Thursday, August 28, 2014

Competitions - The findings

About a month ago I wrote a post HERE about taiko competition and that I wanted to gather some data on the subject.  I wrote up two surveys and asked taiko players to answer the one that fit them better - one for those who do compete, and one for those that don't.

I'll start with the analysis, then post the data below so as not to bore the people who don't care about the details.

For the 49 who answered the Non-Competition survey, only 33% said they'd seen a taiko competition, and 43% said that they wanted to compete in one.  That leaves 67% who had not seen one and 57% who did not want to compete in one.

Pride and purpose were the least valued reasons why people wanted to compete, while having a shared goal, skill increasing, and curiosity were highest.

Concerns about their group's skill level was the least valued reason why people did NOT want to compete, with concerns over the taiko community and the spirit of cooperation being the highest.


For the 31 who answered the Competition survey, 82% said they enjoyed competing.

89% of the responses said they did 0-2 competitions a year.   61% of respondents said they spent at least 50% or more of their training preparing for competitions.

Winning, recognition, and pride were the least valued reasons why people enjoying competing, while skill improvement, a tangible goal, and positive community impact were the highest.

Morale loss on losing and diminishing "thrill" were the least valued reasons why people did NOT enjoy competing, while wanting to focus on non-competitive things and personal stress were the highest.


Overall, for both the Non-Competition and Competition participants, it was 50/50 as to who competed in other things vs. those who did not.

A large majority (70%) of those who answered the Competition survey had only played with one group.  That number was much smaller (49%) within the Non-Competition survey.

There was only slight difference between the two surveys in how long participants had been playing with their current/primary group.  The range of the Competition survey was mainly within 3-5 and 10-15 years, while in Non-Competition it was 5-10 and 3-5.

As for how long participants had been playing taiko in total, for the Competition survey there was a larger concentration at 5-10, then 15+.  For Non-Competition it was at 3-5 then evenly around 5-10 and 10-15.


We can make some inferences based on this data, but even I will admit it's a very small sample size and many people answered the survey incorrectly or incompletely.  But it's a start!

So if I go by the data, It's definitely a minority of people who are interesting in seeing and/or participating in taiko competitions.  Would seeing competitions open their minds to the idea?  The data doesn't answer this, but from personal experience, I would say no.  Those who do compete seem to enjoy it rather overwhelmingly, but spend a majority of their time preparing for the few competitions they do.

Competition itself doesn't seem to be the issue here, since both groups compete in other things in equal amounts.

We could try to say that there are more people who've played longer that don't want competitions, but because of the small sample size, I'd be wary of this.  It would be interesting to see if the younger crowd or those who have played for less amount of time (0-5 years) are more interested in taiko competition.

So what can we learn from this?  A lot, if we keep an open mind - but it has to go BOTH WAYS.  There will always be people who do not want to have competition in taiko and trying to tell them that competition helps this or benefits that just makes them dig in their heels all the more.  There will always be people who truly want competition in taiko and trying to tell them that competition hurts this or harms that just makes them more fervent in their beliefs.

It's a lot like politics - those with the loudest voice are the most heard but often turn people off from the actual discussion of the subject.  Both sides have valid points and I think there's a lot of opportunity for sharing and understanding.

Personally, after all this collection, I feel like I know more about why people feel the way they do, but I'm still neutral.  The NA taiko community seems to be naturally resistant to the idea of taiko competition as a whole, so it's probably a moot point.  What will happen to that resistance in 10, 20, 30 years from now when there's a new generation of leaders, and perspectives on things have changed?  And for those that are comfortable in a culture of competition, will seeing how other groups view cooperation be a changing factor?  Or something more practical like how much time could be spent on other areas?  I guess we'll have to see, but in the meantime, maybe some good discussion is in order!


- 49 people replied to Non-Competition.
     - 1 response said they wanted to compete, but then answered both sections.  I kept the data in.
- 31 people replied to Competition.
     - 11 were incomplete, only answering a few of the 10 questions.
     - 3 responses said that they liked competing, but then answered both sections.  I kept the data in.

- Non-Competition: 65% were from the USA, with 2%-10% each from Canada, South American and European countries.
- Competition: 68% were from Brazil, with 23% from the USA, 6% from Canada, and 3% from Japan.

(For the next set of answers, a Likert-type scale was used.  1 was the lowest score, 5 was the highest.  The numbers displayed were the average scores for each category.)

