Taido Enrollment Notes

New students will not join Taido unless they believe it will provide something they want. We need to show people that Taido training is fun and beneficial.

Even if they want to learn Taido, new students can’t join unless they find a dojo close to their homes. Therefore, in order to appeal to as many potential students as possible, we must attempt to offer Taido practice in as many locations and times as possible.

All Taido students should be continually involved in one of three projects. They follow in order of priority, and no project ever ends.

  1. Project one: Every student in every existing dojo should be concerned with building the dojo. Perform demonstrations at every opportunity (festivals, holidays, weekends in the park, etc.). If you enjoy Taido, you will want to share it with your friends. Bring them to practice with you. Post flyers around your town.
  2. Project two: When a dojo has at least 20 members, it’s time to start a new branch. Find a gym in the next town and start practicing. Divide the teaching duties among the black belts in the club. The highest ranking instructor will divide his time between the association’s various dojo. Once a dojo is established, return to Project one and build the membership.
  3. Project three: When there are at least two dojo with around twenty members, it’s time to hold a competition. This can be an small, informal affair, but it is important. Students need practice competing, and it is a good chance to advertise to the community (see Project one).

Upon completing Project one, move to Project two. Upon completing Project two, return to Project one. This cycle never stops. When there are enough students in each dojo, move to Project three. Project three should contribute to Project one, which contributes to Project two. This makes Project three continually more exciting, and better at promoting Projects one and two.

This cycle is viral and has the potential for exponential growth.

Poll Results: Which Technique is the Most Fun?

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

Let’s Make Taido Fun

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

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

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

Fun is Relative

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

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

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

Results

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

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

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

So what does that mean?

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

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

Moving Forward

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

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

Thanks.

Advanced Kobo Drills

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

Hot & Spicy Kobo Variations

Use use the following options to turn up the heat.

Stationary with Attack Variable

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

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

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

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

Attack Variable with Preset Unsoku

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

Attack Variable with Free Unsoku

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

Attack Variable with Unsoku or Unshin

By now, this should be self explanitory.

Get Creative

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

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

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

Warming Up For Taido

A while back, I ran a poll about warm up methods and promised a follow-up article. You are now reading the follow-up article.

I think most people are vaguely aware of the importance of warming up prior to engaging in demanding physical activities. Properly warming up prepares the body to operate beyond its usual ranges – and pushing beyond our comfort zones is necessary in order to improve our skills. Taido being an especially dynamic (and sometimes gymnastic) martial art, we need to make sure that our bodies are ready to handle our jumps, twists, and slides.

I’m not going to worry too much about convincing you of the importance of warming up, because I think it’s pretty obvious. Most Taido practices include some sort of warm-up, and almost anything is certainly better than nothing. However, I want to discus various methods for warming up and give some suggestions for warm-ups specifically geared for Taido students.

Begin with the End in Mind

Before I start listing my recommendations, I want to take a second to outline what I believe a warm-up routine should accomplish. Without having a clear goal, it’s difficult to be sure that we have achieved it. Unfortunately, I get the idea that many students don’t know exactly what they should be getting out of a warm-up. I say this because, in the few moments after the group warm-up in most classes I watch, students tend to stand around instead of continuing to prepare. You can never be too prepared.

So what is achieved by a good warm-up? In essence, the result of a good warm-up is that the body and mind are ready for action. The muscles are warm, loose, and fueled. The joints are lubricated and mobile throughout their ranges of motion. The nervous system is aroused and tuned. The mind is clear and present.

I can think of several indicators of body/mind action-readiness: an elevated pulse (but not “pounding”); full, deep breath (not panting or gasping); just beginning to sweat; no pain/stiffness in joints or muscles; not thinking about work; colors appear bright, sounds are crisp and sharp. There are of course lots of other ways to tell that you are warmed-up, but these are the basic sensations of training preparedness.

I won’t get into the neurophysiology of warming up because it’s not really relevant here. Suffice it to say for now that the above guides address all of the important requirements for activating our best performances. Nutrition, rest, conditioning, and overall health also play a role, but these factors are beyond the scope of what we can hope to compensate for in a warm-up session.

Common Warm-up Errors

I want to start out by mentioning a few bad habits that tend to show up in warm-ups for martial arts practices. These points are not a critique of any particular routine, but cover various warm-ups I’ve seen in various dojo, printed in books and magazines, or posted online. Most of these routines are not necessarily bad, but they tend to be lacking in one aspect or another. Here are a few common mistakes as they come off the top of my head:

Excessive Static Stretching

This is the biggie. Most martial arts warm-ups I’ve witnessed include static stretches. As the name implies, static stretches are any stretching exercises in which the body is held in one position for a period of time. An example of a static stretch routine would be the standard “sit down on the floor and touch your toes,” etc. we have traditionally done in American Taido.

