Note: This article was originally written for the Finnish Taido Kamae Magazine. It is republished here in for the benefit of English-speaking Taidoka. There are a few Japanese characters in this article which may look like gibberish on your computer.
The Japanese have a big advantage over most of us when it comes to learning Taido: specifically, they understand Japanese.
Growing up, I had always assumed that the words we used in Taido had meanings, but nobody ever taught them to me. When we studied a little bit of vocabulary, the words were always explained and memorized in a Taido context with no functional connections made to other uses. I suspect many of you had similar experiences.
I used to wonder why a punch was sometimes called tsuki and other times zuki. Even after I began to study some Japanese, it took me a while to figure out that zen (as in zenten) and mae (as in maegeri) were not just different ways to say “front,” but the same word. I’m pretty lazy about studying Japanese, but even my limited linguistic skills have made a big impact on my understanding of Taido.
On one of my solo trips to Japan as a university student, Akiyama Sensei taught me the meanings of the unsoku step names (with the aid of an electronic dictionary and a bottle of single malt whiskey). That night completely changed the way I thought of unsoku. It also opened my eyes to the fact that there is a lot more to Taido than just performing the movements skillfully. We have to move mindfully if we are to have seigyo and control our opponents.
What follows are translations and explanations of the Japanese names for the eight unsoku movements. Though there is no whiskey involved (unless you happen to be drinking as you read this – it might help…), the following is essentially what Akiyama Sensei told me that night several years ago.
- So (送) – Okuru means “to send.” This character is also used in the word for farewell and connotes strong wind and direct movement. In unsoku, the idea is to prevent the opponent from entering your spatial territory – to push him out or send him away.
- In (引) – Hiku means “to pull.” This character can also connote bringing. The object of insoku is not necessarily to withdraw from the opponent, but rather to pull him towards you. Most Taidoka are more comfortable with aggressive tactics than they are with the idea of leading the opponent into a trap by appearing passive. As such, insoku is probably the least-used step. It may be advantageous to spend some time thinking of ways to “pull” as well as push.
- Ka (加) – Kuwaeru means “to add.” This character connotes speeding up or otherwise increasing. In unsoku, a change of angle is being added to the push/pull found in sosoku and insoku. Kasoku can be used as a transition from planning to action, in which case it marks an increase in speed and intensity.
- Gen (減) – Heru means “to reduce or empty.” This character is used when speaking of hunger or loss of money. Where ka is adding, gen is subtracting. In unsoku, the idea is to vacate a space that is not safe. We often think of gensoku as a retreating step, but a more accurate image may be that of simply removing oneself.
- Ko (交) – Majiwaru means “to cross or pass by.” This character is also used in the words for intersections and switching places. In unsoku, the idea is to brush past your opponent’s attack. At the same time, you take his dominance by angling toward his back. In this way, you end up switching attack and defense roles.
- Ten (点) – This is the only unsoku step whose name is never a verb. Ten means “point.” It could be a physical point in space, a number of points awarded for a score, or a point marked on paper. In unsoku, the point is the position to which we adjust. Where kosoku adjusts the angle about the rear leg, tensoku adjusts about the front foot and can be useful when must “enter” an attack that is to fast to avoid completely.
- Tsui (追) – Ou means “to chase,” though not necessarily to catch. Contrary to what many people assume, tsuisoku‘s punch isn’t intended so much to strike the opponent, but rather to force him to move so you can set up an attack.
- Tai (退) – Shirizoku means “to draw back or retreat,” and also connotes returning or becoming “not there.” In unsoku, this could mean returning from an attack (as in gentai) or backing off from a position that is no longer safe or strategic.
Most of us have heard it said that “Taido begins and ends with unsoku.” If this is so, then a thorough understanding of unsoku is vital to our understanding of Taido. Since Japanese is a symbolic language, we can’t take for granted that sosoku is simply a name for a particular movement. The name of any technique is a clue to its application.
Taido is about combining naiko and gaiko, mi and karada, thought and action. So we should consider the meanings of the movements along with their uses when we practice. This is the origin of the tradition of saying “so” when we do sosoku and “in” when we do insoku – to give meaning to the physical practice. In the West, it’s usually treated as a mnemonic technique, but the Japanese get more out of it. That’s their advantage. Now it’s yours too.