Taido’s 5 Simple Rules

The gojokun (or five guiding principles) is the set of statements that forms the heart of Taido ‘s philosophy. Since it is prescriptive rather than descriptive, the gojokun acts as a sort of mission statement for Taido. Though it gives us a few ideals to shoot for, it doesn’t offer much in the way of practical guidance.

Taido Gojokun

Through the years, several several people have tried their hands and coming up with a suitable English version. I will discuss a few of them and present my own thoughts on what the gojokun says, what it means, and what we should do about it. With any luck, this article will get to the point of what can be a very frustrating mission statement.

What is Taido Gojokun?

What’s the point of the gojokun? That’s difficult to say. Though some dojo require students to chant gojokun in unison at the end of class, very few Japanese Taido students show any evidence of giving any thought to what they are saying. It was a rare thing that the five principles would be discussed while I was a young student in America – I memorized them at one point but was given no inducement to ponder their meanings.

Why Bother?

I think this begs the question of why we even have the gojokun. I have an answer.

Taido can be a very complicated martial art. We have three kamae, eight steps, several gymnastic movements, five body movement types, five control methods, kicks, punches, and other techniques… It can be a lot to think about. The gojokun has the potential to clarify things in that it offers us Five Simple Rules (5SRs) for practicing and applying Taido. The problem is extracting those precepts from the verbal fog.

Translating and Interpreting

The primary problem with the original 5jokun is typical of Japanese philosophy. Even in Japanese, the 5jokun is pretty vague, and in my opinion sacrifices applicability for the appearance of depth. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing if you are talking about poetry, but I like my “guiding principles” to be clear and direct. What’s the point of having Five Simple Rules if they don’t mean anything?

Of course, they do mean something – they mean several things – but most students don’t really know what that is, and aren’t going to be able to figure it out without a lot of conjecture and uncertainty. Even in the original Japanese, students have to do a lot of interpretation to get anything out of the gojokun (I’ll look at why this is so a bit later).

Honestly, I don’t think the gojokun can be translated into English words that the western mind will readily “get” without taking a good deal of artistic license. Since English and Japanese operate on different operational principles, they convey meaning in different ways. Indeed, English speakers and Japanese speakers think in different ways – I’ve discovered that some thoughts are easier for me to think in Japanese. Since thought is inherently linguistic, it stands to reason that the grammatical structure of a language affects the thought patterns of the people who think in that language.

Part of the difficulty is that we can interpret the 5jokun in various ways, none of which would be present in a literal translation. There are translations biased to different applications of each principle, but this requires students to study several interpretations to understand what Taido is really all about. By doing so, we end up defeating the purpose of the 5SRs because we need to extrapolate four or five versions of each.

All this is just to say that any simple translation of the Japanese gojokun into English will probably leave a lot to be desired. There have been three of four attempts to my knowledge at such a translation, but none of them have meant very much to people who weren’t already experts. Experts don’t need simple rules, but students do.

What it Says

The gojokun is structured around five sets of two statements. The first statement describes an ideal. The second statement is an “if/then” showing the benefit of achieving that ideal. For example, I could say this:

Brush your teeth after meals and before sleeping. If you keep your teeth clean, you won’t have cavities and gingivitis.

This structure gives us a directive and a reason for each point. I’ll analyze these in more detail later. But before we can go much further, we need to look at a couple of the existing English translations.

The Official Version

Here’s the official English version of the Taido gojokun that most people have seen:

  1. Keep your mind as clear and calm as the polished surface of a mirror. This way you will see to the heart of things. Having the right state of mind will help you avoid confusion.
  2. Be composed. Body and mind should be as one. Bear yourself correctly and you need never fear insult.
  3. Invigorate your spirit from the source of energy deep in your abdomen. With the right spirit you will never fear combat.
  4. In every action, follow the correct precepts you have been taught. By doing so you cannot act wrongly.
  5. Be adaptable in your techniques and maintain freedom of physical movement. The right technique will prevent you from being dominated.

This is pretty literal. As a result, it doesn’t feel like English when I read it. It has clumsy construction and odd-sounding fancy words in place of simpler words that are easy to understand (”bear yourself” instead of “act,” “invigorate your spirit” instead of “focus your energy,” etc.). It also sounds as if the author was trying a little too hard to sound philosophical by using passive-negative construction (”you need never fear insult” instead of “others will respect you,” etc.).

It’s not so much that it’s difficult to understand – it isn’t – but it reads like a fortune cookie. That’s great for haiku, but not for the 5SRs. What does it mean to invigorate one’s spirit from the source of energy deep in one’s abdomen? How can I tell if my spirit has enough vigor? What is this energy source, and how do I use it? Is that really all it takes to keep from fearing combat?

This vague language dances around the point without actually giving us any real guidance. But wait, it could be even worse…

An Older Version from America

This is what I learned as a child and wrote about for my shodan test. Rest assured, I didn’t have a clue what this meant until I had given it a lot of thought.

  1. If the mind is tranquil and searches for the teachings of the true state of affairs, one will acquire the righteousness of never being perplexed.
  2. If the behavior is dignified – the mind and appearance – one will never be despised.
  3. If the feelings are concentrated, vigor comes from internal nerve centers. If one has right feelings, he will never be threatened.
  4. In every action follow the correct precepts you have been taught. By doing so, you cannot act wrongly.
  5. The techniques change appropriately from offense to defense. One who acquires correct adaptability to these techniques will never be restrained.

Wow. What a nightmare. I want to “attain righteousness” as much as anyone else, but I’m not sure how that fits in with the things I practice in Taido. No wonder nobody in America seems to remember these, though John Roberts and I once found that it’s a lot easier after a few cups of sake. This is a fine example of a totally unusable text.

So What is it really Saying?

That’s a really good question. Both of the above translation efforts use a lot of words and end up saying very little. The only way to get at what the gojokun is supposed to be teaching us is to take a more interpretive approach.

Interpreting the Gojokun

A few years ago, Lars Larm wrote a paper translating and interpreting the gojokun. It’s very good, and I would love to recommend you check it out, but it doesn’t appear to be available any longer.

I think Lars makes some good points regarding the difficulty of translating adequately and the necessity of interpreting the points for use by an English-speaking audience. He also gives ideas about how each point can actually be used, and this is very good.

However, all of this interpretation (and multiple versions of certain points) takes up a lot of space. That’s almost a page of text to convey five ideas. Although I like the conclusions Lars draws, I would be more satisfied by a shorter version that could be quickly memorized and reiterated during practices.

One important thing Lars does is to relate the gojokun to the five suki: mind, preparation, energy, decision, and technique. By looking at the gojokun in light of these openings, we can get a better perspective on how this philosophy relates to use in actual combat.

My Interpretation

The first principle tells up to keep a clear mind so we can avoid confusion. What is the actual goal? Clear and accurate perception of the truth. Also, as Lars pointed out, there is an allusion to reflecting reality without distortion. This means keeping our thoughts firmly in the present. It’s only by dwelling on past events or fantasizing about the future that we become distracted from what’s happening in the here and now. So to attain the “correct state of mind,” we need to cultivate a calm awareness of the present situation.

The second principle refers to a dignified appearance in which mind and body are one. This means having integrity. To integrate the mind and body, we must ensure that our actions match our intentions. If we say one thing and then do another, we “look” bad. This is just as true in kamae – mental preparation must support our physical preparation. Otherwise, our opponents will see through the illusion. Most adults can smell bullshit from a mile away, so our preparation and appearance must be genuine.

