The Rest of Taido/Blog

Lots of people use this site as a resource for learning technical details and Taido theory. I think that’s spectacularly good, but there’s more to Taido than memorizing the gojokun and watching videos of hokei from some tournament five years ago. Sometimes even just training isn’t enough unless we keep a clear view of the big picture.

There’s a whole other side of Taido: the soul side.

I’ve collected some of my favorite articles about Taido’s soul – the stuff that makes Taido fun and worthwhile. Without the soul, this is just another hobby. Reading through these articles will get you thinking about what Taido really means to you.

Does thinking replace practice? No. But nor can practice replace thinking. To really get the most out of this Taido thing, you need to do both.

The Rest of Taido/Blog is about 50 pages worth of thinking that will enrich your practice. You’ll get a link to download it for free, immediately after you sign up via the form below.

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Genkaku: What’s the Point?

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

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

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

What’s the Point of Genkaku?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Then we got

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

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

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

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

So what do you think?

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

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

Any ideas?

Point of View in Tournament Judging

In my last post, Bad Calls in Taido Tournaments, I charged that we have too many bad calls in Taido tournaments and that this has many negative impacts for our art. In order to illustrate my point, I displayed a video taken from the most recent Taido World Championship.

The video seemed to strike a nerve with a lot of people. That’s a good thing, as it clearly shows a player receiving a point for a technique that totally failed to connect with its target. There were a lot of good comments and emails, and I’ve been able to speak to a few people about it in person too. Good stuff, and I think that we need to have open dialogue about such things.

What This is Really About

Of course, my goal is to get people discussing how Taido tournaments operate and thinking about ways to improve it. I went into more detail on why this is important in the last post, but to summarize: bad tournaments can kill a martial art.

Although I posted a video of a jissen match, I don’t think jissen is the only place where we have problems. Hokei judging is just as bad. Gratuitous and pointless gymnastics are valued more highly than tournament judges than things like punches and kicks.

A Necessary Tangent

Since the particular video sparked some discussion and debate, I’m going to go slightly off-topic here and address the specific match.

Here’s the deal: Kaneko won. He won for a point he should not have gotten, but he did have more strikes in general and got hit the least. He won the match. Though Kohonen moved better, hiss attacks did not connect as well as Kaneko’s did. He also got hit by several attacks (that weren’t quite enough to get scored). He lost.

And I don’t really care.

The thing that bothers me is not the outcome of the match. The thing that bothers me is that a bad technique got a wazaari in a major tournament. I can be totally confident to call the kick in question a bad technique for a few reasons:

  1. It didn’t strike the target.
  2. It was very low – gedan senjo. It was clearly not nentaigeri because Kaneko’s body never tilted (well, at least not until he fell).
  3. Kaneko completed his technique sitting on the floor. He stood quickly, but he was not in control of his balance.
  4. Even if it had made some contact, it would have been a glancing blow off the shoulder. Such a technique should never get wazaari.

In this case, if Korhonen has simply stayed put and not attempted to duck the kick, he would have been kicked in the leg. Kaneko clearly bends his non-kicking leg in order to kick lower. He does this because he sees Korhonen begin his fukuteki. The only problem with that is the rule that you cannot kick someone who is touching the ground.

Assuming that the kick actually hit its target, what kind of contact would we be talking about? A glancing blow off the shoulder of an opponent who clearly saw the oncoming attack and made moves to defend himself. This is not the definition of a wazaari. At best, this kick (if it had made contact) should have received a yuko.

End tangent. Here’s what I really want to bring up today:

Point of View

Point of view is tricky. I’m always reminded of the old saying,

Opinions are like assholes. Everybody has one, and they all stink.

Point of view is important because no two points of view will see the same thing. This can cause all kinds of problems when trying to judge something like Taido’s jissen. Especially in an art that is built on the premise of moving in a three-dimensional space, it seems to me that two judges would simply not be adequate. Kicks can come from any directions, and their delivery is often obscured by body movement. Taido techniques should flow smoothly with the movements of the target. This can make them difficult to see.

It seems almost a given that more than two judges would be required to cover a huge court from all possible angles. The competitors are expected to cover the court form all angles, so we should definitely hope the judges can too. The two judges we use currently stand at the front of the court and the rear corner. At minimum, there is one whole side of the court that is barely (if at all) visible to the judges. This is an important point of view that gets neglected in our current system.

Let’s return to the match between Kaneko and Kohonen to get a better idea of why point of view is important. I’ll post it here again for reference:

Look at where the judges are standing in the video. They are lined up at opposite corners, with the players between them. After stopping the match, the main judge calls a time out and summons the second judge. At the time of the kick, the main judge could not see the strike from his point of view. Korhonen was between the kick and the judge.

