More Thoughts on Young Black Belts

Anyone who has read much of this site knows that I have a lot of opinions about the belt/ranking system and some internal conflicts regarding promotion to black belt – especially at very young ages. This is because I feel that a black belt should understand what Taido is about. While I don’t wish to diminish the accomplishments of younger candidates, the research still stands that humans do not develop their full cognitive abilities (and I’m speaking in a purely neuro-function sense) until they have completed puberty. Younger and younger children are now becoming black belts, even as young at ten or eleven years old.

At the risk of sounding like a conservative, I’m not entirely comfortable with that. Don’t get me wrong – I’m not saying that I was doing that much better when I passed shodan. But I was a little older, and I knew a little more about what Taido was meant to accomplish. At test a few years ago, I watched boys and girls do their tentai and tenin hokei (routines I didn’t learn until I was 2dan and 3dan), and I felt nothing. I wasn’t moved one way or the other. It was like watching those mechanical elves at Disney World – you think “Wow! How do they get those machines to move so well?” No offense to the candidates, who I know work very hard and far surpass my own capabilities when I was that age, but hokei is not just a string of movements. It has meaning, and a black belt should know that meaning.

I’m constantly telling my adult students that they have to understand the difference between doing Taido and mimicking the movements of Taido techniques. A monkey (or a small child) can do one of those, but not the other. I’m not picking on young Taido students – if anyone understands their situation, I certainly do. It’s just that wearing a black belt should be a signal to others that you “get it.” It’s psychologically impossible for students that young to truly get it until they pass through a couple of further stages of cognitive development. I remember thinking I had it until I really did get it. I’ve been where these guys are, so I can be sure of this.

And it might upset some people. Oh well. I still teach children (professionally), and I want to support them to continue to grow in Taido, but I don’t want to tell them that they have achieved a level of ability that they have not. Children can sense bullshit. I think the children’s curriculum in Taido is in drastic need of overhaul, because children should not be required to perform poorly at a bastardized version of the adult curriculum – they should have a separate system that teaches them what they are able to learn. I don’t want to hold them back because they are young, I want to give them a better chance to build their skills and understanding in an organic and logical manner that will allow them to eventually be much, much better than the current group of adult black belts.

Of course, I realize that the “junior black belt” is a new development and an experimental one at that. That’s cool. I would have suggested some different ways to do it, but I doubt anyone would have listened. My ideas on teaching children Taido are a little radical, and though children cope easily, radical change tends to be uncomfortable to most instructors and parents. I guess that’s OK, but the current (new) system is going to open up problems in addition to the ones we used to have (and still do). Personally, I’m fine with giving anyone whatever belt color they think looks nice (Bryan has a tie-dyed belt), but the reality is that people judge a school on the quality of its black belt students. If it were my personal reputation as an instructor and manager on the line (as it is at Tech), I would be very selective about graduating students to shodan and above.

At any rate, I wish these new, young (and not so young) black belts the best and hope to assist their development in any way I can. It will be very interesting to watch them grow up as Taido black belts. To any of them or their parents who may happen to be reading this: don’t take any of this the wrong way – I want you to do well. I’ll be watching, and I’ll help if you let me. Good luck.

Movement Notes for Unsoku

Though each unsoku step has a different purpose, they all work on the same basic principles of movement. Mastering these principles will make your unsoku more effective. You can apply the concepts below to any unsoku practice and should keep them in mind when practicing jissen as well.

Expansion/Contraction on Sidesteps

When we begin learning unsoku, we tend to start off with the misconception that it is somehow related to walking. A casual analysis shows that this is not the case.

When we walk, we pick up one leg and begin to lean forward. As gravity takes over, the unweighted leg swings forward. The rear leg pushes at the ankle to increase the forward movement. The forward leg then catches the ground, and momentum carries the hips forward. Et cetera. This is not unsoku. Walking is mostly passive. It is a simple sequence of leveraging the upright body from one leg to the next, using gravity to do most of the work.

Unsoku is different. One thing that my instructors always stressed was the necessity of practicing unsoku with as wide a step as possible – especially on the sidesteps. This means stretching your legs out from the center and then pulling them back together. This expanding and contracting movement is a key component of unsoku.

We don’t want to interact with gravity very much in our unsoku. Ideally, we will keep our hips at approximately the same height. Moreover, we are not only moving forward in Taido; we often want to move to the side. Since the hips are not structured to waddle sideways, we must expend some physical effort to get where we want to be. We do this by stretching out laterally and then gathering our bodies back to the new center.

To accomplish this, begin by pushing with the trailing leg, in the direction of the lead leg (if you are moving left, you push left with the right leg). As this happens, extend the lead leg in the direction of travel. Stretch it out and feel for the ground. Try to grab a piece of the ground that is beyond your normal reach. At this point, the trailing leg will have to begin moving as the hips pull it away from its start point. Now this much would be easy if we were to visualize it as a sideways hop, but that would force us to move up and down and make it difficult to control our motion.

In unsoku, we push straight to the side. If we simply pushed off and let ourselves fall, we would end up in a near split. Instead, we now squeeze our legs together, using the muscles of the inner thighs. With the lead foot gripping the ground, this results in the legs snapping shut above that foot. This means that the hips will also be directly over the lead foot.

This method works especially well when you need to cover a lot of distance rather quickly. Push off and stretch the leading leg. Then, after you have found the point at which you wish to land, squeeze your legs together tightly in order to pull yourself to that position.

As my instructors always drilled into our heads, if you can move long distances quickly, you will have little difficulty in moving short ones. Of course, deciding the appropriate distance is an entirely different can of worms. Still, the logic holds that by practicing stepping as far as possible, you will be better able to move your body to wherever you need it to be.

Posture

As with any physical motion, the alignment of the body makes a great deal of difference between mechanically effective and ineffective unsoku. Obviously, your posture affects your balance, and I will deal with this aspect below (see cautions), but here I want to describe something different.

Think of your body as a lever with two weighted ends – your spine connecting your head and hips. To generate the most power from this system, you want the lever to be as long as possible. By straightening the spine and stretching your kamae upwards, you will notice that small changes in your head and hip positions will have noticeable consequences in your motion. I find this is particularly desirable when attempting to execute hengi and nengi, because the added leverage translates to speed and power in my attacks. I also find that by lifting my head, I can achieve more of a floating feel to my unsoku – that is, I move easily and smoothly.

Conversely, for more control over your motion, you may wish to shorten the lever. For ungi, sengi, and tengi, contracting the muscles of the back and abdomen brings the head and hips closer together in a tighter relationship. This lends itself to moving with the body’s axis perpendicular to the direction of motion. Especially when moving groundward, I find myself pushing my head down into my spine and my hips into the ground. This helps increase the precision with which I can execute certain techniques.

Although I am using a simplified physical model, you can experiment and find various uses for manipulation of your posture while moving.

Use

Someday, I will have to devote an article to using unsoku in jissen, but this is not that day.

However, I will point out here that unsoku is part of your technique. You should never find yourself doing an unsoku movement and then executing a technique. The technique should flow naturally out from the unsoku motion.

I see this all the time in jissen. Both opponents will moving around in unsoku, looking for an opening, and testing each others’ reactions. Suddenly, one will change his angle, cut quickly in a different direction, and plant his kamae while he decides whether or not to continue his attack. This is not how it works. That brief pause destroys the momentum of the technique and gives the opponent a chance to defend.

We must seek to eliminate this pause by launching techniques directly from unsoku.

Taido’s kamae and unsoku were designed to work together with the techniques. We are aiming for a synergy of several components. Keep this in mind when practicing unsoku and always remember that you should be able to execute any technique at any time during your step – not just on the final kamae.

Cautions

There are a few cautions you should keep in mind when moving by unsoku. Three of these are mentioned in Taido Gairon. First, do not pick up your feet while stepping. You should move close to the ground so your opponent cannot easily trip you. Second, do not drag your feet. This can also throw your balance. Third, do not step hard or stomp. Your footwork should be smooth and quiet – the opponent shouldn’t know whether your feet are touching the ground or not.

In addition to the above, I would add that unsoku as a motion happens from the hips down. That is, you should avoid moving your upper body very much at all. Leaning the body and tilting the head will affect your balance and telegraph your movements to the opponent. Besides that, your moves should work with your kamae to set up techniques. Maintaining straight posture facilitates this. No portion of you body above your hips has any contribution to make towards moving effectively in unsoku. Therefore, upper-body neutrality is ideal.

The most common unsoku mistake I see students making has to do with the direction of the hips. The hips need to be aligned correctly in order to deploy effective techniques. Very often, students performing ka-soku and gen-soku will turn their hips towards the outside as they make the final kamae in anticipation of a technique such as ebigeri or sentai with turns in that direction. In fact, many Taido techniques spin in the same direction, but this does not make it OK to be in the habit of setting your unsoku for them automatically. For one thing, it reduces the power potential of the technique by cutting the range of travel. More importantly, it makes it very difficult to move in the opposite direction. Taido needs to be adaptable. If your unsoku favors one side or type of technique, it is a hindrance. Be careful with regard to the direction and orientation of your feet and hips while moving in unsoku.

The best way to test the accuracy of your final step in unsoku is to pay attention to any tendency of the front foot to turn (especially to the inside) as you set it down. Focus on squaring the hips in the direction of the intended kamae before turning them off axis (to 45 degrees – hanmi) as the foot steps. Ideally, the rear foot should also point toward the target before pivoting 90 degrees into kamae.

And that’s all

Those are the most important conceptual points regarding the actual physical performance of the unsoku steps. Of course, there is much to to developing effective unsoku than what is covered above. Maai, timing, the use of pattern, etc. are critical in applying unsoku and technique in jissen. Practicing the concepts in this article will ensure that your unsoku technique doesn’t get in the way.

The Broken Record Drill

Maybe I’ve gone kobo-crazy, but I believe intelligent and creative use of kobo-derived drills can have incredible potential for improving students’ Taido skills. This isn’t necessarily a new development, but it’s something that I have used successfully with students in a number dojo now, so I am convinced that it works.

In this article, I’ll describe a method for making kobo progressions to teach and practice one of the most difficult-to-learn aspects of Taido: rengi. Rengi are “successive techniques,” or combination moves. While most martial arts have combinations (even boxers drill dozens of punch combos), Taido’s rengi are usually constructed on the fly, rather than preset. This improvisational aspect of Taido’s combinations is the key to their effectiveness, but it’s incredibly difficult to teach.

Applying the 5 Simple Rules

The specific realization of the need for this practice came about when I was writing my 5SRs article. The fifth principle of the 5jokun states “Be adaptable in your techniques and maintain freedom of physical movement. The right technique will prevent you from being dominated,” which I boiled down to a statement of value for “adaptability, freedom, and creativity.” “OK,” I thought “now how would one go about developing these attributes?”

While this doesn’t look to have very much relevance to kobo practice, a look at the original American translation of the 5jokun may shed more light on why it brought kobo to mind for me. It says “the techniques change appropriately from offense to defense. One who acquires correct adaptability to these techniques will never be restrained.” Specifically look at the first part: “change… from offense to defense… adaptability…” That’s what got me thinking.

Being adaptable in our transition between offense and defense is what good rengi is all about. It’s not enough to simply do several movements in sequence; you have to take your opponent’s reactions to your movements into consideration. You have to adjust for the fact that, as you are trying to hit him, he is also trying to hit you. You must alternate between offense and defense rapidly, while continuously transitioning from one movement to the next. That continuous alternation of roles is rengi.

From Theory to Application

At the 2006 Asia Pacific Games, Masaki introduced me to a drill that I saw could be used to teach exactly the high-level rengi skills I had been thinking about. In her version, the practice looked like a growing, never-ending kobo, in which the partners continually switched attack/defense rolls. I’m going to build on that framework with some variations that make this practice tailorable to improving rengi skills at any level.

To make things simple, I’ll refer to the practicing partners as “Parry” and “Reposte” in this outline. Since offense and defense exist simultaneously in Taido (and this is especially apparent in skillful rengi), any functional designation is impossible. Thus, I will resort to using names. En garde!

Basic Version

Parry and Reposte begin facing each other in kamae. Parry (begin slowly!) initiates an attack, and Reposte defends. The two practice this exchange a few times, building speed and fluidity gradually. So far, this looks just like standard kobo practice. But fear not! I wouldn’t waste your time with standard kobo practice, because we both know it isn’t much good. It’s about to get much more interesting. I promise. OK, just one more sentence to stall for dramatic effect.