The third principle is difficult to express in English. We should make our ki spring up from the tanden, and this will keep us from “trembling” from fear. Ki has a bad reputation in the West because it is unfortunately associated with a lot of the mystical BS parlor tricks that people try to pass off as demonstration of martial arts mastery. But ki is really just a word for energy, and for our purposes, it can be summed up as the combination of proper breathing and mechanics. Breath control is the easiest way to affect our Central Nervous Systems, which impacts emotional arousal, power generation, and stamina. Proper mechanics assures that our movements will be efficient and effective. This is ki, and using it well is the goal of the gojokun’s third principle.

The fourth principle deals with training. It must be emphasized here that Shukumine viewed theory and practice as two sides of the same coin. In a Taido context, training includes study. The principle is that we must practice and study deeply. Having done so, we will know what to do at crucial moments. The more thoroughly we train our minds and bodies, the more easily we can make movements and decisions without having to stop and consider.

The last principle is my favorite. It tells us to adapt to our environments without going against the current of change. Taido’s techniques are designed so that defense transitions smoothly into offense. We use continuous movements so we can respond creatively to situations without the repeated necessity to stop and reset. Of course, there are limits to how we can move, for example, those imposed by gravity. So we should seek to remove unnecessary limitations and increase our freedom of motion (and thought) to allow ourselves the maximum possible expression of creativity in the moment.

That pretty much sums up my ideas on each point, but it doesn’t get us much closer to a handy cheat-sheet version. Now that I’ve explained each point at length, let’s strip them down to the bare essentials and create some rules we can use.

Rules We Can Use

When I started my dojo at Gerogia Tech, I had to think a lot about how to teach the various components of Taido. I felt that understanding the gojokun was an important part of learning Taido, but I couldn’t see my students getting much out of the version I had learned. I decided to work on a new interpretation.

What I had hoped to accomplish with this was something that my students could look at and say “Hey, that makes sense for combat as well as more peaceful aspects of my life.” I tried to make sure that they could understand how each point could be applied to a variety of different venues (and even tested their ability to do so).

Tech Taido Version

This is how I broke it down a few years ago for my students at Tech:

  1. If our minds are clear and calm, we can perceive reality.
  2. If our minds and bodies are united in purpose, we can exceed our expected limits.
  3. If we employ proper breathing and mechanics, we can move well.
  4. If we practice well, we can be sure to act appropriately.
  5. If we are adaptable, we can always find a solution.

I was pretty happy with this version, even though I knew it wasn’t expressing 100% of what’s written in the original Japanese. However, basing my judgment of quality on the ability to create a positive outcome, I wasn’t concerned with preserving any of the original “flavor.” Instead, I opted for something that would improve my students’ understanding of Taido and enrich their practice. But then I took that idea to an even greater extreme.

Taido’s 5 Principles in Operational Language

In most of the interpretations above, each principle is stated as an if/then, as in the original Japanese version. I find this to be a rather abstract way of expressing prescriptions for action. If we are really trying to state the Five Simple Rules for Taido, can’t we just lay them out like, well… rules?

Most [good] scientific literature is uses operational language in order to make sense and avoid inaccuracies. I feel it’s helpful to state the ideas in the gojokun as directives, so we can better intuit their immediate applicability.

Here are the 5SRs in operational language:

  1. Keep you mind clear and in the present.
  2. Focus your intention with your actions.
  3. Breathe appropriately to generate power and control your emotions.
  4. Use your training to guide your judgement.
  5. Adapt to the situation and don’t fight changes.

This gives us a set of simple instructions that we can enact now, at this moment. Each point is simple and useful. We can see from these rules exactly what we must do to be more effective in anything. It isn’t poetic, and you won’t be able to impress people by talking like a wannabe samurai with this version, but that’s precisely why it works.

These points can be used during classes to focus a student’s attention on a specific idea without interrupting the flow of practice. I introduce them one at a time to beginners, usually without mentioning the gojokun at at all. Once I’ve done that, I can use them as cues anytime that student needs a quick reminder. If a student is setting stuck in jissen by trying to apply a certain technique, it’s often enough for me to simply say “adapt!” and the student will stop resisting the flow of the match. This isn’t always the case, and it’s not automatic, but it it possible when we use operational language for the gojokun.

