What Makes US Taido Karate Unique?

This is an article that I originally wrote at the request of the Finnish Taido Kamae Magazine. While by no means exhaustive, I believe it’s a good background on what sets American Taido apart from that practiced elsewhere. Since only a Finnish translation will actually be published, I’m posting it here for the benefit of Taidoka in English-speaking countries.

Taido in America is very different from Taido anywhere else in the world.

Though based on the same original principles as those taught in other countries, American Taido has developed under a unique set of circumstances which has led it to become its own entity. In many ways it even looks different from the Taido practiced elsewhere.

In order to understand what makes American Taido what it is, it’s necessary to know a little of its history.

We in America owe our knowledge of Taido to a man named Uchida Mitsunobu. Having practiced karate in high school, Uchida studied Taido for two years in university before coming to America as an exchange student in 1972. After graduation, he returned to Japan to earn 4dan renshi and Shukumine Sensei’s permission to spread Taido in America.

By 1975, he decided to build his school in Atlanta, Georgia. Since there were few municipal gyms like those in Japan and Europe, Uchida had no choice but to open and promote his school as a commercial venture. It has been his full-time job ever since.

Since Uchida originally incorporated Taido as a business, expansion to multiple locations has always seemed like a financial risk to him. Instead, he’s focussed on building one large dojo, and with well over three hundred students, it’s probably the largest Taido dojo in the world. There are great advantages to this. American Taido students have a dedicated facility with a full-time instruction staff consisting of Uchida, his son Mitsuaki, and one more instructor. Children and Adults have beginning and advanced classes available six days a week. Plus, the large number of students provides a huge community of support that feels much like family.

On the negative side, Taido has to turn a profit to continue operating. Students pay a tuition that covers not only the rent and upkeep on the facility, but also the livelihoods of the instruction staff and their families. In order to accommodate over three hundred students in a weekly schedule, classes run only about forty-five minutes and include up to forty students on a floor only slightly larger than a standard jissen court. This makes hokei training difficult, and jissen practice is only available once or twice each week.

Still, the school has attracted a dedicated following and continues to grow.

In some respects, American Taido looks like Taido’s past. When Taido was young, most of the instructors had backgrounds in karate or another martial art and taught their classes in a similar fashion. However, as younger generations began teaching, hokei and jissen came to occupy a larger proportion of the training. Owing to Uchida’s karate background and the limited space available to each student, the daily training in America is very focused on kihon. Students typically warm up with some calisthenics before proceeding to spend the rest of the allotted time period working on a technique or combination such as sentai-shajogeri.

Uchida’s long absence from training in Japan is also evident in the curriculum. In America, students still learn untai first. In fact, the untai no hokei practiced in America is the old version which was later adapted to created unin no hokei. Untai’s direct movement is simpler and made more sense to those with prior training in karate. When Uchida left Japan, there were no -in hokei yet. Also no katsumei, enmei, or -sei hokei. Taii no hokei was the only “advanced” hokei and necessary for promotion to 3dan. As a result, most Americans in the past learned only five or six hokei. Recently, the -in hokei are being introduced to more young women and black belts.

All of this isn’t to imply that Taido has stagnated for thirty years in America. On the contrary, it has been evolving in its own way. On the whole, I believe American Taido teaches a more combat-specific style of Taido than anywhere else in the world. Americans equate the martial arts with fighting, so any successful dojo is going to have to address topics such as self-defense and (since the UFC became popular) Mixed Martial Arts competition. As a result, students also practice techniques derived from Jiu Jutsu, wrestling, and Muay Thai. In recent years, grappling has become an important part of the curriculum for serious students.

Despite the emphasis on fighting in some segments of the student body, most students will never compete in a tournament or even learn to be at all proficient in jissen. The vast majority of students are under the age of eighteen, and many are in the four to eleven range. On the other end of the spectrum, there are a number of parents and older adults ranging in age from forty to over sixty years. Unfortunately, there are relatively few students in between those ages. While many high school students enroll in classes, very few reach shodan unless they began as children. Even then, most of them never return to practice after beginning university.

Still, as long as new students continue to become interested in Taido, the school will probably keep growing. Of course, this article has only addressed the headquarters location in Atlanta. There are also one other small dojo in Florida and the university club I started at Georgia Tech ten years ago. However, both of these locations consist of only between twenty to thirty students each, and this article is already too long.

At any rate, American Taido is certainly an interesting phenomenon – a very unique piece of the Taido universe, small as it is. I feel that, just as every other dojo could, we Americans could stand to improve our Taido in a number of ways. But on the other hand, there are few things that we get very, very right.

Most importantly, American Taido is still a work in progress, and its students continue to experiment with ways to make Taido best suit their unique situation.

6 thoughts on “What Makes US Taido Karate Unique?”

  1. fosset sensei,

    I respect you a lot but I feel that you are incorrect on the class curriculum that is ussualy taught.

    I have not been teaching very long ( about 2 years) but in my experience, after the kihongi, uchida sensei will split the students up into groups based upon the color of their belts. And in those groups the students will learn and and practice the requirements in order to pass their next test. That does include techniques but almost every time they practice at least one hokei. I know because I am ussually judging the hokei.

