This past weekend, I traveled to Tokushima for a one-day training camp and learned a few things. All together, there were almost twenty of us coming in from Tokyo, Kansai, and Hiroshima. Among these were a few people I hadn’t met before and a few I met at the recent camp in Tottori.
Tokushima is located on the island of Shikoku and takes about two-hours to get to by bus from Osaka. There’s actually no Taido dojo in Tokushima, but a guy named Izumi is hoping to change that.
I met Izumi in Tottori. He was a couple of years behind my friend Takeo in uni, and now lives in Tokushima for work. He’s been getting lonely out there, and he’s been commuting from Shikoku to Honshu for practice when he has the chance. That’s not sustainable, so with some help from Takeo and Uchiyama, Izumi is trying to set up a dojo in Tokushima.
As yet, there are no set training times and no students. But if this weekend’s training was any indication, Izumi will have all the support he needs once he gets things organized.
The theme of this training was jissen. With the student championship next week and the all-Japan tourney coming up in a little over a month, everyone is trying to get their skills together. Who better to lead a jissen training than someone who has won just about every award at just about every tournament for the last few years? You can’t do much better than Tetsuji Nakano.
Nakano is basically one of two guys in the world that consistently wins tournaments at every level (the other is Kaneko). He’s won both jissen and hokei in the all-Japan, kicked ass in the world championships, and pretty much only loses anything when he is injured. I’m not a huge fan of tournament-oriented Taido, but I have to respect Nakano’s ability as a competitor as well as his athleticism.
The training was broken up into two sessions, and each of those consisted of two parts. In session one, Izumi and Nakano led the training; in session two, Nakano took the first half, and Kitamura from Hiroshima led the second half.
Izumi started things off with a thorough warm-up and basic unshin. Then we went right into some games to practice unsoku. The goal of the practice was using unsoku to control territory on the court. We tried several variations on the theme of protecting our own territory versus advancing into the opponent’s territory.
In the most basic version, one person stands at one end of the court and tries to prevent the other person from crossing to the other side. First, we just ran, and then we repeated the drill using unsoku. After everyone had gotten the idea, we added the rule that the defender could punch. Then we added the rule that the attacker could use any technique. There were a few variations as well, but you get the idea.
Then Nakano took over, and we worked on some more technical drills. Nakano is best known for his unshin, but he’s also fast as all hell, and he showed us a few tricks for beating our opponents to the punch (literally). Roughly half of Nakano’s jissen strategy is based on how to score with ejizuki, he devoted a lot of time to drilling his method of scoring with punches in jissen.
Nakano’s main point was that scoring with a single technique is not a feasible strategy – the opponent will probably be able to avoid your first attack. Why? Because you have to cover a lot of distance to attack from the outside, and this takes time. Nakano suggests using your first attack to close the distance and force your opponent to react. Then you have the chance to punch – if you’re fast enough.
Nakano is definitely fast enough. For those of us who aren’t quite as fast, he shared a couple of tricks. The first one can best be described as a stationary sentai. Think of pulling the front foot back (as if you were doing in-soku) and immediately stepping in with the rear foot for senzuki. Then combine both movements simultaneously. If you are already close enough (after feinting with your first technique), you will be able to hit your opponent easily.
Of course, punching quickly is nothing new, and there are a hundred ways to do it. But how can we make sure that our punches score? There are two keys: correct eji and strong gentai.
Nakano emphasized using a proper ejizuki instead of simply throwing a punch from whatever position. Putting your body behind your punch aligns your power and makes it look as if you know what you’re doing. The same thing goes for putting the knee towards the ground. This sounds like a very simple thing to do, but lots of people do half-assed punches and wonder why they aren’t getting points. Nakano says that if you want to get a point, you need learn to punch properly. I couldn’t agree more.
The other thing about making sure you get points for your punches is to emphasize your gentai. Don’t just punch and then wait in ejidachi for the judge to blow the whistle. Kiai like hell and back up into a confident looking kamae. It won’t make your actual punch any better, but it will increase your chances of getting points. If you want to win tournaments, points are your number one goal.
Nakano drilled us for about an hour on executing a strong ejizuki with gentai. We practiced applying this strategy to a number of situations including defenses to common attacks and as kimegi in rengi situations.
After a break to eat, Nakano picked back with more jissen strategies. Since we worked on punches for the morning session, he devoted the afternoon session to kicking.
Basically, there are two keys to hitting your opponent with a kick. The first is to kick where the opponent is going (not where he is now), and the second is to keep your opponent in sight. We did a lot of drills on watching the opponent while you are kicking. We also tried various techniques for anticipating where the opponent will move when we begin attacking. These drills are difficult to describe in words.
After Nakano was finished, Kitamura took the lead for about an hour. His presentation was pretty much similar to the practice he lead in Tottori (developmental kobo drills) with a little more emphasis on continuous techniques.
The Real Basics
In all, it was a good day of practice. A lot of the actual concepts we worked on are very basic – distance, combinations, eye contact – but that doesn’t make them unimportant. The fact is, the thing that most people have the most trouble with is applying the basics consistently. For example, how many times have you practiced avoiding manjigeri? And how often do you still get hit with manjigeri? Probably too often. We all have holes in our games, and those holes usually come down to a problem with the basics.
Basics are important. Everyone knows this, but we tend to make the mistake of confusing “basics” with basic techniques. The true foundations on which Taido is built have only a little to do with the shape of the techniques and everything to do with applying certain core ideas in a variety of situations. At the heart of all martial arts are a finite set of principles that define what happens when two human bodies are set to the task of controlling each other.
The day’s stated theme was jissen, but the actual practice was about applying the “real basics” of combat. Without these basics (outlined in the seigyo chapter of Taido Gairon), winning in jissen is simply a matter of strength and luck. Practicing the basic principles is the way to build true skill in Taido, and I think everyone’s skill level went up a notch in Tokushima.