Now we take the speed back down and Parry initiates the same attack as before. As Reposte is defending, Parry now defends against that defense. The initial attacker has become the defender. Now the action stops long enough for the team to build up their speed and comfort with this new series over the course of a few repetitions. Can you guess what happens next?

That’s right, they go out for a beer. Wait, not yet. I’m getting ahead of myself. They haven’t finished practice yet.

The next step (which begins slowly!) in the practice goes as follows: Parry attacks, Reposte defends, but Parry re-defends. At this point, Reposte defends against Parry’s defense of his defense. Got it?

We now have a complex exchange of four “attacks” without any stop in the action. For the sake of later explanations, I’m going to call this “two iterations” of the drill (even though it’s just one actual iteration, it’s two rounds through the offense/defense alternation). Neither partner should return to kamae or really break their momentum at all. The four steps should be flowing one into the other, in a continuous fashion. Now, Parry and Reposte practice the new combination until they can do it smoothly and quickly.

I think you can see where this practice is going. You can continue this process ad infinitum until you both drop. It’ll be a little like playing that Simon memory game from 1983, but without the colors and notes. At least, if you start to see strange colors, you should stop and rest.

Variations

But that’s not all! You can make some game rules and variations to make this practice a little more interesting.

First, we’ll use a straight option variable. Assuming that the partners have practiced this drill with a few different first (initiating) attacks, we can simply give Parry the option to choose one on the fly. For example, both partners can begin by moving in unsoku. Parry attacks with option A or option B, at which Reposte must continue by choosing the correct series. Of course, this makes it much easier on Parry, so we can add the condition that either Parry or Reposte can make the first move. This way, they both have to be on their toes.

Next, we’ll try the branch method of variation. At any level of iteration (after any number of offense/defense cycles), there may be a defensive option. For example, if Parry throws manjigeri, Reposte can jump or duck. Depending on which option Reposte takes, Parry must adjust his next move to match. This branch option can occur anywhere in the chain and can also be drilled from free unsoku as described above.

So those are just two examples of using options to explore this growing kobo drill. We can also play with game rules to work on different kinds of rengi. One way to do this is by specifying jun or gyaku (same or opposite direction) rendo patterns.

If jun is specified, each partner must continue his motion in the same direction without stopping. This can get tricky (and fun) really quickly (possibly because of the ensuing dizziness). In the gyaku specification, each attack must change directions. This gets even trickier, as partners must try to smoothly defend and attack in sometimes opposite directions.

Game rules can also specify the use of jumps or steps as seiho. Or sotai can be specified, for example beginning with sengi and moving through ungi, hengi, etc. in some predetermined order. Or you can have a “goal” attack decided upon, such as dogarami. In such a case, the first partner who is able to execute dogarami within the other specified rules wins.

Brain Pain

Now, when you write this all out, it has the appearance of being rather complicated, but bare with it for the first few minutes. Things will begin to move much more smoothly as you learn the drill. Once both partners have done this a few times, you’ll find it very easy to change the rules, add iterations, increase the number of options, and generally sophisticate to higher complexity. I promise. At this point, you’ll be doing something very cool – you’ll be improvising.

Just remember to keep the escalation gradual, and you’ll both be able to learn quickly. Then comes the part that can be dangerous if you aren’t smart. Since each student has favorite patterns, the more you do this drill with the same partner, the more you will be able to make assumptions based on these patterns. You’ll be able to read each other far to well, and this can create the illusion that you are getting way too good. How do you prevent this? Change partners. Frequently switching partners has the opposite effect, actually breaking up our set patterns and favorites by challenging us to react to different stimuli.

Plug and Play

This practice drops directly into any of the variations on the Basic and Advanced Kobo Drills pages. All of those changes and games can used to build this rengi kobo up from idea to application. Specifically, this drill drops directly into the exploration slot, and can be taken from there to wherever you individually need to go.

Remember to use the unsoku, sotai, seiho, kimegi, gentai process in your practice. Using rengi and making gentai is the surest way to get ippon in jissen, so practice it with this drill set. Rengi is technically a reiteration of the sotai/seiho stage of the process, repeating as necessary before kimegi.

