Sentai & Sengi

Sentai is a class of Taido techniques that make use of a spinning motion.

For the most part, they are executed with the body upright and consist of a spin with an attached strike or kick. Of all the sotai, sen– is probably the easiest to conceptualize, but still mechanically-complex.

Since Sen- is the first hokei most Taido students learn, we tend to take it for granted and stop practicing it, but there’s a lot of fun to be had with sentai.

As an example, here’s a creative interpretation I came up with for the Kansai regional tourney a few years back:

Doko Go (5) Kai for Sentai

Each technique class in Taido is defined by a set of characteristics describing its proper execution, called Doko Go Kai.

Here’s the key points for executing sengi:

  1. Sentai furin – Think of wind swirling between trees. You should feel like a leaf being carried by a spinning wind. Sentai spins forward and down, using the spin and gravity for power.
  2. Kihatsu seiken – Be careful of your shoulders. By slowing or stopping your shoulders, your opponent can end your sentai. To prevent this, do not begin turning your shoulders too soon. Hold your spin until you can complete it in one quick motion.
  3. Daen koka – Sentai spins like the coil of a spring. as you rotate about your body’s axis, your hips descend, achieving their lowest position at the moment of contact with your opponent. You must remain upright when you spin. Otherwise, you will be prone to losing your balance.
  4. Sando ittai – It is important to initiate motion in your feet, hips, and arms at the same moment to begin the technique. Timing is a crucial element of an effective technique.
  5. Ganka sokketsu – Target for sentai is the ganka. It is located a little below either nipple.

Examples of Sentai Techniques (Sengi)

Sentai as a turning motion is not unique to Taido, but its application is fairly unorthodox when compared to other arts. Here are some examples of sengi (Sentai techniques):

  • Sentaizuki (sentai no tsuki) – The most basic sengi steps and spins towards the opponent, ending in ejizuki (a punch executed from ejidachi – a stance taking its name from the Japanese letter え).
  • Sentai enpi / tecchu ate – Like sentaizuki, except the strike is with the elbow.
  • Sentai shutto – Like sentaizuki, except the strike is with the shutto – knife hand.
  • Sentai haimendori – Since grabbing the opponent is not allowed in jissen, this rear grab (haimendori literally means “taking the back”) is very rarely seen or practiced.
  • Sentai gyakusenate – This is another rare one. After spinning, the elbow strikes to the rear from fudodachi.
  • Sentai shajogeri – This is simply a shajogeri executed from a Sentai spinning motion. The rotational and downward momentum of the sen movement transitions into the change of body axis to initiate the kick.
  • Kaijogeri – Similar to sentai shajogeri, Kaijo (literally “spinning condition of body”) is a roundhouse-style kick executed immediately after a spin.
Sentai no Tsuki
Example of sentaizuki provided by Tampere Taido club in Finland.

 

Sen Hokei

There are two sen hokei in Taido:

  • Sentai no hokei
  • Senin no hokei

Here’s a reference animation of Sentai Hokei created by one of my teachers:

And here’s the Kitasato University team performing Senin Hokei at the All-Japan students’ tourney in 2012:

 

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.

Advanced Kobo Drills

After mastering the basic forms of a few kobo routines, you are ready to work with some advanced alternatives. The variations below build off of the basic kobo drills, but offer choices to one or both partners in how to respond to the other. Essentially, we are gradually removing the training wheels that separate kobo from jissen.

Hot & Spicy Kobo Variations

Use use the following options to turn up the heat.

Stationary with Attack Variable

To get started, we’ll drop the footwork and give the attacker an option for a change. In the basic drills, the attacker’s prerogative was limited to speed and timing. Having worked on defending against various attack movements, we can give the attacking partner the option of more than one option.

Here’s what happens: the attacker can choose freely from a set of previously-drilled attacks.

For example, you have practiced some basic kobo drills for manjigeri, senjogeri, and sentaizuki. Since you should be able to comfortably defend against each of them, your partner can choose any of the three. Your job as defender is to determine which attack is coming and respond appropriately.

It’s best to begin with just two possibilities and at a relatively slow speed. Both partners agree on which two attacks are to be considered fair-game, then the offense side chooses. The defender still has access to any options discovered via the basic drills, as well as improvised solutions to newly arising situations. After building comfort with two options, we can add a third or fourth. Add multipliers such as speed and number of attack options gradually.

Attack Variable with Preset Unsoku

As above, chose an unsoku pattern. At the completion of the unsoku movement, the attacker can choose which option to deploy. Experiment with various unsoku patterns and add multipliers gradually.