- Non-Competition: 67% had not seen a taiko competition before.
     - Of those 33% that had seen a competition:
          - 3.94 "I was entertained."
          - 3.81 "I was impressed by the skills/level of competition."
          - 3.25 "The competition made me want to see more competitions."
          - 3.14 "The judging was fair."
          - 2.94 "The competition made me want to compete."
- Non-Competition: 43% would like to compete, 57% would not.
     - Of those 43% that would:
          - 4.47 "It would give my group a shared goal."
          - 4.47 "It would increase my/my group's skills."
          - 4.47 "I am curious to experience a taiko competition."
          - 4.21 "It would increase my/my group's visibility."
          - 4.05 "I feel it would impact the taiko community I play in positively"
          - 3.95 "It would bring me/my group group a sense of pride."
          - 3.89 "It would give me/my group a sense of purpose."
          - 3.47 "Winning is a motivating factor for me."

     - Of those 57% that would not:
          - 4.25 "I prefer a spirit of cooperation vs. competition."
          - 4.00 "I feel it would impact the taiko community I play in negatively."
          - 3.83 "It would upset the dynamics of my group."
          - 3.63 "I have no interest in competing."
          - 3.53 "I don’t feel my personal skills are up to competitive levels."
          - 3.50 "I don't like the pressure associated with competing."
          - 3.11 "I don’t feel my group's skill are up to competitive levels."

 - Competition: 82% said they enjoyed it, 18% said they did not.
     - Of those 82% that enjoyed it:
          - 4.31 "It brings people's skills up."
          - 4.19 "It gives me/my group a tangible goal."
          - 4.19 "It impacts the taiko community I play in positively."
          - 3.88 "It gives me a sense of purpose."
          - 3.81 "It brings recognition/pride to our group."
          - 3.73 "It brings recognition/pride to myself."
          - 3.56 "Winning is rewarding."

     - Of those 18% that did not enjoy it:
          - 3.80 "I want to focus more on other taiko-related things."
          - 3.44 "It brings too much personal stress."
          - 3.33 "It brings too much group stress."
          - 3.33 "It impacts the taiko community I play in negatively."
          - 3.29 "Judges are biased/not qualified."
          - 2.67 "Losing hurts morale too much."
          - 2.56 "The “thrill” of competing fades."

- Competition: How many competitions does your primary group do a year?
     -1          1          2          3          4          5+
     25%     39%      25%     4%                    7%
- Competition: How much of your group's training goes towards competition?
     -10%      10%      20%      30%      40%      50%      60%      70%      80%      90%      90%+
      21%                     4%      14%                    7%       7%       18%      11%      7%        11%

- Do you compete in other (non-taiko) competitions?
                           Yes       No
Non-Comp.:          49%    51%
Competition:         50%    50%

-  How many taiko groups have you been a member of?
                         1          2          3+
Non-Comp.:         49%    36%    16%
Competition:       70%    20%    10%

- How long have you been playing taiko with your current/primary group?

                         -1          1-3         3-5          5-10          10-15          15+
Non-Comp.:         9%         20%       22%        27%         11%          11%
Competition:       5%         20%       30%        10%         25%          10%

- How long have you been playing taiko in total?

                         -1          1-3         3-5          5-10          10-15          15+
Non-Comp.:         0%         4%         20%        40%           9%          27%
Competition:       0%         15%       30%        20%         20%          15%

Monday, August 25, 2014

What I learned at the WTKO Training Camp, part 6

continued from part 5 

6. Tension is easy.

I've said it in countless posts in my blog before, but it was nice to hear it reinforced over and over again during the camp.  Ubl-sensei said, "Tension is easy, relaxing is hard."  How true is that?

It's easy to tense muscles, but it's harder than you think to relax them.  One drill I've learned/done for taiko is to lift your arm straight up and then let it collapse freely.  I am still surprised when I have people try it and see how many of them can't let their arms fall limp.  They either don't know how much tension they're holding or they're not comfortable letting go of it.

When we get really tired or are pushing our limits physically, tension is going to happen.  But the more you can stay relaxed until that point, the better your technique and the further you can go before tension sneaks in.

7. Know the principles

Amos-sensei said this one, and talked about how you can lose yourself in the principles of technique once you know them.  When you're there, you can actually enjoy how everything feels.  One might argue this is contrary to earlier points in this series, about finding enjoyment in new chapters - but there's a difference between being too comfortable and being able to enjoy when the fundamentals are solid.