Finding Taido’s Core Values

So what do all these interpretations have in common? Let’s try boil each of these five ideas down into a value that the rule attempts to express.

The 5 Core Values

  1. Awareness and clear perception
  2. Integrity and preparation
  3. Correct breathing and movement
  4. Judgement based on study and training
  5. Adaptability, freedom, and creativity

These five points seem to sum up the desired end product of each version of the 5jokun above. Whereas the operational version gave us Five Simple Rules, the above list gives us 5 goals to shoot for in everything we do.

Use It

News Flash: Students can learn more easily if they know what they are supposed to be learning. Up to now, we’ve been making them memorize the rules and telling them that they have to understand the concepts the rules imply. I’m suggesting that we begin by telling them the concepts and asking them to experiment with applying them.

The 5SRs as a Teaching Tool

Perhaps it would be beneficial to our students if we taught them what we wanted them to know. I mean, what’s the point of rote memorization and occasional chanting of vaguely-worded philosophies? It will serve everyone better if we can simply remind students at appropriate times of the values they are expected to cultivate by certain practices. This way, students can internalize the desired concepts readily.

Goal-directed learning is student-centered. By phrasing the 5jokun in terms of the 5SRs or as five values, we give students an idea of where they should be heading. This puts their practice into perspective and allows them more freedom in experimenting (thus bringing new, creative ideas to Taido) while still being certain that they are working within the framework of Taido’s value system.

While there are still many factors in Taido’s educational model that could use a lot of re-working, adopting a workable version of the 5jokun such as those provided above will be one step in the right direction towards a more effective method of teaching.

Genkaku: What’s the Point?

Genkaku is probably the most-reviled rule in tournament Taido. Players hate it. Judges hate it. In fact, most judges never force genkaku in jissen. Many tournaments explicitly forbid it.

I don’t think genkaku is all bad, but it’s definitely not my favorite part of jissen. I’m more into the meat – the part that involves hitting people. However, I can see some value to training genkaku and even in occasionally using it in jissen. After all, it was good enough for Shukumine…

Could it be that genkaku has some meaning besides giving people a chance to flip out like ninjas during jissen?

What’s the Point of Genkaku?

I’m actually not bad at genkaku. I can do the exciting flips, and I can do continuous rengi too. The two times I’ve had to do genkaku in competition, I’ve been awarded yuko for out-genkaku-ing the other guy. In one case, that yuko was the deciding factor in me winning the match.

In discussing Taido with some friends online, I mentioned that I was a little embarrassed about winning by genkaku. Here’s where the discussion went from there:

You were embarrassed? Great comment. I´m still laughing.

I´m not sure on my opinion about genkaku, especially in the middle of jissen. Maybe if it was something apart, a complement… but during jissen I´m not sure.

I think that’s a very common attitude. I responded with:

Well, it’s good to force some action when both opponents are stalling or failing to take an offensive. In some cases, two players will be very closely matched, so genkaku gives the judges a chance to see what they do in a non-standard situation. In theory, the superior player will be able to perform with aplomb even when forced to do strange things (and genkaku is certainly strange).

Maybe I should clarify – I wasn’t embarrassed to win, but that I couldn’t get a better score besides my yuko advantage from genkaku.

Then we got

What can you get out of Genkaku?
That is a good question, and I don’t really think you can get much out of it, because you just apply already known techniques on Genkaku. But you must do them faster !! (ok, maybe there’s something to get out of it )
You can try to misguide your opponent and getting a point out of it. But it’s hard, at least for me it is :) And usually I only get myself trapped again in a corner.
Maybe that’s the thing…trying to make the opponent think you’re going one direction, and then changing it, so you can reach the other corner in safety.
Then Genkaku is all about speed and/or misguidance! :)

And that’s certainly one way to look at it. Personally, I think genkaku is about encouraging people to use unshin and rengi:

Well, the purpose of genkaku is to encourage high-level technqiue in jissen. The corner guy tries to use nice tengi and the inside dude can use tengi or try a rengi combination of three or four techniques in series. The practice is to perform them while being aware of where you and the other guy are so you can transition back into combat mode effectively.

