Taido Info & Directory Links

not only taido links – useful links

Taido Information

World Taido Federation Homepage

Being official, it continues to suffer from lack of meaningful content.

American Taido – National Organization Homepage

News and info on training and events in the US.

As we recently re-established an official Taido presence, this site is still new, but over time it will grow to include a complete dojo directory, info on licensed instructors, official tournaments and seminars, and other information that US-based students will find helpful.

Manjigeri’s page

There’s no English content, but random clicking will avail you of tons of videos of various techniques and hokei. With some lucky surfing, you can treat yourself to the soothing sounds of Mr. Manji’s kiai as well as the infamous Taido song. This is one of the oldest Taido pages on the ‘net and a direct inspiration for Taido/Blog.

YouTube

There’s a good number of Taido videos on YouTube, so make sure you check them out.

Dojo Websites

Yokohama Dojo

This is Negishi’s dojo where I practiced and taught Taido from 2003 to 2006. There isn’t any English content, but there are lots of photo updates on the blog. The people in Yokohama will always be a part of some of my greatest Taido memories.

Taido Associations and Dojo Directories

Australia

Denmark

England

Finland

France

Japan

The Netherlands

Portugal

Sweden

United States

Training and Health Links

“The Stretching FAQ”

Brad Appleton has done all the digging and research for you. Here is the information you should digest regarding improving your flexibility. Any instructor without a base level of education with regards to training methods is negligent at the very least. If you do not understand the information that Appleton has compiled here, you have no business giving anyone instruction in sports conditioning.

GMB Fitness

This is a shameless plug for my own company’s products – because they kick serious ass. We do a variety of things, but the ones that should most interest Taido folks are our stretching and gymnastic strength training courses. My team and I coach thousands of athletes, law enforcement officers, martial artists, and regular people all over the world, so if you need help with your training, get in touch. We can help you perform the way you wish you could.

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.

Poll Results: Which Technique is the Most Fun?

This poll ended up running a little longer than I had planned, but the cool side benefit is that it gave more people time to vote and share their opinions.

Let’s Make Taido Fun

I think Taido is crazy fun to do, and I don’t seem to be the only one. At the seminar for rainbow belts prior to the recent World Taido Championships, I helped Saito and Tanaka Sensei give a presentation on how to enjoy learning Taido. The central point, of course, was that Taido is something we do for both ourselves and society, and that we can get a lot more out of it by making it fun.

In that seminar, we tried several ways to put a little bit more interest into training kamae and unsoku – things that may get tedious after a while unless we use some creativity.

There are lots of ways to make training fun, but one of my favorites is to boil down the basic sen, un, hen, nen, and ten movements to fundamental motor patterns and drill them that way. At my dojo in Osaka as well as at recent trainings I gave for students at Kobe Gakuin and Kitasato Universities, I’ve shown students various ways to get more creative with their kihon training by approaching the movement as separate from technique.

Fun is Relative

One thing I always notice when I do these training is that some people like certain movements more than others. Some people like to spin, and others like to jump. Some people seem to enjoy unsoku, while others will do almost anything to avoid stepping sideways.

This is also true of various types of practice. Young men tend to think that jissen is the most fun method of training Taido. Most female college students seem to prefer hokei. Then there are some that love constructing tenkai. I know plenty of people in Japan that enjoy the team events more than then individual ones – especially dantai jissen.

The point being that everyone has a different idea of fun.

Results

If we’re trying to find ways to have fun training Taido, it’s a good idea to know which techniques people enjoy doing. Here’s the breakdown:

  1. Hentai – 41% of total votes
  2. Sentai – 39%
  3. Tentai – 38%
  4. Nentai – 27%
  5. Untai – 21%

There were a total of 56 votes in this poll, and each one cast two votes for their favorite techniques to practice. Hen, sen, and ten were pretty even with 23, 22, and 21 votes, respectively. My picks, nen and un, were considerably less popular with with only 15 and 12 votes each.

So what does that mean?

Well, it’s hard to say. I’m not surprised that nengi isn’t very popular, as it’s the technique of which most students know the fewest variations. I am somewhat surprised that ungi isn’t considered more fun – maybe because jump training is so tiring? I had expected tengi and sengi t be popular, but I would never have guessed that so many people would think hengi is fun.

Sure, hengi is cool. It’s interesting. It’s the most popular technique in jissen. But I don’t really see it as a fun movement. Maybe I’m missing something…

Moving Forward

While you’re here, don’t forget to vote in the new poll: What kind of Taido videos would you like to see more of on YouTube?

If you have a suggestion for an answer that isn’t included, let me know, and I’ll post it.

Thanks.

How Old Should a Black Belt Be?

taido is athletic, and you can only expect performance of certain movements in students who are relatively young. i certainly feel that we should continue to encourage young taidoka to reach the goal of black belt. eventually, we are going to have to hand them the reigns all together. i know i can’t keep performing at my level forever, so i want to make sure that there is someone ready to step up and keep creating new taido after i’m too old to eat anything but oatmeal.

Taido is athletic, and you can only expect performance of certain movements in students who are relatively young. I certainly feel that we should continue to encourage young Taidoka to reach the goal of black belt. Eventually, we are going to have to hand them the reigns all together. I know I can’t keep performing at my level forever, so I want to make sure that there is someone ready to step up and keep creating new Taido after I’m too old to eat anything but oatmeal.

But then I hear stuff about four year old black belts and junior high school students making 3dan at some American martial arts schools, and I think “No!!!!! That can’t be right. They’re way too young to be that good. There’s no way they can understand what it means to be a black belt.” But of course, that’s the problem – black belt doesn’t “mean” anything – not objectively.

It isn’t really about meaning though. The black belt is an award, given from teacher to student for meeting certain requirements and achieving a certain level of proficiency in an art. Those certain requirements and levels of proficiency are at the teacher’s discretion. Students have to trust their teachers to use that discretion wisely – in a way that benefits the students.

On the Karate Underground Forums, we’ve had a lot of discussions about what age a student should be in order to obtain a black belt ranking. We also had some discussion over the age requirements for higher degrees. It’s interesting to note a certain consistency here: there is a “tradition” of a year per degree number between levels. This gives support to the two most common markers of sixteen for shodan and thirty for 5dan. At a year per, that matches perfectly: eighteen for 2dan, twenty-one for 3dan, twenty-five for 4dan. These are minimums, kind of.

I remember replying to the initial post about minimum ages, almost without thinking: “sixteen years old.” Only after hitting the “submit” button, I realized that I had not even been that old when I reached shodan.

I wrote that, to me, a black belt is someone who is going to be teaching – even if not immediately. Someone under, say high school age isn’t going to have attained the psychological development to understand the interpersonal relations involved in teaching others. Younger students can be assistant instructors (I was from the time I was twelve), but they are not going to able to feasibly lead large classes or organize a lesson without supervision. Looking at it now, I can see that most of my arguments on that thread were inspired by specific difficulties I had as a young black belt in my dojo.

Other forum members posted various ages. Some suggested that children should not even be allowed to practice martial arts. There was an opinion that fighting ability should be a requisite for black belt, so any black belt should be able to win a fight against any lower belt. Since a child wouldn’t likely be able to defeat an older, larger student, that child should not be allowed to become a black belt. Some folks said that age should not be a factor – if an infant could perform the required techniques with proper form, then nobody had the right to say that infant was any less of a black belt than an older student.

That viewpoint really resonated with me, for obvious reasons. Not the infant part, but the age-as-non-issue part. To a point. I hate to think about what would happen to a twelve year old kid who goes to his first day of junior high school and tells people that he is a third degree black belt. At my school, that kid would have been used as the ball in a game of smear the queer. All the technically-accurate punches and kicks in the world would not do anything to stop the junior varsity basketball team from having their way with any runt who had the audacity to claim such a credential.

Perhaps the designation of black belt may require some level of “maturity.” This was also suggested on the forums, and the flames poured in: “Who has the right to decide when a student is ‘mature’? There are many immature adult black belts,” etc. And then we had a lot of debate about what was meant by maturity. To make a long story short, there was no consensus on much of anything. Come to think of it, there never really seems to be much consensus issues of any significant weight. Maybe that’s what makes it stimulating. Anyway…

As a schoolteacher, I work with lots of children from the ages of about three to fifteen. Let me inform you definitively that there are many differences between children of various ages, and also between physically mature children and adults. Some of my junior high school students are bigger than I am, but there is no question that they are children. They have underdeveloped interpersonal awareness, i.e. they are still selfish. Their cognition struggles with complicated relationships, ie they understand cause and effect, but they still believe that correlation is the same as causation.