Attack Variable with Free Unsoku

This drill pattern works as above, except the unsoku is not predetermined. With both partners freely moving, the attacker can choose his moment to attack with whatever options are decided upon. Begin with two options, then add more as speed and comfort increase.

Attack Variable with Unsoku or Unshin

By now, this should be self explanitory.

Get Creative

You can come up with your own variations for these patterns. The idea with these drills is to bridge the gap between basic kobo practice and jissen. That difference lay in the number and type of rules in play. The drills on this and the Basic Drills pages show one heuristic for adding and removing rules to isolate and train various aspects of jissen within the more-controlled environment that kobo affords.

It may be a good idea to ask yourself what attacks you have a hard time defending. These drills can fix some of the holes in your game.

Be creative and come up with your own ideas. Just take it slow and build gradually.

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.

Opportunities and Liabilities

In everything we do, there are opportunities and liabilities. Recognizing them at the appropriate time can mean the difference between life in death in certain cases; in other cases, it can mean getting a good parking space.

Shukumine broke down some of the common chances and cautions with regards to fighting. As with everything else in Taido, we are well-served to extrapolate these concepts to other arenas. First, i’ll just give you the list.

8 Kyo – Chances to Attack

  • Just before an attack
  • Just after a move
  • Just after a missed attack
  • During a loss of balance
  • During a loss of attention
  • During a shortness of breath
  • By recognition of pattern
  • By recognition of fear

5 Suki – Weaknesses

  • Failure to maintain a calm focus
  • Failure to keep your mind and body prepared for action
  • Failure to breathe correctly and be aware of your body’s feedback
  • Failure to choose your actions carefully
  • Failure to move freely and adapt to your environment

These Suki and Kyo, opportunities and liabilities, bring up some interesting points regarding the nature of combat and communication. Below, I will go into a little greater depth and explain the application of these points in combat. I will also be discussing a few favorite examples of application in more peaceful situations.

Let’s begin with the opportunities:

Just Before an Attack

Anticipate attacks and strike just before they are initiated. For a brief period, your opponent will be concentrating on attacking and will during an attack and will be unable to respond to your movements. How do you know when your opponent is about to attack? Non-verbal communication.

Communications scientists tell us that as much as 80% of our in-person communication has little to do with the actual words we say (even in written communication, there are non-verbal considerations. To take the example of this website: why am I writing this? What do I hope to accomplish? How do I choose my subject matter? The answers to these questions can tell you a lot about how to read what I write here. Understanding my non-verbal cues will allow you to learn more from what I write than simply what I have written). Facial expressions, “body language”, and delivery method can tell us a lot about what other people are really saying (as opposed to what they want us to think). In a fight, non-verbal cues could include shifting weight to free a leg for kicking, repositioning to allow access for a favored attack, some kind of telegraphic tick or breath pattern, or the visual focus on a specific target.

However, one should be careful in attempting to interpret these cues, as experienced fighters are well aware of them and will sometimes exploit them to lead your awareness astray. For example, one may set up a visual feint by gratuitously looking in the direction of an opponent’s leg. When the opponent moves to protect against the perceived threat, his head will become more vulnerable. The wide use of this tactic is one of several factors that leads many fighters to advocate never looking into the opponent’s eyes (another major factor being that eye-to-eye contact significantly increases emotional response to that person and results in such physiological changes as increased heart rate and shallow breathing).

Outside the ring, we can still attempt to beat other “to the punch” so to speak. Talk of early birds and such may also have a place in this discussion, but explaining the obvious is not among my strengths, so I prefer to make the example of a meeting during which opposing arguments must be considered before making an important decision.

If we can attempt to understand the perspective of the opposing side, it will be easier for us to anticipate their arguments and deflect them. We can even begin to dissolve their objections to our arguments proactively by structuring our discussion in such a way as to “cover all the bases” and present our supporting evidence in the course of making our points. When we make certain statements, we can watch the facial expressions of those on the other side of the table. When we make a statement that they are prepared to attack, we can often find a hint of a smile or a more confident posture emerge. When preparing to speak, most people will shift their weight a bit, take a big inhale, and begin to open their mouths a bit before actually speaking. The telegraphic habit can allow us just enough time to make a telling remark or bring forth powerful support for our ideas. These are just a few ways in which we can anticipate and “attack” outside of a combat environment.

Just After (or even during) a Move

Begin to counter as soon as your opponent begins to attack. If you can throw the attack off-balance or cause it to over-extend, there is a good chance to strike. Do not wait until your opponent has finished and is already preparing to move again. This keeps you forever on the defensive, in which case your only hope of winning is by superior conditioning.

