Ebigeri: Where to Look

A few days ago, I got an email from one of the students in my email coaching program, and I thought it was worth sharing.

I’ve got a question about this week’s Taido tip, you mentioned that the back should be straight during ebi geri. Why is this, what is the advantage (other than bringing your head in to safety)? I always have it bent because otherwise I’m not able to see my opponent.

Here was my reply:

Good question with lots of good answers.

Mechanically, a straight line from head to heel means that the force of the kick transfers more directly into the target. Experiment: slowly kick a wall with ebigeri that way you normally do, and see where your body absorbs once your foot touches the wall. This is the weakest link in your kick, and I bet it’s your lower back. Keeping your back straight means that the force of the kick has only two places it can be released – the target or the floor, through your arms. Since your hips should be moving toward the target, momentum favors the force going that way.

From the perspective of building good habits, straightening your back will require you to bend your stationary knee further, which is good for balance and stability. The knee also helps you gauge how straight you are; if the knee is bent, you can tell how far it has turned, but this is more difficult if the knee straightens while turning. I don’t know why, but that’s just the way those mechanoreceptors work.

As for looking… are you fucking kidding me? If your ebigeri is so slow that you have to watch while you’re kicking, you’re not going to hit anything anyway. Here’s the funny thing though: looking at your kick will actually decrease your accuracy. The simple truth is that your brain doesn’t process an upside-down world very well and has a hard time adjusting to what you see. You’re far better off to look at the floor and focus on lengthening your spine. Aim before you kick. Aim where the target is about to be. Kick fast.

Of course, that means that line and target training are all the more important. Lots of people look at their kick in ebi, but that doesn’t make it ideal. Proper body mechanics are the highest law of technique.

Followup from the student:

Thanks for the answers!

By the way, right now I don´t look for aiming purposes; I look to see my opponent. If he does kosuku for instance, that means that I have to get up at a different angle so that I immediately face my opponent – or he will be at my flank.

Or is speed again the answer, kicking and getting back up and doing so faster than the opponent can do a kosuku…?

My reply:

I see where you’re coming from. Consider the fact that nobody throws ebi as an attack in jissen. There’s a good reason. It doesn’t work very well, and this is part of the reason. Ebi is a straight line technique that Shukumine created for defending against a charging opponent in a confined space. When unsoku isn’t an option, ebi is a good defense, but it’s not really viable as offense (you’re turning a portion of your momentum away from the target after all).

In some ways, yes, speed is a factor in what you describe. A fast ebi really shouldn’t give the opponent much time to move. Beyond that, you should get in the habit of executing techniques that are directed where the opponent is heading to, not where he already is. This means attacking within the flow of unsoku instead of after a step is complete. One of the many benefits being that, if you know where he’s about to be, you don’t necessarily have so see him all the time (though seeing is good – it’s not not required for the entire movement).

The reason I wanted to share this is because, as I wrote above, a LOT of people do ebi this way, while looking at the kick. I want to emphasize that, in 99 cases out of a hundred, I really do recommend keeping your eye “on the ball” while kicking. It’s just a good idea in general, but every rule has exceptions, and this is one of them.

The main point here is about mechanics. Good mechanics are what makes any technique work.

Taido is perhaps most accurately translated into English as the art of the body. It only makes sense that we way he use our bodies is going to have a big impact on how well we are able to perform Taido. What’s less obvious is that there are at least two levels on which this is true: the mechanics of the technical (punching and kicking) movements and the overall mechanics of human physiology. Good technique requires that both be sound.

Technical Mechanics

Technical mechanics are spelled out in Taido Gairon, specifically the chapter on doko, which appropriately could be translated as “how to move.” This includes the doko5kai – five principles of mechanics for each of the basic techniques (which I’ve outlined here: sentai, untai, hentai, nentai, and tentai).

The technical mechanics are unique to Taido and differ from one technique to the next. Furthermore, their execution may differ among techniques even of the same general class. For example, the instruction kihatsu seisoku for ungi suggests that the be careful with your rear (kicking or lifting) leg so the opponent can’t stop your technique. This applies to all ungi, but its application will take different forms in standing techniques versus jumping technique.

General Mechanics

By general body mechanics, I’m referring to the natural structure and movement of the human body. We can call it physiology, biomehcanics, or really any number of things, but the point is that the body is built in a certain way that favors certain types of movements and positions over others. There are limits to how we can move without injuring ourselves. There are also ways to move that produce greater force than others. I’m oversimplifying, but you get the picture.

General mechanics are not very thoroughly spelled out in Taido texts, possibly because they are universal. However, being universal doesn’t mean that most people practicing Taido understand or demonstrate them well. For example, though we all know that posture is important, few of us have consistently good posture. But good mechanics go far beyond good posture and extend to correct alignment and use of all our joints. It takes practice, and that’s the trouble: when we practice Taido, we want to practice techniques, hokei, and jissen – not some kind of abstract poise, or use (as the Alexander folks call it).

So we tend to ignore, or at least gloss over, the issues of body mechanics in our practice, because we want to prioritize our training time for Taido. And that’s really OK for rainbow belts. Taido is complex, with a lot of movements and ideas to internalize. But then we have to work even harder to relearn everything with good mechanics later.

Back to Ebigeri

Anyway, to return to the original discussion, check out this video from the finals of the 2009 World Taido Championships. Nakano and Pylvainen both have fantastic body mechanics all around, but specifically pay attention to how straight their backs are when they kick tentai ebigeri after the first kiai – direct line from head to heel.

