2008 Tokushima Training Day

This past weekend, I traveled to Tokushima for a one-day training camp and learned a few things. All together, there were almost twenty of us coming in from Tokyo, Kansai, and Hiroshima. Among these were a few people I hadn’t met before and a few I met at the recent camp in Tottori.

Tokushima Taido

Tokushima is located on the island of Shikoku and takes about two-hours to get to by bus from Osaka. There’s actually no Taido dojo in Tokushima, but a guy named Izumi is hoping to change that.

I met Izumi in Tottori. He was a couple of years behind my friend Takeo in uni, and now lives in Tokushima for work. He’s been getting lonely out there, and he’s been commuting from Shikoku to Honshu for practice when he has the chance. That’s not sustainable, so with some help from Takeo and Uchiyama, Izumi is trying to set up a dojo in Tokushima.

As yet, there are no set training times and no students. But if this weekend’s training was any indication, Izumi will have all the support he needs once he gets things organized.

Training

The theme of this training was jissen. With the student championship next week and the all-Japan tourney coming up in a little over a month, everyone is trying to get their skills together. Who better to lead a jissen training than someone who has won just about every award at just about every tournament for the last few years? You can’t do much better than Tetsuji Nakano.

Nakano is basically one of two guys in the world that consistently wins tournaments at every level (the other is Kaneko). He’s won both jissen and hokei in the all-Japan, kicked ass in the world championships, and pretty much only loses anything when he is injured. I’m not a huge fan of tournament-oriented Taido, but I have to respect Nakano’s ability as a competitor as well as his athleticism.

The training was broken up into two sessions, and each of those consisted of two parts. In session one, Izumi and Nakano led the training; in session two, Nakano took the first half, and Kitamura from Hiroshima led the second half.

Session One

Izumi started things off with a thorough warm-up and basic unshin. Then we went right into some games to practice unsoku. The goal of the practice was using unsoku to control territory on the court. We tried several variations on the theme of protecting our own territory versus advancing into the opponent’s territory.

In the most basic version, one person stands at one end of the court and tries to prevent the other person from crossing to the other side. First, we just ran, and then we repeated the drill using unsoku. After everyone had gotten the idea, we added the rule that the defender could punch. Then we added the rule that the attacker could use any technique. There were a few variations as well, but you get the idea.

Then Nakano took over, and we worked on some more technical drills. Nakano is best known for his unshin, but he’s also fast as all hell, and he showed us a few tricks for beating our opponents to the punch (literally). Roughly half of Nakano’s jissen strategy is based on how to score with ejizuki, he devoted a lot of time to drilling his method of scoring with punches in jissen.

Nakano’s main point was that scoring with a single technique is not a feasible strategy – the opponent will probably be able to avoid your first attack. Why? Because you have to cover a lot of distance to attack from the outside, and this takes time. Nakano suggests using your first attack to close the distance and force your opponent to react. Then you have the chance to punch – if you’re fast enough.

Nakano is definitely fast enough. For those of us who aren’t quite as fast, he shared a couple of tricks. The first one can best be described as a stationary sentai. Think of pulling the front foot back (as if you were doing in-soku) and immediately stepping in with the rear foot for senzuki. Then combine both movements simultaneously. If you are already close enough (after feinting with your first technique), you will be able to hit your opponent easily.

Of course, punching quickly is nothing new, and there are a hundred ways to do it. But how can we make sure that our punches score? There are two keys: correct eji and strong gentai.

Nakano emphasized using a proper ejizuki instead of simply throwing a punch from whatever position. Putting your body behind your punch aligns your power and makes it look as if you know what you’re doing. The same thing goes for putting the knee towards the ground. This sounds like a very simple thing to do, but lots of people do half-assed punches and wonder why they aren’t getting points. Nakano says that if you want to get a point, you need learn to punch properly. I couldn’t agree more.

The other thing about making sure you get points for your punches is to emphasize your gentai. Don’t just punch and then wait in ejidachi for the judge to blow the whistle. Kiai like hell and back up into a confident looking kamae. It won’t make your actual punch any better, but it will increase your chances of getting points. If you want to win tournaments, points are your number one goal.

