A while back, I posted an article featuring my “Bottom 11” – the things that, in my opinion, suck about Taido. Some of these have been fleshed out in more recent articles, and some are just so dense that I have a hard time trying to work my way around them. I plan to expound on each point in due course, but some of them will take serious work. I hate to leave things on a negative note, so in the meantime, I present this opposite list: my Top 11 -the things I love most about Taido.
Let’s start at the technical end of the spectrum. I love Taido because of this ingenious strategic interjection. Unsoku per se is nothing new to martial art, but its implementation in Taido is quite unique. All martial arts of which I am aware have some notion of footwork since they were designed by and for bipeds. Moving on our feet is natural for humans, and this is exactly why most humans do not consider the strategic capabilities of their footwork.
Footwork, as defined in many martial arts, usually means one of three things: stepping to control distance, stepping to dodge an attack, or shifting stance to facilitate deployment of a specific technique. In such cases, there is often no method for using footwork. Rather, stances and techniques are drilled, and footwork manifests as whatever specific stepping adjustments are necessary to translate the kamae and kihon practice for kumite purposes. Footwork tends to arise in performance. This is not true for Taido.
Of course, I don’t want to make too many broad generalizations about specific martial arts. I am not an expert on martial art. I do know that, contrary to what my instructor claims, there are martial arts with sophisticated footwork, including some schools of silat and aikido. It could also be argued that wrestlers use a form of unshin.
My point isn’t really about what arts use what kind of footwork though. What I find absolutely cool about Taido’s unsoku/unshin is how it fits between kamae and waza as a strategic link. It’s not simply a by-product of translating from practice to application. In Taido, we teach specific movement strategies even to beginning students. What’s more – the unsoku/unshin movement is connected – integrated – with the overall attack/defense method. In skilled Taidoka, it is difficult to discern where unsoku ends and sotai begins.
I also love that unsoku can be used as a strategic method for non-combat applications, as I wrote I an earlier article. My mental unsoku often works as a heuristic between the observation and thinking/planning stages, helping me to determine the observations on which I should base my planning. As in jissen, this unsoku helps us to filter opportunities so we can find our best chances for success.
Through my Taido experience, I have made some of the best friends of my life. I’ve met some truly fantastic people from various countries that I would not have had the opportunity to meet through other means. In the past couple of years, especially, Taido’s international community seems to be growing larger and stronger at a faster pace than ever.
This isn’t so unique to Taido – many martial arts promote international exchange, allowing access to other cultures and ideas. Actually, I think that this point currently stands as one of the key areas we, as Taido students, need to put our energies into improving.
Nonetheless, we are getting somewhere. Due in no small part to the internet, we Taidoka can now communicate internationally and share our experiences and ideas. There have been Taido websites (that I was aware of) since 1997, but now most schools have their own homepages. This means that we can easily get in touch with Taido students at almost any dojo in the world. This is a very good thing, and it holds great potential for the future of our art.
This is another aspect of Taido that can be individually empowering for students. I think it’s obvious that Taido’s technique looks a little different every year. It’s cool to see new ideas come up, be tested, and either get adopted or dropped. This is true in the tournament events as well as in practices.
I have a lot of friends who practice Shotokan karate. Looking back at Shotokan’s history, many of them joke about organizational splits that began over such trifles as the correct way to keep score in tournaments or the exact hand position in kamae. In Taido, the techniques and methods evolve and change. This is a very good thing because it allows us to continue working together – even if we have different ideas. We can get together, share, test, and decide.
I love how Taido is designed to change. Being an incorrigible customizer, I enjoy spending a good portion of my time looking at how things are currently done and asking myself “how could we do this better?” I do this with individual movements, strategies, practice methods, curricula, competition methods, judging methods, and anything else I can think of. I even analyze my own thought process to determine if I can find a better mental model for the problem at hand. Through my teaching and through this website, these thoughts necessarily fuel the evolution of Taido because they influence other students.
If I can get things wrong enough, eventually somebody will find a way to make it right – and that makes for better Taido.
Theory Integrated at Every Level
You may not have noticed this, but a lot of my articles link to others of my articles. There is a good reason for this: in writing about any one aspect of Taido practice, I am also making statements that can be applied to other aspects. This is because Taido has an integrated theory at its core. Let’s not underestimate the power and uniqueness of this point.
In many martial arts, the theory is actually reverse-engineered from the technical applications. Students practice punches and kicks until they can reproduce them with perfect form, and then start thinking about how to apply them and why they work (or don’t). In Taido, we have the opposite paradigm – techniques are extrapolated form the theory. As an example, I created my dice game as a means of theorizing possible techniques before I actually attempted them. There is no process for doing this in most arts.
I look at Taido’s theory as being the martial equivalent of the harmelodic theory in music. Basically, it accounts for everything, whether it specifically intends to or not. There was a lot of stuff that Shukumine didn’t explicitly include in Taido, but I have yet to find anything that his theory doesn’t address.
Works with Any Technique Set
As we are discovering in American Taido right now, Taido’s theory holds true even for technique sets that are not traditionally part of Taido practice – specifically, grappling. American Taido students are finding that they can apply Taido’s theory to no-holds-barred fighting just as well as they can to jissen. Taking this even further, I suggest that we could also apply Taido theory to the use of weapons, including firearms.
The techniques we use are just a vocabulary. Two of the things that give meaning to words are context and syntax – situation and use. In Taido, we can think of the theory as a grammar for martial art. The different engagement venues (jissen, grappling, whatever) could be considered dialectic, and the techniques are created, adopted, and discarded more quickly than most people realize. The thing that defines the language (Taido) is the grammar – the specific rules of arranging the nominals, verbals, and etc into meaningful sets.
