Ok, so first off, I want to say that this was one hell of a good trip. It was packed full of practice and play, and there wasn’t a lot of down-time to spend digesting all that was going on. My memory of certain events may be slightly inaccurate, but I want to give you the gist of this year’s meet. A lot of good things went down, and a lot of good things will come from having more of this kind of event in the future.
Of course, there is always a good bit of the “what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas” feeling on a trip like this, but even while censoring portions of the debauchery, I hope this report may convince more people to take an interest in international Taido-related events, or at least think about attending the next Asia Pacific Games.
Though the Tokyo International Uni team went down a day early for some shopping, most of us from Japan arrived on a Friday morning in Sydney. We got checked in at the hotel, and then it was time to go set up for the tournament.
I’m not going to post the event results here, because the Aussie Taido group has their own website that includes such info. I do want to write a few words about is this: competitors don’t have to be opponents.
The thing that made this tournament great was that everyone was there to support the other players. There was a wide range of experience and belt levels among competitors from several countries and dojos. However, on the courts and off, everyone was in the mood to offer friendly advice and cheer the events in progress. It was really cool when we were all doing our final practices before the “Taido no Hokei” event (in which we each created our own original routines), and everyone was trading ideas and helping each other make last-second alterations and improvements.
Speaking of the Taido no Hokei event, it was the first time that general competitors have been able to compete with a creative form. Previously, there was a creative division at the instructors’ competition (the hanshi, kyoshi, renshi tourney every January), but this year’s APG had students with less than a year of Taido training thinking and attempting to create their own forms. It was very interesting to see what they came up with, but in the end, the awards went to the three highest-ranked players. Unfortunately, idol no hokei was not presented (“idol” is what the Japanese call sexy female models).
The other events were fun and exciting too. I think everyone was just happy to get a chance to play with new and different people. Even though there were only about 30-something competitors, the event went on for about seven hours of really great cooperative competition.
Days two and three were devoted to training. After all, it’s not everyday that the Australian Taido team (let alone those of us who live in Japan) have access to two members of the hanshikai to learn from and ask questions of. It was also great that we had Alvar around to translate what they were saying. Talking about body-mechanics and energy flow in a foreign language is not an easy task, and Alvar’s facilitation helped many more people get much more out of this training than could have been the case.
Saturday morning began with a shinsa for seven members of Australian Taido. Saito and Shima tested these students for a couple of hours with Alvar assisting. I didn’t get to see this, but I hear that Fredrik’s tensei is too fast…
While all that was going down, I was in the other room, helping Masaki go through some movement and balance games and drills with everyone. Masaki is a fitness trainer and really funny, so everyone enjoyed her ideas on ways to move the body for Taido. Of course, I’ve been thinking about ways to train this stuff lately myself, so it was good seeing her ideas on it, and getting to chat with her about it later.
We did some pushing and pulling games with partners, and added in some Taido movements as well. We worked on jumps and turns and other movements to build coordination. After that, we partnered up again and built increasingly longer combinations of continuous techniques, trying to avoid interrupting the flow. Then we ate some lunch.
In the afternoon session, everyone got together to see what Saito and Shima had to share with us. First, we worked on seimei no hokei. As it turned out, only a very few of us actually knew the hokei, so Shima proceeded to give instruction on the basics of seimei for the first hour or so. As always, even those of us who have done the hokei for years were able to get something out of the practice.
After that, we partnered off and began to go through the doko5kai. Although we ran out of time, we got through most of the applications of the doko5kai for sentai and a bit of untai. Here again, many students had not been exposed to this kind of thing in actual practice, so it was very beneficial to everyone.
Then we had a question/answer session. After all the seimei practice, the first question that came up was “what is ki?” it was almost funny, because Alvar and I had actually been discussing on the airplane how to explain ki in English without sounding as if we were in a kung fu movie. He had a hell of a time trying to translate what Shima and Saito were saying into intelligible English, but he did a much better job than I would have. I think most people were satisfied with the explanations given, even if it’s still a very difficult concept to grok. Saito led us through some physical practice to help everyone wrap their minds around the “mystical energy force.”
Shima finished with a discussion of Taido’s taiki, doko, and seigyo as well as some applications of using Taido ideas in everyday life. He talked about efficiency, productivity, and systematic development. He also talked a little about self-sufficiency and the importance of building evolving Taido out of the existing theoretical groundwork. During the break, there was also talk of the importance of “updating” this theoretical foundation to incorporate the last forty years’ worth of scientific and sociological change.
