Taido’s 5 Simple Rules

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

Taido Gojokun

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

What is Taido Gojokun?

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

Why Bother?

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

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

Translating and Interpreting

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

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

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

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

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

What it Says

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

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

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

The Official Version

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

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

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

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

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

An Older Version from America

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

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

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

So What is it really Saying?

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

Interpreting the Gojokun

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

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

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

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

My Interpretation

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rules We Can Use

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

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

Tech Taido Version

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

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

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

Taido’s 5 Principles in Operational Language

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

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

Here are the 5SRs in operational language:

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

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

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

Finding Taido’s Core Values

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

The 5 Core Values

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

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

Use It

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

The 5SRs as a Teaching Tool

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

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

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

Genkaku: What’s the Point?

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

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

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

What’s the Point of Genkaku?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Then we got

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

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

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

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

So what do you think?

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

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

Any ideas?

Asking the Right Questions

There is a saying I’ve heard in various forms that goes like this: do not do what the master did; seek what he sought. The wisdom here is very applicable to us in Taido.

Who’s the Master?

Who’s the baddest mo-fo low-down this side of town? Well, that would be the Shogun of Harlem, but in our case the master was Shukumine. I don’t feel that’s the end of the story though, because I think the entire point of practice is to attain mastery for ourselves.

I know it’s taboo in martial arts to aim for mastery. We’re supposed to “follow the path” without thinking of the goal. Goal fixation and the lust of results are sure ways to stultify our development. But I’m talking about something different. Mastery is not a result at which we will someday arrive; it’s a process we live. I believe that thoughtful practice of Taido is one means by which one can choose to live the path of mastery.

To live on “the path,” we have to have some goal, even in the knowledge that our goals may change. Without a goal, there is no path, it’s only a long, narrow field. Paths, by definition, exist for traveling between your current location/state and something else. Understanding our goals allows us to move on the path in one direction or another – otherwise, we just drift back and forth with no purpose and no meaning.

We all have reasons for practicing Taido. Looking how and why we have these goals for ourselves can be a difficult process, depending on how deeply we choose to dig into out fundamental motivations. Whatever we find, we can get more out of our Taido practice by comparing our goals with those of our art’s creator. By doing so, we can “seek what the master sought” in light of our own personalities and situations in life.

What did he seek?

Shukumine’s life centered around trying to answer certain questions about how a person could respond practically and creatively to the various situations that arise in combat and in life. How he answered these questions for himself will offer us few clues as to how he achieved his mastery. Doing thousands of repetitions of kushanku and bassai kata will not improve our concepts of Taido, nor will learning to pilot submarines, nor will fighting many larger opponents.

What, specifically, did Shukumine seek? The 5jokun should give us some clues. As I’ve written in a previous article, the principles show calm awareness, synergy of mind and body, skillful use of our bodies, judgment, and adaptability/creativity as valued attributes. In order to seek what Shukumine sought, we should apply our practice to developing these highest ideals he held.

Doing 10,000 sengi will not teach us what Taido is. It will make us very good at mimicking the outward form of Taido, but to understand what Taido is, we must seek Taido’s values. If we seek these values in any action, then we are to a greater or lesser degree applying Taido to what we do. Application is a much better study method than mimicry is.

How can we find mastery in Taido?

Things that will help us understand Taido better include thinking about the design of the hokei we practice, imagining ways to move in 3-space, and applying our creativity to meeting the challenges we face in life. Asking similar questions to those asked by Shukumine will put us on the path to achieving his level of mastery.

Here are just a few examples of questions we should be asking ourselves as we practice Taido:

  • How can I develop the values expressed in the 5jokun?
  • What was Shukumine trying to accomplish?
  • How would I go about seeking that for myself?

There are lots of other important questions too, but the most important thing is to ask them of ourselves, and not get caught up in how others have answered them. My answers are already written ad nauseam on this site, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t subject to change. Einstein said that “the most important thing is to keep having questions.” Let’s ask high-quality questions about Taido so we can find our own mastery through the process of seeking.

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.

unshin

i recently spent five days talking and training with two of members of the hanshikai, and let me tell you this much – they are crazy excited about unshin. everything we practiced came back to a very select number of themes, and the possibilities of moving in full 3-space was one of them. i’ve had this article on the back burner for a few weeks now, but after talking to shima sensei, i feel i am ready to complete it. i plan to present some unique interpretations which may be completely wrong, but they will be interesting, and that’s more important than being right all the time.

note: you may notice that this article follows a similar format to my article on unsoku. this is because they were both originally part of one very long document. however, unshin and unsoku are very different animals so don’t think you can skip over parts just because the wording is similar.

a bedtime story

it was 1969. most of the civilized world was watching neil armstrong become the first human to walk on the moon. with the lower gravity, neil and buzz (was it buzz that went to the moon with neil? i can never remember…) were able to do all kinds of cool stuff. they were practically floating – moving, not in straight lines, but in giant, curving arcs, easily turning somersaults and having what appeared to be one hell of a good time. years later, this event would inspire sting to write one of the greatest hits the police ever recorded. in seiken shukumine, it inspired something altogether different.

shukumine had some serious jumping ability, setting a military high jump record in japan that is reputedly unmatched to this day (though i have no idea how one would go about corroborating such a claim). tosa kunihiro (now the leader of one of several groups claiming to be the sole legitimate lineage of genseiryu karate) became one of shukumine’s first students after the two met in military training. tosa claims that, when he first approached shukumine to ask for instruction in karate, shukumine jumped clear over his head and landed, prepared to strike before tosa could even turn around. this could prove two things: shukumine indeed jumped incredibly high, and tosa turned incredibly slowly (unless shukumine also managed to descend from head-height at a speed faster than gravity would have accelerated him). with regards to the first point, shukumine was famous for performing such feats as tobi 8dangeri, and i personally saw him perform some pretty incredible moves in his late 60s.

and so anyway, as legend has it, shukumine saw in the moonwalk (in the pre-micheal jackson meaning of the word) a new way of maneuvering one’s body during a fight. he combined his incredible aerial skills with taido’s unsoku and devised a method of combative movement which would free the practitioner from the confines of a seemingly-flat earth. i can’t say to what degree this story is accurate, but it would explain the glaring differences between the taido and genseiryu implementation of ten-movements.