Because this drill repeats this portion of the process several times, I call it the skipping record drill, but you can call it Tommy, if you like – just a long as you try it.

Remember to practice rengi in the same direction (jun movement); rengi alternating directions (gyaku movement); rengi with seiho such as steps, hops, and timing changes; rengi with cheese. Especially don’t forget to put your creative work to practice in jissen. This is a good way to workshop creative defenses, but spending all day doing cooperative rengi won’t teach you anything if you don’t also put it to live practice (”live” meaning that the other guy wants to hit you).

And so, that’s it. I had a written proper closing paragraph, but upon rereading it, I realized that my jokes were getting dumber and dumber as this article got longer and longer. I think I’ll quit while I’m ahead. This is the last sentence.

A Rough Definition

Note: This article makes use of some Japanese characters. If they look like gibberish on your computer, try changing your browser’s text encoding and installing the appropriate language packs. If that doesn’t work, you will just have to use your imagination.

What is Taido?

People often ask me what Taido is. I find this very frustrating. Taido is many things to many people, but it’s certainly not something that can be summed up in a couple of sentences. I’m not even going to try to write an explanation that will satisfy people who don’t already practice Taido.

Instead, I want to work out a kind of definition of the word “Taido.” It’s been done before, but not well (in English anyway). I think everyone who practices Taido for a while makes their own definitions. Perhaps my rough definition can help others define Taido for themselves, or possibly give some new ideas to those who already have their own functional definitions of Taido.

Here’s my thoughts on the meaning of Taido.

躰道 = 躰 + 道 : That’s where the typical definition begins. I think it would serve us better to back up a little first. Before we start dissecting the word “Taido,” let’s take a look at what me mean by “definition.” It may seem like a fruitless mental exercise, but I think it’s important to figure out exactly what we aim to achieve by defining our art.

I’ve argued before that what we do in actual practice is the de facto definition of what our art is – we can’t claim that Taido includes things we don’t practice. Taido only includes what our practice of Taido includes. Thus, though some hokei include ritualized motions that resemble joint manipulations, we cannot say that taido includes kansetsuwaza, because 99% of the students have never practiced applying them.

This is why I make the claim that taido is currently more sport than martial art (though it can be both, it just isn’t right now) in most schools. If we design our practice to prepare students exclusively for the sport-play aspect of the art, then we are only teaching them a sport. When we practice fighting, Taido is a martial art. When we charge students and turn a profit, Taido is a business. Only if we research, hypothesize, experiment, and adjust will Taido be scientific. Taido that doesn’t address the safety of its training practices is unhealthy. These are just a few examples of how what we do effects what Taido is. I think Taido can be many things, but none of them are automatic; we have to walk our talk.

What we do is what we are. How we define the techniques is what they are. We can’t be what we don’t do. This is an important concept to grok.

躰道 = 躰 + 道 ?

Sorry. Still not quite there. Before we can talk about what Taido “is” now, we need to understand how it came to be and where it came from.

Taido is Shukumine’s response to Japanese martial arts (specifically karate) as they existed at the beginning of the 1960s. What was going on that impelled him to break away from the karate establishment (in which he had already founded his Gensei school and been awarded the highest rank)?

I don’t know the answer to this question, though I’ve heard lots of theories. Apparently one of Shukumine’s big points was that it should be possible for a small person to defeat a larger opponent. Apparently, he attempted to make changes to karate tournament rules that would value technique over domination, but others resisted his ideas. This begs a question: did Shukumine expect that a weak person can overcome stronger opponents in real life, or only within tournament play? How we answer this question makes a big difference in Taido’s efficacy as a martial (fighting) art.

In any event, Shukumine went on to create a martial art that was less about punching and kicking, and more about moving the body. Of course, the foundations for these body movements were present in Genseiryu, but the execution is quite different.

We often say that Taido came from Genseiryu. The common perception among Taidoka seems to be that Taido is a further evolution of Gensei. However, I suspect that they are more like siblings than parent and child. Both arts are founded on very similar principles. If those principles are applied to karate, the result is Genseiryu; if the same principles are allowed to expand beyond the fundamental assumptions of karate, Taido emerges. Of course, this is speculative, but it’s a speculation that seems to be shared by several Taidoka who have experience with Genseiryu. I’ve heard it said that Taido and Gensei are two sides of the same coin, and I think this is more accurate than the idea that Taido “comes from” Gensei.