Nakano drilled us for about an hour on executing a strong ejizuki with gentai. We practiced applying this strategy to a number of situations including defenses to common attacks and as kimegi in rengi situations.

Session Two

After a break to eat, Nakano picked back with more jissen strategies. Since we worked on punches for the morning session, he devoted the afternoon session to kicking.

Basically, there are two keys to hitting your opponent with a kick. The first is to kick where the opponent is going (not where he is now), and the second is to keep your opponent in sight. We did a lot of drills on watching the opponent while you are kicking. We also tried various techniques for anticipating where the opponent will move when we begin attacking. These drills are difficult to describe in words.

After Nakano was finished, Kitamura took the lead for about an hour. His presentation was pretty much similar to the practice he lead in Tottori (developmental kobo drills) with a little more emphasis on continuous techniques.

The Real Basics

In all, it was a good day of practice. A lot of the actual concepts we worked on are very basic – distance, combinations, eye contact – but that doesn’t make them unimportant. The fact is, the thing that most people have the most trouble with is applying the basics consistently. For example, how many times have you practiced avoiding manjigeri? And how often do you still get hit with manjigeri? Probably too often. We all have holes in our games, and those holes usually come down to a problem with the basics.

Basics are important. Everyone knows this, but we tend to make the mistake of confusing “basics” with basic techniques. The true foundations on which Taido is built have only a little to do with the shape of the techniques and everything to do with applying certain core ideas in a variety of situations. At the heart of all martial arts are a finite set of principles that define what happens when two human bodies are set to the task of controlling each other.

The day’s stated theme was jissen, but the actual practice was about applying the “real basics” of combat. Without these basics (outlined in the seigyo chapter of Taido Gairon), winning in jissen is simply a matter of strength and luck. Practicing the basic principles is the way to build true skill in Taido, and I think everyone’s skill level went up a notch in Tokushima.

2008 Tottori Training Camp

This past weekend, my dojo joined Taido students form several other prefectures in Tottori for some training and play.

Tottori is a small costal city. It’s known for fishing, hot springs, and the sakyu (about which, more later). The local Taido scene is a small, loose-knit group held together by a guy named Uchiyama. Uchiyama is a neurologist and moved to Tottori about five years ago. Before that, he studied and taught Taido at Chiba University. He’s a senpai to a few of my friends.

This year’s attendees included six of us from Osaka, a few from Tokyo (including one student who is originally from Denmark), Hiroshima, Ryuku University on Okinawa, and the group in Tottori. All together, there were almost thirty participants.

Arrival

When our bus dropped us off at Tottori Station, I must have seen something that reminded me of My Neighbor, Tottoro, because I began singing “Tottori, Tottori” to the tune of the Tottoro music over and over. I couldn’t get the tune out of my head, and it eventually became a kind of soundtrack for most of the weekend, thought I was generous enough not to share my torture with too many other people.

After a few minutes wandering around on the North side of the station, we found Uchiyama and a few others waiting for us on the South side. The Osaka group was the last to arrive, so everyone else was already waiting at the dojo.

Session One

After a short ride, we were there too, and practice began about ten minutes later. The first session was in three parts.

After the warmup, Uchiyama led the training for the first segment. The focus was posture, distance, and jump timing. We did some stepping line work, forwards and backwards, then again with partners. After a while, we added stepping kicks and progressed to jumps. Finally, we worked on stepping up into jumping kicks. In the last exercise, we worked on timing the initiation of the kick at the apex of the jump.

The next segment was a short one, led by Izumi, one of Uchiyama’s kohai from Chiba. The basic premise was that most people don’t strike with any power in jissen. I couldn’t agree more. We paired off and were told to hit each other with various strikes to various targets. While a good practice in theory, there was no discussion on gradually increasing the power to learning how to effectively absorb the impact. In the end, nobody wanted to hit anyone “too hard,” so the exercise didn’t accomplish very much.

My friend, Takeo Suzuki led the last bit. The idea here was in trying to use the force of gravity for punches. We practiced dropping into punches from various positions, then we did it again with partners. There was also some practice on tobikomi ejizuki, working on retranslating the force from dropping to a lower level into a horizontal slide. A lot of people ended up scraping the skin off their knees and feet on this one.

