Thursday, September 15, 2011

History and "truth"

There's a lot of talk about the history of taiko and taiko songs bubbling amongst the online taiko community right now. Who has permission to play song X? Where did song Y come from? Who represents group Z?

It got me thinking about how the history of karate and certain kata (forms) and how the two arts of taiko and karate share similar...issues, if you will.

In karate's past, there have been people who have claimed they were taught by a famous teacher, who know special techniques, or make themselves of a higher rank out of the blue. Taiko has the whole "what is traditional?" hoo-ha and karate has "what is practical?".

For Shotokan karate in particular, we have about 25 different kata created by 6-7 different people. Kata 10 can look and feel nothing like kata 11-14, which in turn look and feel nothing like kata 15, and so on. Each "composer" made kata with their own sensibilities in mind and then all of them were put under the Shotokan umbrella. Add to this that each style of karate (of which I'd guess there are about 12 "main" styles) can easily have their own version of half (or more) of those kata, modified by their founder and/or influential teachers...

For my dojo, we're required to interpret the moves contained in each kata at the higher levels. What does this stance teach? Where would you use this move or this sequence? What was the creator of this kata trying to teach us? These questions wouldn't be such a big deal except for a confession by a highly-respected master that came to teach a seminar.

He basically confessed that some of the kata moves were made "because they looked good." What?!?! So we're trying to interpret the "hidden meaning" behind moves that never had them to begin with? What a twisted joke...

So how do I parallel this with taiko? Simply that there are a lot of misconceptions and people choosing to believe what's convenient, rather than seeking the truth for themselves. Mind you, I'm not saying all of you don't know the truth, or saying I know more than the next person. What I want people to come away with here is that we can't ever just assume that what our group tells us is "the truth". Your group might think it's the truth, but you can't assume it. Where did that song you play come from? Who gave you and your group permission to play it? What context is appropriate for that song?

It may sound like weird advice, but next time someone tells you any sort of taiko history, do some homework and figure out whether or not it's true or not. Find out who's got the real information and who can deliver it without bias. Those are the people you want to listen to. But even then - don't get lazy!

Seek out the truth!

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