In the early portions of a match, it’s common to see fighters testing each others’ responses with feints and changes in distance and tempo. Usually, this takes the pattern of: [sudden move to see how you will react] followed by [wait and watch for your reaction (which is generally presumed to be defensive)]. This is a golden opportunity to take the initiative away from your opponent and drive in with a decisive attack at precisely the moment he expect you to be flinching or retreating. Since he will be focussed on the “set up”, you will have a brief chance to move counter to his awareness.

We also have in Taido a ton of techniques that simultaneously protect the body’s vital areas and deliver strikes toward the opponent. Many sengi, most hengi and nengi, and even a few ungi and tengi can be used skillfully as counter techniques when begun during the opponent’s attack. Taido’s strategy to change the axis of the body works especially well when attempting to employ this opportunity.

In a less “sport” environment, this approach still has combat application. In fact, I see this as a particularly good response to a sucker punch. The reason it’s called a “sucker punch” is that your chances of seeing it coming are slim-to-nil. If you do see it, chances are it will be too late to avoid completely. It’s a sneaky, underhanded tactic that has ended many fights before one party was even aware it had begun.

Assuming that we are going to get hit by the time we see the punch coming, we are still not helpless. We can make some effort to reduce the damage we receive from the attack of course, but oftentimes this “flinch reflex” just serves as the invitation the aggressor needs to pounce fully into his attack. A better course of action upon noticing the rapidly-approaching sucker punch is to launch a simultaneous counter attack. In the case of an inside hook from low (a notoriously common sucker technique), an immediate retaliatory punch on the same side of the body can sometimes effectively block the opponent’s attack in addition to striking him. Even if his punch connects cleanly, you are still at even odds now since you have struck as well.

Just After a Missed Attack

Strike as soon as the technique has missed, but before any follow-up. Take advantage before your opponent realizes that the attack has failed. In some ways, this is very similar to the proceeding example. However, the execution is a little different.

In this case, instead of countering just after the opponent moves, we are waiting until he has finished his unsuccessful attack to strike. In many cases, the opponent may be over-extended or off-balance, possibly even slightly confused as to how he managed to miss. This is a brief window of opportunity for us to move in.

As an example, let’s looks at something less overtly competitive: highway driving. Let’s say you are driving on the freeway (not excessively fast, but not grandma-speed either) in moderate traffic. Suddenly, two cars immediately in front of you smash into each other as a result of one driver becoming distracted while attempting to change lanes. He then “corrects” by steering hard in the other direction. The other driver instinctively pulls away from the collision, opening a space between the two vehicles.

Right at this moment is your only chance to pass safely between them by quickly accelerating. Slamming on your brakes will only risk being hit from behind, and staying put is not safe either because, just as both drivers first reacted away from the collision, the presence of other vehicles and the desire not to turn things into a pileup will inevitably bring them back to center. If you pass up this brief chance to escape to the front of the accident, you risk being brought into it yourself when the two cars re-converge. (Of course, once you have secured your own safety, it is your civil responsibility to stick around and see if it will be necessary to assist by calling an ambulance or providing a statement to the police. However, at least you can be grateful that you won’t need an ambulance yourself.)

There are many other instances when action immediately following an event (not necessarily an attack) is advisable.

During a Loss of Balance

Attack when your opponent is in an awkward position or by changing the direction of movement to upset his balance. You must attack quickly during this brief period of vulnerability. The key here is taking the initiative before the opponent can regain his balance and composure.

Though not specific to loss of balance per se, I want to address a particular strategy as an example here that works on the same principle. In tennis, one common strategy is to draw your opponent to one side of the court and then drive the ball hard to the opposite corner. You can also do this in jissen.

Most Taido techniques can be grouped into two major mechanical classes based on direction: frontside and backside. I was first exposed to this notion when I used to try performing tricks on a skateboard. Any trick that was executed against an implement (a ramp, rail, stair, or other obstacle) in front of you was called “frontside”. If the implement was behind you, it was “backside”. Almost every Taido technique is decidedly either frontside or backside.

Examples of backside techniques which place the opponent behind us and attack in the direction of our backs (in left-lead stance, this would be those techniques that include some clockwise motion) include sentai, senjogeri, ebigeri, suiheigeri, some karami, many throws, sokutengeri, and backward tengi. Techniques that keep the opponent where we can see him are frontside. Some examples of frontside techniques are most ungi, shajogeri, some harai, some nengi, many grabs and joint submissions, and forward tengi.