Applicable to Everything I Do
Since the theory integrates across all aspects of practice (if done well), application is unlimited. When you begin to realize this in a big-picture sense, it almost feels like magic. Just as I can apply Taido theory to jissen and general scrapping, I can apply it to music, my job, and my relationships.
Being a man of many and varied interests, I find it disagreeable to commit too much of my energy to any one of my passions. I like being able to kill two (or five) birds with one stone (and sometimes, I use poison). Thinking of ways to apply one of my passions to another gives me the joy of doing each in half the time. Though my nearest Taido dojo is four hours away from my home, I am able to practice an average of eighteen hours every day. This is because I am always thinking about how to Taido-ize whatever else I may seem to be doing.
Integration with Lifestyle
Similarly, the physical practice of Taido movement supports my health. Some of my friends think I am a “health nut” because I read medical journals and study such things as exercise physiology. I consciously avoid known carcinogens (such as artificial sweeteners, cooked oils, burned foods, aluminum, cigarette smoke, and chemical cleaners) and take multi-vitamins. To some, this behavior seems excessive or silly – even though I am very relaxed about my health practices. My response is always the same – “I would say ‘I told you so’ when I reach 120 years, but you’ll be long dead by then.” I am not exaggerating when I say that I won’t stop practicing Taido until I have done it for at least a hundred years.
I feel that Taido supports my health in a number of ways. Obviously, it is exercise that builds my physical attributes, and it offers many positive mental effects as well, but there are other things that Taido offers over most sports. In common with other martial arts, it’s something that I have to do myself – my performance belongs to me rather than to my team. I also have the chance to test my performance against a resistant partner or opponent. These two alone are priceless.
But even from a strict movement perspective, Taido offers things that most martial arts do not. The focus on sophisticated, interesting, and beautiful technique is one thing. Specifically, Taido is designed to move in 3-space, just as the human body exists in 3-space (plus…). Taido’s techniques naturally move all the joints and tissues through their ranges of motion. In contrast to weight training or martial arts like Shotokan, in which the movement is typically linear, Taido tests the body to the edges of its anatomical limits.
In addition of all of that, Taido gives me more opportunities to teach things that I feel are beneficial to others. As an instructor, I have the ability to change peoples’ lives – and I feel I have had a positive impact on a large number of others through Taido. I’ve also been on the receiving end of this phenomenon.
Taido is my family, my hobby, my job, my primary area of study, my sport, my relaxation, my workout, my excuse to travel, and during some lonely periods, my girlfriend.
This is one of those things that I just think is really damn cool. Since most people don’t know anything about Taido, I’m often asked how Taido is unique. My response is usually to demonstrate ebigeri, then I help them stand up (just kidding). I show them how it avoids an oncoming attack and counters simultaneously by changing the body-axis. It’s such a simple, elegant technique when applied properly. Most people are pretty impressed with the notion.
This kind of movement is of course not limited to ebigeri; all of the hengi use this concept, and it is also inherent in rendo rentai seiho (control by continuous movement). Very skilled jissen players score most of their points while avoiding their opponents’ attacks as well.
Like everything else in Taido, this idea isn’t limited to combative application. It can be used, just for one example, in the persuasion process. When you are trying to convince someone to see things your way, they often have objections or issues that run counter to your desires. One of the better ways to deal with objections is to understand the values behind the objection (why this person is telling you no) and use those values to turn the objection into a potential benefit.
There is no denying it: Taido is complicated. I think this is a very good thing. I get bored doing the same things over and over. Anything too easy isn’t worth my time. Taido is complicated and difficult, and this makes it interesting.
Taido has, by far, the most sophisticated movement palette of any formalized martial art I have ever seen. I think that’s great. The techniques are beautiful to watch and fun to perform. They may be a little challenging for beginners, but as our training and teaching methods improve, I believe that this will be less of an issue. Taido:s sophistication is definitely not to be viewed as a limit or detriment – greater sophistication is a natural part of the process of moving toward self-actuallization.
Ability to Use Modular Training Practices
Since Taido’s theory is built around a thought process (see, think, try, practice, think, apply), each step can be practiced individually as well as I series. The same is true for the technical methods and hokei. Being able to zero-in on a particular aspect can be really helpful in training. For one thing, breaking things down to into chunks gives us a better ability to measure our performance and create achievable goals for improvement. Another thing we can do is create incrementally more-sophisticated drill patterns.
It sounds complicated and technical when you are reading about it, but with just a little bit of practice, it isn’t difficult to make use of modularity in your own training. I’ve outlined some practices that make use of modular thinking here, here.
Always New Things to Try and Learn
There is limitless potential to challenge myself and grow by practicing Taido, because, as soon as I get one thing down, I find new ways to do it that make it even more fun. There are always new ways to kick, punch, and move in Taido.
Beyond the obvious stuff, my interest in Taido inspires me to study various related fields like physiology, kinesiology, and exercise science. My interest in teaching Taido inspires me to study pedagogy, developmental psychology, and communication. My interest in running a Taido club inspires me to study business, group dynamics, and management. And those are just the books I read last week (really).
The super-cool part is that, as I apply all of these studies to my Taido practice, I can also apply my understanding of Taido to my studies of these other related disciplines. In putting together this website, i’ve had to learn a lot of stuff that I had never thought about before. It would be difficult to describe how I apply Taido to the design and execution of this site, but Taido theory is on, in , under, and around every aspect of the Taido/Blog project.
And so those are my “Top 11.” Please leave a comment and share your favorite things about Taido too.