I saw one video of the Kaneko / Korhonen match filmed from the fukushin’s point of view. In that video, it appear as if the kick makes contact with Korhonen’s shoulder as he ducks. I still don’t think this would deserve a wazaari, but I can see from the fukushin’s point of view that it looks like the kick connected somewhat.

OK, so here’s a third point of view. This is the angle from which a third judge might have been able to view the match and make a better call:

As you can see, form this angle, it’s also clear that the kick did not connect in a way that should receive a score, much less a half point.

Again, my purpose is not to dispute the results of the the WTC. I think Kaneko won the match. However, if it were just one match, nobody would care. The truth of the matter is that this happens far too often, and it hurts Taido.

There are things we can do to make our judging more fair and less biased. In jissen, increasing the number of points of view from which we judge is a fairly simple one. Adding one more judge doesn’t require any kind of equipment or additional training. It’s as simple as saying, “Hey you. Go stand over there and tell us if someone gets hit.”

Incidentally, point of view is not only a problem in jissen. Bad points of view can be a serious issue in tenkai since each player has a dedicated judge who sits in a fixed position. In hokei competition, the judges have an excellent point of view for the kiai portions of the hokei, but have almost no way of telling whether or not the other kicks and punches land on the line. Perhaps moving the two fukushin closer to the corners would improve this situation, or maybe there should be a dedicated side-line judge who watches only for this.

Point of view is tricky when the thing being viewed includes fast movements in many directions over a wide area. Addressing this issue might be one of the highest leverage changes we can make to improve our tournament system without having to resort to any drastic measures.

Bad Calls in Taido Tournaments

From the 2009 world Taido championships:

Kanaeko, the Japanese player, received a score for a kick which obviously missed his opponent. Antti, the Finnish player, displayed much better movement during the match, yet lost on a bad call. Adding insult to injury, Kaneko went on to win first place and yet another gold medal.

There’s no getting around it: if you have tournaments, you will have controversial decisions by judges. It’s simply not possible to please everyone, and even the best judges make mistakes.

However, some calls are just bad. They’re obviously bad, and this hurts Taido.

I’m not going to be writing a lot about how to improve judging in this article. Fixing Taido tournaments is task that I’m not up to accomplishing this morning. So before I get ahead of myself, I want to limit the scope of this post. I’m going to refrain from offering any solutions here. Not today at least. I’m also going to hold off on describing the various kinds of poor judging and bad calls. I’m not even going to give any examples other than the one in the video above.

This article is about just one thing: why reducing the number of bad calls in Taido tournaments needs to be a major priority for all of us.

What is a “Bad Call?”

For our purposes here, a bad call is any time a judge makes a major fuck up. That can mean giving a score for a non-connecting technique, failing to give a score for a worthy technique, showing an obvious bias for a particular competitor or team, or otherwise deciding in opposition to the facts of the match.

Things that I won’t classify as bad calls: scoring discrepancies in hokei matches and decisions in matches where neither competitor displays quality technique. It’s difficult to see everything when judging hokei, and that’s why we have three judges whose scores carry equal weight. As for the latter case, I can think of very little more difficult than judging low-level jissen matches in which both competitors show a total lack of understanding of unsoku and distance. As such, I tend to be lenient on judges in that situation. Honestly, those calls never affect the results of a tournament, as neither player has any real chance of winning anyway.

In tournaments, there are going to be winners and losers. There will also be losers who thought they should have been winners. This is a natural state of affairs that cannot be avoided in competition. What we can hope to minimize is the number of times we let bad calls hurt our art.

Who Loses When a Judge Makes a Bad Call?

Simply put: everyone loses. Here’s a brief look at the how various people are negatively affected by bad judging calls in tournaments:

  • The Winner – A player who wins due to ill-gotten points receives reinforcement that his performance is correct and worthy of a win. He has less motivation to improve than if he had lost.
  • The Loser – A player who knows he was robbed of a point will feel disenchanted and resentful. Tournaments can lose their appeal after a bad experience like this.
  • The Judge – A judge who consistently makes bad calls gets a bad reputation and loses the respect of his own students and those from other dojo.
  • The Audience – The spectators who witness bad judging decisions are often confused about the rules and scoring system. As a result, they conclude that Taido doesn’t make sense or is generally bullshit.
  • The Organization – An organization that certifies poor judges cannot retain the respect of its students. Any organization that hosts tournaments should be aware that the quality of judging is one of the very most important factors in creating an event people remember fondly. Further, an organization that cannot uphold solid rules invites politics.
  • The Art – When outsiders see videos of Taido tournaments, they judge our art based on what they see. Most of the videos we present are taken in tournaments, which means that people will judge us based on the quality of our competitions. Advertising our bad calls to outsiders gives Taido a bad reputation.

In other words, nobody is immune from the negative effects of bad calls in tournaments. It is not a minor issue as it affects, not only how current competitors feel about their participation, but also how prospective students view our art. If Taido cannot get it’s tournament system to work at a higher level, we will be unable to attract new students in the future.