As for what you can get out of it, it really depends on how you practice. If your usual Taido practice is complete, practicing genkaku only helps make you better at genkaku in case you have to do it in a tournament. I don’t think it was designed for training. Just a chance to break up the game and being in higher-level movement.

So what do you think?

I’m curious for others’ opinions about genkaku. At the WTC in 2009, I remember hearing that a lot of Europeans think genkaku is pretty stupid – though I’m sure there are others who enjoy the practice.

When I come across something I don’t like or understand in Taido, the first thing I try to do is think about why Shukumine would have included it. That also entails trying to understand what his goals were for Taido. Then I look again at my own goals and vision of Taido and figure out how I can make genkaku, or whatever, work for me in that context.

Any ideas?

Ebigeri: Where to Look

A few days ago, I got an email from one of the students in my email coaching program, and I thought it was worth sharing.

I’ve got a question about this week’s Taido tip, you mentioned that the back should be straight during ebi geri. Why is this, what is the advantage (other than bringing your head in to safety)? I always have it bent because otherwise I’m not able to see my opponent.

Here was my reply:

Good question with lots of good answers.

Mechanically, a straight line from head to heel means that the force of the kick transfers more directly into the target. Experiment: slowly kick a wall with ebigeri that way you normally do, and see where your body absorbs once your foot touches the wall. This is the weakest link in your kick, and I bet it’s your lower back. Keeping your back straight means that the force of the kick has only two places it can be released – the target or the floor, through your arms. Since your hips should be moving toward the target, momentum favors the force going that way.

From the perspective of building good habits, straightening your back will require you to bend your stationary knee further, which is good for balance and stability. The knee also helps you gauge how straight you are; if the knee is bent, you can tell how far it has turned, but this is more difficult if the knee straightens while turning. I don’t know why, but that’s just the way those mechanoreceptors work.

As for looking… are you fucking kidding me? If your ebigeri is so slow that you have to watch while you’re kicking, you’re not going to hit anything anyway. Here’s the funny thing though: looking at your kick will actually decrease your accuracy. The simple truth is that your brain doesn’t process an upside-down world very well and has a hard time adjusting to what you see. You’re far better off to look at the floor and focus on lengthening your spine. Aim before you kick. Aim where the target is about to be. Kick fast.

Of course, that means that line and target training are all the more important. Lots of people look at their kick in ebi, but that doesn’t make it ideal. Proper body mechanics are the highest law of technique.

Followup from the student:

Thanks for the answers!

By the way, right now I don´t look for aiming purposes; I look to see my opponent. If he does kosuku for instance, that means that I have to get up at a different angle so that I immediately face my opponent – or he will be at my flank.

Or is speed again the answer, kicking and getting back up and doing so faster than the opponent can do a kosuku…?

My reply:

I see where you’re coming from. Consider the fact that nobody throws ebi as an attack in jissen. There’s a good reason. It doesn’t work very well, and this is part of the reason. Ebi is a straight line technique that Shukumine created for defending against a charging opponent in a confined space. When unsoku isn’t an option, ebi is a good defense, but it’s not really viable as offense (you’re turning a portion of your momentum away from the target after all).

In some ways, yes, speed is a factor in what you describe. A fast ebi really shouldn’t give the opponent much time to move. Beyond that, you should get in the habit of executing techniques that are directed where the opponent is heading to, not where he already is. This means attacking within the flow of unsoku instead of after a step is complete. One of the many benefits being that, if you know where he’s about to be, you don’t necessarily have so see him all the time (though seeing is good – it’s not not required for the entire movement).

The reason I wanted to share this is because, as I wrote above, a LOT of people do ebi this way, while looking at the kick. I want to emphasize that, in 99 cases out of a hundred, I really do recommend keeping your eye “on the ball” while kicking. It’s just a good idea in general, but every rule has exceptions, and this is one of them.

