Building International Community

As I mentioned in my top 11 article, one of my favorite aspects of my Taido experience has been the opportunity to participate as a member of an international community. There are people all over the world that share my passion for Taido, and I’ve really enjoyed meeting so many of them. There are plenty of others whom I have not yet had a chance to meet, but I hope to get around to it.

The Taido World Tour

One of my goals for the next few years is to visit every country where people are practicing Taido. So far, I’ve trained in America, Japan, Australia, and the Netherlands. That leaves Finland, Sweden, Denmark, France, Portugal, and England. I hope to make it to all of these places at least once before I turn 35.

My reason for wanting to do this is to learn more about how Taido is practiced and what kind of people practice it. The more I can learn about the people who do Taido and the practices in which they engage, the better I can understand what Taido actually is and, more importantly, where it’s going. It’ll give me a chance to influence this evolution as well.

Taking Personal Action

In the past, we have left the international connections to organizational ties between the lead instructors. In terms of community-building, I think this approach has mostly failed. It seems that the real friendships we develop with Taidoka from other countries almost happens in spite of organizational intervention, rather than because of it.

Open-Door Policy

In my vision of Taido’s future, all Taido dojo and groups will welcome any Taido student from anywhere, without regard to what rank that person holds from what organization or dojo. I think we should open our doors and accept all Taido students to share their experiences with us. In return, we will can give them the benefit of our own ideas. This should be a free exchange, and it should not be limited to instructors or tournament champions.

I think most dojo are fairly open to visitors, especially from other countries. We can also be open personally to receive Taido guests. If someone visits your dojo, why not invite them out to eat or have a drink? Training together is fun, but getting to know that student as a person is much more rewarding. It can be a great experience for both parties to share their thoughts and culture. Even if the visiting student doesn’t speak your language well, it can be a lot of fun to try and communicate.

The Other Side of the Coin

Being open for visitors is great, but it’s only half the battle. We also need to actively encourage our students to visit other dojo. We need to give students incentive to travel to other Taido countries and bring back their experiences. This benefits everyone in a school.

For example, if a student in your dojo travels to another country and learns a different way to do a certain technique, he has expanded his own skills. If he comes back and shares what he learned with other students, they can benefit too. It’s not that any one way is better than another, but every variation has the potential to teach us more about Taido.

Make sure to ask your dojomates about their Taido experiences abroad. You can learn a lot from their stories. It also helps to build excitement about travel and international Taido friendship, which encourages everyone to get out and experience more.

The Email Experiment

I once sent out test emails to every Taido dojo on the internet, using a fake name. How many of them do you think returned my communication? About half, but a few of those were “too busy to have any visitors right now,” or some other such excuse. If you are holding practices, how can you be too busy to practice with me?

I have been doing this for years now – sending out random emails to various Taido groups. The experiment has been pretty conclusive that some instructors don’t want to have too much contact with random Taidoka from other countries. Most don’t reply to the mail at all. Why is that? The major exception is Japan, where I have always been very well received. Actually, it’s very common for Japanese Taido students to visit other dojo when they travel.

I Love Politics!

Part of the problem may be that we have some negative political history between various Taido organizations. Some of these problems go back to (and I am not even slightly exaggerating here) thirty-year-old rivalries between former college classmates that are now instructors. I don’t see any good reason that this should have any effect on students in Taido. I feel that we should value the desire of students to create connections and friendships with students in other schools and other countries. The better we promote this kind of connection, the more we can be sure of better and more widespread Taido in the future.

Global / Local

We have an international network of Taido organizations. Let’s leverage that network to create an international community of individual Taido students. We are all practicing the same art, even if we practice it in different ways and for different reasons. This variety is rich with opportunity for the future of Taido. We have much to learn from each other if we can get together.

This is already happening on a small scale with certain individuals. I know that several Japanese Taidoka taught at dojo in France and Australia. A few instructors are known to travel whenever they have the opportunity. However, I’d like to make this international community accessible to all Taido students on a wider scale. This need not be limited to instructors or even large dojo.

Chances are, someone in your dojo has some contacts in another country. Seek them out and ask for advice. Make the effort to invite students from other dojo to visit and practice with you. Then make sure to go see them too.

Making Contact

Since moving to Japan, I have been able to cement stronger friendships with Japanese Taidoka than I had in the past. These are not just connections through my instructor – they are personal relationships built through shared practice and discussion. I’ve also made friends with several of the students in Australia and in Europe.

Through this website, I have made contact with Taidoka from everywhere in the world, and they mostly seem very cool. I want to visit all of these people at their home dojo, and I plan to invite each of them to my own.

You don’t have to relocate or start a website to make friends in Taido. Visit the Australian Taido Forum and introduce yourself. Start a discussion or ask a question. Everyone will be excited to get to know you.

Also, keep up to date with tournaments and training camps. Besides the World Championships, we have regular International Friendship Games, European Championships, Australia’s Asia Pacific Games, and American International Tournaments. Clubs in Europe often host training camps – get in touch and ask if you can attend. American Taido summer camp is a great event for anyone who wants to visit the US and hang out at the beach.

Make a plan to attend a Taido event in another country. You will not regret it. The first step is to get in touch. Send an email and introduce yourself. Then ask about any events during the next few months. It really is just that simple.

The Invitation

I previously posted an open invitation to all Taidoka to visit my dojo at Georgia Tech in Atlanta, USA. In 2007 and 2008, we hosted visitors from India and Japan.

I will repeat that invitation now for any Taido practitioner who is interested in visiting Osaka. Osaka is a very different Japan from Tokyo, and Taido here is less tournament oriented. I will make a commitment to provide lodging, practice, and plenty of hanging out to any Taido student who can make it to Osaka. I’m pretty sure that other dojo members would offer to host visitors as well.

The Challenge

I challenge every Taido club worldwide to take this step toward a creating real community of Taido students. Lots of clubs are doing this, and the benefits are very tangible.

American Taido has had Japanese guest instructors for periods of up to five years. Maya Tabata spent a good bit of time in America and France. Masa Ohashi is back and forth between Japan and Australia constantly, it seems. Now there are a handful of French Taidoka living in Japan. I know there is fairly frequent exchange between the major dojo in EuTai. Lots of us from various countries have come to live in Japan for extended periods. Every time a Taido student practices at a foreign dojo, for one night or for a few years, everyone learns something.

Simple arrangements will do more for the future of international Taido than all the political nice-talk in the world and also allow the World Taido Federation to devote their official energies to developing Taido, supporting instructors, and creating educational materials.

Indeed, if individual students take the initiative to build their own community, the instructors can better focus on teaching, and the organizations can better focus on organizing. Perhaps then, instead of wasting time and money with marginal legal issues, Taido Honin can actually begin working to spread Taido. Wouldn’t that be nice?

Let’s all take the initiative together for creating an international community of Taido students. Get in touch, make friends, and meet up.

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