These kinds of stretches are not bad in and of themselves, but they are contraindicated for warming up. For one thing, our muscles cannot stretch to their maximum until they are totally warm (and until the central nervous system is fully activated – the explanation of this can be really complicated, but just take my word for it for now). In many warm-up routines, stretches are preceded by only a few minutes of jogging and calisthenics – this is not nearly enough time to prepare the muscles for static stretching.

For another thing, studies show that static stretches temporarily reduce the elasticity of the muscles. This is a bad thing because, when we kick and move, we need our muscles to gradually slow as they reach the ends of their ranges. Otherwise, we risk pulling muscles and tearing ligature. Several studies have shown that there is a higher incidence of strains and sprains for athletes who performed static stretches in their warm-ups.

In the past, it was believed that any stretching was better than none, but now we have evidence suggesting that what stretches we do and when we do them has an impact on our health and performance. Though our warm-up static stretching is a tradition, it is potentially dangerous. Let’s please drop them from our warm-ups.

So when should we do static stretches? At the end of our practice, when our muscles are as warm and loose as they are ever going to be, and after we have finished moving them quickly at extreme ranges.

Not Enough Dynamic Stretching

Even though static stretches are best reserved for cool-down, we should include some stretching in our warm-ups. Specifically, we should do more dynamic stretching.

Dynamic stretches are stretches in which the muscles being stretched are in continuous motion. Examples are swing kicks, body twists, arm swings, and other movements that quickly stretch and release the muscles.

Dynamic stretching is a perfect match to the dynamic movements required for kicking, jumping, twisting, turning, etc. That are part of Taido techniques. It makes good sense to prepare the body for action by simulating the action you plan to perform. Performing dynamic stretching prior to a Taido practice is akin to slowly turning up the heat on a pot in which you cook a live lobster.

When performing dynamic stretches as part of a a warm-up, it’s important to keep things gentle and relaxed. Don’t start out swinging with full speed and power. Gradually build up to maximal relaxed range of motion over several sets of a few repetitions. This slowly relaxes the muscles and helps to “tune” the nerves that control the muscles’ contraction and relaxation.

By replacing the standard static stretches with dynamic stretches, we can expect to improve our flexibility and reduce injuries like pulled muscles.

Doing Too Much

Sometimes, instructors get the idea in their heads to start off classes with a tough workout to get everyone “really warmed up.” This is generally not a great idea. The purpose of a warm-up is not to make everyone tired, but to prepare them to perform at their best. Doing too much in a warm-up prepares students to be too tired to practice well.

There are several ways to do too much in a warm-up, but the two most popular are to include a lot of strength exercises or endurance work in a warm-up. I’ve even seen instructors subject their students to long sets of fast techniques as a warm-up and call it “cardio.” There are two reasons why this kind of stuff does more harm than good.

One reason is that we learn only what we practice. I learned as a child that half-assed practice made me very good at doing half-assed techniques. By the same token, practicing when we are already tired teaches to perform techniques as if we were tired. When our bodies are fatigued, we can’t move at full speed or power. Fatigue also causes the nervous system to be less efficient, which reduces our reaction time, balance, and overall coordination/agility.

The other reason not to wear yourself out in a warm-up is that different types of practice (for example, strength, endurance, and technical) require different types of muscle recruitment and nervous activity. In general, it’s best to do the most complicated/technical practices earlier in a workout. This is because the nervous system loses efficiency as we become fatigued. Technique/form practice requires a high degree of coordination, focus, and nervous control. As a result, we can perform this kind of practice better when we are fresh.

After technical drills, the next logical step is strength training. This requires less control from the nervous system, but still uses a lot of energy in the muscles. Typically, endurance work should be performed last, because the primary goal in such practice is to keep going – form and power are not as important.

All three types of practice work best when they follow a good warm-up. In a session that includes all three, the best sequence would move from warm-up to technical practice, strength training, and endurance training, followed by a cool-down and stretching.

In any event, the purpose of the warm-up is to prepare us for practice, not to make us too tired to practice well.

Not Enough Joint Focus

Mobility is not solely concerned with our muscles; it also requires the joints to be able to move freely. Specifically, we need to make sure that our full ranges of motion are available to us at any given time. For example, in a typical day, most Americans move their knee and hip joints through only a fraction of their possible ranges – forwards and backwards. However, Taido’s movements require knee and hip movements through all three planes.

In order to adequately prepare our joints for Taido movements, we should try to move each joint through it’s entire range of motion. This loosens up the joint a bit and also helps to lubricate the joint capsule by redistributing the synovial fluid more evenly. This increases mobility and decreases joint pain – both very good things.