Besides physical size, there are other types of maturity to consider. Though they aren’t easy to pin down with a casual analysis, there is more to it than designating someone as either a child or an adult. I can see my students moving through levels of cognitive ability, physical coordination and strength, spacial awareness, interpersonal awareness, and responsibility. Though I couldn’t tell you a specific age at which these characteristics are sure to be fully developed, they all seem to be approaching adult-level by about the end of junior high. There’s still plenty they don’t know, but they are almost grown up, developmentally speaking.

It’s really hard to say if age should be a factor in belt promotion. It’s easy to say that the technical requirements should stand on their own, but there is no objective technical requirement. Since everyone has different bodies and capabilities, a rigid testing curriculum is pretty impracticable. As a result, we bring in criteria like age, teaching, and “organizational contribution.” The idea is to “soften up” the requirements a bit to allow for differences between students. The problem is that these things are all so subjective – there’s really no way to say that the requirements for black belt should be any particular way or other.

Looking at things now, I can really understand a lot of what my teacher must have been thinking as I entered my third year as a brown belt. My techniques were very good, and I was more knowledgeable than most of the adult black belts, but I was small and a bit of a know-it-all too. In the end, I had just been a brown belt for too damn long. Ready or not, he had to test me, even though I was only fifteen years old.

As for now, age is certainly a non-issue in american Taido, and I prefer that to having it as a strict requirement. Perhaps some sort of flexible guideline could be developed that would acknowledge the accomplishments of children without setting up false comparisons between older and younger students. And no “junior black belt” ranks, please – that’s just patronizing in all the wrong ways.

What i’d like to see is a flexible system of mentorship wherein older black belts would assist and guide younger black belts and black belt candidates in the transition to adulthood as it pertains to Taido and dojo activities. For all outward purposes, any black belt would be considered a full black belt. Younger black belts wouldn’t be able to become instructors until they were older, but they would be given the same respect as any other black belt. And when they graduate high school, they are considered adults, no questions asked. At this point, all mentoring-type “assistance”, no matter how well-meaning would have to cease.

I don’t know how I would outline such a system, because I think it should operate on a pretty much case-by-case basis, as should initial consideration for promotion to shodan. However, I think it would be workable if the dojo instructors supported it. I like the idea of having young people acknowledged as subject experts after practicing for a sufficient amount of time, but I also hope to save them some of the frustration I had when I was that age, while at the same time protecting the integrity of our art by ensuring that all instructors are highly qualified.

What do you think? How can we be fair to young students without weakening the value of the black belt?

Optimizing Energy Balance

I should preface the advice I give in this article by saying that I’m not a doctor or a professional trainer or anything like that. I don’t know your specifics, so I can’t claim that anything I write here will actually work for you. You should probably seek the advice of somebody with a government-sanctioned professional certification before you follow my suggestions.

Having said that, this article is about some simple suggestions regarding ways to improve health and performance by optimizing the body’s energy balance. Since I started off with that broad disclaimer, you may be wondering exactly who am I to be giving health advice. I’ll tell you:

I am somebody who is almost never sick, tired, unhappy, or otherwise “down.” I get up every morning feeling great and continue to feel good all day. I can do things with my body that amaze my friends. In recent months, I have developed the ability to control my weight, body composition, and energy levels to a high degree of accuracy by manipulating the factors I will discuss in this article. I have put this information together by doing a lot of research, some of which I will share with you.

Those credentials may not seem terribly impressive, but I’m not charging you anything for these ideas which, taken together, could do some amazing things for your physical condition and overall health. I’m not going to go into a lot of detail here, but I think you can benefit by using this article as a practical guideline.

Energy Balance

Though I won’t be addressing it in this article specifically, mental health and positive self-image are at least as important to health and performance as anything you can accomplish by physical means. I am not your counselor, so we will just be looking at the physical side of the equation in what follows. If you don’t see results with these suggestions, it may be a sign that you are not mentally prepared for improved health. Your physical energy balance sits alongside your mental energy balance in the total-health equation.

The human body, though not a machine, can be modeled by a machine when it comes to energy balance. Simply put, energy balance is how our bodies make use of food to move and heal. There are three important factors to consider: fuel, work, and maintenance. I believe that the reason many “diets” and exercise programs fail is because they tend to only address one factor out of the three. Occasionally, one will find a program that makes suggestions for two of these factors, but that usually manifests as a detailed eating plan accompanied by a short note that says “oh yeah – you should also be working out and sleeping well.”

