Consider It

The two words “consider it” happen to make up one of my favorite English-language phrases. I was once asked what was required in order to be considerate – my answer was “consider it.”

Taido/Blog Gets Sick

So, foregoing any kind of clever segue, a few months ago, I lost the ability to do anything at all to Taido/Blog. Obviously, I have now corrected the issue, but the nature of the actual problem is still somewhat mysterious to me – it’s something semi-technical that falls under the general rubric of “things I’ve chosen not to bother with learning to understand.” Luckily for me, an upgrade of my WordPress build pretty much took care of things.

I had intended to write this as a simple blurb to say “sorry about the lack of updates – I had a good excuse,” but after rereading that first paragraph, I realize that it’s not actually all that good of an excuse. Things I’ve chosen not to bother with learning to understand? Come to think of it, that’s a really lame excuse and exactly the kind of thinking I claim to be working against with Taido/Blog.

Choosing To Ignore Reality

But. If I take the time to consider it, I can find lots of examples of this willful ignorance in my life, and I have to admit it’s not something of which I’m extremely proud. Not to point the finger, but I’m willing to bet big money that readers of this site would also find a disturbing number of behaviors and attitudes with which they allow themselves to simply get by – things they could easily change.

I’m not referring here to social issues like the rampant homelessness in our urban centers, the horrible outlook for future ecology, or the deplorable state of politics and commerce. I’m talking about things easily within our grasp. Obviously, personal habits are ripe for careful examination. What do you allow yourself to get away with when you know you could do better? Do you sometimes “cheat” just a little bit? Do you allow yourself maybe just a little too much leeway when you’re trying to accomplish a task or goal? I know I do. In the five minutes it’s taken me to type this post so far, I’ve already noticed the following habitual cheats:

  • not shaving on the weekends, even though it makes monday mornings just a little bit more of a pain in the ass
  • not sticking to my scheduled workout plans despite having the time to do so
  • neglecting to practice guitar modal patterns even though it’s probably the best way to rebuild my technique
  • drinking a beer instead of a cup of coffee
  • drinking a cup of coffee instead of a glass of water
  • eating a cookie instead of drinking a glass of water
  • the above-mentioned things I’ve chosen not to bother with learning to understand, such as basic soldering technique, personal financial management, Japanese polite speech and anything above junior-high-level kanji, why my girlfriends cry so much, how to sew, and exactly how the hell the software that supports Taido/Blog actually works.

A lot of the above just comes down to my personal level of self-discipline, but for someone who considers himself to be a student and seeker of applicable knowledge, the existence of that last category really makes me uncomfortable. I realize this now, only a few days after Anthony mentions my name in a post about “people who can think” alongside Richard Feynman. I feel that this category exists, in part, because I’m aware that there are other people whose knowledge I can employ without having to develop my own. But can we really rent understanding? I would venture not.

Willful Ignorance In Taido

Of course, this question is also applicable to Taido. How often do we simply take at face value the basic skills and concepts that make up our art? Too often, I think. I had a discussion after the Tama Taikai last weekend with Watanabe Sensei from the Takushoku Uni Taido Club about reasons for blocking at jodan rather than chudan in sentaizuki. We discussed this for about ten minutes as we ate and drank. I’m not trying to make myself sound like an intellectual badass, but I wonder how many people actually have taken the time to consider where to block in sentai and why. And there are thousands of such details about Taido (40 years’ worth of development) which we could benefit from analyzing.

Now I’m not suggesting that we should make life hell on our instructors by questioning every detail of every movement they try to teach us. What I’m really saying is that we should consider these things for ourselves rather than simply relying on the knowledge we receive from others to bring us true understanding. Perhaps it’s impossible to think deeply about every detail, and I’m not suggesting that it’s necessary or desirable. Much of the time spent in attempting such an exercise would be better spent actually practicing movements. However, it must be said that the more we practice various modes of thought, the more efficient and effective we become in applying them to various problems and ideas.

So after spending ten minutes this week discussing one seemingly very specific issue about sentaizuki, I have learned one thing, yes, but I have also improved my capability to learn similar things. In dissecting the reasons for blocking at a certain level in a certain technique, I added to my set of mental tools. Specifically, I’ve increased my understanding of the entire sentai family of movement and of blocking technique. Both of these could potentially be applied to any number of applications in Taido.

So I guess the point of this whole post is just to ask you to be aware of those aspects of your Taido practice of which you are engaging in willful ignorance. Maybe spend a few minutes thinking about how that affects your experience of Taido and contribution to Taido. Of course, any value judgments are yours to make. I’m simply asking you to consider it. And now I’m off to learn more about my blogging software.

2006 Tama Taikai

The annual Tama Taikai is a regional tournament held in Higashi-Kurume. Participants include much of West Tokyo and parts of Saitama, Kanagawa, and Yamanashi Prefectures. It’s one of the larger “local” events, and considered kind of a warm-up for more more serious events at the end of summer which determine the teams for the four national events held each fall. This year, the Tama took place on 25 June – one day after my birthday.