“body locomotion”

ok, so unshin is just flips and stuff, right? well, yeah, that’s pretty much correct, but let’s not just write it off so easily. unshin is a big part of what makes taido “three-dimensional”.

technically, unshin is locomotion in three dimensions (though, even more technically, it would have to be at least four, but i’ll worry about writing my treatise on post-relativistic thinking in taido some other day). this does include flips and tumbles, but it also includes a lot of stuff that’s harder to define. in fact, any kind of body-transport that occurs outside of the flat earth-plane is going to be classified as unshin. since unsoku is “leg locomotion”, our bodies have to be above our feet. thus, for practical purposes, unshin is any kind of locomotive movement that defies categorization as unsoku.

… which is actually pretty interesting to me. you see, tengi is obviously related to unshin (except that tengi has integral weapon deployment and unshin does not), but it’s also pretty cool to think that unshin could include movements that are more hen or nen (and possibly un) as well. sen is pretty much always going to be on a flat plane (otherwise it becomes nen), and we often see spinning unsoku steps in jissen. slides and hops (un) would also be more unsoku than unshin. any un movement with a lot of distance or height may be classifiable as unshin, but we wouldn’t usually just make a big jump for transport in jissen because it would be indefensible.

the only real application i can come up with off the top of my head for unshin by sen and un would be jumping twists and turns. used as unshin, this would be sen-un, but it would usually be follwed by a technique in application, becoming waza instead of unshin. so, while there are always exceptions, for the purposes of this article, i’m going to pretty much ignore sen- and un-type movements as having a lot of utility as unshin. i will discuss the obvious ten-related unshin and then get a little more creative and write my thoughts on unshin that draws from hen- and nen-type movements.

ten-type ushin

first, well discuss the codified individual movements.

zenten [hai zenten]

this is simple front somersault, or roll. technically, any forward tumbling maneuver is going to be zenten (zen=front, ten=turn); variations wherein the back contacts the ground are hai zenten. in general, when we speak of zenten, we are referring to forward rolls on the spine.

my advice for practicing zenten: be the ball. this sounds rudimentary, but i am constantly surprised to find black belts who don’t tuck properly into rolls. this makes it incredibly difficult to use the roll for any utility. if your roll is going to have the speed necessary to reach the target, you need to tuck tightly. if you want to finish your roll in a defensible position or with a technique, you need to tuck tightly. if your roll is going to be smooth enough to use for any other purpose than breakfalling, you need to tuck tightly. this is majorly important, not just for the sake of your actual forward roll, but as a developmental progression for more advanced unshin movements. seriously take some time and check your zenten technique and make sure you couldn’t tuck just a little tighter.

koten [hai koten]

the same lexical stipulations apply as with zenten, except that “ko” denotes motion in the direction of one’s back.

most people starting out don’t like back rolls. that’s understandable because moving backwards and upside down is naturally outside our comfort zone. as upright, forwards-moving animals, we get a little nervous about moving in the opposite direction. so what happens when we try to back roll? we chicken out. we choose a side and flop over the shoulder. the worst part is that we develop this fear-reactive habit and allow it go go unchecked. this reinforces every “can’t” and “don’t know how to” that crops up in our training and makes it damn hard to learn new things.

i have never met anyone who did not have the physical ability to do a back roll and was not also quadriplegic. really. the physical technique is astoundingly easy, once you get the idea. the most common mistake i see people make on back rolls is allowing one or both elbows to turn outwards while transitioning over the head. this is caused, not by lack of strength as people tend to claim, but because of fear. if you keep your elbows in, and you have any momentum at all (which comes straight from shifting your weight over and behind your heels), you will roll easily over your hands and onto your feet or knees. mechanically, this move executes itself – you just have to get out of its way.

how to get over your asinine fear-habit: convince yourself that you are perfectly capable of protecting the back of your head (one of our reflexive anxiety areas). i suggest three exercises before even attempting backward rolls. here they are:

firstly, do bridges and back bends. this will build up the strength to push up and behind. it will also build confidence in that strength. start with bridges form the floor, holding them for a few seconds as high as you can. then do some “walk-down” bridges on a wall or other support. build up to the point that you can do a standing back bend into a bridge position. most people who can do back rolls cannot do this. learn the skills in the proper order, and you save yourself a lot of difficulty.

the second exercise you need to get good at is the spinal rock, or the yoga plough position. this is sometimes referred to as a half back roll, so you may be able to see its developmental benefit before attempting a full back roll, eh? just go slowly and smoothly backward, making sure to control your speed. this can also be a great stretch or an exercise for abdominal strength and breathing skills.

step three for learning back rolls = shakoten, see below. do this over both shoulders after you have mastered the forward shoulder roll. here again, learning things in the proper order will make things much easier on you. too bad most people don’t understand the concept of incremental progression from simple to sophisticated skills.

shazenten

sha=angular. this movement is commonly known as a shoulder roll, and also appears in aikido and judo as ukemi – falling techniques. an important point to remember is that you are still moving forward. many students have a difficult time performing shazenten on a straight line. another common mistake is to open out of the “ball” position way too early, or even to neglect making a tight ball in the first place. though it is possible to execute something that looks like a shoulder roll without even bending the waist or knees, this is not going to offer much use to taido students.

personally, i feel that shoulder rolls should be learned before students attempt forward or backward straight rolls. they are easier to learn to do properly and safer to perform on a variety of surfaces. you can ease a new student into a shoulder roll, but front and back rolls are a little trickier to start out with unless the student already has some tumbling experience. a well-designed unshin curriculum starts with the simplest-to-learn skill, which i may get into some other time. for now, let’s just say it’s sufficient to begin with the simplest-to-learn tumble.

