Ebigeri: Where to Look

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

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

Here was my reply:

Good question with lots of good answers.

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

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

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

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

Followup from the student:

Thanks for the answers!

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

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

My reply:

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

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

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

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

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

Technical Mechanics

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

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

General Mechanics

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

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

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

Back to Ebigeri

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

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

Movement Notes for Unsoku

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

Expansion/Contraction on Sidesteps

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posture

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

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

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

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

Use

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

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

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

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

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

Cautions

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

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

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

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

And that’s all

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

Opportunities and Liabilities

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

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

8 Kyo – Chances to Attack

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

5 Suki – Weaknesses

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

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

Let’s begin with the opportunities:

Just Before an Attack

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

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

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

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

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

Just After (or even during) a Move

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

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

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

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

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

Just After a Missed Attack

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

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

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

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

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

During a Loss of Balance

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

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

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

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

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

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

During a Loss of Attention

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

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

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

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

During a Shortness of Breath

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

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

By Recognition of Pattern

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

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

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

By Recognition of Fear

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

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

And now for the liabilities:

Failure to Maintain a Calm Focus

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

Failure to Keep your Mind and Body Prepared for Action

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

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

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

Failure to Choose your Actions Carefully

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

Failure to Adapt to your Environment

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

Negative Repetitions

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

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

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

Now, use it

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

2008 Tokushima Training Day

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

Tokushima Taido

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

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

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

Training

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

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

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

Session One

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Session Two

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

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

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

The Real Basics

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

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

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