Continual Training

What if I told you that you could practice Taido for over 100 hours every week? Would you be afraid? How do you think your performance would improve? Assuming that all this extra practice didn’t interfere with your job or family life, how would you imagine you overall quality of life to change? What do you think you could get out of turning every minute of your life into an opportunity for practice and improvement? I’d be willing to bet that you’d get quite a lot.

A while back, I ran a poll asking Taido/Blog readers how much time they spent each week practicing Taido. Some folks practice only one or two hours a week, while others have the luxury and dedication to devote over ten hours a week to Taido practice. We all have different lives and commitments which affect the time we can spend practicing Taido.

Lately, I get to practice Taido for about eight hours on a good week, plus some Judo and other training. I haven’t always been so lucky, and I know many Taido students are only able to train once a week or so.

For a couple of years, I had a job that required me to work most evenings instead of heading to the dojo. I spent a lot of time thinking about how much I envied those students who got to practice Taido several times a week. I always enjoyed the periods that I was able to do that. I loved my job, but missing Taido made me a lot more conscious of how I spent my time during the day. I try to spend as much of it as possible practicing. This article will give you some ideas of how you can too.

I’m obviously not going to suggest that you wear your dogi around the office and use your steering wheel as a makiwara. Your significant other would certainly leave you if you insisted on sparring to settle disputes. Aside from the practical impossibility, your body would break down rapidly without ample recovery time. Your caloric expenditure would go through the roof, but your digestive system wouldn’t be able to process enough food to fuel constant physical effort. Clearly, this is a model built for failure.

So what we need is a new model of what practice entails. Of course, the traditional methods are still going to be important – hokei and jissen will always be the essential practice modalities for Taido – but we could stand to supplement our classroom sessions with activities that improve rather than impede our performance potential. I’ll neglect the obvious – additional workouts – because I feel that most students would rather go to the dojo than to the gym, but I will say that some strength or endurance training can do wonderful things for your Taido, and they’re often easier to schedule.

The Freaks Come Out at Night

Being a Taido freak, I’ve developed a lot of habits and practices through the years that I feel help me stay close to Taido, even when I can’t get near a dojo. My Taido practice has had immeasurable positive impact on my life. Here are a few of my favorite ways to let my life positively impact my Taido practice:

Non-Exercise Physical Activities

NEPAs include anything you can think of to inject more physical activity into your day. Take the damn stairs from time to time – if you climb a flight of stairs and find that you’re breathing like an asthmatic on a trampoline, you should take it as a hint that you need to do this more often. For some people, a little extra physical activity may not seem like a big deal, but it can really make more of a difference than you think.

Our bodies are made to move, but many of us spend the majority of our waking hours sitting down; we sit in the car, then sit at our desks at work, then sit down at lunch, then sit down at home and watch TV for a few hours before going to bed. On weekends, we might go and sit down at a movie for recreation. As a result, our hips, shoulders, and spines spend a disproportionate amount of time flexed forward. Extend! Lengthen your spine and occasionally bend it in the other direction. Move your arms and legs. If you don’t make use of your joints, they will lose mobility, resulting in pain and stiffness and a general crap feeling. The best way to prevent the feeling that you’re getting old and stiff? Move! Often.

Besides keeping your joints working well, doing a lot of physical activities throughout your day will provide subtle benefits in all aspects of your health. Food has been shown to digest more fully when we take a short walk after a meal. The body was made to be moved, and this is not limited to our arms and legs. The body is not just a sack of organs that evolved for the purpose of keeping our brains alive. Research is suggesting that our emotions and much of our thought is not centered in the brain at all, but results from various chemicals and hormones in our organs and other tissues (read Molecules Of Emotion: The Science Behind Mind-Body Medicine
). Movement can keep us healthy by stimulating our organs and allowing these chemicals to circulate rather than stagnating (which is one theorized cause of many types of illness).

Respect your body by refusing to treat it as a sac, and it will reward you will health and happiness. Really. All you have to do is move. Play with your pet, child, or lover. Stop using email or IM to talk with people who work on the same floor as you. Go to actual stores rather than ordering everything online. You can think of lots of ways to move more. The most important thing is to remember the age-old advice: get off your ass.

