Although fighting styles have existed since the cave-man (which is what we often see on TV), traditional martial arts signifies a specialized training system that has been developed for over 700 years. This advanced training system does not only consist of rigorous physical development and self-defense, but also emphasizes mental and emotional preparation to cope with the daily anxiety of battle and possible death. In times of conflict, martial artists are taught to remain calm and clear-headed without excessive use of energy. In times of peace, martial artists demonstrate exceptional self-control and discipline, as well as leadership skills seldom seen among civilians. In Japan, the samurai developed a code of ethics that solidified their function in society as positive role models and leaders of their community. This code of ethics termed Bushido, the Way of the Warrior, includes the virtues of compassion, justice, self-control and honesty. Bushido describes a lifestyle of excellence in order to train the body to become fit and healthy, to strengthen the spirit to become bold and fearless, and to tame the mind so it can attain inner peace amidst war.
There is no doubt that we live in constant struggle: sometimes it manifests in the streets, but more often we find ourselves battling a school exam, facing an angry boss, reliving past trauma, or feeling apprehension for the future. Traditional martial arts use mind-body practices to focus the mind in order to master emotions rather than be enslaved by them. We must be prepared with the appropriate tools and techniques to overcome our fear and negative thought patterns. In doing so, we can remain in-control when faced with difficult circumstances and reduce our risk for exacerbating the situation.
Taido is a unique Japanese martial art that features advanced footwork and 3-dimensional movement of the body axis. Unlike most karate styles, Taido does not clash with the opponent’s attack. Instead it changes the body axis to avoid the strike while countering simultaneously. Fast, effective footwork is essential to circle the opponent, maintain proper distance and change angles of attack. Taido techniques and martial strategy are steeped in traditional Japanese philosophy of proper edict, self-control and training mind-set. Taido students will ‘graduate’ with valuable self-defense tactics, advanced movement coordination and a healthy mind and body.
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Five Principles of Taido
- Keep your mind as clear and calm as the polished surface of a mirror. This way you will see to the heart of things. Having the right state of mind will help you avoid confusion.
- Be composed. Body and mind should be as one. Bear yourself correctly and you need never fear insult.
- Invigorate your spirit from the source of energy deep in your abdomen. With the right spirit you will never fear combat.
- In every action, follow the correct precepts you have been taught. By doing so you cannot act wrongly.
- Be adaptable in your techniques and maintain freedom of physical movement. The right technique will prevent you from being dominated.
Five Types of Body Movements
Taido classifies attack and defense techniques into five categories of body movement:
- Sen – Vertical spinning movement
- Un – Ascending and descending wave-like movement
- Hen – Falling movement characterized by changing the body’s axis
- Nen – Horizontal spinning movement
- Ten – Rolling and tumbling movement
These movements are combined with punches, kicks, and other techniques. The last category, Ten, includes acrobatic movements, for instance back-flips, which makes Taidō spectacular to watch.
Taidō has a special kind of foot-work, which is called unsoku, as well as non-stepping (acrobatic) locomotion, called unshin.
Internal martial arts describes those styles that rely on softness, meditation and “qi” or energy cultivation to overpower opponents that may even be stronger, yet stiff. These styles use softness to “listen” through their bodies and off-balance or strike the opponent in the most efficient manner. The technical aspect of the internal arts does not rely on brute strength, rather correct form and centered focus to maximize effectiveness. The mind-body coordination through intention is most important to make these techniques work.
Wudang Mountain, a Taoist sanctuary, is the birthplace of internal martial arts through the creation of Tai Chi by Zhan Sanfeng. For the first time, self-defence was combined with the breath, meditation and softness to cultivate and balance the flow of internal energy called ‘qi’. Therefore, the internal arts not only offer practical self-defense for all individuals, but also as a means of improving our physical and mental health. The three main internal martial arts are:
- Tai Chi
- Xing Yi
- Ba Gua
Other martial arts have borrowed the theory of these styles and applied them in unique ways such as Judo, Aikido and Wing Chun. Wudang became famous for the advanced use of the internal systems. At Kaikudo, our internal martial arts class focuses mainly on the Xing Yi system as a base for learning internal kung fu. Tai Chi and other styles are sometimes incorporated to enhance the class.
After students gain a firm understanding of the Yang 24 form, students may learn the advanced Wudang style of tai chi. Wudang Tai chi is the original tai chi style created over 700 years ago as a martial art and internal alchemy practice for priests on Wudang mountain. Wudang 13 is the original Tai Chi form created by Zhan Sanfeng himself. From Wudang 13 all other tai chi was born, although, the 13 form was not taught outside of Wudang until recently. The wudang style demonstrates powerful rooting, waist power and internal cultivation methods. The style is both more martial and internal with great detail and subtleties.
Benefits of Martial Arts Training
There are many aspects to martial art training that make it a better source of fitness than other exercise routines. Notwithstanding the benefits to mental and emotional health, martial arts enhance one’s physical health and performance through advanced training regimes that are naturally built into the stylistic movements. Current research and modern fitness experts say that the best way to lose weight and stay fit is through three key strategies: proper strength training, high-intensity interval training and circuit training. All of these tactics have been used in traditional martial art training for over 700 years! In addition, a portion of class-time is allocated to specialized muscle development, cardiovascular training and flexibility training to complement your martial art practice.
Taido techniques and routines naturally incorporate interval training, cardiovascular training and circuit training. In addition, the stylistic movements allow for multiple muscle groups to develop in unison and coordination. “Bunkai Routines” use specially designed drills to strengthen the appropriate muscle groups to execute techniques and develop movement coordination for advanced routines.
The end of class is often used to calm down and focus on flexibility while the muscles are warm. Flexibility training is an essential component to proper strength training and movement coordination. Stretching strengthens the tendons and ligaments while stimulating blood flow and muscle repair. A flexible body not only allows space for muscles, tendons and ligaments to grow, but will also reduce the likelihood of injury when falling or playing other sports. Kaikudo utilizes yoga-like stretches to enhance technique performance and reduce the risk of injury during practice. Other benefits from stretching include increased immune function, feelings of euphoria and youthfulness, diminished muscle atrophy and confidence in movement control.
Mind-body awareness has tremendous benefits on the mat and outside the dojo. Not only will students begin to listen to their bodies and stop injuries before they occur, but they will also enjoy the fruits of increased energy, good health and psychological wellbeing. In modern times, our environment has become infinitely complex, which leads to a constant state of mental and emotional stress, whether at school, work or even home. This mental stress ignites a chain reaction in our bodies called “fight or flight.” With so many mental stresses during a regular day our body is constantly preparing itself for “attack”. Essentially, our internal chemistry cannot tell the difference between a physical, mental or emotional attack on our system. This creates an unhealthy disposition in the body that depletes our energy reserves along with the body’s ability to preserve itself. Exercise, diet and mind-body practices, such as meditation and tai chi, have all been supported by research to decrease inflammation and stress, reduce the risk for chronic disease and improve mental health problems such as depression, fatigue, memory and concentration. Martial arts utilize mind-body practices to calm the mind and preserve a healthy body for the rest of our lives.