Thursday, February 27, 2014

Dyson on failure

James Dyson, the British inventor and founder of the Dyson company was interviewed by Wired magazine in the December 2012 issue.

When asked if his prototypes ever fail, he replied, "Absolutely.  It's when something fails that you learn.  If it doesn't fail, you don't learn anything.  You haven't made any progress."

I realize it can be more impactful when a group or organization fails at something, but in terms of an individual failing, it's only a real loss if you don't learn anything from it.

In my time as an artist, I've:

- Failed getting into SJT.
- Failed the first round of auditions for STOMP.
- Written songs that were way too complicated and ornate.
- Failed at solo moves I spent time working on.
- Failed my 3rd-degree black belt test.
- Didn't place in the top 3 in sparring/kata events several times.

There have been a lot of failures that for me were at best, stinging and at worst, gut-wrenching.  I've learned from them all and they don't stop me from trying.  Trying hard.  To not allow yourself to fail is to not allow yourself to grow.

Monday, February 24, 2014

5 Years!

Yep, another anniversary!

It was 5 years ago that I started this blog, and wow have I written a lot...

It surprises me that I still find things to write about, sometimes too many things.  I still have to censor myself at times because it's really easy to say something that gets misunderstood.  And even though this blog is still a way for me to express myself and help me put my thoughts in order, there's no greater pleasure than when someone thanks me for a post or tells me that my blog really helped.

I wish I could teach more in the sense of workshops or classes, but I don't have the resources or the branding to be in high-demand.  So this is my way of putting out information that any taiko player with internet access can get to.  I never want someone to think that I have the truth, that I'm the authority on any subject; I want people to question and discover and explore what's out there and find their own truths!

So if you like the blog, recommend it to others in your group, share the posts on your FB wall if they've helped you out, and as always, if there's something you'd like me to write about, let me know!

Here's to another 5 years...

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Truth vs. truth

In philosophy, you sometimes encounter the discussion of "Truth" vs. "truth".

Since I'm not a philosophy major, let's just say that a "Truth" is something that is universal and objective, while a "truth" is something that is subjective no matter how many people believe it. "I will die if I jump into the sun" is a Truth.  "The best ice cream flavor is chocolate" is a truth.  Maybe someday some Truths will be proven false, like if we evolve into a plasma-resistant species, but you get my point.

Tonight in the dojo, 5 of us were staying after class and discussing fine details of body mechanics when moving.  The discussion even got into physics equations (I was of little use there) to argue and explain what we believed and questioned.  At the end, we agreed on only one Truth: The feet are somehow involved.  Ha!  That's like spending an hour talking about drag racing and coming to agree that you need tires on your car.  Still, it's a Truth.  All the other truths that we brought were debated to minutia.  Even the truths most of us agreed on had some doubters.  I loved it.

I bring up this topic because I see a lot of people in taiko taking a truth and making it a Truth.  They were taught a way of playing and it's now the right way of playing.  They were told something by their sensei and so it must be Truth.  It's not necessarily that they try to proselytize others, but instead may not respond well to a different approach of playing.  To them, one person's truth has become their Truth.  This isn't to say what's not a Truth is a lie!  Big difference there.  I'm simply saying what's a truth might work well under one style or system, but not apply outside of that style or system.

How do you know when a Truth is a truth?  You have to question things.  "Hitting harder means a louder sound" is a Truth for many new players, but ask those who have been playing a long time and you'll find very few that support that belief.  "Japanese taiko is better than other taiko" is a big Truth for some, but good luck having that one go unchallenged.  Ultimately, I bet you'll find only a few Truths if you search in earnest.  To me, that's a good thing!  The more you know that things aren't set, the more opportunities you have to learn.

I play with SJT style as a default, but we have very specific goals with our style.  Because of that, I know there's more to learn by looking at other styles of playing.  Maybe a group that doesn't focus as much on kata has a different way to think of chops?  What about a group that focuses more on dance-like movement, what might they have to teach about body mechanics?  Maybe learning something that feels totally foreign to me will expose weaknesses in my ability or highlight what I'm really good at.  I won't know unless I try.  I might not find a truth I agree with right away, but if I keep looking, I bet I'll find some I do.  And that's when I grow.

There is no one person that plays taiko the "right" way.  Some don't even play the "right" way for themselves, but it's what they've learned.  I've been playing for a long time and it's not always easy for me to think "maybe there are better ways", but if there is no "right" way, then that means I still have things to learn.

How about you?

Monday, February 17, 2014

2014 World Taiko Gathering workshops (shameless plug!)

This July 17th-20th in Los Angeles is the first World Taiko Gathering, a conference much like the NATC, but with a focus on bringing in participants and instructors from outside North America (as well as many from within!)

I'll be teaching a workshop called "Rhythm: From Head to Toe" which focuses on building a person's ability to process and comprehend rhythm through thinking and feeling, respectively.  There's learning through body percussion, learning how to break down rhythms in small chunks, some composition sections, and a lot of drills that can be done without taiko for long-term development.