Posture

Students who have worked with me in person are probably tired of me talking about proper posture while moving, but there’s no way I can possibly overstate the importance of of this point. From a mechanical standpoint, the spine is the major lever of the body, mediating the relationship between head and ass. It also allows the twin movement centers of the hips and shoulders to pivot about each other. It stabilizes the skull, zeros out forces from impacts and gravity, supports many of our internal organs, and is the major nervous pathway of the body. In case you haven’t noticed, the spine is super-important and super-complex – so complex that it takes a solid understanding of biotensegrity to begin to understand it. But I’m not going to get into that right now.

I used to slouch all the time and never paid much attention to my posture in Taido until a few years ago. Then I met a girl who introduced me to the Alexander Technique and the notion of “use” which is how Alexander practitioners describe body carriage and mechanics. The downside of this is that I am now a freak about using my body in the most efficient manner possible. The upshot is that I finally figured out how to improve my posture, which has improved my health, mobility, and technical form in Taido.

So here’s the gist: pay attention to your posture. Ideally, your spine should be near-fully elongated whenever possible. One analogy I’ve heard is to imagine that your head is actually floating like a helium balloon from which your spine and the rest of your body hangs down. Trying to hold onto that image can help you keep the feeling of stretching your cervical and thoracic spine upward. In order to straighten the giant question mark out of your lumbar and sacral spine, it sometimes helps to tilt the hips up and forward a bit. A little bit of curve (lordosis) is desirable, but most people I know have way too much.

Describing how this affects your Taido is a little beyond the scope of my powers as a writer, but a little experimentation with this can speed up your unsoku and techniques while increasing your power and comfort. Since we use our bodies for much more than just Taido practice, don’t wait for your next training session to think about improving your posture. Start now. Sit up in your chair. Raise your head up and lean slightly forward, off of your tailbone. Relax the muscles of your back and shoulders, allowing your body’s structure to support itself from within. Right now – really – notice how it feels to use your posture properly.

Make a mental note to stop and check your posture a few times a day at least. Next time you get in the car, adjust your seat to a position that makes you sit up straight. Do the same at work. After you get used to a few baby steps like these, we can address the way you walk…

Breathing Efficiency

Breathing is not entirely instinctual. The act of breathing comes to us naturally, but the manner in which we breath is socially conditioned. One indication of this is the difference between our waking and sleeping breathing patterns. We tend to take shallow breaths into our upper chests during much of the day, but our slumber sees us returning to the slow, natural pattern of breathing deeply down into our bellies. Though physical exertion requires a different style of breathing than sleep does, the fact remains that most of us have learned to breathe inefficiently. The proof is the tendency of most students to begin panting when their endurance is challenged.

It’s difficult to change lifelong habits, but it can be done. The best way to begin is to pay attention. Notice your breathing. Then notice how it changes in various situations. Once or twice a day, spend just a minute or two being aware of your breath. Try to expand your belly and using the diaphragm to draw the air deep down into your lungs. Relax and notice how you feel when you breathe this way – it’s how your lungs were designed to work. Gradually begin to keep this breathing focus for up to five minutes or so. Eventually, you may find this exercise so pleasurable that you naturally begin to schedule longer periods of simply sitting and breathing into your day. This is an excellent way to begin meditation (which, for the record, will not make you go blind) and will leave you feeling relaxed and refreshed.

Being aware of your breath while sitting can help you to become aware of your breath while moving. It will also help you learn how to control your breathing during demanding activity. You will find your presence of mind and physical power increase when you are in control of your breath during practices.

Balance

Balance is another key to your performance in Taido. Since Taido is one of the most dynamic and gymnastic martial arts, it’s extremely important that students develop a strong sense of balance for agility and control of their movements. Having good balance will also help you not look like an idiot when you are walking around doing regular stuff.

So how can we develop balance? Lots of ways. Bruce lee used to suggest that all martial artists simply stand on one foot or the other at various points during the day. For example, while standing in line at the grocery store or riding the escalator at the mall. For a little more challenge, practice putting on your socks and shoes while standing. Check out the 4CBD and learn to do pistols (a single-leg squat variation). All of these things will improve your balance, and the last two will be of immeasurable benefit to your Taido performance.

Just remember: humans are very seldom “balanced.” Instead, we are in a constant state of balancing, negotiating varying degrees of unbalance. Improve your body’s ability to control remain upright and you will be affecting every aspect of your physical life.