Judging Tournaments in the US

I should mention that every Taido organization has a somewhat different system for handling their competitions and judge training. Since I live in Japan, a lot of my criticisms are directed mainly at Japanese judges. However, bad calls at the 5th WTC were not limited to Japanese judges.

Most of my judging experience was in America. We didn’t have many tournaments when I trained and taught in the States, but we took them extremely seriously when we held them.

Uchida Sensei understood that tournaments we not only for the benefit of the school and the competitors, but also for the parents, friends, and spectators. He made sure that each judge knew it too. Before every tournament, we would have several meetings and seminars for the judging staff covering every aspect of judging, from rules, to scoring, to making calls and giving on-court instructions. He wanted all of us to represent Taido in the best possible way so we could inspire the competitors and earn the respect of the spectators.

Not so say that we didn’t make bad calls. My point in relating this is to say that, in US tournaments, we were keenly aware that bad calls could destroy the tournament and have negative consequences for our school and students. We worked very hard to minimize that possibility.

Let’s Make this a Priority

That’s all I’m asking: let’s agree that this is a very serious issue and needs to be addressed by all of us who teach and judge. We need to be working with our organizations to improve our judge training and reduce the numbers of bad calls we make. At the very least, in time for the next world championship (Finland 2013), let’s take some concrete steps to make our tournaments better.

I’ll write more about what I think some of those steps should be next time. I’d love to see your comments.

You’re Probably Stretching Wrong

I’ll get right to the point. Every dojo I’ve ever practiced at does stretches, but very few people at any of these dojo ever seem to get very flexible. There’s a good reason for this: most people are stretching wrong. This article is about stretching right.

Just look at the number of people who have been doing Taido for a few years, yet are still stiff and immobile. If we stretch every time we work out, it seems like we should be able to expect anyone doing Taido to be pretty flexible after a year or so. But this is clearly not the case – in fact, very flexible Taido students and instructors are pretty rare. Most of us are stiff and immobile.

I’m not going to dwell on how ridiculous this is.

Excuses

Of course, there are a lot of excuses. Making excuses is always the easiest way to deal with failure and disappointment. I used to be flexible, but now I’m not as flexible. It’s just because I’m older now – it’s natural. I had a really bad groin pull a few years ago, and I never really got my mobility back.

Maybe those are good excuses, but they don’t make me more flexible. And the standard stretching routine we use in Taido warm-ups hasn’t helped either.

I’d like to suggest that, whatever excuses we may like to use, our standard stretching routines are far from the most effective means of improving flexibility and mobility. Perhaps better methods exist that would allow us to see better results – even despite our favorite excuses.

If It Ain’t Broke…

First, I should probably mention a few of the problems with the way most dojo do their stretching. Now, you might be the exception. Your dojo might do everything right. If so, this article is not for you. It is for the other 95% of Taido students in the world. For the rest of us, it will help to look at some mistakes we may be making.

It’s hard to fix a problem we can’t identify, so let’s take a look at what specific issues we have to address in order to improve our flexibility training.

The “standard” Taido warm-up includes joint mobilization and static stretches. It may be preceded by a minute or two of jogging. I first learned this warm-up as a child in Atlanta and have since seen it done in dojo and at tournaments everywhere I’ve done Taido. Everyone does it because it’s the warm-up they learned from their instructors.

There are two major issues with this routine: time and timing.

Not Stretching Long Enough

I just ran through the old warm-up in my dining room, and it took me all of three and a half minutes. Of course, it may take a little longer with a group of people, but let’s just call it “under five minutes,” for convenience. Shouldn’t that be enough?

Well, no, not really. If you are already in great shape, sure, five minutes is enough to prepare for practice. However, most people need to do extra work to build and maintain flexibility. Think about it: five minutes of stretching, two or three times a week. Do you honestly believe that you can improve your abilities with such a pathetically small amount of work?

We’re going to have to devote more time to stretching.

Stretching Cold

The other issue is timing. Most of the stretching in Taido dojo happens at the beginning of practice. It seems like a good idea to include stretching in the warm-up to prepare the body. That’s not incorrect, but it doesn’t do much to improve our flexibility because our bodies aren’t yet warm enough.

To get the most out of stretching, we need to do it when the muscles are warm and relaxed. It even helps if they are tired. After practice is the obvious chance to take advantage of these conditions. There’s nothing wrong with stretching before class to get ready, but if you’re serious about improving your flexibility, you also need to stretch after class.

If you want to get anything out of your stretches, do them at a time when your body is warm and relaxed.

Fix These Two Things

These two issues – time and timing – are the biggest problems with the standard warm-up. Together, they sabotage our potential for flexibility. I’ll be making more detailed suggestions in another article, but in the meantime, you can improve the results of your stretching by simply stretching more after practice.