March 2006

It’s been a busy couple of weeks. Last weekend, I was in Australia for the second Asia Pacific Games. This past weekend, I joined the Yokohama team at the second annual Kanagawa friendship meet. As planned, it was a lot of fun, and we all enjoyed getting the chance to play with people we aren’t able to meet so often. This year’s event was a little larger than the first one, but everything still ran very smoothly. Here are my impressions:


The tournament is called the Kanagawa Prefectural Taido Association Friendship Meet. The name is both telling and misleading. Telling because it isn’t about winning medals but rather having fun together and deepening our friendships with other dojo. Misleading because the participants are not all members of Kanagawa Taido – they are members of dojo historically connected to Kanagawa Taido. It’s a tournament for our circle of friends, for the purpose of deepening that friendship. Kind of cool, if you ask me.

Actually, kanagawa Taido is only two groups: Yokohama Taido and Tokai Uni Taido. This meet includes our friends from Shizuoka as well. Basically, it’s Negishi’s Taido family reunion. His current dojo, his university club, his senseis’ dojo, and his friends were in attendance. Negishi has an ability to bring great people to him (how do you think he and I got to be friends?), and the quality of this meet reminded me just how many people hold him in high esteem.

Of course, this isn’t to imply that this event was just “the Negishi show”. That’s not what it was about at all. In fact, most of this year’s planning and execution of the event was done by members of the Yokohama dojo and the students at Tokai. Negishi’s style of getting things done is pretty hands-off. He tends to more often play the role of facilitator than that of project manager. Though this event was the result of a lot of people’s work and effort, it would not have happened without the Negishi magic.

The Tourney

“I was robbed!” just kidding. Yeah, I lost most of my matches. One match in particular, I kept hitting the guy with all kinds of kicks and punches, but I couldn’t seem to convince the judges that I deserved a point. I wouldn’t even bother to mention any of this if it weren’t for the the fact that later on, several people came up to me and told me that they thought I should have scored ippon at least twice during that match. Apparently, the every judge saw my points except the ones who were actually on the court.

Part of the problem apparently, is that I didn’t “appeal” to the judges with my techniques. Now I thought it was enough to simply hit the guy, but it seems that I have to actually hit him and then say “Look at me! I hit him!” in order to score. I understand what this advice means – I do tend to get on a roll with combinations of smaller attacks. I understand that, in tournament fighting, it’s a good idea to try and score with “big” techniques that are easy to see and “look like hits”. But damn, I would have thought that a clean manji to the chest, a straight shuihei to the belly, an ashigarami, and a punch clear to the back would have been obvious enough. Taido is about more than obvious hits, and this just serves to remind me that I really need to work on my gentai in jissen.

Actually, i’m really happy that my jissen is improving. It’s never been my strong point by a long shot, but I’m starting to find a groove that works for me. Part of it might be related to being in Japan, but that’s mostly because I get more chances to practice jissen here. When you are trying to teach jissen to beginners (as I was when I was spending most of my Taido time at Georgia Tech), you don’t get a lot of real practice. I’m also able to learn a lot by exposure to different players, including several champions. Not to say that I am “turning Japanese” in my Taido – I don’t see that happening – but I am learning and growing, and the change of environment has been a catalytic factor.

As for hokei. No, that wasn’t my best performance at all. I was all over the place. I started out trying to think of all the great advice I’d gotten on my Taido in the previous couple of weeks, but without spending time to work it in a practice environment, I wasn’t able to put it to use. About half-way through, I just gave up and finished. I don’t mean that to sound defeatist; I still did a good hokei. My hokei do not suck, but there are plenty of things I realize I need to spend some time fixing. In maybe about a year (spring 2007 – call me on it), I believe i’ll have definitely taken my hokei and jissen both to new levels.

My team ended up getting third in the team jissen though (and I did win that match). Of course, there were only four teams, and our opponents were the other Yokohama jissen team. It was kind of a farce, and we all knew it, so we decided beforehand to just have fun. Oe had asked me to win by bakuchugeri, and I tried, but the mojo was not with me. We were all getting tired, so I finished the game with a cheap punch and called it a day.

Brief Aside

Now the reason I say all of this isn’t to abate my own poor performance (I actually am pretty proud of the fact that, even when I lose, I manage to look pretty good doing it). No, that’s not it at all. It’s not as if I could have won this tourney anyway. I’m not that good – not remotely good enough to beat people who are consistently practicing for this kind of thing. Actually, I’m glad I didn’t win any events at the Kanagawa tournament because there is no reason why I should have.