Flexibility

We can always stand to be more flexible and have greater mobility. Stretching only takes a few minutes and can be done anywhere. However, a modicum of caution should be exercised when stretching outside of workouts. Since we warm our bodies up prior to stretching in classes, it’s easy to forget that our muscles are nowhere near as flexible cold as they are warm. Please be sure to prepare adequately before engaging in any kind of stretching on your off days.

All rules have exceptions, and the “only stretch warm” rule is no exception. This exception only applies to people who are in good shape, already fairly flexible, and free of any injuries. In Stretching Scientifically, Thomas Kurz suggests that we can teach our central nervous system to allow greater cold flexibility (stretching is really a misnomer – since the muscles are always holding some residual tension it’s actually a method of conditioning the nervous system to release) by doing some very controlled dynamic stretching without a warm-up. This should be done daily, in every direction, and with very gradual increases. I won’t be giving any further details here, as this can be dangerous to those who don’t know what they are doing. Those who are capable of applying this practice will know how to research and learn it for themselves.

Just remember not to overdo it; stretching has a cumulative effect, so you cannot see great improvements in a short period of time without risks. If you are serious about improving your flexibility, I suggest looking into Paul Zaichik’s Elastic Steel course, which has done great things for me.

Mindful Movement

Whenever you move, be conscious of what you are doing. When you write your name, pay attention to the feel of the pen in your hand and the pressure of the point against the table. Feel the friction of the point on the paper. Some writers are known to prefer the feel of typing on an old-school typewriter over that of a modern computer keyboard because the tactile feedback helps them focus on the task at hand.

We have a tendency to use sight as our primary input interface from our environments. It’s a good way to receive a lot of information about things at a distance, but it’s not the best way to keep track of our bodies. By making the effort to “feel” our motions from the inside, we can sharpen our proprioception – the “sixth” sense which includes our balance and position senses in addition to sensing heat, pain, and moisture.

Why is this a good thing? Well, I mentioned balance above, but improving our position sense (mechanoreception) is just as important with regards to learning to control our movements. Have you ever been practicing a technique and had someone point out an error in form that you were almost sure you didn’t make? Nine times out of ten, the outside observer has a better frame of reference. Since we aren’t used to noticing critical differences in the positions of our limbs, it’s easy to assume that we are more accurate than we really are.

Practice of mindfulness in the various motions we perform during the day can go a very long way towards improving our sense of position and the accuracy of our movements. It’s also the cornerstone of Zen and all meditative techniques.

Learn Some Yoga

You don’t need to sign up at a Hindu community center or become a vegetarian to get the benefits of some Yoga practice. Learn a couple of asanas (Yoga poses) and practice them for a few minutes when you have the chance. Yoga is the opposite of most workouts: instead of attempting to apply muscular tension to a task, Yoga teaches us to release unnecessary tension to sink into a position. Since much physical athleticism is tied to our ability to mediate tension and relaxation, the occasional practice of a few key asanas can be of serious benefit. I recommend the cobra, pigeon, child, plough, bridge, and downward dog poses as a good foundation to complement your Taido practice.

Change Your Ways

Taido’s fifth principle is that of adaptability. All of our movements are designed to flow into each other in order to react appropriately to our environments. But many of us are creatures of habit. We tend to go to the same places, see the same people, and do the same things day in and day out for years at a time. We may not notice it, but we tend to pass up opportunities to try new and interesting things because we confuse these habitual patterns with important aspects of our lives.

For example, I used wake up in the mornings and head to the coffee shop to read or write. I would spend an hour or two getting a cup of coffee and doing about a half-hour worth of work. It was a waste of time, but it felt like an important part of my morning ritual. It wasn’t. Now, I try to do something a little different everyday. I take different roads to get to the same places, and I usually notice a new restaurant or shop along the way. I don’t listen to the same album more than two days in a row. I go to the library and check out new books to read, even if I may not have the time to finish them.

There are always other ways to do the things you need to do every day. Try them out. Adding a small change to your routine and a little bit of creativity can really change your outlook on the routines in your life. They also get you into a new habit – changing your habits. It can be addicting and liberating, and it can improve your Taido practice too.