I've done workshops on rhythm development, but this one will be different as I plan to approach rhythms in those two separate ways then bring them together.  I've been to workshops where I can't remember what I did a year later, so I'm trying to give tools and methods that people can use years down the line.

As for the rest of the workshops at WTG, some are being taught by people that have never taught a workshop in the U.S., but many by the ones in high-demand at other conferences.  Those from outside the U.S. may never get another chance to teach again, and I'm hoping to meet most, if not all of them!

I hope that my workshop fills up, and if any of you are able to make it to WTG, please find me and say hello!  (I'll probably be standing in shade if I'm outside...)

Thursday, February 13, 2014

It's not about them.

I was watching a kumite (sparring) video that featured our organization's head sensei and noting the speed, precision, and intention of those involved.  I also watched for the differences between them and myself - because of the huge skill difference - and was hoping to learn something.

I heard secondhand about something that same sensei said in regards to this kind of kumite.  In essence, if the other person is better than you, you're going to get hit.  Period.  If you worry about it and tense up, screw up your posture, or adjust your technique poorly in anticipation, you're still going to get hit, but you're also not going to get any better on top of it.  In other words, it's not about them, it's about you.

So when you perform, are you worried about what the audience will think of your performance?  Or are you going to focus on using the tools you've been given to do your best?  Which of those two options do you think will help you become a better player?

Are you thinking about how other players solo better than you and you can't compare?  Or are you having fun expressing yourself in time to the music that the ensemble is providing for you?  Which one do you think will have a better outcome?

When people ask me how to gain confidence on stage, I tell them a lot of it comes from simply doing things a lot, because it means you gain confidence in your skills.  As long as you worry about what other people are thinking during your performance, you will never gain confidence.  It's good to reflect later about how something might have gone, but in that moment - just play, and play from the heart.  Confidence will follow!

Monday, February 10, 2014


In taiko, there are often spots where a performer (or performers) are still.  Sometimes this is a pose before or during a song, other times it's just standing in a spot before the song starts.

For many, it's hard enough to stop moving during a song.  It can leave one feeling exposed and vulnerable, especially during a solo where all eyes are on you.  It's often the mark of a confident player to pull that off well.

What I'm talking about here is more than simply stopping the big motions - or even the small ones.  I mean being aware of the tiny, fine motions that make a subtle yet important difference.

If you stand up straight for a minute, you might not think you sway at all.  But record it, play it back on fast-forward, and see if you're not surprised how much motion is there.  It's about awareness and balance.  More about the former than the latter, though.

In karate, you're often holding poses between counts.  There's also an intention of purpose that you're expected to develop, which makes you aware of where parts of your body are.  Where's your center of balance?  Where are you looking?  Is your eye focus shifting in those seconds of stillness?  Is your intention radiating outwards from your body or are you just waiting?  So many little things to be aware of...

Maybe you stand at the drum before a song starts.  Are you looking around with your head or your eyes not knowing when to start?  Or are you trusting peripheral vision?  Are you casual with your posture or are you keeping your body elongated, alive?  Watch others on stage during these moments and ask yourself what you like seeing.

This can make someone over-think things, but with practice (like anything else), it just becomes the norm.  To some groups, it's really not worth the effort, and that's totally fine!  But if as an individual, you want to find things to work on, this is an often-overlooked skill.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Ready? Teach!

I talk about teaching a lot, and I realize the majority of my readers don't teach.  But that doesn't mean some of the benefits of teaching can't be realized.

Imagine being told that you have to teach a class tomorrow.  Your students will all be of less experience than you, and you'll be teaching fundamentals from an appropriate level (i.e., stuff you know).

Could you do it?

I realize public speaking or being an authority is difficult for some people.  I also realize that some people may never want to teach; it's not in their blood.  But let's pretend those aren't factors for this exercise.

Have you been paying attention to not just what your instructors teach, but how they teach?  Could you take what they've been telling you and pass it on for a single session, or a longer class?  Have you ever thought about what things you didn't get during that level of instruction and how you would make things clearer?

The act of teaching a skill you know makes you better at it.  The process forces you to think about that skill in new ways, so that other people can understand how to do it.  Yes, some people are better at it than others, some people teach only one way and can't adapt, sure.  We all have our strengths and weaknesses - but the key is that you are better at what you do if you think about how you would teach it.

So...are you ready yet?  :)

Monday, February 3, 2014

What's on the Tube?

It's Superbowl Sunday, but as I avoid sports as a practice.  So instead I think I'll peruse YouTube for some taiko videos!

I highly recommend that taiko players do this.  Here's what I do:

1. Go to YouTube.
2. Search for "taiko -tatsujin -master -osu!"
     (remove the quotes; this gets rid of most of the video games, but not all.)
3. Change the Filters selection to "Upload Date" so you see what's more recent.
4. Enjoy!

Look to see what people around the world are doing.  You may not like all of it, but I'll guarantee you there's taiko being uploaded that will interest you, maybe even inspire you.  There is so much out there and only a fraction of it gets put on YouTube, but seeing this stuff can be a real eye-opener and positive reminder of how much happens outside of our own taiko bubble, no matter how large we think that bubble is.