Whatever the causes, The Japan Taido Association was founded in 1965 – just one year after the Tokyo Olympics. I believe this, too, is significant. ‘64 was Judo’s debut as an Olympic sport, and Shukumine often cited as his greatest dream that Taido would also be in the Olympics one day. It’s probably no accident that Taido tournaments are held on Judo courts.

Of course, the Olympics are a sports event, not a fighting event. And we see in Taido tournaments that there is very little that resembles actual combat to any but the most naive observer. Taido may have the potential to be developed as a martial art, but its current incarnation does not address actual combat. Is Taido’s emphasis on sport move away from Budo, whether consciously or not?

Again, I don’t know. I can’t say what was going on in Shukumine’s mind. These are questions that interest me, and they form a context for the best definition I can make for Taido.

躰道 = 躰 + 道

OK. So we’ve got the groundwork in place. Let’s break things down.

It worked in The Sound of Music, so let’s start with “Do.” Of course, everyone knows 道. It has myriad meanings and uses, but in this context, it refers to a martial art as a cultural artifact to be used by a person in a society. All of the martial arts of Japan are considered such by the Japanese. In the case of Taido, we typically have what might be termed a “martial sport.” Of course, making this claim is to define 道 in light of its complement, 術.

Martial arts that are focused on combative applications are typically referred to as “jutsu” (術). A Do is an art that has been adapted for purposes such as sport, physical education, personal development, etc. This is true of all Japanese budo (武道): Judo, Kendo, Kyudo, Iaido, etc. As conceived by its creator, Taido is most assuredly a 道. Thus, while the principles of Taido can applied to combat, Taido practice does not specifically address fighting.

Some people may complement their training of Taido with “taijutsu” (not to be confused with Bujinkan), but these are separate applications of a similar principle (much like the above discussion of Taido vs. Genseiryu). Shukumine was also skilled at kobudo weapons, but these do not appear in Taido. Would it not be fair to say that, though not included in Taido, weapons training is addressed by Shukumine’s martial theories? Thus, various forms of fighting can be addressed by the principles of Taido, yet this does not mean that Taido addresses fighting.

躰 = 身 + 体

身 (mi or shin) refers to the internal body, e.g. that which is encased by the skin. This includes the internal systems: nerves, muscles, fascia, organs, bones. All of the non-visible aspects of the body are included in shin. Without getting metaphysical, it could also be argued that this is where the “self” lives, so the mind and spirit (but not necessarily soul) are sometimes included in Mi.

体 (karada or tai) refers to the external body, e.g. the visible shape and movement of the body. The torso, head, and limbs are obvious parts of karada. However, the movements of those parts are also included, as are all visible aspects of the body. Karada is our (at least physical, but possibly other as well) effect on our environment.

For some reason, I feel like making a nautical analogy. This is odd because I don’t really like boats, and know very little about them. Anyway, Mi would include the engines and controls, the internal structure, and the driver. Karada would include the sails and rudders, the hull, and possibly the wake it creates.

Shukumine conceived Taido as a martial art that would combine positive effects on naiko ( meaning the internal organs and life-sustaining systems) and gaiko (which refers to the external conditions of attack and defense). In other words, Taido is supposed to be an effective martial art (however we decide to define that) that is also healthy for its practitioners.

We can now see that Taido’s 躰 refers to uniting the internal systems with the external form in a single purpose, whether that purpose be defending ourselves from attack, or simply living out our lives. Therefore, 躰道 is a way for bringing both aspects of the body (the seeable and the unseeable) inline with the intention of the practitioner.

And that’s my current best effort at defining it.

To Be is To Do

Personally, I enjoy Taido in many ways. I feel it is healthy, fun and, challenging, so practicing makes me a better person. Part of me likes to think that my practice would prove useful should I have a need to defend myself from attack. But I have to admit that I feel most Taido students would be ill-prepared for such an application. Of course, that’s OK for most of us – we mostly live in affluent countries where violence is not much of an issue. In such a case, I’m glad that Taido training still has plenty to offer.