when i teach shazenten, i usually start the student out from ejidachi, in this example, we’ll assume left-lead. from this position, you should reach the right arm, palm up, underneath the front leg. as you reach further, slowly lift the right knee off the ground, pushing slightly forward. at a certain point, your balance will pull you ass-over-teakettle at some angle forward. resist the urge to open your body and flop onto the floor. if you can retain the crouch throughout the natural rotation, you will find yourself with almost enough momentum to carry you fully back to eji. i find that asking students to “roll under themselves” gets them doing this a lot faster than when i ask them to “roll over their shoulders”. after they get the feel for entering the roll, it’s not so difficult to work on proper shazenten technique.

interestingly, we only have one word for shazenten – apparently nobody has done any tumbles that move forward with an angular body orientation while making only hand contact with the ground (though one of my friends is trying to get us all to try it) – let alone without touching the ground. there is also no “shakoten”, though you could probably come up with applications for one if you think about it (and i use one version in jissen all the time). in fact, a twisting backflip could just as easily be called “shabakuchu” as nenchu, but i’m getting ahead of myself…

sokuten

the kanji for “soku” means speedy. as a result, let’s just go on and forget all about the big “wheel-spoke” cartwheels we did on the playground in primary school. go ahead and ditch the part where you raise both arms above your head and bend slightly backward. also drop the idea that your legs or arms should be straight. they should not. no, no, no.

sokuten is one of my least favorite things to teach. this is partly because almost everyone who sees it thinks it is “just a cartwheel”, and nothing i can say will make them realize that such thinking is going to make sokuten unusable for them. most students do come to this realization on their own much later, but i would prefer to save them the trouble and let them get good at taido sooner. this can be accomplished by making a mental separation between cartwheels and sokuten.

the way almost everyone tries to execute sokuten is almost entirely an upper-body exercise. this is incorrect. i mean, it looks ok, and it gets you from point a to point b, but it isn’t going to offer you anything in terms of combat efficacy.

sokuten is driven by the legs. the legs power the movement, and the legs steer as well. in proper sokuten, the hands are really just a pivot. you must most-importantly push with the front leg – from hip to ankle. this supplies about 90% of the motive force. the rear leg actively lifts up and over, supplying direction and the downward snap to help lift your head. the hands may push against the ground a bit to assist with the “lifting” aspect, but this is not vital to sokuten technique. actually, the direction of the feet and head is much more important than anything you could possibly do with your hands – provided you are using your legs correctly. if you are still cartwheeling, your arms and shoulders will be doing most of the work.

thinking of sokuten this way has the added side benefit of making the transitions to one-hand, rear-hand, and no-hand versions much easier. eventually, you can rely less and less on the arms and use them to twist and lift rather than supporting your weight. if your arms get tired doing sokuten, you need to spend some time refining your technique.

ude zenten
ude means arms, so this is a front tumble using the arms. in ameri-speak, this is a front handspring. don’t ask me how to do a front handspring. bryan and i both nailed these on our first attempts when we were preteens, and i seriously have no idea how to teach these. i don’t know how, but i can just do them. i can do them one-handed from ejidachi and land again in ejidachi. i think this is probably one of the easiest gymnastic skills to learn – even easier than front rolls.

if you can’t do a simple handspring, i guarantee your problem is mental. from a mechanical perspective, it is almost impossible to screw this move up. all it takes is a little bit of push with one or both legs and enough arm strength to keep your head from pounding the pavement. however, anything that involves being upside-down tends to make people uneasy. get over it – you will live. if you can’t make it back around to your feet, chances are you will land on your body’s built-in cushion.

tired of landing on your ass? well, that’s an easy fix once you’ve gotten over your fear. there are three points. most importantly, after pushing with your legs, pull them back down using as much of your posterior chain as possible – hamstrings, hip extensors, lower back – everything that could possibly help pull your feet under your hips. number two is to use you head. pull forward. imagine doing a sit-up as soon as your feet make contact with the ground. use your abdominal muscles, arms, neck, and willpower (look!) to pull your head forward. the third point for those who are still doing this on a crash pad is: push more with your arms. don’t lock them out. instead allow them to bend slightly so that you can use them to add forward momentum to your upper body.

still can’t do it? can’t help you.

hai/ude?

actually, i have no clue as to whether there is a technical distinction on this one, but there are two very different ways to execute a front handspring. in one method, the hands make the only contact with the ground. this method looks very much like the opposite of the back handspring. method two is sometimes referred to as a “headspring”, though actually touching the head to the ground isn’t such a good idea. in this version, the initiation is actually closer to that of a front roll, though it ends in the same manner as the other method. i have seen some folks even roll forward to the point of making contact with the back, and then springing up by pushing with the arms – almost like finishing a front roll with a kip up. i guess that would be the forward answer to springing out of a back roll.

doing this requires a lot more arm power than the standard front handspring does. plus, it takes a little more time to perform. however, it offers a few benefits. for one, it’s difficult for an opponent to determine whether you are going to roll or spring. it also avoids the giant arm wind-up that most people use to initiate their handsprings. that wind-up is a big invitation to get hit with a fast suiheigeri or dogarami in jissen. by the same token, there is less chance for the upper body to snap forward into an oncoming attack as can easily happen with the hands-only version. finally, by virtue of being lower to the ground, the headspring also allows greater transfer of momentum into a potential strike (since less energy is wasted in retranslation during the transition from vertical to horizontal motion).

to develop this skill, practice doing lots of kip ups. then, work on doing handsprings from ejidachi. by the time you are able to do this on your weak leg, you will probably have developed the arm strength and general timing necessary to to a headspring easily. back bends and bridges will also be helpful in developing this skill, but you should have them down by this point anyway.

bakuten [ude koten]

now we get to the fun stuff. back handspring is the first “flash move” most of us learn. i still cannot do a back handspring. actually, i can, but it requires much more concentration than the skill deserves. since i can backflip all day and night, i don’t worry about my lack of handspring technique so much. back handsprings are much more difficult than back flips, but using the hands helps to abate some of the fear most people associate with backwards and upside-down movements. if you have difficulty with bakuten, just skip it and go straight to bakuchu. do not pass “go”. do not collect $200.