The body needs balance in order to remain healthy, and this can be achieved by learning how to manipulate the three factors to suit your lifestyle and goals.

Work

Since we are all martial artists involved in consistent physical exercise (right?), it makes sense to begin with work. I’m not going to tell you how much you should workout, because I believe that this is determined in part by the lifestyle we each choose to lead. I’m assuming that people reading this practice Taido at least a couple of times a week, which is already much more exercise than the average American gets. That puts us ahead of the curve, but I have some suggestions for getting the most out what time we already devote to physical exercise.

However, it’s important to realize that work is not limited to “working out.” Every physical action or inaction in which the body engages has some gross effect. This includes the way we move and walk, our sleeping position, and everything else we do. We can all benefit by finding ways to do our work with greater efficiency. Efficiency in movement requires mobility, agility, and coordination.

Two Important Attributes

The first thing I want to suggest is more work on balance and dynamic flexibility. These are both hot topics in the fitness industry in America right now, but as opposed to many health trends, they are directly applicable to our performance in Taido.

With regards to balance, I specifically recommend Scott Sonnon’s four corner balance drill as part of your daily routine because it requires no equipment, has incremental levels of difficulty, and improves unilateral balance in positions which resemble kicking techniques. I suggest you add this drill to your warm-up for every practice session. In addition to building balance, studies have shown that challenging our proprioception (the set of senses that make up our collective balance, movement, and position sense) tunes the central nervous system for more efficient performance of difficult physical tasks. In other words, challenging your balance prior to a Taido workout will likely improve your coordination during practice.

Dynamic flexibility is flexibility in motion. Since Taido is an art of moving the body, it makes sense that dynamic stretches would be of more use to us than the static stretching I see in most Japanese and American practices. Examples of dynamic stretches Taidoka would find useful would be swing kicks and arm swings in all directions. Since these stretches require fast motion, they should not be done until the body is fairly warm, but in light of numerous recent studies showing that static stretching prior to workouts increases incidence of muscle pulls and strains, it appears that dynamic stretching is the best bet for warm-ups. Static stretching still has a place after practice, but dynamic swings do much more to prepare the body’s tissues for the types of movement Taido demands.

The Basics

My last suggestion regarding work is pay attention to basic attributes and competencies. I’ve already written a long article on improving jumping skills. Someday, I hope to post articles relating to core training and building endurance. Until then, I suggest you incorporate some of the practices from my breathing article into your routine. If you weight train, keep any max-strength cycles short and focus on fast, multi-joint movements like snatches (my personal favorite, but there are a variety of options) for the majority of the year.

Fuel

Next up is fuel. Obviously, this includes food, but let’s also not neglect the air we breathe and the water we drink. Though we don’t have as much control over our supply of water and air as we may like, if we keep our eyes open, we may find opportunities to improve the quality of these kinds of fuel. Since this article is limited to physical factors, I won’t go into thoughts and social programming, but be aware that they do influence you profoundly.

7 Habits

I’ll start off by recommending that you read Dr. John Berardi’s article on the seven habits of highly effective diets. This is one of the bases of my personal approach to making the right food choices for my goals. I agree with Berardi that anyone who can’t meet at least ninety percent compliance with the seven habits is going to have a hard time optimizing their diet to improve their health and performance. Think of these seven habits as a shodan in nutrition and work towards making them part of your life.

I do have one personal tweak to Berardi’s plan that I would suggest to you – eating way more vegetables than fruits. Fruit isn’t necessarily bad for your body, but it is very sweet, and eating lots of fruits during the day can do strange things to your energy systems. Controlling insulin has been shown to be very important to maintaining metabolic balance. Also, many people are highly sensitive to sugar because of the emotional connections they develop to sugary snacks as children. I wouldn’t go so far as to say one should avoid any fruit they like, but be aware of the effect it has on your energy levels. If you notice any weird spikes followed by slight depression later in the day, you may want to look at substituting more vegetables.

Supplements

The other addition I suggest to Berardi’s suggestions is to include a multi-vitamin. Berardi claims that nutritional supplements are inessential if one chooses the right foods. I agree that it should be this way in a perfect world, but in the age of industrialized farming, many foods have significantly lower amounts of nutrients than they used to. I personally follow the Life Extension Foundation’s basic recommendations regarding vitamin supplements and take well in excess of the daily allowance recommended by the government.

