Monday, July 27, 2009


This morning my gf and I were talking about taiko (surprise!) and she said she noticed that I think quickly when I play. I do feel able to pull up patterns that I want to try at will and make decisions on the "in the moment", true. We continued talking about what strengths she has and how our brains are wired.

We both have backgrounds in physical arts - hers in dance, mine in martial arts. For years I've been saying that doing karate on non-taiko nights keeps me "sane" and/or "balanced" so that I'm not only doing taiko and getting burnt-out or bored. However, I've never really looked into that with any sort of deep scrutiny or analysis.

From public workshops, attending national conferences, and bumping into players on tour, I would say that about two-thirds of the people that I've met who start playing taiko have some sort of physical or musical background. However, very few keep doing the "other" thing once they start taiko. That's a shame, but it's also understandable.

The background one brings into playing taiko is priceless. Martial artists and dancers tend to learn body and movement aspects quicker, musicians tend to get rhythm and musical aspects quickly. It will depend on the group and their focus, but with SJT, the former tend to see the benefits sooner, and the latter will see them later on.

The audience doesn't tend to know each member's background, but as I watch our group, I can see a person's background in their playing. The dancers prefer to move and know how to use their bodies to express themselves. They tend to use all the space in their available sphere and radiate energy outwards like a bomb. Martial artists tend to show purpose in their movements, generating ki with ease and able to project that ki with either motion or expression like a laser. Musicians bring their ear and hands into the mix, infusing a solo with their voice. Percussionists are able to strike with extra ease and precision, but musical non-percussionists tend to hear the ensemble on a level that many people struggle to do.

I can only speak with authority on my own cross-training, karate and taiko. There is a strong foundation of physical conditioning to lay my taiko training on - deep stances and muscle memory, intention in striking/hitting a target, and something I just realized today, sparring!

The "mental quickness" that got brought up this morning is something I've taken for granted, but it's directly helped by sparring. We don't go full-contact at my dojo, but I've taken a fair share of painful blows nonetheless. Still, the ability to be 100% present in the moment, to be thinking "where are they open? where am I open? do I want to strike now? do they want me to strike now? do I want them to strike now? where are they trying to position me?" one second and then to either simply *act* or *react* the next is what gives me that same presence of mind when I'm soloing in taiko.'s where it changes from merely recognizing a strength I have to a puzzle: how can I teach that skill to non-martial artists who play taiko? Can it be taught? To what degree? How did non-martial artists who have that skill get it?

So this post is a two-parter; a questioning of what one can do in cross-training that directly benefits one's playing, and a question of how to teach those benefits to those who don't cross-train in that same manner. As I gear up for the 2009 North American Taiko Conference next week, I may be able to implement some ideas in one of my workshops, but I have a feeling that it'll be a long-term pondering to figure out these new questions. I welcome the challenge.

For those that do cross-train, what do you do and how does it help you?

1 comment:

  1. Nice post. I like how it touches the same core idea that one should do different exercises that train the same muscle group. Exposure to different experiences allows a person to bring new skills to old activities.

    As far as teaching "cross-training," I don't think a verbal lecture could ever truly accomplish such an end. Part of the cross-training is the action itself that leads the trainee to point of "act" and "react," to borrow on your terms.

    I wonder what other types of cross-training really benefit taiko. Yoga for flexibility, maybe?

    Teaching cross-training would be challenging indeed.