Look at it this way – some of the guys who participated in this competition train several times each week. They are serious about doing things well and improving their skills. They deserve to win the medals. Most of the winners and placers are people who spend a good deal of their free time practicing Taido. That commitment brings the skill necessary to perform well at tournament events. While some of them may not have the experience or knowledge that I have, they do have an edge on me when I comes to competitions.

In contrast to the “players”, I practice maybe three times a month. I work out at home to stay in shape, but the Specific Adaptation to Imposed Demands principle says that there will be little carryover from my daily workouts to my Taido sport performance. There are ways to train that increase this carryover, but without a properly designed training progression, my practices and my workouts are basically unrelated.

In fact, when I perform in tournaments, I am really just doing the Taido I used to practice several years ago when I was more serious about my technical skills. Oddly, I’m better at Taido now, but I can still only perform skills as well as I have practiced them. Since I have improved my attributes (strength, stamina, coordination, etc.), I am better able to execute the skills (hokei, techniques, flips, etc.) that I used to work on, but the skills themselves don’t improve without specific practice. It’s kind of a tricky distinction, but an important one to understand.

I think it’s coming time to go through another skill-practice phase, but I’ll need to be able to increase my training frequency. In other words, it’ll probably have to wait until I get back to America. Anyway…

… And – we’re back!

So, anyway, the tournament went really well. We had a special “demonstration competition” for small children that aren’t able to do a complete hokei on their own. It was hell on the judges, but the kids were led through some basics for a numerical score. We also had the standard events.

Overall the hokei level was higher than the jissen level. Again, this goes back to the thing about practice – once you’ve practiced to a certain level in hokei, you have it. Jissen doesn’t work the same as hokei because there are a lot of other factors involved. Jissen isn’t so much a skill as it is a set of competencies. Besides that, I’ve recently reevaluated my notion of what constitutes high-level jissen in light of my experiences in Australia.

I’m not going to go into details about the tournament results because I don’t really think they matter too much. Most of the players did a really good job and tried hard while having a good time. I can’t help but see that as a recipe for success all around.

The Party

When all of the events were finished and we had cleaned up, everyone walked across the campus (this year’s meet was hosted by the Tokai club) to the uni commons for some food and drink, emphasis on drink. There were a few speeches, but among friends, they were the kind you enjoy listening to. There was none of the crap and filler – just lots of good comments about working together and keeping our Taido family strong. Akiyama Sensei always has a good way of phrasing things, and I think everyone appreciated his perspectives on how we can make the most of our experience with Taido.

I always enjoy these things, because it gives me a chance to talk to people that I don’t meet very often, and also to meet people that I may have seen around and not been able to talk to. This was no exception, and I was lucky to receive several invitations to practice at various locations in the future. It was also good to see Masaki and talk about the trip to Australia for a bit.

After a couple of hours of talking and drinking and laughing, it was time to close up. Chiba and I spotted a couple of full bottles of beer and had a final kampai before heading “home”.

The Second Party

Since I live the farthest out (four hours) I’m always the first person who has to leave from parties. Usually, I would have just taken the next day off work and crashed out at Negishi’s place, but my third-year junior high students were graduating, so I couldn’t miss it. After the first party was over, I decided I would just hop on the train and head home a little early.

By the time we neared the end of our walk from the uni commons, I had been convinced to have “just one beer” with everyone at the izakaya near the station before hopping the last train back to Gunma. And that is just what I did. I’m sure there was plenty of craziness and good times after I left, but i’m not to person to ask about all that…

The Lonely Ride Home

Then I sat on the train and promptly fell asleep, waking up only at transfer stations, as if by magic. I wish I could say something like “these long train rides always give me a chance to reflect on the day’s events and…”, but not this time. I was tired, and I slept.

I’ve recovered now (sort of), and I’ve had the time to reflect a bit, so I want to end this report with something I told the group before I headed out for the station:

We call this a friendship meet. It looks like a tournament, but it feels different. It feels like fun. If we can turn our opponents into friends, we are doing something very special. When we play Taido as friends, we have the freedom the try new things and make Taido better. If our friendship meet looks exactly like a tournament, what’s to stop us from turning all of our tournaments into meetings of friends? Nothing at all. When we bring that attitude of camaraderie even into competition, then we are building a Taido friendship that will last indefinitely.

Well, my Japanese isn’t so great, but that’s what I think I said.