Tuesday, December 29, 2009

What archetype are you?

There's an Arabian proverb that goes:

"He who knows not and knows not he knows not: he is a fool - shun him. He who knows not and knows he knows not: he is simple - teach him. He who knows and knows not he knows: he is asleep - wake him. He who knows and knows he knows: he is wise - follow him."

There's also a "conscious competence theory" developed by Dr. Abraham Maslow. There are four stages of learning involved, which go like this:
  1. Unconscious Incompetence (not knowing you don't know)
  2. Conscious Incompetence (knowing you don't know)
  3. Conscious Competence (you know, but it takes effort)
  4. Unconscious Competence (second nature)
No matter how much you may like to ignore the first stage, we all start out as "fools". We didn't know the history of taiko nor the people that have made taiko what it is today. We wanted to play taiko, for whatever reasons - it was exciting, empowering, mysterious, and awesome all at once!

It's not easy to make it to the second stage, because you wind up climbing the first peak in triumph only to realize that it's not a peak, it's a merely a boulder and the real mountain range looms ahead of you. The realization of how much there is to know can be staggering! How do you strike effectively? How do you project energy? How do you fit into the style of your group? Who taught your teacher(s)? How many other groups are out there?

Most of us make it to the third stage, but it's certainly never easy to tell when it happens. Some things are easier now, but to put them all together still takes effort. It's like having a tabletop full of oiled frogs - you have to balance your time between keeping the ones in place there and chasing down the ones that hop away.

And the last stage isn't really the last stage. Here are the teachers in the taiko world, whether just within their own group(s) or to the taiko community as well. They have at least one skill that comes second nature to them, and hopefully have put time into the "hows" and "whys" of that skill to actively teach it to others. In other words, the some of the frogs are predictable. ;)

The biggest mistake an artist can make is to think that this journey is a one-way, or even a linear trip. Even the "wise" ones are still "fools"! There are so many levels of different skills in one taiko player that any of us can easily be all four archetypes at once. The trick? No trick - simply never stop once you realize you've started!

Monday, December 21, 2009

Metronome love, pt. 1

In kumidaiko, group drumming, there is a concept that some call "group time". The ensemble determines the tempo, even if there's a position/instrument responsible for it. We don't have a conductor; we're not going to be steady/even through the song.

However, as individuals, we can work on our own sense of "exact time" through use of a metronome. The electronic ones are cheap, as low as $30 for the basics (on, off, tempo). All you really need is a few minutes a day/week and something to play on. I recommend using a pair of western drumsticks and a drum pad, since you're not working on "taiko" technique as much as musical technique.

There are a crapload of drills I can talk about using the metronome; I'll just introduce two here and then sprinkle more in future posts.


Drill 1: Start at 100bpm (beats per minute) and hit once per "note" of the metronome for four notes, alternating hands. Switch to two hits per note for four notes (doubletime). Then switch to four hits per note for four notes (doubletime again). Repeat.

This is the most basic of drills, but if you find it too easy, increase the tempo in increments of 3bpm until you find your limit. Also, make sure you're not accenting any of the hits - everything should be even. Finally, try starting with your left hand; us right-handers neglect the left too often.

Drill 2: Start at 80bpm and do the same drill above, but with only one hand at a time. Switch back and forth between the hands when you repeat. The same comments above also apply here - increments of 3bpm, and keep your hits even!


Without knowing your personal habits when it comes to tempo, you can often be the one dragging/pushing the group, and you don't want that! Taking a little time with the metronome improves your skills but also helps the group out significantly.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Tweaking the dials...

Just changing the fonts and colors on the site to make it easier to read. Suggestions are welcome!

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Being the worst with the best

I mentioned this post, about our senior student ("G") at the karate dojo leaving on sabbatical. I talked about having to step up as a teacher. One thing I didn't realize at the time was how my training would also be affected.

When I came back to the dojo after a 10-year hiatus, I trained until I had caught up with the requirements for my belt level, which at the time was the first of three brown belts. As I got to know G better, we talked a lot more before and during classes. We would also spar a LOT more before class started, mostly out of boredom. In the first year or so of that sparring, I got my ass handed to me on a regular basis. I was spun around as my kicks were deflected, I was steamrollered by barrages of punches, my shins and ribs and chest were bruised throughout the week, and I could hardly land anything of my own on him.

Then one day, about two years later, I realized something. I wasn't being spun around anymore, I was avoiding the pummeling, I was bruised much less often, and I was getting in shots of my own. How did that happen? There was skill-building in those years of training, to be sure, and I got to know G's moves better, naturally. Still, by training with someone much better than I initially, my skills were quickly increased.