So what does this have to do with loss of balance? By paying attention to which class of techniques our opponent tends to use (and almost everybody has a favorite. So much so that you can usually tell simply by watching someone perform unsoku happo which type of movement they prefer), we can throw off his most comfortable patterns by forcing him to move in the opposite direction. If the opponent tends to throw backside techniques, it’s in our best interests to stay in front of his chest. If he likes to move frontside, we should strive to stay behind him. Everyone has a comfort zone, and preferred method for moving through it. We can exploit this to cause our opponents to lose balance, or at least to lose acclimation.

A fighter who tends to throw a lot of hengi and sengi will tend to point the toes of his front foot to the inside. In extreme cases, the fighter’s footwork will reveal most steps leading from the outside of the foot, toward the heel rather than the toe (or actually, knee as it should be). Such a fighter will likely find it difficult to move frontside, partly for reasons of habit or inclination, partly because his footwork and stance don’t really support it. Stay in front of these guys and pull them to that side. 90% of the time, they will move to put you at their back, where they are more comfortable. Knowing this puts you at an advantage.

During a Loss of Attention

Take advantage when your opponent loses attention or concentration. Any distraction, such as uncomfortable clothing or ambient noise, can be used to your advantage. This opportunity also manifests in the classic “hey, your shoes are untied” trick from all the old movies. In a fight, your attention should be on the here and now of what your opponent is doing. If his attention wavers, he is writing you an invitation to attack. However, be careful that you don’t fall for the feigned loss of attention (similar to misdirection mentioned in first point, above) at which some fighters are expert.

Be sure to keep in mind that we don’t have to simply wait for our opponent’s to get distracted before we can act. We can manufacture distraction. One particularly devious example of this is what corey myers did leading up to the grappling matches for the american Taido 30th anniversary tournament. For about a month before the competition, corey wore the same uniform each night for practice. Not so bad, except that he didn’t wash it once during that period. In fact, he once wrapped his jacked up in a plastic bag and set it on the dash of his car all day in the summer sun.

Now just try to imagine how that gi smelled. Corey was long since immune to it, but his opponents were gasping. The distraction his smelly uniform posed his them no doubt helped corey find opportunities to utilize his considerable grappling skills in the tournament. Sun tzu would have been proud.

This is also one mechanism by which pickpockets and muggers prey on their victims. In crowded areas, a person may “accidentally” bump into an intended victim and use the misdirection as a chance to grab for a wallet or purse. The distraction of the bump is often powerful enough that the victim doesn’t even notice until he attempts to pay for dinner. A common technique of muggers is to pretend to ask for directions, or a light for their cigarette, or the time, etc. While you are distracted by their seemingly innocent bantering, they sucker punch you.

During a Shortness of Breath

Press on when your opponent shows signs of fatigue. This is pretty self-explanatory really. When we feel winded, we are slower to react and more vulnerable to psychological issues. Also, as the body is slow to react during deep inhalation, use this opportunity to strike, even if the opponent isn’t actually short of breath.

In the real world, we can also apply this principle to take advantage of fatigue or loss of momentum on the parts of our opponents. Finishing what we start, “going the extra mile”, “seeing things through”, etc. Are all examples of taking advantage of our endurance, be it physical or psychological. When we can outlast others, we will be able to accomplish more. Hence, as pacing is important in a physical event, setting goals is important to realizing our dreams.

By Recognition of Pattern

learn your opponents patterns and use them to you advantage. Watch for favorite attacks and strong/weak sides. Just as I pointed out above with reference to fighters’ tendencies to favor either frontside or backside movements, we can often learn to read their favorite moves and patterns if we pay attention. Since Taido sparring makes heavy use of combination techniques, this is especially applicable in jissen, where players will tend to sting techniques together according to a consistent and personal pattern of favorite combinations.

The application of this idea outside of fighting is best summed up by the cliched saying “those who do not study history are doomed to repeat it”. In this case, history does not have to mean that class you hated in high school. It means knowing what you have done and applying an analysis of this to what you intend to do. Learn about yourself and try to understand what basic drives compel you to react to your environment in the specific manner in which you do. I highly suggest keeping a journal for this reason.

Almost as important as learning your own patterns is learning those of your family, friends, enemies, coworkers, clients, and anyone else whose actions effect your life. Knowing what you can realistically expect of other people in various situations is a powerful ability, and it can be gained through recognizing their patterns.