As the day of training neared its close, Fredrik and Louise took the final hour to discuss the Taido no Hokei event. Those of us who won medals were asked to explain our ideas, and we all got to discuss and ask/answer questions about everyone’s routines. It was the end of the day, so we kept everything light and informal, which lent to the atmosphere of sharing.
We also had a chance to see Masaki’s “in (feminine)” version of chisei no hokei, which won the instructors’ tourney last January. I won’t go into this too much here, but I will be learning her version of this form and eventually teaching it alongside the standard version.
In the morning, Saito and Shima took Alvar and the rainbow belts and practiced… I don’t know. I once again assisted and translated for Masaki with the browns and blacks.
We started off by moving continually through the five techniques, creating free combinations of sen, un, hen, nen, and ten. The idea was to move the body without trying to apply a specific technique. For example, after spinning, we were to simply get airborne. Then as we fell, we were to change the body-axis as we neared the ground. That change was to be followed by a twist which would lead to a tumble. The purpose of the exercise was to incorporate strikes when appropriate as we moved freely.
We then used this same feeling in a few jissen games, one of which involved an umbrella. Then we did some 2 vs 5 jissen such that one of the two protects the other. Finally, some practices with a single player defending against several attackers. Losers did push-ups. I did lots of hangetsu push-ups.
For the afternoon session, Alvar took a couple of representatives from each team and worked on some basic breathing exercises and “ki” stuff, attempting to make it as “user-friendly” as possible. He also talked with them about the basics of breathing for hokei and how to train hokei correctly. The idea was that they would take notes and share this information with their teams later.
I was either assumed to already know this stuff, or they didn’t want me to find out, because I was asked to translate for Shima and Saito for the main group. We went over continuous combinations similarly to what we had practiced with Masaki, this time with the emphasis on moving in 3-space and developing new movements from that basis.
Then we worked on avoiding attacks. Shima discussed the six geometric directions from which we could receive an attack and discussed applications to each of them. We practiced solo, in pairs, in groups, and against a broom, doing lots of fukuteki and jumping.
The last training session was conducted by Fredrik and Louise. Fredrik started off by saying “You are all doing unsoku wrong.” He didn’t mean it to sound so bad though. His point was that, after watching the tournament from a judge’s perspective, he didn’t feel that enough people were really thinking about how to use unsoku. Instead, he suggested that most people do unsoku in jissen because they know they are supposed to. The training was primarily about purpose-driven unsoku and how to apply footwork more effectively in jissen.
Essentially, the idea is that kamae is defensively stronger than any technique. According to doctrine, the kamae has no weaknesses, while each technique has one. Therefore, if we want to be safe while we close the distance gap to the opponent, it’s better to do so in kamae. Fredrik told us that most of the techniques attempted in the tournament did not score because the players were attempting to close distances with techniques and getting thwarted when their opponents didn’t do as expected. He was right.
The solution, he told us, is to use our unsoku to get “inside” the opponent. He then went on to describe the forward pressure strategy and drill us on some unsoku that we can use to bully for advantage. Other uses of unsoku included leading the opponent into an attack.
We also worked on removing the gaps between rengi. The example was a sweep followed by a kind of gedan senjogeri/hangetsuate. Basically, if you sweep, and the other guy jumps, you have no reason to continue to sweep. The best course of action is to immediately transition to the next technique. From the other side, when you jump, it’s better to jump into or onto the opponent’s position than to jump in place and attempt to counter.
We talked along these lines about timing a bit and then discussed the fact that most “tricks” are simple a matter of timing, usually accompanied by a change of direction.
And then, it was all over. Shima and Saito gave their last remarks, and we all went back to the hotel to clean up.
After all the official events were out of the way, we could all get down to the real reason we had traveled to Sydney in the first place – the party. Nick fired up the grill and cooked all kinds of steak for us, and everyone got to try some “skippy” as well. Gifts were given; beer and wine flowed; bottles were broken; some people laughed; some people cried; some people got naked; some people threw up; and someone had to be taken home in a shopping cart.
I had promised earlier in the day to demonstrate some special black belt drinking techniques to a few of the Australian students, and they called me out. I showed them my personal favorite application of one-handed cartwheels. Then suddenly Ohashi and Sakamoto were there, and we gave a full-blown demo to the crowd. We especially stressed the importance of practicing seimei no hokei drunk such that one can eventually feel the beer moving from jo-tanden to chu-tanden to ge-tanden… and back again.