not convinced that bakuten is useless? good for you – it can be very useful, but just don’t fixate on it. it’s not that big a deal. you can basically get by without being able to do bakuten very well, so long as you can do the flips.

still want to do things the hard way? alright, but don’t say i didn’t warn you. the mechanics of this move require a lot more technique than just about any other tumble. you must jump at a good angle, match the timing of your arm swing with the jump, look backward for the ground, bend backward, place your hands solidly and absorb with your elbows, snap your legs over your head by pulling at your midsection, push off with your arms, and lift your head. good luck.

unfortunately, there isn’t very much i can write that will help you get this movement. if you need help with back handsprings, ask your instructors. chances are, they can do them and teach them, as these are a universal skill for taido students.

sokuchu [kyuchu sokuten]

and now it gets tricky. sokuchu is the infamous no-hand cartwheel, aka kyuchu (aerial) sokuten, aka aerial. this is so impressive-looking that most people seem to discount the possibility of learning it as impossible. without even trying it first, they forget that this is a skill and assume that is is actually magic instead. i had assumed for years that i would never get to the level that i could do these, but then one day, i just did.

there are several ways to go about doing sokuchu because there are several versions of the skill. i’m not going to get too detailed with this because i feel that most people will get the feeling for one or other version before they are remotely capable of doing all of them. this being the case, too much advice can be detrimental until you have a certain amount of experience screwing up. screw-ups will help you – don’t be afraid to make them.

with that caveat, there are two factors that will greatly speed your progress toward nailing any of the variations: incremental progression and balls (or the female equivalent).

as for incremental progression, build up from your regular sokuten. emphasize the front leg drive. emphasize the lifting of the rear leg. emphasize the lifting of the head. try diving in. try reaching further forward. try going faster. use just the front hand, then build your speed back up. use just the rear hand and swing the front hand down and back up. don’t forget to turn your head. try all of these tweaks to your regular sokuten and you will find that sokuchu doesn’t seem so unrealistic a goal. you will still have to do a lot of practice, but this is the groundwork.

-or- practice nengi, jumping spins, and butterflies (a gymnastic movements that i cannot think an adequate way to describe). use your arms and head to twist. this will help you build up to a “tilted” sokuchu. this will help you develop the kind of off-axis sokuchu that works well in jissen and before hengi and nengi.

the point of incremental progression is to look at what movements the technique includes and develop them beyond what the technique requires. gradually add them together until you are doing what you originally set out to do.

as for balls, just don’t wear nikes. try first. you will not be able to carefully and slowly do these unless you are in a low-gravity environment. even on a trampoline, you will have to deal with the increased speed, which makes them just as hard as they are on hard floor. get in the air (so many people seem to think they can learn to do these without jumping) and get your legs over your head. land on your side; use a pad. it’ll be ok. get up and try it again. and again. get someone to watch you and critique.

if you keep practicing, you will get better. remember back when you first started and you couldn’t do sentai? well, these are no different.

zenchu [chu zenten]

front flips are one of the more difficult skills to learn because nobody understands how they work. everyone i know who can do a front flip learned the same way i did in junior high school: find a flat grassy area and run really fast. jump as high as you can while grabbing your knees and looking down. if you didn’t break your back, get up and try again. after a few hundred repetitions, you may find some patterns that will allow you to land on your feet more often, but there are still no guarantees. even if you can do it yourself, you will have a hell of a time trying to explain what you are doing to other people.

i have a few suggestions for this move, but it’s still magic to me on some levels. in other words, take this with some salt because i can only do two front flip variations with any consistency (the almost laid-out one that moves forward and the stays-in-one-place one that looks like a reverse deadlift), and i usually need a couple of running steps to keep from landing on my ass.

when learning this move, i think a good idea would be to start with a spring board or a springy floor. stack up as many crash mats as you can to reach waist height if possible. work on getting up. head tuck is priority number two. these two should be enough to eventually get you lading flat on your back at waist height. if you can do this, congrats – you can flip. the problem is gradually removing the crutches.

remove the mats one at a time, and begin tucking your knees into your chest harder and faster. as mats go away, you will get closer and closer to landing with your feet fully under your body. the hard part comes when you think you’ve got it and you then attempt to front flip without the aid of mechanical jump enhancement. jumping power is where most people get stuck on front flips, and it is why many people can do them with running steps, and almost nobody can do them from standing. it’s also why i’m working on an article about improving jumping skills.

at the yokohama dojo, we also practice this with two spotters, and the results have been not bad. basically, the two spotters stand facing the flipper with their elbows bent to catch the flipper’s elbows. the flipper runs toward them and jumps into the flip while the spotters support him in the upside-down portion of the motion. this has gotten a lot of students comfortable with the basic motion, but only a couple have yet had the confidence to try this solo on a mat. when they do, they still have to get the feeling of jumping up into the move.

ok, so you’re having trouble getting a full rotation and landing on your feet. first step: go back and read what i wrote about zenten. i guarantee that if you aren’t landing, you could use more tuck. other factors will count too, but none of them will make much difference if you do not first tuck tightly.

bakuchu [chu koten]

if you’ve gotten bakuten (even if you haven’t), you can do these. back flips are really so easy, it’s almost like an inside joke on everyone who thinks they can’t do them. just jump as high as you can. then, when you are at your apex, tuck you knees into your chest as quickly as possible and look back over your head. you will flip. it’s really that simple.

there are two main problems people have with back flips. one is that they think they can do them without jumping much. this is incorrect. while speed alone is in fact enough to carry your legs over your head, it is not enough to get them all the way back underneath you. to rotate fully, you will have to jump – high.