That’s what we should all strive to look like when performing this kick.

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.

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.

Shooting Dice

I sometimes play a game with dice – I call it “the random new technique game”, and I’m going to outline it here so you can experiment with similar ideas.

Using a random modifier such as a die or a deck of cards is nothing new, and I’ve heard lots of stories about different versions used for workouts and games in sports training situations. Here’s one such example:

I used to do a workout with a friend in which we would split a card deck into two halves and deal exercises to each other. Hearts were push-ups, clubs were sit-ups, diamonds were squats, and spades were chin-ups. The number of the card told us how many to perform. It was always fun watching his facial expressions when I would save all my kings for last…

One interesting aspect of Taido is the unsoku, sotai, seiho, kimegi, gentai framework to the techniques. It gives a somewhat modular quality to technical composition and suggests that there are many more possible combinations than those frequently taught in classes.

I actually first learned about modular systems when I was studying about old, analog music synthesizers and was struck by the convention for these musical instruments to be described using flowcharts. The components of many old synths can be arranged in various orders with varying degrees of feedback to create new and interesting sounds.

A few days later, I was flipping through some Taido notes and noticed that the technique process was also a flowchart. I decided to try Taido technique as a modular process and see if I could find some new and interesting techniques. After a few hours of experimenting, I had made several pages of notes. I decided that I needed a neater way to list all the possibilities I had found, so I made up a simple chart. Eventually, I started rolling a die to choose values randomly from each column, and “the random new technique game” was born.

Play the Game

My original version of this dice game began with rolling a die several times:

roll 1:

1/2=unsoku, 3/4=unshin, 5/6=both

roll 2a:

1=so/in, 2=ka/gen, 3=ko/ten, 4=tsui/tai, 5=henka, 6=hengen (roll again, even/odd to choose)

roll 2b:

1=zenten (handspring), 2=koten, 3=shazenten, 4=bakuten, 5=sokuten (sokuchu), 6=bakuchu

roll 3:

1=sen, 2=un, 3=hen, 4=nen, 5=ten, 6=2nd unsoku/unshin (back to roll 1)

roll 4:

1=jun, 2=gyaku, 3=ushiro, 4=tobi/tobikomi, 5=2noashi, 6=fukuteki

roll 5:

1=punch, 2=strike, 3=kick, 4=takedown/throw, 5=grab/joint, 6=2nd sotai (back to roll 4)

To play the game, you simply roll once for each variable, and the number tells you what value to insert. For instance, I may roll 3, 2, 6, 4, 4, 3, 4 (since the third roll called for another unshin, I had to roll seven times). According to the chart above, that means “koten, bakuten, tentai ushiro takedown/throw”. Now my job is to figure out a way to move which matches that description. The simplest application in this instance would probably be koten, bakuten dogarami.

I once rolled 1, 1, 3, 5, 1, 6, 4, 4, 3 – unsoku, so/in (in), tentai, jun, 2nd sotai, nentai, tobi, kick. Combining the ten/nen inspired my favorite personal dice-game creation so far: a tobi jun nentai keri from in-soku; it looks sort of like a cross between a 90-degree hangetsu and sokuchu and seems to come out of nowhere when I use it in jissen.

Sometimes, I roll a combination that I have practiced before. Sometimes I roll a combination that seems impossible. Every roll teaches me something new about taido, and as a result, my thinking about taido technique is incredibly fluid. Though my body can’t always keep up, my brain never gets “stuck” for creative inspiration in technique creation. Playing games like this with taido gives me an infinite pool of possible combinations with which to challenge my imagination and technical ability.

Anyway, give it a shot. Come up with your own variations. I’d love to hear about other random modifiers people have used for creative taido practices. Dave in Australia told me a few days ago that they had used cards to randomize their jissen practice by drawing cards to decide which techniques to use for offense/defense, etc. That’s a good idea that I plan to try sometime.

I’d especially love to hear if anyone comes up with usable shingi by this method. Try it, and let me know what you think.

A Software Version?

A couple of years ago, I asked a student who is a programmer to design a simple random technique generator based on my dice game. I gave him a request that would allow for the following variables:

  1. unsoku, unshin, or some combination
  2. optional initial sotai for movement
  3. direction – front, back, jun, gyaku
  4. optional jump, dive, slide, or step
  5. sotai for technique (condition of body during weapon deployment)
  6. weapon – specific punch or kick

My goal was to account for any combination o unsoku/unshin, any single or combined sotai, any direction, any use of seiho, and any strike/kick/other weapon – unsoku, sotai, seiho, kimegi, gentai (and possible iterations) – in an algorithm that could use some sort of serial logic to pull values from a database of movements. Unfortunately, the iterations make the algorithm pretty complex, and my student never got around to finishing the project.

Appeal

If anyone out there can create such a program (and it really shouldn’t be too very hard), I will compensate you for the price of one beer for your troubles. I would love to have such a program executed as a php code that could be run on this site – available freely to taido students around the world. As my primary goal with this website is to inspire creative and critical thinking for continued development and evolution of taido, I can think of very few things that would be more fitting for me to host than a random movement-technique inspiration machine.

So, programmers, get to work! Seriously, I’ll be your best friend if you can make this for me, and i’m good for that beer money too.

Update: See comments for programs submitted by Juha. – thanks, Juha.

Re-update: The tech-gen was completed and integrated into the sidebar for several months, but I lost my edits when I changed Taido/Blog’s cosmetics without backing up first. Anyway, the links to Juha’s version are a good starting point – give them a go.