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.