the second thing people screw up is timing. newbies are so concerned about not landing on their heads that they try to start their rotation as soon as possible. here’s a tip: rotating sooner does not buy you more time to reach the ground – it takes time away from you by diverting power from your jump and bringing you closer to the ground. the first step is just to jump up. the rotation should occur at the apex of the jump, or only very slightly before. i have even been able to rotate fully after i was already falling. the important key is that you have more time to turn when you are the furthest from the ground. if you try to rotate while you are still close to the ground, you will never get high enough to get your legs under you again.

when you have gotten good at turning over backwards and landing on your hands and knees, you will be so happy. will will think you are flipping, and you will be wrong. a flip lands you on your feet. however, the transition from hands-and-knees to landing-on-feet is a difficult one made more difficult by the fact that, once we get a taste of being “able to flip” we are reluctant to back down and fix our form since it means more screw-ups. i will discuss this in more depth later, but for now, keep in mind that learning any movement with good form is the key to learning more difficult related movements. learn to do bakuchu correctly and nenchu will only require one simple adjustment.

variations

there are several ways that these ten-style unshin can be altered for various purposes. notice is said that they can be altered for various purposes – far too often, these variations are performed for simple flash value. they look cooler than the simpler versions, and their difficulty earns them extra points in hokei (though that is technically tengi and not unshin…). however, outside of skill-development, the the decision of how to move should be based on the desired outcome, not the number of cool-points one may accrue. thus, i will try to keep my discussion of these variations purpose-driven and explain why one may want to use one or more of them.

tobikomi, diving

at some point, when i was maybe nine, yamauchi sensei laid down a punching back in front of the mat where we were practicing front rolls. he told us not to change a thing, but simply roll over it as we had been previously. being kids, we had no fear. within five minutes, many of us were doing diving rolls over garbage cans and other obstacles with no problems.

a few years later, someone told me to dive into a cartwheel. what? that seemed a little more challenging. but it wasn’t. i then realized that i could dive into any tumble (and by extension, anything else) i could already do. i just had to stretch out the entry. it was the beginning of my dive-crazy period when i taught myself how to do dive rolls over chudan kamae as well as diving versions of shajo and ebi and lots of other things.

how to: really, if you can’t figure out how to dive into any of the skills you can already do, you have a problem. for practice purposes, it may be a good idea to use a soft, low object a an obstacle when you are learning. a punching bag lain on its side is idea in most cases. eventually, you will come to the realization that you are actually diving into all of these movements anyway, so doing the “diving” version is really not that difficult a transition.

my best advice for doing diving tumbles is to dive then tumble – don’t try to tumble through your dive. this ties in with the expansion/contraction i will hit on later, but the important point is that the dive is to get you someplace, then you just do the tumble as usual. it doesn’t matter if you are diving high or long, into a roll, cartwheel, or flip (yes, diving flips are very possible). if you can learn to separate the dive and the tumble and then transition smoothly between them, you will never have a problem with diving unshin.

why you would want to: there are exactly two applications for diving into unshin. one is to surmount an obstacle of some sort – perhaps an attack or the opponent’s body. the other reason is to gain distance, either to reach or escape from the opponent. beyond this, you have no business diving in jissen. it leaves your body wide-open to attack in the air and requires more time to complete than non-diving tumbles. however, they can be life-savers for wither of the above two applications.

these diving unshin are requisite developmental steps for all of the handsprings and flips. learn them.

katate, one-handed

anything you can do with two hands, you can also learn to do with one, and unshin is no exception. one-handed variations are most common for sokuten, but it’s not unheard of for someone to do a front or back handspring this way too.

how to: well, for katate sokuten with the front hand, it’s not that hard. the rear arm doesn’t really add that much to the movement – it only adds a slight support. however, even beginners will find that they can not use the rear hand and still manage to almost land. that may help to build some confidence, but it won’t actually get you very far without a little bit of technique.

the key to doing any unshin minus one arm is the front (driving) leg – the one that does most of the pushing. anytime you are moving forward from kamae into unshin, this is going to be your leading leg. since this leg is the last thing to leave the ground, it’s also your last chance to add speed and power to your rotation. since you will support your weight on only one arm, you want to rotate as quickly as possible. if you push hard and fast, there is no reason you can’t free up an arm.

why you would want to: so often we look at people practicing flips and handsprings with about fifteen running steps, their hands wound up over their heads, and a giant skip to build rotational speed. i guess that’s fine for practice, but it’s just begging to get hit. even in hokei and jissen, most people’s unshin leaves big gaps for a fast sentaizuki or even dogarami.

learning to do one-handed variations of the unshin may help you cover up for protection. if you use only one hand to execute your unshin, then the other hand is free to make a face cover or swat away an incoming strike. on the other side of the coin, you can use that free hand to attack as well. other reasons to use a single hand may include instances where, for one reason or another, you only have one hand available, or if you are having to change directions quickly while escaping attack.

you can even use the free hand to hold a beer. the possibilities are limited only by your imagination.

in addition to all of that, you are probably never going to learn sokuchu unless you can do katate sokuten with either the front or back hand. this is another one of those developmental necessities.

nen, twisting

this is currently where we separate the men from the boys, unshin-wise (not to be sexist, but i have yet to see a woman do nenchu in taido). nenchu and shazenten are the most common (read: “only”) tentai unshin you will see in taido right now, but i’m hoping this changes soon. currently, the perceived difficulty of nenchu gives anyone who performs it in hokei gets almost a full point bonus. so anyone who hopes to take any medals better be able to do it, ’cause the big boys certainly can.

how to: the first personal acquaintance i ever saw able to perform nenchu was amir alighambari, who was always able to skate, dance, paint, and flip better than almost anyone else i knew. i had been pretty good at back flips for a while when i got around to asking amir how he did the twist-flips. i couldn’t believe the simplicity of his answer – “oh, that’s easy, man. you just turn your head”.

i didn’t want to believe it could be that easy, so i continued trying to spin by swinging my arms, which is what most people do. it works, but it works by tricking you into turning your head. you can actually just do the whole thing with the head if your basic flip form is good enough. i also used to try and do the turn by twisting at the hips. since i could flip into kamae and do bakuchugeri, it made perfect sense in my mind, but it just didn’t work in application. finally, i took amir’s advice and performed a simple experiment.