I liken this idea to someone who focuses on fundamentals vs. someone who focuses on learning songs.  The former is more likely to have a core system that can help them no matter what song they're learning, while the latter might never feel quite comfortable or may encounter new parts that they struggle with because there's nothing to inform them of how it should feel.

There are different principles, depending on your art.  For taiko, your group will have its own principles.  You could also argue that there are some overall principles for taiko.  There are even general principles for movement and for rhythm.  Can you think of some principles that you would be well-off following?  And do you?


Overall,  there were a ton of things to absorb from those four days, and this was just a small taste of what I felt I could put across that related to taiko without going on and on about kicking and kata and watching people getting punched, heh.

I hope you find some of this useful, even if it's not new information to you.  Sometimes hearing the same thing said in a different way can have a lot of impact!

Thursday, August 21, 2014

What I learned at the WTKO training camp, part 5

continued from part 4.

5. Training over the long-haul.

One of the things Amos-sensei said on the first day was about finding enjoyment in learning more.  When you "know it", what's left to look forward to?

Sure, you can relish the feeling of all your hard work to get to a good place.  Just ask yourself how long that pleasure will last, and if you want it to be a "pit stop" on your progression or turn into a  trench that's hard to get out of.

He ended that point talking about "new chapters", which seems like a good way to put one's progression.  How many new chapters will you go through in your growth, knowing that some can only start if YOU make them start?

From all of that he then talked about how you train has to change over the years.  He said "youthful stupidity fades over time."  It's a funny phrase, but it's got truth to it.  When we're young, we take our youthful abilities for granted and rely on that youth to handle our techniques.  But as we get older (and we all do), without the fundamentals of technique, youth fades and what are you left with?

Assume you'll be playing/practicing for a long time.  What steps are you taking now to ensure that not only can you continue in the future, but that you're setting yourself up to keep making progress?

Monday, August 18, 2014

What I learned at the WTKO Training Camp, part 4

continued from part3.

4. Go slow.

This is a point that I’ve seen a lot of people write about in physical training, both those in favor of it as well as caveats against it.  Practicing a technique fast means you cannot study what your body is doing and it’s harder to fix the problems.  You may learn sequence and you may get a good workout by going, but are you getting better?

The biggest benefit to practicing slow is that it’s hard!  Ever try to kick something slowly?  Regardless of whether or not you practice martial arts, imagine standing on one leg, bringing the other knee up towards the chest, extending the foot so the leg is straight, then recoiling the foot back and then down to the floor, and take about 12-15 seconds to do one rep. You’ll have muscles working hard to support your balance and leg extension.  After a few of these in a row, odds are you WILL be sore, where you can do dozens of those fast – maybe even hundreds if you’re trained – before you get sore.  So going slow works the muscles in a much harder way, on a basic level.

Even kneeling is hard when it’s slowed down.  Chieko Kojima (from Kodo and Hanayui) does a drill where you start standing and slowly kneel to a 10-count, then come back up to another 10-count.  And it’s a slow enough count to where you realize your leg muscles are not what you think they are.  You’ll be fine for a while, until all of a sudden, you’re not!  Then it’s fun standing back up…

You can also adjust a technique that’s slow much easier than if it’s going fast (with some exceptions for momentum).  If I’m lunging forward with a punch at full speed, I can’t always tell you exactly when my fist rotated, how close it was to the body, or if I was tightening the right muscles as I did it.  I have a general idea, but if I go slow, I can see and/or feel all of those details so much easier – and fix them if need be.

With a partner, slow training is invaluable.   Even though there were about two dozen or so higher-level black belts told to go slow at the camp, many of them couldn’t slow themselves down.  They had conditioned themselves to try techniques fast.  Why?  Well, I can say that sometimes I feel that speed will give me the power needed to make a technique “work”.  It just feels good to do it fast, even though it’s sometimes a hollow accomplishment and makes it really hard to improve on things.

For taiko, going slow means you can’t really get the snap of the bachi into the drum, but maybe that shouldn’t be the point of slow training.  Maybe instead you can focus on arm extension, connecting everything together, timing, etc.  You might find you’re bored playing a piece by yourself slowly, but I bet you could also find a lot of things you do that you can fix or do better.  The trick – and it’s a very hard trick indeed – is to make those changes happen when you go back to regular speed.  It could take a lot of slow reps or maybe even increasing the speed gradually with each rep with those issues in mind.