Sakyu = Big Fucking Sand Dune

After about two hours in the dojo, we all jumped in the cars and rode to Tottori’s famous giant sand dune for a little more workout.

Most of us didn’t really know what to expect. I think some people thought we were going to a desert, and in fact, somebody had imported camels and was leading tours. Our group went in on foot.

The sakyu is really fucking big. I’m terrible at approximating measures of such things, but I think you can get a sense of it from the photos. Of course, being the sane and mature people we are, the first thought most of us had upon seeing a ginormous mound of sand was to run up it as fast as we could. We soon discovered that “fast” was not an accurate description.

From the top of the dune, we cold see the ocean reach out to the horizon. You can’t just look at a beach without wanting to go out and play on it, so we did. Coming down the dune was a lot easier than climbing up, and the sand was very soft. It was almost like skiing (and people do sandboard there).

Once at the beach, we decided to do 1000 punches – you know, just for the hell of it. It was the first time for most people, but as is usually the case, keeping count turned out to be the most difficult part. After a little more than ten minutes, we were done.

The Party

No Taido event is complete without a party. This was a good one. The food was not bad at all, and there was plenty of drink to go around. After dinner, we all convened to the room most of us were sleeping in and continued until the last of us had either passed out or fallen asleep in mid-conversation.

It was a good time all around. I got to spend a while talking with Mori, who is involved in the arrangements for the World Championship and related events next year. They’re already getting things organized – it’s a really big job, and they’re a small association. After getting to know Mori, Kitamura, and the other members of their group, I’m even more excited to visit Hiroshima next August.

Session Two

Despite severe hangover and extremely sore, sakyu-tortured legs, we began our morning workout at about ten o’clock, only about an hour and a half behind schedule.

This session consisted of two parts. First, Kitamura led a few drills for jissen. The first drill structure was a variation of my Broken-Record Drill, but with fewer iterations. We also practiced some alternate responses to high-percentage techniques like manjigeri. Of course, everyone knows how to use hienzuki, be we also practiced using a sort of sentai-fukuteki and a few other tactics. The final exercise was a stimulus/response exercise, similar to some of the ones I presented here.

In the second half, Okigawa from Tokyo showed up some exercises to build attributes that will improve unshin. He learned these drills from a friend who in turn learned them at this year’s Asia Pacific Games in Australia. The Aussies learned them from an Olympic Gymnast.

The drills themselves are all good. We did handstands, stiff-leg hops, rebounding donkey-kicks across the court, and log rolls without touching the legs or arms on the floor. All of these drills can be excellent when integrated into specific plan for jump and gymnastic training. On their own, they really just make you sore.

After all that, we finished off the training with some stretches and went to lunch.

We’re supposed to do what?

For lunch, we ate “mochi-shabu” which is supposed to be a version of shabu-shabu (thinly sliced, boiled meat) with various flavors of sliced mochi (pounded rice) instead of meat. In practice, it was more like a regular nabe (pot-dish) with some strips of mochi thrown in. It wasn’t bad, but most of us would have been really happy to have a little more protein.

The printed schedule listed the afternoon’s main activity as mountain climbing. Nobody’s legs were in any condition to climb a mountain. Luckily, it began raining while we were eating, and we were forced to decide on a Plan B. Plan B was going to a big fancy onsen – much nicer on the sore muscles.

Bye-Bye

After an hour of so relaxing in the various soaking tubs, it was almost time to start shipping out. I managed to find an open cafe and scarfed some curry and rice before we had to catch the bus. Everyone said good bye, but most of us will meet again next week at the Shakaijin Taikai in Tokyo.

As of Tuesday evening, Takeo’s legs were still sore enough that he was avoiding stairs. My legs were fine, but I ended up with some kind of mystery eye infection that made me look like I’d been crying for a month; it’s all cleared up now. This week, I’m taking it easy so I can be in good shape for the all-Japan Workers’ Tournament on Sunday.

I had a really good time in Tottori, even if I do get that stupid song stuck in my head every time I think about it. I got to meet some new folks and see a few old friends. That’s always cool. I also got a chance to practice and discuss Taido and try out some different ways to practice. I’m looking forward to doing it again next year.