Maybe you have a different way of looking at things. I think everyone who does Taido for any length of time subconsciously develops a definition of some sort. A lot of us have given it some serious thought, and this affects the way we practice.

Whatever we think Taido “is,” whatever we believe it is “for,” Taido is not perfect, nor was its creator. Taido isn’t “finished,” either. It’s up to each of us to define Taido anew for ourselves and adapt it to our own circumstances. That’s 道 (Do). We can practice the Jutsu (fighting techniques), the sport (tournament Taido), or whatever. Applying these ideas where we need them is what Taido is about.

So Taido is what we do with it. What do you do with Taido?

Post Script

I was recently reminded by a friend of some­thing that I had neglected to include in this arti­cle originally.

The char­ac­ter for “tai” (躰) is prob­a­bly not the uber-special word we are often taught to think it is. While the break­down above is not tech­ni­cally incor­rect, it’s very likely a revi­sion­ist definition.

In fact, the char­ac­ter we use for “tai” in Taido orig­i­nally referred sim­ply to the body. In mod­ern times, that char­ac­ter is no longer used; it has been replaced by the sim­pler form 体 “karada.”

Looking at it this way, Taido is very sim­ply “the way of the body,” and a lot of the more com­pli­cated ways to define it are sim­ply big talk. This is why I spend so much time in the arti­cle above dis­cussing def­i­n­i­tion in terms of func­tion and doing/being.

Still, one has to assume that Shukumine had some rea­son for using the older char­ac­ter in the name of his art. Perhaps it was because of the “deeper” con­no­ta­tion hid­den in the com­po­si­tion of the kanji. Perhaps it was sim­ply because he wanted to sound smart (and his writ­ing style does have a lit­tle of that con­sciously over-complicated feel). Maybe he chose that char­ac­ter just to be con­trary (lest we for­get that much of what he taught does in fact cen­ter around and include ram­pant contradiction).

For what­ever rea­son, in nam­ing Taido, Shukumine left us with yet one more rid­dle. But, as with all rid­dles, once the con­fu­sion sub­sides, there is a dead sim­ple answer. In this case, the most accu­rate def­i­n­i­tion of Taido’s “tai” as a word is sim­ply “body.”

 

Unsoku Practice Routines

Below are the basic patterns and routines for practicing unsoku. I’m willing to bet that you haven’t mastered them all…

Unsoku 8po

The most basic unsoku practice is unsoku happo, which contains the eight unsoku movements.

The order is: so – in, ka – gen, ko – ten, tsui – tai.

Notice that they are grouped in pairs of obverse movements. Unsoku happo is a very important practice in Taido. It is simple, yet contains all of the eight steps. It doesn’t require a lot of space to practice, and the pairing of like movements helps to remind us which unsoku work together.

Ido Tanren

The other simple unsoku practice is ido tanren, which combines techniques with the unsoku steps. This routine only uses ka-soku and gen-soku and is found in two halves in sentai and untai hokei. The purpose of this exercise is to use the unsoku step with whichever technique you are practicing.

The order is: ka + waza, gen + waza, ka + waza, gen + waza.

By using ido tanren, you can practice both sides of any technique with unsoku. Don’t underestimate the usefulness of this practice for developing strong attack and defense habits.

Unsoku no Jigata

The most complicated unsoku routine is unsoku jigata, which means footwork in the shapes of letters. Actually, the footwork doesn’t follow the letter shapes, but the shapes provide a kind of map for the movement.

The thing that makes this routine so complicated is that its really 24 separate routines that are simply determined by the same process. Most people don’t like unsoku jigata very much because learning it is a pain, but it can be a good way to stretch your imagination with respect to unsoku and break out of habits. Besides that, you can bust it out during class and sound really smart by saying “OK, lets do combinations with random unsoku series. How about C3 and sentaigeri?” Then when everyone looks at you funny, “What you guys didn’t learn unsoku jigata yet? That’s all right, I’ll just tell you. C3 is ka – ko – ten – gen.”

It’s a great way to make all the black belts in the class feel like a bunch of morons (though you’ll probably pay for it later).