try this: on a pad of some sort, make ejidachi like you would in tentai no hokei. turn your head ninety degrees to either side. do a back flip as usual. almost made it, didn’t you? now the trick is to get that head turn to work with your usual head toss backward so that it is speedy enough to turn you all the way around in both directions. if you still can’t get it to work, a little bit of arm swing may help you out, but don’t count on your arms bringing the magic if you don’t turn your head.

do this a thousand times to each side. see how easy that is? now you can laugh at everyone who thinks these are “too hard” for most people to get. when they ask you, just smile at them and say “oh, that’s easy, man. you just turn your head”.

why you would want to: twisting is incredibly functional in taido. they allow us to change directions in multiple planes at one time. they allow us to cope with the movements of an opponent. they allow us to set up attacks and defenses, even while moving through the air. not so be flip (ha), but trying to explain the possible applications for twisting unshin is like trying to explain the applications of sen-style unsoku – it’s just too obvious and broad.

moving in a different direction

the easiest example to describe here is the gainer, or forward back flip. agian, amir was the first person i saw who could do these, and he told me that he wasn’t quite sure how he had come to master them. i tried everything i could think of to get gainers down, but to no avail. for me, this move is all about psychological resistance. i know i can do it, but i know i’m going to break my damn neck in the process.

how to: chris healy figure out one clever way to build up to these. he suggested building up from a tilted version on a mat. start out by running forward and swinging the legs to one side or the other with a knee tuck. you will fall down. but. you will also be transitioning your momentum correctly and you probably won’t have as much anxiety about the movement. as you get better, you can gradually increase the verticality of the movement. chris says the most important point to remember when you practice this way is to tuck the knees in because otherwise, you will end up flopped on your belly. ouch.

two other practice methods that feel promising right now: back flips off a wall and front roll back flip combos. the off-the-wall version (again, not a michael jackson reference) is what gene kelly does in “singing in the rain” – take a couple of running steps off a wall and back flip off. this is easier than doing it without the wall, but it still take serious balls. lately, i’ve been having good result doing a backflip after a front roll, which you can easily do it you can flip from a squat. transitioning the momentum is all about hip drive. though this is a very different motion from a standing gainer, it has really helped me get over my fear. now i can work on the chris method.

why you would want to: well… taido is all about changing directions. i’m pretty sure you don’t need me to spell this out for you. though gainers may not seem to offer a lot of utility for taido, they are actually really defensible in jissen. there’s no place to try and enter with an attack. when i discuss non-ten-unshin later, the possibilities of counter-rotational unshin may feel a little more open.

in the meantime, you should also look into other tentai unshin movements that rotate in the opposite direction as the travel. for example, imagine the applications for a retreating front flip kick. the first person to send me a video of them doing this gets a beer.

common combinations

combinations are important in taido because of the seigyo principle of rendo rentai – using continuous motion to reach an outcome by indirect (and hence, unpredictable) means. in unshin and tengi, combinations are especially viable, since the rotation speed and momentum form one movement can add to that of a second movement. here are some very common combinations of unshin movements.

  • sokuten/zenten
  • zenten/sokuten
  • zenten/koten
  • koten/zenten
  • sokuten/bakuten
  • sokuten/bakuchu
  • bakuten/bakuchu
  • ude zenten/zenten
  • nenchu/zenten

when doing these combinations, try not to stop the motion. keep the rotation from the first movement going into the second. the transition is the most important thing you will get out of practicing these combos. i cannot stress that enough. taido is partly about adapting on the spot. learning to make as smooth a transition from one motion to another is a critical element in developing your ability to improvise physical skills in combat.

an important point to remember when you practice combinations of unshin movements: you will never have a chance to do more than one or possibly two of them in straight-line succession. there is not enough room on the court, and you have to think about maneuvering around an opponent who is trying to hit you. to get the most out of unshin combos, you will need to eventually learn to add in some changes of direction. i recommend practicing every combination you can think of where the second movements goes in the opposite direction from the first. then practice at odd angles. if you do this, you will find that you can actually use these things in jissen rather than just flashing up your hokei.

maybe i will write a few drills for practicing angular unshin combos later on, but for right now, just go to it with your own creativity. try to think of every combination possible, and then look for ways to practice doing them around obstacles and in reaction to stimulus. remember: keep you eye on the ball…

learning ten-based unshin

in 1993, a few of us started taking a few hours gymnastics lesson once a week to improve our tengi prior to the world championships. since uchida sensei wasn’t very good at the aerial maneuvers, american taido had a pretty sad level of tengi skill at that time (and we were absolutely stunned by the 200-pound finnish guys who could do nenchu at the tournaments). we learned a lot about gymnastic form, and some of us learned how we could teach flips and such better, but we didn’t really benefit from the rigid structure of formal tumbling (which is not to say that form in tumbling isn’t extremely important). basically, the environment didn’t lend itself to our purposes, and in case you were thinking about it, i would not recommend gymnastics lessons to a taido student hoping to work on this stuff.

your best bet, if you wish to practice unshin and ten-type movements is to get a few people together who are at various levels of skill. this allows each person to see various mistakes being made in addition to examples of really good form. find a safe location to work, warm-up well, and just do it. build up from the rudiments to the more difficult movements – if you don’t build your confidence along with your skill, you will quickly find that you cannot progress. when you come to a sticking point, take things back down a couple of notches. also pay attention to mechanics, and critique each others’ form mercilessly. “getting over” or landing on something other than your head is not the same as doing a flip.

hen-type unshin

now before you get all excited, i want to warn you that there aren’t a lot of hen-movements that could be useful for unshin. the reason is in the classification of what “hen” is: it is a change of body axis about some line that rests in the axial plane. however, if the body axis changes (rotates) far enough in this direction, the movement becomes ten. if there is any rotation about the sagittal/coronal axis (what taido calls the “body-axis” – though the body has an infinite number of possible axes), then the movement is nen (unless the the axis remains upright, which would be sen, but we aren’t talking about sen right now).