The main point here is about mechanics. Good mechanics are what makes any technique work.

Taido is perhaps most accurately translated into English as the art of the body. It only makes sense that we way he use our bodies is going to have a big impact on how well we are able to perform Taido. What’s less obvious is that there are at least two levels on which this is true: the mechanics of the technical (punching and kicking) movements and the overall mechanics of human physiology. Good technique requires that both be sound.

Technical Mechanics

Technical mechanics are spelled out in Taido Gairon, specifically the chapter on doko, which appropriately could be translated as “how to move.” This includes the doko5kai – five principles of mechanics for each of the basic techniques (which I’ve outlined here: sentai, untai, hentai, nentai, and tentai).

The technical mechanics are unique to Taido and differ from one technique to the next. Furthermore, their execution may differ among techniques even of the same general class. For example, the instruction kihatsu seisoku for ungi suggests that the be careful with your rear (kicking or lifting) leg so the opponent can’t stop your technique. This applies to all ungi, but its application will take different forms in standing techniques versus jumping technique.

General Mechanics

By general body mechanics, I’m referring to the natural structure and movement of the human body. We can call it physiology, biomehcanics, or really any number of things, but the point is that the body is built in a certain way that favors certain types of movements and positions over others. There are limits to how we can move without injuring ourselves. There are also ways to move that produce greater force than others. I’m oversimplifying, but you get the picture.

General mechanics are not very thoroughly spelled out in Taido texts, possibly because they are universal. However, being universal doesn’t mean that most people practicing Taido understand or demonstrate them well. For example, though we all know that posture is important, few of us have consistently good posture. But good mechanics go far beyond good posture and extend to correct alignment and use of all our joints. It takes practice, and that’s the trouble: when we practice Taido, we want to practice techniques, hokei, and jissen – not some kind of abstract poise, or use (as the Alexander folks call it).

So we tend to ignore, or at least gloss over, the issues of body mechanics in our practice, because we want to prioritize our training time for Taido. And that’s really OK for rainbow belts. Taido is complex, with a lot of movements and ideas to internalize. But then we have to work even harder to relearn everything with good mechanics later.

Back to Ebigeri

Anyway, to return to the original discussion, check out this video from the finals of the 2009 World Taido Championships. Nakano and Pylvainen both have fantastic body mechanics all around, but specifically pay attention to how straight their backs are when they kick tentai ebigeri after the first kiai – direct line from head to heel.

That’s what we should all strive to look like when performing this kick.

Point of View in Tournament Judging

In my last post, Bad Calls in Taido Tournaments, I charged that we have too many bad calls in Taido tournaments and that this has many negative impacts for our art. In order to illustrate my point, I displayed a video taken from the most recent Taido World Championship.

The video seemed to strike a nerve with a lot of people. That’s a good thing, as it clearly shows a player receiving a point for a technique that totally failed to connect with its target. There were a lot of good comments and emails, and I’ve been able to speak to a few people about it in person too. Good stuff, and I think that we need to have open dialogue about such things.

What This is Really About

Of course, my goal is to get people discussing how Taido tournaments operate and thinking about ways to improve it. I went into more detail on why this is important in the last post, but to summarize: bad tournaments can kill a martial art.

Although I posted a video of a jissen match, I don’t think jissen is the only place where we have problems. Hokei judging is just as bad. Gratuitous and pointless gymnastics are valued more highly than tournament judges than things like punches and kicks.

A Necessary Tangent

Since the particular video sparked some discussion and debate, I’m going to go slightly off-topic here and address the specific match.

Here’s the deal: Kaneko won. He won for a point he should not have gotten, but he did have more strikes in general and got hit the least. He won the match. Though Kohonen moved better, hiss attacks did not connect as well as Kaneko’s did. He also got hit by several attacks (that weren’t quite enough to get scored). He lost.

And I don’t really care.