By Recognition of Fear

Test your opponents reactions to your movements. By forcing a defensive position, you have the advantage. Be mindful that fear makes people unpredictable, and many injuries occur when one party is frightened out of rational action. However, this point needn’t be limited to actual fear, but also to moments of fearful reaction, such as the flinch. If you move and your opponent blinks, there is a high likelihood that you can take advantage of this tendency to attack while he is taken aback by a sudden or unexpected move.

Examples of this are also plenty in life off the court and can include startling someone to catch them off guard, attempting to sell life insurance to families who have just suffered the loss of a loved one, and all sorts of other things that we tend to think of as devious or underhanded. Fear manipulation is the territory of crooks, swindlers, bullies, and politicians. And it obviously works very well.

And now for the liabilities:

Failure to Maintain a Calm Focus

Do not allow yourself to become confused or distracted. This point has been adequately discussed in various examples above.

Failure to Keep your Mind and Body Prepared for Action

Weak kamae invites attack. If the opponent senses an opening in your physical or mental defenses, it will be difficult to defend. Furthermore, your overall physical and mental state can either be a help or hinderance to you ability to accomplish your goals and avoid setbacks in life. Your physical and mental health should be of the highest priority in your life, so take steps to ensure that your own weakness isn’t holding you back.

Failure to Breathe Correctly and be Aware of your Body’s Feedback.

Pay attention to the condition of your body. Do not overexert yourself to the point of injury. Your breath is a powerful tool for effecting your body’s state. Slow and controlled breathing brings feelings of calm and control. Fast, erratic panting makes you feel nervous and unable to cope. In moments of stress, proper breathing can help to remain in control of our emotions and performance. In addition, paying attention to our breath and general bodily sensation allows us to tune in to our health and potential problems before acute symptoms signal that we have begun to harm ourselves.

Failure to Choose your Actions Carefully

Don’t guess. Errors in judgement will leave many openings for attack. Look before you leap, etc. All too often, I see people who spend their entire lives simply reacting to external events. Advertisers know the power of our emotions to make us act, and they exploit warm, fuzzy thoughts of happy, beautiful people doing things we wish we could do to sell us things we probably would realize we don’t need if we would just think first. Don’t just react; really look at what is going on and chose your own best response to the situation.

Failure to Adapt to your Environment

If you cannot change your ideas and adapt to the situation, you will be controlled easily by your environment. If you cannot learn to deal with change, you are going to have a hard time coping with the goings on in your life. If you are attached and tied down to ideas, people, and places, you are going to find yourself feeling trapped and suffocated. You must learn to let go of the things that bind your life and adapt to the curves and twists that the universe has in store for you. If you can do that, you can be assured of continued happiness and contentment.

Negative Repetitions

One very interesting thing that Shukumine mentions at the end of his discussion of the seigyo 5tai (five methods of control, from Taido Gairon) is that we should practice not only controlling our opponents, but also being controlled by them. This is overlooked by even the most skilled fighters. If we don’t practice allowing our partners to use these strategies on us in practice, we will not we able to tell when our opponents use them in matches. It’s very important that our martial art practice also include what those in weight training circles call “negative reps”.

Negative repetitions are the eccentric phase of a muscle’s work cycle – the controlled relaxation after contraction. In lifting, it’s a common mistake among beginners to assume that they need only concern themselves with, uh… Lifting. Actually, one of the keys to training lifting is lowering, and many weightlifters spend even more time working slow and controlled negative reps than they spend on actually pushing the weight. While this works on totally different principles than what I am discussing in terms of Taido, it’s a good concept to understand. Without going into the physiology of muscle growth and work accommodation, just understand for now that bringing the weight back to zero is considered at least as effective for building muscle as simply lifting.

So too in Taido, we can learn a great deal about our weaknesses by allowing partners to control us by exploiting them. When we impose our will on our partners, we become skilled at attack and taking initiative. When we allow our partners to impose their will on us, we become skilled at defense and regaining the initiative when we make mistakes or face a highly-skilled opponent. Think about ways to bring this negative repetition concept to your jissen training.

Now, use it

Hopefully, you are now thinking about how a few of these patterns have manifested in your own life, both on the court and off. Recognizing patterns at work is one of the first steps to being able to change them. As you become more and more aware of the patterns as they occur, you will have greater power to change your course of action. Just as recognizing an opponent’s pattern of movements can allow us to subvert his intentions in a fight, recognizing our own patterns allows us to subvert our less-productive instincts and habits. It is said that we are our own worst enemies, unconsciously sabotaging ourselves at every turn. Being aware of our own self-destructive patterns allows us to live lives fuller and freer than we are used to.