so what kinds of unshin movements could be considered hen? tricky question. i have a few applications, but they are pretty difficult to describe in words. so what i’m going to do is this: i will discuss one class of of hentai unshin that should be fairly obvious, then i will leave you to your own imaginings. sound fair? i think after a very little explanation, this concept will make a lot more sense.

my basic prototype for locomotion via hen-movmement is fukuteki, primarily the full fukuteki and stepping back/under move done to each side in fukuteki 6rendo (american routine). of course, in its basic form, this doesn’t seem that special (and would still be considered unsoku, since it moves along the flat plane), but there are great applications. look at all three forms of basic fukuteki and you will see that they involve a change of body axis while the feet stay basically in the same place, but what is unshin designed for? moving.

do the same basic fukuteki, but this time lift your feet up slightly. dive into the fukuteki position and then come upright. you have just moved form one point to another by a method that cannot be called unsoku, and you did so by changing the body axis – this equals hentai unshin.

try to apply this basic method to all three fukuteki. you will find interesting applications as well as several ways to move using all three. not to mention the other possible “fukuteki” ducking movements that could be used in this manner. basically this class of unshin is useful for moving under an attack without rolling. the advantage is that you can stay inside striking distance and keep your eyes on the opponent while moving someplace safe.

i’m not going to attempt to list off all the variations i have found to this kind of movement, but i will say that there are at least a dozen different ways to create unshin for the escaping-under-an-attack application alone. for other applications as well, i’m sure you will find plenty of new motions to explore. have fun – these are great in jissen, and just starting to come into wide usage. if you need some ideas, watch the matrix movies.

nen-type unshin

nen movement is much more open in its definition than hen (which is limited by ten), partly because it transcends hen and ten (which are classified by different amounts of rotation through one axis of the axial plane). nentai includes some amount of rotation through two of the three planes of the body. the only common movements in taido’s unshin that do this are shazenten and nenchu. movements of this complexity are naturally a little confusing (we can process information in one less dimension than we can perceive at any moment. if you can conceptualize five or more dimensions, you can get an idea of why i like to think of taido as a four(not three)-dimensional martial art).

since i am the first person i am aware of to classify this as a specific subset of unshin, i am invoking my discovery rights to name them “andinos”. just kidding, that would be stupid – i actually call this nentai-unshin kind of movement “nenshin”. you can call it anything you like so long as you remember me fondly when you do.

angular handspring

this is my friend, ohashi’s signature move. it looks kind of like a cross between a one-hand front handspring and a shoulder roll. there are applications for aerially rolling over attacks at well as for delivering attacks out of the movement. experiment with this move, and if you are brave, try the backward version as well.

twisting sokuten

how many times is it honestly a good idea to do a straight sokuten in jissen? pretty few. as a result, advanced players will often enter sokuten with the intention of changing angle or direction in the middle of the movement. this gives them the option to kick, turn, or something else. i’ve seen some guys set this up as if they were doing a big cartwheel to lure the opponent into range. when he gets close enough, they can topple over into an attack.

twisting zenchu

obviously, if we are going to have a twisting back flip, we can do a twisting front flip. there tons of applications for this in jissen and even a few in hokei (the second half of tentai comes to mind). the only reason you don’t see people doing these is that they can’t do straight front flips. give it another couple of years, and we’ll have broken the zenchu barrier. when that happens, it’ll only be a matter of time before these are commonplace.

twisting hentai unshin

all of the fukuteki variations i mentioned above could be used with an added twist to become nenshin. why would one do such a thing? to land in a better position for attack perhaps. since the variations are vast and the movements are difficult to describe, i’ll let you figure this out for yourselves.

etc.

you probably get the idea by now. there are all kinds of ways to twist, spin, and rotate the body, and it’s unnecessary to limit that motion to one axis at a time. keep in mind too that these movements do not have to be high-flying aerial flash techniques. they may look very simple, yet move in a sophisticated manner.

more general stuff

the following points apply to all unshin practice.

expansion/contraction

as i wrote about unsoku (and breathing, and will also write when i get to finishing my kamae article) expansion/contraction is super-important in almost everything we do in taido. unshin is not an exception.

look at the most obvious example – a diving front roll. you have to stretch way out to dive, then ball up quickly to roll. the more control you have over the speed of your stretch-out and ball-up movements, the longer and higher you can dive with safety.

a less obvious example is the back flip. as i mentioned earlier, many people try to flip without jumping. by focussing on extending the body upward first, you add lots of height to your flip. if you can ball up quickly, you never have to worry about not landing.

on the extensions, really try to feel you body become as long as possible. stretch your spine form crown to coccyx, reach with your fingers, point your toes, and don’t forget to look – sight is your mental tape measure, so where you point your eyes makes a big difference. when you contract, bring your knees into your chest, exhale, tuck your chin, lift your toes toward your knees, and it’s even permissible to grab your knees with your hands when your are learning, provided you remember to wane yourself from this before it becomes habit (you will be needing your ams for other things later, don’t ya think?).

the faster you can expand or contract your body in unshin, the more flexibility you will have in your execution. this means more applications and easier usage all around. it also increases the safety with which you are able to attempt new, or more difficult movements. if you know you can ball up at the last second to bail, you have more freedom to try things you aren’t sure you can accomplish.

posture

the vast majority of possible unshin movements will require a bend in the spine. posture is the word we use to describe spinal alignment. your posture is important, and paying attention to when it needs to bend and when it needs to lengthen will do wonderful things for your control of your aerial movements. posture is something i hope to do an in-depth treatment of someday, but for now, consider it the link between the expansion/contraction aspect and the breathing aspect of unshin. think about how your body structure defines your movement palette and you will understand how important posture really is.

