Karate and taiko: good for turning on the right side of your brain. Not. Good for whole-brain exercise.

In a post about turning on your right brain, one of Martha Beck’s suggestions is to learn new moves. I immediately thought that practitioners of karate and Japanese drum players therefore must have the right sides of their brains permanently turned to on.

However, when learning new moves in karate, say a new kata, I doubt whether it turns on only the right side of my brain. I find that it’s more of a pushing and stretching of both sides of my brain to actually try and work together. Although I must admit that sometimes moves on one side of the body are much easier than doing the same moves on the other side.

It’s the same with taiko (the playing of Japanese drums). