A Rough Definition

Note: This article makes use of some Japanese characters. If they look like gibberish on your computer, try changing your browser’s text encoding and installing the appropriate language packs. If that doesn’t work, you will just have to use your imagination.

What is Taido?

People often ask me what Taido is. I find this very frustrating. Taido is many things to many people, but it’s certainly not something that can be summed up in a couple of sentences. I’m not even going to try to write an explanation that will satisfy people who don’t already practice Taido.

Instead, I want to work out a kind of definition of the word “Taido.” It’s been done before, but not well (in English anyway). I think everyone who practices Taido for a while makes their own definitions. Perhaps my rough definition can help others define Taido for themselves, or possibly give some new ideas to those who already have their own functional definitions of Taido.

Here’s my thoughts on the meaning of Taido.

躰道 = 躰 + 道 : That’s where the typical definition begins. I think it would serve us better to back up a little first. Before we start dissecting the word “Taido,” let’s take a look at what me mean by “definition.” It may seem like a fruitless mental exercise, but I think it’s important to figure out exactly what we aim to achieve by defining our art.

I’ve argued before that what we do in actual practice is the de facto definition of what our art is – we can’t claim that Taido includes things we don’t practice. Taido only includes what our practice of Taido includes. Thus, though some hokei include ritualized motions that resemble joint manipulations, we cannot say that taido includes kansetsuwaza, because 99% of the students have never practiced applying them.

This is why I make the claim that taido is currently more sport than martial art (though it can be both, it just isn’t right now) in most schools. If we design our practice to prepare students exclusively for the sport-play aspect of the art, then we are only teaching them a sport. When we practice fighting, Taido is a martial art. When we charge students and turn a profit, Taido is a business. Only if we research, hypothesize, experiment, and adjust will Taido be scientific. Taido that doesn’t address the safety of its training practices is unhealthy. These are just a few examples of how what we do effects what Taido is. I think Taido can be many things, but none of them are automatic; we have to walk our talk.

What we do is what we are. How we define the techniques is what they are. We can’t be what we don’t do. This is an important concept to grok.

躰道 = 躰 + 道 ?

Sorry. Still not quite there. Before we can talk about what Taido “is” now, we need to understand how it came to be and where it came from.

Taido is Shukumine’s response to Japanese martial arts (specifically karate) as they existed at the beginning of the 1960s. What was going on that impelled him to break away from the karate establishment (in which he had already founded his Gensei school and been awarded the highest rank)?

I don’t know the answer to this question, though I’ve heard lots of theories. Apparently one of Shukumine’s big points was that it should be possible for a small person to defeat a larger opponent. Apparently, he attempted to make changes to karate tournament rules that would value technique over domination, but others resisted his ideas. This begs a question: did Shukumine expect that a weak person can overcome stronger opponents in real life, or only within tournament play? How we answer this question makes a big difference in Taido’s efficacy as a martial (fighting) art.

In any event, Shukumine went on to create a martial art that was less about punching and kicking, and more about moving the body. Of course, the foundations for these body movements were present in Genseiryu, but the execution is quite different.

We often say that Taido came from Genseiryu. The common perception among Taidoka seems to be that Taido is a further evolution of Gensei. However, I suspect that they are more like siblings than parent and child. Both arts are founded on very similar principles. If those principles are applied to karate, the result is Genseiryu; if the same principles are allowed to expand beyond the fundamental assumptions of karate, Taido emerges. Of course, this is speculative, but it’s a speculation that seems to be shared by several Taidoka who have experience with Genseiryu. I’ve heard it said that Taido and Gensei are two sides of the same coin, and I think this is more accurate than the idea that Taido “comes from” Gensei.

Whatever the causes, The Japan Taido Association was founded in 1965 – just one year after the Tokyo Olympics. I believe this, too, is significant. ‘64 was Judo’s debut as an Olympic sport, and Shukumine often cited as his greatest dream that Taido would also be in the Olympics one day. It’s probably no accident that Taido tournaments are held on Judo courts.

Of course, the Olympics are a sports event, not a fighting event. And we see in Taido tournaments that there is very little that resembles actual combat to any but the most naive observer. Taido may have the potential to be developed as a martial art, but its current incarnation does not address actual combat. Is Taido’s emphasis on sport move away from Budo, whether consciously or not?

Again, I don’t know. I can’t say what was going on in Shukumine’s mind. These are questions that interest me, and they form a context for the best definition I can make for Taido.

躰道 = 躰 + 道

OK. So we’ve got the groundwork in place. Let’s break things down.

It worked in The Sound of Music, so let’s start with “Do.” Of course, everyone knows 道. It has myriad meanings and uses, but in this context, it refers to a martial art as a cultural artifact to be used by a person in a society. All of the martial arts of Japan are considered such by the Japanese. In the case of Taido, we typically have what might be termed a “martial sport.” Of course, making this claim is to define 道 in light of its complement, 術.

Martial arts that are focused on combative applications are typically referred to as “jutsu” (術). A Do is an art that has been adapted for purposes such as sport, physical education, personal development, etc. This is true of all Japanese budo (武道): Judo, Kendo, Kyudo, Iaido, etc. As conceived by its creator, Taido is most assuredly a 道. Thus, while the principles of Taido can applied to combat, Taido practice does not specifically address fighting.

Some people may complement their training of Taido with “taijutsu” (not to be confused with Bujinkan), but these are separate applications of a similar principle (much like the above discussion of Taido vs. Genseiryu). Shukumine was also skilled at kobudo weapons, but these do not appear in Taido. Would it not be fair to say that, though not included in Taido, weapons training is addressed by Shukumine’s martial theories? Thus, various forms of fighting can be addressed by the principles of Taido, yet this does not mean that Taido addresses fighting.

躰 = 身 + 体

身 (mi or shin) refers to the internal body, e.g. that which is encased by the skin. This includes the internal systems: nerves, muscles, fascia, organs, bones. All of the non-visible aspects of the body are included in shin. Without getting metaphysical, it could also be argued that this is where the “self” lives, so the mind and spirit (but not necessarily soul) are sometimes included in Mi.

体 (karada or tai) refers to the external body, e.g. the visible shape and movement of the body. The torso, head, and limbs are obvious parts of karada. However, the movements of those parts are also included, as are all visible aspects of the body. Karada is our (at least physical, but possibly other as well) effect on our environment.

For some reason, I feel like making a nautical analogy. This is odd because I don’t really like boats, and know very little about them. Anyway, Mi would include the engines and controls, the internal structure, and the driver. Karada would include the sails and rudders, the hull, and possibly the wake it creates.

Shukumine conceived Taido as a martial art that would combine positive effects on naiko ( meaning the internal organs and life-sustaining systems) and gaiko (which refers to the external conditions of attack and defense). In other words, Taido is supposed to be an effective martial art (however we decide to define that) that is also healthy for its practitioners.

We can now see that Taido’s 躰 refers to uniting the internal systems with the external form in a single purpose, whether that purpose be defending ourselves from attack, or simply living out our lives. Therefore, 躰道 is a way for bringing both aspects of the body (the seeable and the unseeable) inline with the intention of the practitioner.

And that’s my current best effort at defining it.

To Be is To Do

Personally, I enjoy Taido in many ways. I feel it is healthy, fun and, challenging, so practicing makes me a better person. Part of me likes to think that my practice would prove useful should I have a need to defend myself from attack. But I have to admit that I feel most Taido students would be ill-prepared for such an application. Of course, that’s OK for most of us – we mostly live in affluent countries where violence is not much of an issue. In such a case, I’m glad that Taido training still has plenty to offer.

Maybe you have a different way of looking at things. I think everyone who does Taido for any length of time subconsciously develops a definition of some sort. A lot of us have given it some serious thought, and this affects the way we practice.

Whatever we think Taido “is,” whatever we believe it is “for,” Taido is not perfect, nor was its creator. Taido isn’t “finished,” either. It’s up to each of us to define Taido anew for ourselves and adapt it to our own circumstances. That’s 道 (Do). We can practice the Jutsu (fighting techniques), the sport (tournament Taido), or whatever. Applying these ideas where we need them is what Taido is about.

So Taido is what we do with it. What do you do with Taido?

Post Script

I was recently reminded by a friend of some­thing that I had neglected to include in this arti­cle originally.

The char­ac­ter for “tai” (躰) is prob­a­bly not the uber-special word we are often taught to think it is. While the break­down above is not tech­ni­cally incor­rect, it’s very likely a revi­sion­ist definition.

In fact, the char­ac­ter we use for “tai” in Taido orig­i­nally referred sim­ply to the body. In mod­ern times, that char­ac­ter is no longer used; it has been replaced by the sim­pler form 体 “karada.”

Looking at it this way, Taido is very sim­ply “the way of the body,” and a lot of the more com­pli­cated ways to define it are sim­ply big talk. This is why I spend so much time in the arti­cle above dis­cussing def­i­n­i­tion in terms of func­tion and doing/being.

Still, one has to assume that Shukumine had some rea­son for using the older char­ac­ter in the name of his art. Perhaps it was because of the “deeper” con­no­ta­tion hid­den in the com­po­si­tion of the kanji. Perhaps it was sim­ply because he wanted to sound smart (and his writ­ing style does have a lit­tle of that con­sciously over-complicated feel). Maybe he chose that char­ac­ter just to be con­trary (lest we for­get that much of what he taught does in fact cen­ter around and include ram­pant contradiction).

For what­ever rea­son, in nam­ing Taido, Shukumine left us with yet one more rid­dle. But, as with all rid­dles, once the con­fu­sion sub­sides, there is a dead sim­ple answer. In this case, the most accu­rate def­i­n­i­tion of Taido’s “tai” as a word is sim­ply “body.”


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