home in the past). Someday, one of us is going to have to win an event outright.

Me, Me, Me

Since this is my website, yet get to read my totally biased account of the day’s events. Lucky you!

This was my first time to compete in the shakaijin tournament, and I’d be an ass if I claimed not to be pleased overall. There were things I could have done better (see below), but the results beat my expectations.

My first match started right at 9am, and I was a little nervous. I was the youngest competitor in the -mei (breathing) hokei division by a margin of probably twenty years. I fully expected that my age would preclude my winning any matches. I was wrong.

The thing with the -mei hokei is that they are designed for older people. Not necessarily really old people, but adults. I learned seimei no hokei (the required form for the first two rounds this year) when I was about eleven years old. I can’t say that I’ve plumbed its depths, but I have practiced it for twenty years and believe that I have a fair understanding of what it does and how it works. Practicing Yoga and T’ai Chi off and on through the years hasn’t hurt in that respect. Still, I’m a young guy with a healthy and fairly strong body, so I tend to move by exerting force. Properly performed, the movements in the -mei hokei are accomplished by directing natural energy – a fancy way to say that the internal process of the movement is more important than its external appearance. Anyway, older people have an advantage in learning to do this because, having less physical strength with which to push, they can allow themselves to flow.

So imagine my surprise when I won the first match. It was probably a fluke, since I’m pretty sure that Takahashi screwed something up (he’s been competing in the -mei hokei division for lots of years and has won it more than once). I got a little excited and that tension didn’t help me out in the second match. Still, I managed to find myself in the finals.

Since I had fully expected to lose, I hadn’t practiced enmei or katsumei at all in the few weeks leading up to the tournament. So I had no choice but to perform seimei again in the finals. For some reason, I decided to do both the front and back halves, which I hadn’t done for at least a year. Nishi is a veteran -mei hokei competitor, I didn’t give myself good odds for beating him, but I tried to clear my mind and do as good a hokei as possible. Despite a slight loss of balance at one point, I felt OK with my performance. After the final bow, I kind of zoned out while waiting for Nishi to finish up, so I was somewhat stunned when I noticed the flags going up in my favor. Third place.

Jissen didn’t work out quite so well. My first match was against an inexperienced opponent, and I took it as a opportunity to warm up. I scored the first wazaari and then just kind of hung out until time was called. The jissen style in Osaka is a lot more direct and aggressive than most dojo, so it took a while for me to get used to the flow of standard jissen again. I won, but I didn’t feel that I was flowing the way I wanted to.

When my turn came back around, my opponent was none other than Kimio Tanno. Tanno’s strong (he’s one of the few Japanese Taidoka with any appreciable muscle) and tricky – he changes his tactics in almost every match. The first time I ever saw him compete was when he beat Mitsuaki Uchida in the American 30th anniversary tournament. In this tournament, he beat me (and a bunch of other people).

I don’t really know what happened in this match. I’m not trying to make excuses, but for some reason, I just wasn’t able to keep my mind on what was going on around me – it was like I was somewhere else. At least I didn’t make it easy on Tanno – he couldn’t score on me, and I lost by a warning. We both landed a few glancing blows, but nothing solid. I felt that we were both struggling to figure out how to approach each other, and then time ran out. Tanno got his game together in subsequent matches and went on to take the silver medal.

The Osaka Team

Osaka doesn’t have the most distinguished tournament history. A couple of the guys have managed to place in one or two tournaments a number of years back, but they haven’t been able to repeat those performances since.

This time, only three of us advanced beyond the first jissen elimination, and one made it to the fourth round. As I alluded to earlier, I think the Osaka group has a much more linear style of Taido and a focus on strong single attacks rather than continuous combinations. This is unfortunate, since the judges rarely give points for that sort of Taido anymore. Part of the issue is that Osaka is so far removed from the mainstream of Taido competition. People practicing closer to Tokyo have a distinct advantage in access to a greater number of training partners and competitions.

All of our men lost during the first round of -tai hokei, and Tamura fell just short of the finals in the kyu-level hokei. On the whole, Osaka isn’t very strong at hokei – most of my dojo-mates are more interested in jissen. Tone Sensei is the exception, usually winning or placing in the -mei and sonen hokei divisions. He took first place in -mei this year, and I give him a good deal of the credit for helping me do as well as I did.

Apparently, this year was par for the course as far as my dojo-mates are concerned. Maybe I can convince them to try some different practices in the hopes of fairing better next time. As Einstein famously pointed out, doing the same thing and expecting a different result is insanity. I’m not suggesting that the Osaka dojo is doing anything necessarily wrong, but they’ve settled into a routine that doesn’t allow them to improve at the kind of pace that would make them competitive. I really enjoy a lot of the training we do currently, but maybe this is a good time to consider making a few changes.

Me, Again

I seriously think that I need to alter my approach too. One thing I realized a couple of days before the shakaijin is that I don’t take my participation in tournaments seriously enough. I want to work on changing that.

Lately, I’ve been struggling to reconcile my strong dislike of “martial sports” with my belief that martial arts practice requires competition to be of any real value besides simple PE. Being a relatively inexperienced competitor (considering how long I’ve been doing Taido), I think it’s important for me to enter as many tournaments as I can while I have the chance. However, the idea of Sport Taido without an equal emphasis on Taido as Budo is one I am very strongly against.

Perhaps I also have fear of failure /fear of success issues with tournaments that have prevented me from earnestly preparing and participating in the past. This isn’t the place for self-psychoanalysis. What I do know is that I want to take things more seriously when I compete in the future. In preparation for the shakaijin, I probably practiced seimei no hokei about fifteen times and did nothing special to practice jissen.

