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.

Opportunities and Liabilities

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

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

8 Kyo – Chances to Attack

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

5 Suki – Weaknesses

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

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

Let’s begin with the opportunities:

Just Before an Attack

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

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

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

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

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

Just After (or even during) a Move

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

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

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

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

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

Just After a Missed Attack

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

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

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

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

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

During a Loss of Balance

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

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

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

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

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

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

During a Loss of Attention

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

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

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

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

During a Shortness of Breath

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

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

By Recognition of Pattern

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

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

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

By Recognition of Fear

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

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

And now for the liabilities:

Failure to Maintain a Calm Focus

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

Failure to Keep your Mind and Body Prepared for Action

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

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

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

Failure to Choose your Actions Carefully

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

Failure to Adapt to your Environment

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

Negative Repetitions

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

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

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

Now, use it

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