Momentum is really the only thing you lose when you train slowly.  Depending on what you need to work on, that could be very minor or tremendously important.  Do you need the explosiveness of the core muscles squeezing together in an instant to understand how to generate power?  Or are you looking to understand flow and how muscles connect one motion to the next?  Is the impact of the technique what you want to focus on?  Or are you trying to see where you can work on control?  Slow training isn’t for everything, but it is a revealing and powerful tool.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

What I learned at the WTKO Training Camp, part 3

continued from part 2. 

3. Being uncomfortable is valuable.

I had to ask Amos-sensei for clarification on this one.

Practicing a technique in a comfortable fashion has limited power to make you better at it.  That doesn’t mean it’s without value, just that after a while you become stuck there.  Sometimes you have to push yourself past what’s comfortable and be ok with it feeling uncomfortable.

It sucks to feel uncomfortable, especially when a specific technique used to feel “good”.  It’s definitely hard on your ego!  Once you can get past that, however, you find you’re enabling progress, and that’s never bad.

To be more specific, he demonstrated turning with a block.  If you push yourself and go faster than you’re used to, you’ll have a lot more momentum to deal with which throws your timing off in the middle and your stance off at the end.  Instead of feeling the need to dial it back to make it more comfortable, you’re better off getting used to the different timing and extra power, and figuring out how to make it work with the extra speed and power.  That’s the path to improvement, and you have to travel over speed bumps to get there.

This can apply to performing prescribed solos (the same solo over and over) or pushing your projection past what you think might feel silly.  It can also be more physical, like playing a solo just a little bit longer than your endurance is used to.

I've definitely talked about this concept before.  Once you're comfortable doing something, you risk stagnation letting it stay there too long.  It's great to get to that point after working hard, and if you're always struggling you'll burn out.  Best to find a balance!

Monday, August 11, 2014

What I learned at the WTKO Training Camp, part 2

Continued from part 1.

2. Posture.

This one will take some thought from me in how it works with taiko.  For karate, it makes perfect sense.  The power comes from the body, not the limbs.  Any punch or kick you can deliver with the hands or feet will can be faster and stronger when using the body to initiate and power the technique.  I’ve seen this countless times in karate, but also in taiko, boxing, etc.

If the body (the core muscles) is to give that power, they need to be aligned properly.  Ubl-sensei gave a great demonstration of staying aligned and using the core muscles as he walked through someone, knocking them to the floor with minimal external motion.  He mentioned how we walk upright, but once we start learning technique, we add all kinds of motion that feel beneficial, but actually make us less effective.

When we lean forward to attack, our balance is off and the core muscles cannot connect properly.  Sure, it can hurt, but not as much.  I also see a lot of taiko players that hunch/lean forward to reach the drum in front of them.  Sometimes it’s due to bad posture and letting the shoulders slump, back curve, etc.  Other times it’s because they can’t/don’t get lower in their stance to prevent the need to lean.  And where do you take that?  You wouldn’t want to train to be more off-balance, you’d want to train to be more balanced and connected, right?

In taiko, we are providing entertainment.  There are movements and motions that make it visually appealing, but at times require us to not be upright.  There are also some styles that play at angles for different reasons.  How does posture work in these cases?  When I watch some people play at angles on purpose (and not from poor technique) I can see that they’re still using the body to generate power.  And for a song like Yatai-Bayashi, where you’re sitting in front of the drum, you HAVE to lean back in order to get a good striking angle.  But aside from a forced position that puts you at an angle, wouldn’t playing upright be better?  This is what I’m trying to figure out.

Because I play with SJT, where we take a long stance and emphasize lower body movement, staying upright and using my core is important to me.  Add to that training in karate with an emphasis on moving from the hips and center, and you have a definite bias towards staying upright.  I might lean back to make a motion or bend forward to create a shape, but I never feel like I can strike the drum with the same amount of power, ease, or efficiency.  It’s easy to sell this on a betta drum, because you can’t tell me leaning backwards/forwards/sideways makes striking straight down better.

What about on naname then?  The drum is at an angle, and it’s not “natural” to strike at an angle.  If it was, there’d be a lot more groups that played naname, and there wouldn’t be a need to have many workshops on it.  I’ve heard a philosophy that you should angle your body to match the angle of the drum, which means your arms would follow a much simpler path to the drum.  I’m not sure how I feel about that, because of my aforementioned bias.  However, even if I’m “right” that being upright makes for a stronger strike, it doesn’t mean a strike can’t be still very strong, relaxed, and entertaining to watch when someone does it from an angled position.

Definitely need to study this more!