I’ve noticed that this is my pattern: to do the absolute minimum preparation for tournaments with the mindset that I won’t win anyway since tournament-style Taido isn’t my interest. That’s a really self-defeating attitude and a sure way to never win anything. It’s true that the Taido seen in tournaments resembles a game more so than it does anything else, but winning that game can only improve my Taido and wouldn’t appreciably weaken my martial instincts. I’ve decided to make an honest try against some stiff competition in the all-Japan.

So, this really was a warm-up.

Though tournament training will never be the main focus of my practice, I’m going to work harder on preparing for the all-Japan. I’ll be competing in the regular hokei division and probably something else.

The shakaijin tourney showed me what I need to work on between now and then. My untai is pretty good, but I’ll need to improve my tentai hokei to be competitive. I also have some ideas regarding training for dantai jissen that I hope to put into practice for our team. We have a little less than three months to apply what we learned in the shakaijin taikai.

What Makes US Taido Karate Unique?

This is an article that I originally wrote at the request of the Finnish Taido Kamae Magazine. While by no means exhaustive, I believe it’s a good background on what sets American Taido apart from that practiced elsewhere. Since only a Finnish translation will actually be published, I’m posting it here for the benefit of Taidoka in English-speaking countries.

Taido in America is very different from Taido anywhere else in the world.

Though based on the same original principles as those taught in other countries, American Taido has developed under a unique set of circumstances which has led it to become its own entity. In many ways it even looks different from the Taido practiced elsewhere.

In order to understand what makes American Taido what it is, it’s necessary to know a little of its history.

We in America owe our knowledge of Taido to a man named Uchida Mitsunobu. Having practiced karate in high school, Uchida studied Taido for two years in university before coming to America as an exchange student in 1972. After graduation, he returned to Japan to earn 4dan renshi and Shukumine Sensei’s permission to spread Taido in America.

By 1975, he decided to build his school in Atlanta, Georgia. Since there were few municipal gyms like those in Japan and Europe, Uchida had no choice but to open and promote his school as a commercial venture. It has been his full-time job ever since.

Since Uchida originally incorporated Taido as a business, expansion to multiple locations has always seemed like a financial risk to him. Instead, he’s focussed on building one large dojo, and with well over three hundred students, it’s probably the largest Taido dojo in the world. There are great advantages to this. American Taido students have a dedicated facility with a full-time instruction staff consisting of Uchida, his son Mitsuaki, and one more instructor. Children and Adults have beginning and advanced classes available six days a week. Plus, the large number of students provides a huge community of support that feels much like family.

On the negative side, Taido has to turn a profit to continue operating. Students pay a tuition that covers not only the rent and upkeep on the facility, but also the livelihoods of the instruction staff and their families. In order to accommodate over three hundred students in a weekly schedule, classes run only about forty-five minutes and include up to forty students on a floor only slightly larger than a standard jissen court. This makes hokei training difficult, and jissen practice is only available once or twice each week.

Still, the school has attracted a dedicated following and continues to grow.

In some respects, American Taido looks like Taido’s past. When Taido was young, most of the instructors had backgrounds in karate or another martial art and taught their classes in a similar fashion. However, as younger generations began teaching, hokei and jissen came to occupy a larger proportion of the training. Owing to Uchida’s karate background and the limited space available to each student, the daily training in America is very focused on kihon. Students typically warm up with some calisthenics before proceeding to spend the rest of the allotted time period working on a technique or combination such as sentai-shajogeri.

Uchida’s long absence from training in Japan is also evident in the curriculum. In America, students still learn untai first. In fact, the untai no hokei practiced in America is the old version which was later adapted to created unin no hokei. Untai’s direct movement is simpler and made more sense to those with prior training in karate. When Uchida left Japan, there were no -in hokei yet. Also no katsumei, enmei, or -sei hokei. Taii no hokei was the only “advanced” hokei and necessary for promotion to 3dan. As a result, most Americans in the past learned only five or six hokei. Recently, the -in hokei are being introduced to more young women and black belts.

All of this isn’t to imply that Taido has stagnated for thirty years in America. On the contrary, it has been evolving in its own way. On the whole, I believe American Taido teaches a more combat-specific style of Taido than anywhere else in the world. Americans equate the martial arts with fighting, so any successful dojo is going to have to address topics such as self-defense and (since the UFC became popular) Mixed Martial Arts competition. As a result, students also practice techniques derived from Jiu Jutsu, wrestling, and Muay Thai. In recent years, grappling has become an important part of the curriculum for serious students.

Despite the emphasis on fighting in some segments of the student body, most students will never compete in a tournament or even learn to be at all proficient in jissen. The vast majority of students are under the age of eighteen, and many are in the four to eleven range. On the other end of the spectrum, there are a number of parents and older adults ranging in age from forty to over sixty years. Unfortunately, there are relatively few students in between those ages. While many high school students enroll in classes, very few reach shodan unless they began as children. Even then, most of them never return to practice after beginning university.

Still, as long as new students continue to become interested in Taido, the school will probably keep growing. Of course, this article has only addressed the headquarters location in Atlanta. There are also one other small dojo in Florida and the university club I started at Georgia Tech ten years ago. However, both of these locations consist of only between twenty to thirty students each, and this article is already too long.

At any rate, American Taido is certainly an interesting phenomenon – a very unique piece of the Taido universe, small as it is. I feel that, just as every other dojo could, we Americans could stand to improve our Taido in a number of ways. But on the other hand, there are few things that we get very, very right.

Most importantly, American Taido is still a work in progress, and its students continue to experiment with ways to make Taido best suit their unique situation.