Monday, October 31, 2016

Optimal range

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I've been thinking a lot about distancing lately.

Take any single long motion, whether it's a lunging punch or a single strike from a raised position on the drum.  Overall, it's traveling a long distance.

The end of a technique, is relatively weak.  It's where you are slowing down, your body mass is compensating for the coming end, and the extension/snap is almost finished.  It's a spent technique.  A technique just starting out is also pretty weak, because it hasn't started to really accelerate.  That leaves you with a range of 10%-90%.

Now look at all the components of the technique.  If we look at a naname strike, you have initiation with the body, torso/hara turning, arm dropping, and wrist snap.  Each of those (should) happen in turn, eventually all moving together.  If you didn't have a drum, you'd stop at an extended point.  But you wouldn't necessarily want to stop at that same point if you had a drum there, because that point is the end of the technique.

When all of those components are at maximum acceleration, until they start to decelerate, that's your optimal range.  This range is often dependent on the mechanic that goes last.  In something like karate, you might move the body very quickly, but until the elbow is lined up in front of the body, now linked to support the punch, you're not at optimal range.  Hitting before that point means one of the components involved isn't able to link to another part in order to use its acceleration (in this case, the arm with the torso/core).

In taiko, the wrist snap is generally the last step of a strike.  If it comes too early, then other parts of the body aren't able to add to the snap fully.  It's also a very quick motion that doesn't afford a lot of time to sync it with everything else.  I didn't say optimal was easy!

You can look at other types of striking, like on shime.  I see people that punch downward, with a strike that ends up at an angle from the hand, rather than following the line of the arm.  Like an "L" vs. a "\", if that makes sense.  This means something is moving too fast for the wrist snap or the snap is moving too slowly.  It also requires an adjustment to alignment, to place the strike where optimal range takes it.  If it was optimal, the angle would be the same in bachi, wrist, and arm.

It's somewhat easy to tell when you're on the "too soon" side of optimal, because it's like throwing your bachi tip towards the drum.  It feels unwieldy.  But because we tend to focus on the arm during a strike, and it feels "good" to have full extension, it's harder to realize when we're on the "too late" side.

Think that's a lot to think about?  You're right.  Wait until you add the complexity of a second bachi, or multiple drums, or playing something mobile like katsugi okedo!  But don't despair, don't overthink.  This is just a tool that you can work with to improve your technique.

It's more efficient and I would argue easier on the body to utilize optimal range when striking something, whether an imaginary opponent or a stationary drum.  As taiko players, we tend not to think about this much because if you make a loud sound, you're doing a good job!  But can you do a better job?

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