The thing that bothers me is not the outcome of the match. The thing that bothers me is that a bad technique got a wazaari in a major tournament. I can be totally confident to call the kick in question a bad technique for a few reasons:

  1. It didn’t strike the target.
  2. It was very low – gedan senjo. It was clearly not nentaigeri because Kaneko’s body never tilted (well, at least not until he fell).
  3. Kaneko completed his technique sitting on the floor. He stood quickly, but he was not in control of his balance.
  4. Even if it had made some contact, it would have been a glancing blow off the shoulder. Such a technique should never get wazaari.

In this case, if Korhonen has simply stayed put and not attempted to duck the kick, he would have been kicked in the leg. Kaneko clearly bends his non-kicking leg in order to kick lower. He does this because he sees Korhonen begin his fukuteki. The only problem with that is the rule that you cannot kick someone who is touching the ground.

Assuming that the kick actually hit its target, what kind of contact would we be talking about? A glancing blow off the shoulder of an opponent who clearly saw the oncoming attack and made moves to defend himself. This is not the definition of a wazaari. At best, this kick (if it had made contact) should have received a yuko.

End tangent. Here’s what I really want to bring up today:

Point of View

Point of view is tricky. I’m always reminded of the old saying,

Opinions are like assholes. Everybody has one, and they all stink.

Point of view is important because no two points of view will see the same thing. This can cause all kinds of problems when trying to judge something like Taido’s jissen. Especially in an art that is built on the premise of moving in a three-dimensional space, it seems to me that two judges would simply not be adequate. Kicks can come from any directions, and their delivery is often obscured by body movement. Taido techniques should flow smoothly with the movements of the target. This can make them difficult to see.

It seems almost a given that more than two judges would be required to cover a huge court from all possible angles. The competitors are expected to cover the court form all angles, so we should definitely hope the judges can too. The two judges we use currently stand at the front of the court and the rear corner. At minimum, there is one whole side of the court that is barely (if at all) visible to the judges. This is an important point of view that gets neglected in our current system.

Let’s return to the match between Kaneko and Kohonen to get a better idea of why point of view is important. I’ll post it here again for reference:

Look at where the judges are standing in the video. They are lined up at opposite corners, with the players between them. After stopping the match, the main judge calls a time out and summons the second judge. At the time of the kick, the main judge could not see the strike from his point of view. Korhonen was between the kick and the judge.

I saw one video of the Kaneko / Korhonen match filmed from the fukushin’s point of view. In that video, it appear as if the kick makes contact with Korhonen’s shoulder as he ducks. I still don’t think this would deserve a wazaari, but I can see from the fukushin’s point of view that it looks like the kick connected somewhat.

OK, so here’s a third point of view. This is the angle from which a third judge might have been able to view the match and make a better call:

As you can see, form this angle, it’s also clear that the kick did not connect in a way that should receive a score, much less a half point.

Again, my purpose is not to dispute the results of the the WTC. I think Kaneko won the match. However, if it were just one match, nobody would care. The truth of the matter is that this happens far too often, and it hurts Taido.

There are things we can do to make our judging more fair and less biased. In jissen, increasing the number of points of view from which we judge is a fairly simple one. Adding one more judge doesn’t require any kind of equipment or additional training. It’s as simple as saying, “Hey you. Go stand over there and tell us if someone gets hit.”

Incidentally, point of view is not only a problem in jissen. Bad points of view can be a serious issue in tenkai since each player has a dedicated judge who sits in a fixed position. In hokei competition, the judges have an excellent point of view for the kiai portions of the hokei, but have almost no way of telling whether or not the other kicks and punches land on the line. Perhaps moving the two fukushin closer to the corners would improve this situation, or maybe there should be a dedicated side-line judge who watches only for this.

Point of view is tricky when the thing being viewed includes fast movements in many directions over a wide area. Addressing this issue might be one of the highest leverage changes we can make to improve our tournament system without having to resort to any drastic measures.

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.