In addition to supplementation with a multi-vitamin, I suggest omega 3 fatty acids. Life Extension sells a high-tech fish oil supplement that I recommend, but any fish oil supplement is better than nothing. These fats are not only good for your heart, they help to reduce inflammation caused by putting the body under stress. For people who workout or participate in sports, intake of high-quality fats is vastly important to the recovery process.

On the subject of recovery nutrition, I’ll refer to another article by Berardi about post-workout nutrition. Essentially, Berardi suggests that all athletes should be consuming a high-carbohydrate beverage during and immediately following training. The optimum composition is actually about a 4:1 ratio of carb to protein. This has been shown to do wonderful things for building muscle, preventing soreness, staving off catabolism, and promoting recovery. There is a ton of information regarding post-workout nutrition on T-Nation.

Macro-Nutrient Timing

T-Nation also has tons of articles about nutrient timing. Usually, when the coaches at T-Nation are making a big deal and writing lots of articles about something, it means that they are getting ready to launch a new product. However, you can’t sell the times at which people eat, so there might just be something really important to the concept on this one.

Temporal nutrition is probably the most important diet advice for people wishing to improve their body composition. I am currently slightly over ten percent body-fat, and I really don’t workout that much. Though my coworkers think it’s magic, I can eat tons of food, workout only when I feel like it, and continually improve my body because I understand the concept of nutrient timing. In a nutshell, it goes like this:

  • carbs in the morning
  • fats at night
  • protein all day

Of course, that’s a simplification, and some people require specific ratios of the three macro-nutrients, but as a general guideline, the above is pretty universal. The body can use carbs better in the morning than it can fats. It can use fats better at night than it can carbs. You always need protein to promote healing and recovery from exercise. And sadly for those of us who love pasta with cream sauce, the body reacts to meals that are high in both carbohydrate and fat by lowering metabolism and hoarding fat. This is why Berardi and others advocate sticking to two basic meal templates: P+C and P+F.

Of course, mixing them up a little is not a problem, but a P+C meal should be less than fifteen percent fat, and a P+F meal should be less than fifteen percent carb, for the most part. This may seem difficult to do at first, but that’s because we are socially conditioned to eat three big meals each day. This isn’t biologically sound eating – it’s designed to fit around our jobs. However, if we make a small lifestyle change and begin eating several snacks every day, it’s quite easy to adhere to the nutrient-timing guidelines. I eat about eight times a day, and each meal is small enough that I can eat it in a few minutes and get back to work.

Some examples of good P+C meals are an egg mixed in a bowl of oatmeal or a smoothie with fruit and protein powder. High-protein foods such as tuna, chicken, or eggs can be added to just about anything. For P+F meals, I’ll typically make an omelet or have some cottage cheese. Unfortunately, the Guinness milkshake (about 1000 calories of alcohol, sugar, and fat) doesn’t figure in very well at any time of the day.

I know some people really love eating full meals, and I do too. My best suggestion is to eat this way for most of the week and then have two or three days where you go lighter on the snacks and eat a larger dinner. This allows you to make an occasion out of nights out with your friends, etc. Once a week, I go shopping and cook something creative for myself and a few of my friends. It’s something I enjoy, and it makes it a lot easier to stick to small meals for most of the week.

Recovery

Finally, we come to recovery, or bodily maintenance. I’ve written a little about supplementation for recovery and post-workout recovery nutrition above, but there’s a lot more to it. Actually, I would argue that recovery is the most overlooked component of the energy balance equation. To get started, check out this T-Nation article with some general tips.

Sleep

I think the most obvious aspect of recovery is sleep. Most people claim to understand the importance of quality sleep, yet most people don’t seem to get enough of it. Dr. Joe Mercola has some tips for improving your quality of sleep, and Steve Pavlina wrote a series of articles about polyphasic sleep, which some people may find interesting too. Incidentally, I’ve had a good deal of success with biphasic and triphasic sleep patterns in the past.

Unfortunately, I work in a situation that doesn’t allow me arrange my sleep schedule in the manner I feel is optimal for my health. I think most people in the modern world have a similar problem. As a compromise to getting most of my sleep at night so I can keep a large chunk of time open for my job, I’ve started taking afternoon naps. I nap right after work, usually about an hour after having a high-protein snack. I sleep for thirty to forty minutes. Then, I get up and do a brief (ten-minute) workout (“movement session” would be more precise) to increase my circulation and boost my motivation. I find that this allows me to sleep about two hours less each night without fatigue, and that time directly translates to productive work on projects such as Taido/Blog.