breathing

since unshin requires spinal flexion/extension and more general expansion/contraction, it only stands to reason that we can incorporate breathing techniques into the movement. by practicing the basic exercises i described in this article, you will learn how to incorporate efficient breathing into your unshin movement. it only requires practice.

the applications of this practice are far-reaching. if you are using unshin to move in jissen, and your unshin does your breathing for you, then you are going to be able to breathe with little effort throughout your matches. keeping your breathing relaxed and natural lowers stress arousal that can cause poor performance. at high levels, unshin could save more energy than it uses (possibly). any taidoka who develops such a level of freedom of motion, energy efficiency, and low arousal is going to be nearly unbeatable.

timing

as i mentioned above in the section on bakuchu, timing is a critical element to performing all of these movements successfully. chances are, you will figure out the proper timing through practice. my basic advice on timing these moves is this: later is better. so long as you jump high, you will typically do well to delay your rotation as long as possible. even if you do not fully rotate, you will probably not land on your head. in most instances (assuming you jump!) it is safer to wait longer than it is to try and rotate while you are still close to the ground. it also builds your confidence and aerial awareness to practice this way.

timing is also critical to applying them in jissen, though this is mostly beyond the scope of this article. however, i will say that at higher levels, we want to think about how to do these movements while protecting ourselves from attack. thus, it becomes important to be able to control the precise point at which we decide to rotate or turn. control requires comfort, and getting comfortable enough to control our movements at this level requires lots and lots of practice.

distance

i am still working on the distance article and have been for over a year. part of the problem lay in the malconception of distance within 3-space that most people have been conditioned with. i think that i am going to have to spend some time reading pop-physics before i can figure out a way to explain how taido is necessarily 4-dimensional. why does this matter? because i can’t go into a discussion of “distance” when the word itself is not accurately being defined. that’s as far as i’m going to go with this thread for now.

suffice it for now that distancing for unshin shares some of the same aspecs as distancing for unsoku. only you have to account for one added dimension.

practice doing all of these movements around, over, onto, and off of obstacles and people, stationary and moving. this will give you a feel for distancing properly when you attempt to move by unshin in jissen.

uses

this article is about the actual skills and movements of unshin. i will someday devote a separate page to using unsoku and unshin, but i want to point out here that unshin is part of your technique. you must link unshin with unsoku, kamae, sotai, and waza. unshin is not simply flipping around in a vacuum. while it’s good enough for gymnasts to take five running steps and stick a landing, taidoka need to execute unshin while conscious of not leaving any suki for the opponent to attack.

unshin also makes a killer appetizer at parties.

the importance of proper form

the temptation to call our unshin form “good enough” once we can consistently land on our feet is sometimes overwhelming. do not fool yourself – lack of injury does not equal perfection. if i learned anything from formal gymnastics lessons, it’s this: good form (but not necessarily “proper” classical form) is the gateway to higher-level skills. i’ll write that once more in bold italics to make sure you don’t underestimate its importance:

good form is the gateway to higher-level skills.

at lower levels, we can fake it. we can use strength and guts to overcome the force of gravity. we can have an ok zenten, an ok sokuten, a weak koten, and a not-too-bad bakuten, and we’ll be able to cut it as c-grade taidoka. what is the c-grade taidoka missing in his hokei? attention to detail. what is the c-grade taidoka missing in his unshin? same thing. if this hypothetical student were to spend about two hours seriously practicing his zenten form, his koten, sokuten, and bakuten would instantly improve as well (unless he has a major upper-body strength deficit).

higher-level unshin is more sophisticated than basic tumbles. we cannot force sokuchu and nenchu and the like. we can force zenchu from a running start, but unless we get down into the mechanics of the motion, we will never be able to do it in hokei. the people who do nenchu have beautiful bakuchu, without exception. is this a coincidence? no.

when learning new skills, it’s fine to cheat until you can build some confidence. however, you are only cheating yourself if you don’t then back up and fix your form. i know tons of good black belts who can’t seem to take their skills to the next level, and they always blow me off when i tell them that they need to go back and fix some small mistake in their sokuten or koten. but these same guys are quick to put me in the “good at tengi” group, as if it’s some kind of magic that i stumbled upon. they never even notice that it’s not just my flips that are better than theirs, it’s my front rolls, back rolls, etc.

cautions

there are a few things you should keep in mind when moving by unshin. firstly, in aerial unshin, nearly everything that happens in transit is determined before we leave the ground. maybe only 10% (though this is by no means a scientifically derived figure) of how we move in the air has any thing to do with what we actually do while airborne. things we can control after takeoff: body position, specific landing-point, specific landing-timing, and not much else. things we cannot control while in the air: direction of travel, body orientation (in other words, if you want to flip or twist, you will have to initiate that movement before you lose contact with terra), general landing-point, general landing-timing, and lots of other things.

the other big caution has to do with where you look. since many unshin movements require you to look in a specific direction in order to execute them, you may have blind spots when you try to do them in jissen. this is another place where timing can make or break your ability to use these skills in application. in all of your unshin skills, pay attention to where you are looking try to keep a handle on your location in relation to your target and the ground.

in conclusion

my final word on unshin is that it is very important to taido (sound familiar?). just as unsoku acts as a strategic link between kamae and technique, unshin can do the same as well as linking any combination of unsoku and sotai. this, along with the added spatial dimension in which unshin allow us to move, gives it greater applicability than unsoku in application.

however, unlike neil armstrong, we cannot escape the earth’s gravitational pull. this means that when we rise, we will also fall. less obviously, when we move in opposition to gravity, we will have to expend a great deal more energy than we do in moving tangentially to gravity as we do when walking. this means that we must chose our moments lest we tire quickly. it also means that we need to pay much more attention to breathing well in motion.

finally, remember that unshin does not have to be restricted to rolling and flipping around. there are any number of non-acrobatic movements that could be just as useful in taido. especially experimenting with nentai movements will open up some interesting options for students practicing unshin application. and while you chew on all the possibilities that nenshin has to offer, i’ll be polishing up my shazenchu.