This was my second year representing the Yokohama dojo at the Tama Taikai, and I was determined to do better than I did my first time around.

Why I wasn’t so happy about my first Tama

Because I did the wrong damn hokei. In Japanese tournaments, there is usually a stipulation in individual hokei that competitors must perform a specific form for the first round or two. Last year I had bad information. I was told that the first and second rounds were going to be sentai. My sentai is pretty good, and I won the first round easily. I also got to see the guy I would perform against in the second round – a guy named Mori who happens to be very good, but his sentai was mediocre. I was pretty confident that I would advance to the next round and lose tentai for lack of nenchu.

But it didn’t turn out that way. Mori and I started our hokei, and it wasn’t long before everyone was looking around wondering what was going on. Actually, we were the first match of the second round, so nobody could be sure who was right and who was going to lose, but I was doing sentai, and mori was doing tentai. Mori’s tentai is damn good (good enough to place in last year’s all-Japan). At that point, I just relaxed, knowing that performance would not be a factor in victory or loss – it would simply be a matter of who was doing the right hokei.

As it turns out, the tourney committee and judges had decided earlier in the day to make sentai compulsory for only the first round. They had not bothered to tell but a few of the competitors. I lost because sentai just does not look too impressive next to a clean tentai. I was a little bummed about it.

My other event that day was team jissen. I won my match, but was alas the only person on my team to win a match. We lost, and so I finished the Tama Taikai slightly disappointed with my outcome. What can I say? It’s more fun to place highly than to lose in the early rounds.

This Year

When we arrived at the venue, one of the first people I saw was a very disoriented Sakamoto Takumi, whose girlfriend I accidently hit on in Australia (well, it wasn’t an accident, but I didn’t know they were together… Anyway, he and I made up, and now we’re friends). He had come with the team from Yamanashi, which means that he had probably been in a car for three or four hours. We made the rounds, playing stupid pranks on everyone until it was time for the first events.

Yokohama had a larger team than we did last year, and I haven’t been practicing much, so I decided that I would just compete in the team jissen since each dojo only gets a certain number of openings. My team this year was looking much stronger than the year before, and I got tagged with sengi (probably my strongest technique) rather than hengi (probably my weakest technique). I was feeling much more confident this time, though I knew we faced some stiff competition from the Yamanashi and Higashi-Murayama teams.

My team won our first game against one of the teams form Takushoku Uni. I probably could have done a little better – my match was a draw. I had some ideas I wanted to try, and as a result I ended up missing a few opportunities to win. Knowing that we had more points gave me the chance to play a bit.

We lost our second game to the team that went on to win first place. We actually had even points, but the judges gave the game to Yamanashi based on “contents,” which means that Yamanashi showed “better” Taido even though they couldn’t score. I lost my own match to a pretty strong opponent, but it was a lot of fun. We were both trying some creative things and basically throwing our bodies around in every direction.

At that point our team was out of the running, but the Yokohama dojo still did all right in the individual events. Daikuhara took second in men’s hokei. Sano won women’s hokei (despite a bit of screw up in the final match, she was obviously better than her opponent). Kota won the children’s hokei. Nakajo and Takatsuna started out strong in jissen, but ended up injuring themselves in their second round matches. Oe played around with using sokuchu and gainers as unshin and looked really cool losing his jissen matches.

Finding Your Strengths

I realized at this event that our dojo just does not perform our best in competition. I think this is somewhat psychological, but I’m sure that the fact that we are a shakaijin dojo (meaning the majority of our students and instructors are adults with jobs and practice an average of once a week or less) is also a contributing factor. Most of the competitors in this event (and indeed most of the Taido students in Japan) are college students who practice an average of ten to fifteen hours a week or more.

So what can you do? You have to figure out what you’re good at. We at Yokohama Taido are good at drinking, so after the tournament ended, we headed to Shinjuku for some eats and bev (emphasis on the latter).

Watanabe Sensei (who taught Chiba and Oe when they were students at Takushoku Uni) joined us as well. I always enjoy hanging and talking about Taido with Watanabe because he and I have a lot in common in our approaches to Taido, even though the results we get are usually quite different. We were also joined by several of our dojomates who haven’t been able to come to practices lately, but came to watch the tournament. I used to have a bit of a crush on one of them, so it was nice getting to hang out…

… And then, as always, the long, lonely train ride back to the armpit of Japan, which I’m sure I will miss severely when I leave.

Anyway, this wasn’t the kind of event that sparked a new perspective on Taido, the universe, and everything, but it was still fun. Our dojo didn’t win very many medals, but we did have a nice time and managed to look pretty good in the process. Even though I did better jissen on the practice courts than I did during my matches, I gave two national team members a good run for their money. Best of all, I got to see a lot of people whom I really like end even share a few drinks with some of them.