We gave some special musical presentations that got mixed reviews, but in the end, all was forgiven by a nice chorus of “I Love Taido,” the new three-chord, three-word anthem of our generation. Then we sang the real Taido song – or at least tried to follow along with the tune.
I’m going to stop short of detailing the slight personal drama (I swear I had no idea they were dating…), threats of cop-calling, pranks gone slightly awry, roof-climbing, and toilet-papering, but I think you get the idea. It was a hell of an evening that very few people are going to forget anytime soon. Well, at least not those of us who managed to avoid blacking out…
We spent the next two days sightseeing. We saw kangaroos and koalas, some incredible views, and some interestingly-(semi-)dressed locals. We went to the beach (twice!). We taught the Japanese kids how to play billiards. We ate chicken and drank beer. We did too much stuff to mention, but we took plenty of photos, so you can check out the Aussie Taido site and see for yourself.
The last night in the hotel, Ohashi had this idea to make a thank you video for the Aussie team from all of us. We organized everyone together in our room and got comments from everyone before joining together to sing “We love Australia” to the same tune we had sung “We love Taido” at the party. In the morning we added the last couple of people who had the nerve to be sleeping at 2am when we decided to film the main group. Just before sitting down to write this, I got an email form Dave saying how cool the whole thing turned out. Mission accomplished.
Then it was time for all of us to go. Well most of us. The Tokyo International Uni team stayed an extra day, and Ohashi is staying for about a month, but a little more than half of the Japanese contingent left together Tuesday evening. We all gathered on the lawn in front of the hotel and hugged and exchanged contact info. Nobody was too cool to laugh and say thank you. There was a lot of good feeling going around, and there was a general sense that we wanted it to last as long as possible. I have a feeling we’ll all be seeing more of each other.
At the airport, I realized I only had fifteen dollars left with which to buy souvenirs for my friends and coworkers. The urge for a sandwich and a beer won out, and I came home with only my uniform, clothes, and a heavy chunk of glass.
It was interesting being “the American” at this event, even though I am officially a member of Japan Taido at the moment. Alvar is the general secretary of of the World Taido Federation and Shima and Saito are two of the eight members of the hanshikai, which acts as the technical directorship of Taido. Right now, they are trying to work out some misunderstandings and build a stronger world organization. I’m about as international as it gets, so they asked my opinions on a few matters.
I don’t want to dish any dirt, so I won’t go into details here. Shima and Saito are long-time friends with Uchida, so there is no problem there. Although I did find myself feeling as if I had to defend my teacher and his ideas of Taido to certain people at a couple of points during the weekend, I think it’s best to simply say that Japan Taido wants to have good relations with American Taido. They want to get everyone (including America) learning from each other in both directions and helping to make Taido a truly global, evolving art. That is why they (and I) traveled to Australia for this event.
“I’ll Be Back”
Personally, I got some good advice from Saito about things I need to improve in my Taido. He also told me to go ahead and take my renshi certification this summer so I will have international instructor recognition. I told him about some of my ideas and plans for expanding Taido operations in America through more university clubs, and he told me that he would help me out if I ever needed assistance from Japan.
In the end, I got a lot out of being able to hang with Shima and Saito, both. They gave me some great comments on Taido – technical and philosophical – that I know I can put to good use. It was also cool getting to chat with Alvar without the mediation of email. Being a foreigner permanently in Japan, he has a unique way of seeing things. He is also a hardcore student for Taido theory and actively interested in figuring out how to teach it outside of the Japanese culture-bubble.
Besides all that, it was fun. The Australian team has a great attitude, and they really made the whole event enjoyable for all of us. Without all the work that they each put into showing us around and being friendly, this could have been just another tourney/camp from which we all returned home basically unchanged. That wasn’t the case here. This was one of the better Taido events I’ve been able to attend – and this is coming from someone who is usually on the organizing side of things.
The theme here was friendship – and that’s the biggest thing we all got out of this event. Friendship between all of the countries where Taido is practiced – between the players first, then between the schools, then between the associations, then we can all join Pinky and the Brain in an effort to take over the world. Whatever our personal goals for our own Taido practice may be, we can accomplish all of them through the support of the friends we make in practice and participation in events like this.
I think everyone of us who participated made new friends, learned new things, and made new commitments to practice better Taido. That’s a successful weekend, and I know several of us will be back next year.