One cool thing about taking a short nap is that, by waking before entering deep sleep, one avoids any kind of groggy feeling upon waking. I set a timer for about thirty-five minutes to be sure I awake during REM sleep, which means I can remember my dreams and write them down for later inspiration. I’ve been doing this pretty consistently for a couple of years now, and during summers, I tend to sleep less than five hours each night – about six in the winter. I wake up at sunrise each day, take a nap upon returning form work, and go to bed whenever I happen to get sleepy later, which is almost never before midnight.

Some people have trouble falling asleep, but I believe this is because they try to force themselves to sleep when they don’t need to. Eight hours is really excessive for most people unless they’ve been under a lot of physical or mental stress. Another reason people may have difficulty falling asleep is that their minds are too excited by television, internet, or any of the other high-density information streams most of us access each day. It’s important to limit our dependence on these things for entertainment, lest we find ourselves over-stimulated.

Meditation

One strategy for reducing mental stress and turning our minds down a couple of notches is meditation. Meditation does not make you go blind or turn you into a vegan. I can’t teach you how to meditate, but if you want to learn meditation on the cheap, my recommendation is the “chaotic meditation.” This technique is excellent because it mobilizes the tension in the body in order to release emotional stress. I feel this is easier and more effective than seated meditation for most people.

Baths

If meditation seems a little woo-woo for you, try this: take a bath about thirty minutes before bed every night. It’s the cultural norm here in Japan, and it really helps relax the body. In addition, for some people, it can be the only chance they have all day to be totally alone for fifteen minutes. Making a habit of a nightly bath can be a great help in allowing your mind and body to recover from the day. Especially on days that you exercise, a hot bath can help stimulate muscle repair and reduce delayed-onset soreness.

Massage

Massages and other types of bodywork are also great for physical recovery. I get a massage every week, and it helps my body establish a stress-floor for relaxation on the other six days. An experienced massage therapist or bodyworker can also help to alert you to chronic stress adaptations and work on releasing stored tension. Anyone involved in strenuous sport activity should consider massage a necessary compensation for their high-stress physical work.

Compensation Recovery

Compensation isn’t just for sports though. As I wrote above, everything we do with our bodies is work – even just sitting still. As a result, we need to compensate for the habits of motions and immobility we ingrain each day. If you sit in a chair at work for hours at a time, don’t go home and sit on the sofa right away. Take a walk and move around a bit. Since most of us have less-than-ideal posture for most of the day, it’s good to take up activities such as yoga which emphasize proper alignment of the spine. If joining a yoga class is too much of a time commitment, as least take a few minutes each day stand up and stretch your back and limbs. You’ll find yourself more comfortable and productive for it.

My favorite method of active recovery and movement compensation is Warrior Wellness, available from RMAX. I’m writing a separate review for this product because I like it so much. In fact, I do this routine everyday, and the carryover into my Taido practice and overall ease of movement has been really fantastic.

General Recommendations

So that covers fuel, work, and maintenance in terms of energy balance. I believe that anyone who follows even just a few of these suggestions will find themselves feeling healthier and more energetic within a week’s time. The more of these habits you can adopt, the better control you’ll be able to exercise over your body’s appearance and performance.

If you try out any of the above advice, you may want to give some serious consideration to a few more suggestions.

  • drink only clean water.
  • avoid artificial sweeteners.
  • avoid using a microwave to cook your foods.
  • seek out high-quality whole foods and ethically-produced meats.

doing these things requires time and money in excess of what most people are prepared to spend, but the health benefits of incorporating some of them when possible is worth the effort. I suggest you read Dr. Mercola’s advice on healthy eating and check his health blog regularly. Making a commitment to your health is a difficult thing to do in modern society, but those of us who aren’t satisfied with the notion of a 75-year life-span see it as necessity.

Even it you don’t want to go health-crazy, understanding and applying the idea of energy balance will at least help you to look good naked. These are principles which I’ve been using for a a while now, and I’m super-hot, so I can vouch for their effectiveness. If nothing else, adopt at least five of Berardi’s seven habits and see if you don’t notice enough improvement to give them all a try. If you like what happens to your body at that point, come back to this article for more ideas on optimizing your energy balance for increased health and performance.