    This form of teaching is not only taught to the begginners but also to the very advanced students as well. I do not know if you are familiar with the kishi kai class which is meant for blacks and brown blacks. It was created about a year and a half ago. In that class we also warm up with kihongi but we also practice unsoku no goho, oyowaza, and kanrenwaza. Once in a while we will do compound techniques but otherwise we will split up into two groups ( the black belts and the brown black belts). The black belts will practice advanced hokeis such as the in hokeis with Mitsauki sensei, while the brown black belts will practice the tai hokeis and perform a rigourous workout with Dumont sensei.

    I also must disagree with you about the order in which the hokeis were taught by shukimine sensei. I was told that he taught sen first and un second, but because un was easier than sen, some of the high blackbelts asked shukumine to make a harder untai no hokei. Thus came the birth of shin untai no hokei.

    I also believe that you have failed to mention that United States Taido is the only taido that teaches the all the hokeis to both sexes, instead of the -ins being taught to the girls and the -tais being taught to the guys. The only reason why the girls are learning and henin and tenin before black belt is so that they can compete in an international tournament if needed.

    Other than those details I agree with you the whole way. I hope that you come to the Atlanta honbu soon so that we can discuss the matter further.

  2. Rahul:

    Thanks for your comment.

    If classes are now run in the manner you suggest, it is certainly an improvement over what I witnessed during my last visits in late 2006 to early 2007. That’s really wonderful, and I’m glad hokei is now a major part of the curriculum. I do want to reiterate that practicing complete hokei with the proper mindset is quite a different beast from practicing the movements step-by-step. However, if this is happening, then I am very glad to hear it.

    Just to be clear:

    • Kishi Kai began in America at least twenty years ago. I was the first member under the age of eighteen, and I’m glad it’s been resurrected.
    • The -in hokei are not “advanced.” They practice different aspects of the 5 Taido movements than the -tai hokei. Both sets actually comprise complementary halves of Taido’s movement pallet.
    • I wouldn’t necessarily say that America is the only place that teaches both -tai and -in hokei to both sexes. This practice is encouraged for black belts in most dojo that I’m aware of.

    In any event, thanks for taking the time to offer your opinions and insights. On a personal note, I’m really proud of what you and the other young black belts in American Taido have accomplished in the past couple of years. Keep working at it. I look forward to meeting you all again some day soon.

  3. Howdy,

    just dropped in to see if Andy had posted anything new. Two things.

    1) A comment on the hokei/gender thing. In Finland, and I’m pretty sure in Sweden as well (don’t know about other European countries), both in and tai hokei are not only taught, but required from both men and women. I, for example, am ikkyu and male, and am able to perform all of the in/tai hokei, in addition to a few others. The formal grading requirements in Finland go something like this:
    blue belt – sen in OR sen tai
    green – sen in, sen tai, un in OR un tai
    2. kyu – sen in, sen tai, un in, un tai, hen in OR hen tai
    1. kyu – sen in, sen tai, un in, un tai, hen in, hen tai, nen in OR nen tai
    shodan – all of the 10 in/tai hokeis.

    2) Andy, you write in the article that there are taido dojo in Atlanta, Florida and Georgia. Some time ago, I was reading an MA discussion board and happened to see a mention of a Gensei ryu school in America that also taught taido. The writer was in LA, but didn’t say where the gensei ryu school was Iocated. I wonder if this school is one of the schools you wrote about, or is it a fourth one.

    Kind regards,
    Miika Heino
    Turku, Finland

  4. Miika:

    Thanks for the note. As for posting anything new, I really am working on it. I have a lot of in-progress articles, and some of them are very close to ready. Honestly, I have no good excuse for not posting more often – none except for this: life is busy. Please keep checking…

    Your first comment confirms what I had thought. In Japan, both sets of hokei are not formally required, but it is encouraged for black belts to learn them all. I’m glad that Finland is taking a lead in requiring all of them.

    As for a fourth Taido dojo, I can’t say I know anything for sure. I know that there was a man teaching Taido in California about 30 years ago, but he is now in Australia and not affiliated with Taido. If a Gensei school is currently teaching Taido in LA, they are doing so without accreditation by any formal Taido organization. Certainly, nobody from WTF or Honin has mentioned such a dojo. I’m interested in finding out more about this.

    Again, thanks for chiming in about the curriculum in Finland.

  5. First of all, thanks for the insightful article even with all those possible flaws there may be. But, there is still some information I would like to know about the subject matter and this is probably the best place to ask.

    My main cause of surprise is the observation that American taidokas don’t seem to wear hakama and taido-gi but instead an outfit similar to karate-gi (according to the material I have seen around the Internet). I would like to know the reason for that. Some students also seem to wear black pants instead of the usual white. Does this indicate something?

    Another thing that keeps me in confusion is the belt system. There seems to be white red, brown black, purple green, yellow gold and what else. It’s all so puzzling and complicated compared to the Finnish system as posted by Miika above. Besides that many young students seem to have brown belts, which made me think about the time required to achieve black belt. Additionally, the requirements for achieving a higher grade interest me. What do you usually need to present when attending shinsa? Kihon, -tai/-in hokei, more complicated hokeis such as -mei hokei, kobo, perhaps even jissen?

    I have more questions that still require answers, but this may not be the right time and place for them as they don’t have much to do with those two issues.

    Finally, I would like to thank you for this great source of taido information. I discovered this site only few days ago and it has already proven to be hugely illuminating and helpful!

    Greetings from Finland!
    VP Turpeinen

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