On the Other Hand

One way to change the way you do some habitual actions is to use your other hand. In Taido, we have to be able to move to any direction as the situation dictates. However, most people have a favorite side of almost every technique. There are even a lot of black belts who can’t do some techniques on one side or another. To prevent this limitation, all hokei actually should be performed on the “back” side as well as the usual way (ask you instructor why you aren’t currently doing this important practice). If you don’t have the time or space to do many hokei, you can still work to remove your resistance to relying on your non-dominant hand and foot.

Most folks won’t be able to write with either hand, but we can all benefit from challenging ourselves to use our non-dominant hands for small tasks. Brush your teeth left-handed. Drink your coffee with the other hand. Most people always dial a phone with the same finger – change it up and use your ring finger (the weakest finger with the least nervous control). Sleep on the other side of the bed sometimes. We know that the sides of the brain have somewhat different characteristics and personalities, by stimulating them with different activities, we may find greater adaptability and creativity.

A Couple More little Games

Courtesy of John Roberts: for those you who watch TV. Do ten push-ups during every commercial break. Build up to sets of twenty. You will eventually be doing well over a hundred push-ups a day. If, like me, you don’t watch tv, you can surely find another scheduling device: I do push-ups whenever I drink a cup of coffee – that’s a lot of push-ups.

Courtesy of Buddy Fossett: brush your teeth in fudodachi. Or on one leg.

Courtesy of Tatsuyuki Negishi: hold ejidachi with your knee an inch above the floor for as long as you can. Do both sides twice a day. Try to add ten seconds every week. He credited his insane vertical leap exclusively to this practice, which he continued for his entire college career.

Also: keep a hand gripper somewhere you will see it often and do a few reps every time you see it; grip strength has been shown to have a strong correlation with athletic performance. Do some finger exercises, i.e. playing a musical instrument, learning to type better, learning to roll coins or perform some sleight of hand techniques, etc. There are more nerves in your brain devoted to your hand than to anything else, so having strong and agile hands may make you smarter and more coordinated.

Don’t Stop ’til You Get Enough

And there are about a thousand other ways you can inject some Taido practice into your day. The above list represents some of my favorites, and you may notice that many of them address the 5SRs. However, this list is by no means exhaustive. I find that, the more I think about it, the more I notice myself looking for better, Taido-ized ways to do all the things I normally do. This is not only a great thought exercise, but results in more efficient ways to do almost anything. It also improves my ability to understand and teach Taido movements and techniques.

I’m sure you can think of at least a dozen things I haven’t mentioned that can help turn your off time into practice time. Feel free to post your own ideas in the comments. As you get used to the idea, you’ll likely come to the conclusion that intention is the primary factor that separates doing something normally from performing it as a practice activity. Keep your eyes open (and your other senses too) for opportunities to apply your practice of Taido to your practice of life in general.

7 thoughts on “Continual Training”

  1. Note on posture: I read recently that sitting so that you body forms a 135 degree angle is actually better on your back than sitting vertical. This obviously is only when your back is supported.

  2. gabe: do you mean 135 flexed or extended? i’ll assume flexed…

    i can see the logic in that, so long as it’s the pelvis that tilts forward at the sacrum instead of the entire spine bending at the lumbar and thorax. for most people, i would still suggest an upright posture for most situations (though i’m not a totally qualified to make suggestions). once you learn how to control your posture by sitting straight, then you can tweak things to find your own personal “best” posture for whatever situation- be it a 135-degree flex or slight extension for corrective purposes.

    btw: where did you read that – i’m curious now…

  3. ok, gotcha – yeah that’s actually what my alexander friends said too.

    so the 135-degree angle is between the thighs and the spine. this tends to encourage better lumbar alignment by balancing over the ischium.

    still, the desired end result is a straighter spine.

  4. I have a question involving training. Do you know about how long it takes muscles to start to deteriorate after you stop working out? I know that metabolism and activity level would obviously be a factor. sorry for the poor wroding, it’s finals week (one more day!) and im kinda tired. Hopefully i’ll see ya around one of these days, though that would probably involve getting to taido.

  5. well, catabolism is a constant factor. the only thing you can do about that is have lots of protein. atrophy depends on a lot of things. i wouldn’t worry though. losing muscle is less of a problem than losing mobility. endurance is maybe the first thing to go, then flexibility. strength is the easiest thing to get back. that’s why a little yoga or stretching during off periods is so very golden.

    good luck with exams.

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