Of course if you’re planning on doing this, you have to learn it first. The way it works is that you imagine a square wherein each corner represents an unsoku movement. Southwest is gen, northwest is ka, northeast is ko, and southeast is ten. For the m and x routines, the center is so-in or tsui-tai, respectively. Confused yet? Good. Now you superimpose the upper-case letters C, U, N, Z, M, and X on the square. You do the unsoku in the order suggested by the shape of the letter. You get more combinations by flipping the letters around backwards and upside-down.

Does this seem convoluted and silly? Yeah, it’s just as fun and useful as memorizing all the state birds back in junior high. Memorizing the routines is not the point – practicing them is. I’ll spare you all the brainwork and just give you the patterns. Here they are:

  • N1: gen – ka – ten – ko
  • N2: ko – ten – ka – gen
  • N3: ka – gen – ko – ten
  • N4: ten – ko – gen – ka
  • Z1: ka – ko – gen – ten
  • Z2: ten – gen – ko – ka
  • Z3: ko – ka – ten – gen
  • Z4: gen – ten – ka – ko
  • U1: ka – gen – ten – ko
  • U2: ko – ten – gen – ka
  • U3: gen – ka – ko – ten
  • U4: ten – ko – ka – gen
  • C1: ko – ka – gen – ten
  • C2: ten – gen – ka – ko
  • C3: ka – ko – ten – gen
  • C4: gen – ten – ko – ka
  • M1: gen – ka – so – in – ko – ten
  • M2: ten – ko – so – in – ka – gen
  • M3: ka – gen – so – in – ten – ko
  • M4: ko – ten – so – in – gen – ka
  • X1: ka – so – in – ten – ko – tsui – tai – gen
  • X2: ko – so – in – gen – ka – tsui – tai – ten
  • X3: gen – so – in – ko – ten – tsui – tai – ka
  • X4: ten – so – in – ka – gen – tsui – tai – ko

So, there you are. All 24 of them. And if you think trying to practice all these is going to be tough, try typing them sometime…

Unsoku 5rendo

A far less mentally-taxing pattern exercise for unsoku. “Gorendo” means five continuous patterns. That’s a lot less to memorize and also easier to use because they all move in the same direction. If you paid much attention to the jigata, you’ll see that it includes the patterns for unsoku gorendo. Take a look at N1, Z3, C4, U2, and M1. At any rate, I’ll repeat the five patterns in one place here for clarity:

  1. gen – ka – ten – ko + ten
  2. ko – ka – ten – gen + ten
  3. gen – ten – ko – ka + ten
  4. ko – ten – gen – ka + ten
  5. gen – ka – so – in – ko – ten – ko

I let you off the hook on unsoku jigata, so there’s no excuse for not memorizing unsoku gorendo as soon as possible. It will help you.

Now Practice

To truly develop facility with unsoku, all of these practice routines are essential. Most students only practice two: happo and gorendo. The result is that most people use just two types of unsoku in jissen. Happo is great for developing the single steps, and gorendo works well for circular patterns that cover a lot of ground or skirt obstacles in a hurry. Most jissen consists of only these sorts of unsoku.

Many students have difficulty moving directly from unsoku to attack or defense. Ido tanren is sometimes practiced in the US, but only occasionally and with limited techniques. Ido tanren is not designed to train speed or endurance – proper practice teaches how to eliminate the gap between unsoku and technique. By practicing this routine thoroughly, one will find it easier to attack without hesitation and defend confidently.

And almost nobody practices the jigata patterns. They’re a pain in the ass, but they are the only systematic method in Taido for teaching your body to move well in any direction at any time. The patterns don’t always flow smoothly in one direction, and this forces you to learn to change directions quickly. So when the unexpected happens in jissen, you can adjust and adapt without breaking your unsoku and creating openings for your opponent to attack.

The Point

The point here is that all of these patterns have value for the student who wishes to attain a complete education in Taido. Of course, most people will take the easiest path and practice only the bare minimum. It’s possible to do quite well in tournaments by only practicing basic unsoku, hienzuki, sentaizuki, shajogeri, and senjogeri or suiheigeri. In fact, that’s just about all one sees used in most matches, but it’s not true to the ideal of a creative and dynamic martial art.

Unsoku is the door to greater mastery of Taido, and these routines are the methods for attaining that mastery. You can choose a superficial practice of Taido and attain a superficial understanding and ability. But if you hope to grok this Taido thing deeply, my suggestion is to start with the practices on this page.