I recently returned to Atlanta from Leiden, Netherlands, site of the 2007 International Taido Friendship Games and European Taido Championships. The five-day event comprised two international tournaments and three days of seminars. There were also plenty of chances to meet new people and get to know them by eating, drinking, and playing Taido together. It was crazy good fun.

I landed at Schiphol entirely clueless as to what the week would have in store for me. This was my first trip to Europe and my first meeting with many of the European Taido members. I”ll say up front that I was not disappointed with the quality of character or technique demonstrated by the various national delegations. I even managed to learn a few things.

Things I learned in Holland:

  • Holland is magic. Really. A good bit of the country used to be underwater, but it isn’t anymore. If that doesn’t constitute something special, I do’t know what does.
  • The city of Leiden is especially interesting. When the Spanish were out conquering most of Europe, they made it as far as the Netherlands. The Spanish army laid siege to Leiden for quite a while. Little did they know, the natives were up to something besides cringing in fear. They all moved to high ground (they had to build it first) and waited for the Spaniards to pass through the gates. When the time was upon them, they blew the dikes and drowned the invading army. Afterwards, they pumped the water back out to sea and burned the bodies of thousands of Spanish invaders. Diabolical. They retained their independence while other townships fell.
  • Kervers (president of the Dutch Taido Association and organizer of this event) lives in one of only two remaining city gates. There were originally eight.
  • Scandinavian Taidoka love sokutengeri. I had heard this rumor in the past, but had assumed it was somewhat exaggerated; it’s not exaggerated. I saw more sokutengeri in one week than I had in me previous twenty-something years of Taido. Not that ther’s anything wrong with sokutengeri, especially since they manage to score with it.
  • Now that I think of it, it’s pretty interesting how different countries seem to specialize in different techniques. In America, our jissen was traditionally focused on kaijogeri and hienzuki – pretty direct attack and defense stuff. In Japan, I noticed that sengi and manjigeri were the most common techniques in many tournaments. In Europe, it’s apparently sokutengeri. Apparently, every Taido association specializes somewhat in particular movements. The interesting thing is that the champions from each association specialize in different movements than the other competitors – that is until everyone starts copying them…
  • I wonder why this happens. Since Taido is supposed to be adaptable and evolving, it would appear that the tendency to specialize runs counter to our philosophy. However, specialization is appears to be a good way to prepare for competitions because it reduces the number of options from which a player must choose in the midst of jissen. This leads to a higher scoring ratio, but it may be weakening us in the long run.
  • Taidoka in other countries are very confused about American Taido. The most frequent question people asked me over the course of a week was “Why are there no others from America?” I found it impossible to answer.
  • Northern European people generally speak really good English. Every time I travel, I’m humbled by the fact that so many people speak my language. Why is it that so few Americans are multilingual? I guess the answer has to do with why so few Americans ever travel abroad. A lot of people tell me they don’t travel because it’s expensive, but Europeans for the most part pay incredibly high taxes and still manage to get out and see the neighboring countries at least. I think part of the answer lay in the fear of leaving our little bubbles and finding ourselves to be smaller fish than we had originally believed. I’ve discovered in the past few months that there is nothing wrong with being a small fish.
  • Taido people in any country know how to party.
  • The Swedes are hilarious dancers.
  • (Unfortunately) Taido politics are not an American invention. In every association, there are wheel-spinners – people who can’t do very much but bullshit their way into positions from which they attempt to control what others do. These people hide behind a number of excuses for why they don’t practice, but the fact of the matter is that people who don’t understand what they’re talking about should never be put in a leadership or teaching role.
  • One of the best reasons for holding international events is that everyone is exposed to different viewpoints and styles of practice. Even more, it becomes obvious whose ideas work and don’t work. With more points of comparison, it becomes obvious who knows what they’re doing and who doesn’t . Those schools that have the opportunity to practice regularly with students and teachers from different dojos are lucky indeed.
  • I got a great compliment from the guy who finally beat me in jissen . He’s well over six feet tall, and his name is Jarko. After our match one guy asked him how it was sparring with me, and he said it was “annoying.” I liked that a lot.
  • Not only did Jarko beat me in jissen; he also beat Kato Sensei in arm wrestling.
  • There happen to be quite a few people trying to develop new Taido techniques and applications. Some of it is superfluous and counterproductive, but some of it is brilliant. The later won’t happen without the former.
  • Leiden is beautiful. I want to go back there someday.
  • There are a lot of Taido clubs in Europe, and many of them invited me to come train with them. I’m really looking forward to visiting as many dojo as I can over the next few years. I heartily encourage everyone to make all efforts to do the same.
  • Finland has the world’s highest per capita incidence of both alcoholism and suicide. Maybe living in America isn’t so bad after all.
  • I need to practice more before I compete in Tournaments. I was pretty out of shape for this event (endurance-wise especially). Of course, some things are like riding a bike, but a lot of physical performance relies on the Specific Adaptation to Implied Demands (SAID) principle. Use it or lose it. My hokei and jissen both were good enough to get me into the finals, but without consistent practice, they won’t be good enough to get me a title. Moral: I need to practice with people more often.
  • Most Taido organizations really, really want to cooperate and collaborate on the international level. It’s really heartening to see that nobody wants complete control of the Taido empire for their own group. Everyone I talked to was into the idea of sharing and spreading Taido in a sustainable and egalitarian method of organization. I think that’s swell and great. Of course, wherever there is power to be wielded over others, some people will try to snatch up as much of it as possible. But the huge advantage of having an international organizing body is that no one person or group can ever claim to control too much of the whole.

    The biggest thing by far that I got out of this trip was, of course, the chance to meet a whole new bunch of really freaking awesome guys and girls who share my passion for the coolest martial art on the planet. I’m going to see a lot of them again (and again) over the next few years, and I know it’s going to be a blast. I also know that I’ll continue to be learning from all of them for quite a while to come.

    So to everyone whom I met in Leiden – Cheers, and thanks!

    To those who weren’t able to make this one – save your money and let’s all rock out together in 2009.