Bruce Lee's first kung fu teacher, Yip Man, is rumored to not have practiced with anyone of less than his own ability because he thought it would dilute his skills. Is there truth to that? If you're the least-skilled among a group, are you forced to improve to maintain your affiliation to that group? What if you're the best in that group, does associating with a group of lower-skilled individuals sully your own abilities? What about teaching, doesn't teaching make you understand something better? Does being the senior student in a class benefit a person or hinder them?

I don't have the answers, just posing the questions...

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Quote (Dec 09)

Better to fail attempting your passion than succeed in mediocrity.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Mu Daiko run out - day 4

Last day with Mu, and it was a great four days overall!

We had a discussion with both groups this morning about social justice, gender equality, and how the formation of both SJT and Mu Daiko tied in with those concepts. Unfortunately, just as things started to get going, we ran out of time.

Shortly after that, we did the last joint concert. After getting to know the members better, it was a lot more fun to watch their set from the sides and share the stage at the final number. Our show went just fine - brain farts aside, we gave a very strong performance and the audience reaction was very responsive.

The end of the day saw our two groups at a potluck at one of the Mu Daiko member's house. We got to relax, share stories, and eat! It was a great group-bonding experience, and did I mention the eating? :)

Tomorrow we leave the land of cold and icy for the land of cold and wet (it's raining in San Jose.) As usual, I have some great ideas for future blog posts after a trip out, so be sure to keep checking in for those awesome pearls of...um...pearly wisdom?

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Mu Daiko run out - day 3

I'm beat! About to crash after I finish this post...

Had a really fun workshop with a few of the Mu Daiko players and many Mu Daiko students, teaching them aspects of ki and hara, then teaching SJT's open-source piece Ei Ja Nai Ka. It was a big success, and many of the people that came got to see us perform tonight.

As for the gig, I think we're having more fun as we get more comfortable with the set-up and our hosts. :) A couple of minor hiccups didn't keep us from having a great show with one of our alumni in the audience (yay Mr. Mike - and clan!)

Tomorrow we go in for a joint-group discussion focused on social justice...either through taiko or the groups' experiences with social justice, I'm not sure. After that, a matinee performance to cap the weekend, and then we party! Or crash. Or both!

Friday, December 4, 2009

Mu Daiko run out - day 2

Nice and slow start to the day today, but productive! Got in the theater, accustomed ourselves to Mu Daiko's equipment, one queue-to-queue (where we only move drums and play transitions), then one runthrough. Just before the show, we worked out a joint encore with the Mu-ers, based around the venerable taiko song Matsuri (festival drums).

8 o'clock comes around, and the show starts! We're glad we were able to watch their show last night, because other wise it would have been hard to sneak peeks around the sides without letting the audience see us. The audience for these 3 joint concerts is officially sold out, and tonight's audience was really responsive, which is always great!

Our show went pretty well; all the issues we talked about during rehearsal were dealt with, and the audience was really really appreciative. There was one thing that happened though, and unfortunately it happened to me...

We have a song with four katsugi okedo, which are roped drums slung around the shoulder by a strap. It's pretty rare when one of the straps comes undone, but it does happen! And now I know how it feels! Still, I think I recovered really well. It slipped down low, but I had a grip on it like the song dictates, and I "one-handed" it until the solos started, where I used the first soloist's entrance to duck out the side wing right next to me. It was an emergency fix, but it was playable, no trauma, and I was able to finish the song without too much suspicion. You better believe that I'm triple-knotting the straps from now on!

After the show, a bite to eat with 2/3rds of Mu to get to know them better. Sometimes, like tonight, the after-party is the highlight of the evening!

Tomorrow we do a 2.5-hour workshop with Mu-ers, then another concert at night. Keep watching this blog for all the dirt! Cold, cold dirt...

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Mu Daiko run out - day 1

We're all here! The flights were uneventful and none-too-crowded (enough for me to lay out on one row of seats on the first leg)! It's cold here in Minneapolis, but for our layover in Denver, it was 9. NINE. It's not as bad here; maybe in the 20s?

We were greeted and picked up by members of Mu Daiko, which is pretty gracious since they had a full concert a couple of hours later! What's more, they came back to the hotel to drop us off near the theater before dinner, and then drove us back to the hotel!

The theater is small and cozy, about 200 seats. It was the first time I'd seen Mu Daiko perform before, and it was a great show. There was a lot of variety in both themes and music throughout the show and great interaction between the performers. It should be a lot of fun working and playing with them in the next three days!

Tomorrow is a 9:30 load-in for us, but we only have a small number of drums instead of our usual 40,000 (kidding, I kid) and only one half of a show to play, so it should be much easier than we're used to (knock on wood etc. etc.)

Off for now; stay tuned!