Monday, August 27, 2012

One-inch punch

The power of taiko is a wonderful thing.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard people say how it impacted them, how they felt it in their bones or their being.  All of you who’ve ever struck the taiko know that feeling first-hand; we feel it every single time we strike the drum.

In taiko, power can come from a lot of things.  The energy given off at a dynamic performance can be powerful.  A lone odaiko player playing non-stop for several minutes can be powerful in their raw intensity.  A sudden stop in a passage can be powerful for its precise unexpectedness.  A performer really “in the zone” and broadcasting that joy outwards can be powerful.  Even a single strike can be powerful.

In San Jose Taiko, we often talk about how to generate power through proper technique.  A lot of time is spent on our kata from the feet all the way through the bachi.  What’s important to remember, however – and a lot of taiko players can easily forget – is that power does not equal a good sound.

I can hit a taiko as hard as anyone I know.  I’ve got decades of experience in karate and taiko combined, my bachi are longer than most (extra weight there), and my arms are so long that they’ll have generated a ton of speed by the time I come down...but so what?  If I strike the taiko with all my available force, I’m going to create a sound that’s loud, abrasive, and I’m probably going to damage the head.

Decades of conventional training taught martial artists that a big technique meant big power.  So that’s how people would attack, because they wanted the most power out of a technique.  Bruce Lee came into the picture and would knock people flat with his fist positioned only an inch away.  Tiny details of technique aside, his big “secret” was that he used his body to generate all the power he needed and did not rely on size or momentum.  It was all about acceleration and efficiency.  Sounds like what a good taiko strike should be!

What’s really important, more than sheer power, is good technique.  A good sound takes the right combination of technique and power.  You can’t really have too much technique, but you can definitely have too much power.  To use PJ’s terms, it’s the difference between a “bwah” sound that comes back out of the drum vs. a “thud” that gets driven through the drum.  Once you go past a certain level of power, you lose the “bwah”.

Technique is one of those things that you can study and improve on forever.  It’s where you hold your bachi in your hand, where on the head you strike, what angle your strike attacks the head, how relaxed your grip is, and many other fine details.  Power can come from technique as well as strength, but really you don’t need a lot of it to make a strike sound good.

To avoid over-hitting, see if you can find power through technique and not through strength.  Strength fades in time, but technique can last you forever.

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