Knee, ankle, and hip injuries are epidemic in the martial arts; almost everyone who practices a martial art for any number of years tends to develop them. Performing motions that may help to prevent these injuries as part of our regular warm-ups should be the rule rather than the exception.

Going Through the Motions

One drawback of using a set routine for warm-ups is that it’s really boring. People memorize a set of movements and do them half-assed without paying the least attention to what they are doing.

Warming up is not only for getting your body ready, but a chance to prepare the mind. Focus on each body part as you move it around and be on the lookout for any pains or stiffness which may indicate an injury you need to take account of during your practice session. This is also a good time to remind yourself of your training goals for the session (hint: if you don’t have a goal each session, you are murdering your potential for improvement – even if your goal is simply to memorize a new routine or make it through class without wheezing, you will see more results if you have a clear goal for each practice).

Don’t waste time by warming up the body while leaving your mind someplace else. Since the mind controls the body, you owe it to yourself to bring your brain into your warm-up routine by at least being deliberate and conscious of what your body is doing.

Prescriptions For Taido Warm-Ups

Now that I’ve written about a few problems and explained possible solutions, I’ll recap my thoughts on the ingredients for a quality warm-up.

  • Engage the Brain
  • Engage the Nervous System
  • Engage the Breath
  • Engage the Muscles
  • Engage the Joints

If you’ve done all these things, you should feel aware, loose, and happy – not tired, stiff, or anxious. Even better than the pleasurable and positive feeling of being well warmed-up, all of your body-systems will be ready to perform at their optimum levels, and you’ll be able to push yourself to improve.

Games for Jissen

Jissen is not simply a matter of one person controlling another person. Both players have the same goal: hit the other dude without letting him hit you. At lower levels, it’s often enough to simply bully your opponent, subjecting him to your will. But a strong opponent won’t allow you to do this, and you’ll find that you must respond to his actions while you pursue your agenda.

To make a long explanation of the nature of jissen very short, we need to practice responding appropriately to outside stimuli.

Though we tend to take this aspect of practice for granted, communications science has demonstrated that many of the most challenging problems in any multi-person situation arise out of the inability to read signals accurately. (Incidentally, if you don’t believe that fighting is a form of communication, you especially need to practice these next drills.) Sometimes, the problem is a lack of sensitivity; sometimes it is difficulty in distinguishing noise from information.

We will address both capacities with the following developmental drills, some of which you may recognize from childhood games.

Listening Games

Standing Push Drill

Both partners stand, facing each other and try to push the other off-balance. The only contact allowed is with the hands, and whichever partner first moves his feet or falls down is the loser.

Standing Pull Drill

You can also have the partners grasp each others’ hands and attempt to pull the opponent from his position.

Back-to-Back Push Drill

Partners stand with their shoulders and hips touching and link arms at the elbows. Pushing against each other, they attempt to force each other out of a predefined area.

Seated Back-to-Back Push

Same as above, but the drill begins with the partners sitting on the floor.

Linked Sumo Drill

In this variation the partners stand, facing and grab each others’ belts. They can push, lift, or reap their partner’s legs. This is very similar to sumo, with the exception that both partners remain linked for the duration of the drill. If either partner steps out of bounds or touches any body part other than the feet to the floor, the match is over.

Linked Tag

Partners grasp one hand and attempt to tag the other partner with their free hands. The target can be specified (knee and shoulder work very well) or free. Be sure to practice using both sides.

Linked Step Tag

Similar to the above drill, except partners attempt to step on each others’ feet. Steps and jumps can be used to avoid “attack,” and players can use their hands to help control their opponent’s balance. Make sure to practice both sides.

Linked Step Sumo

Players link hands as above and attempt to force their opponents to the floor or out of bounds. Contact is allowed with the feet, up to knee-height for tripping, and players can use their liked hands to pull.

Free Step Sumo

The object of the drill is as above, but only foot-to-leg and hip-to-hip contact is allowed.

Have Fun

Any of the above drills can also be played with more than two partners, within a wider or narrower area, using blindfolds, on uneven terrain (use kicks mitts, punch bags, crash mats, people, etc. for obstacles), with time limits, while carrying a load (such as a partner), on one leg, on both knees, wet, naked… – whatever floats your boat, paddles your canoe, or sinks your battleship (though in all seriousness, topless variations could be very beneficial for the guys).

Just remember to hold the concept that these are games being played to improve your jissen. Don’t get too excited and get injured with this kind of practice. In a safe and friendly environment, the drills listed above and their variations can be extremely fun ways to build our abilities to “communicate” with our partners in jissen.

These drills are also great for warming up to practice kobo and jissen. Since they work skills that we don’t practice in hokei or kihongi, it’s important to return to them periodically. They can’t be mastered, so if you approach them with a fun attitude, they never get stale.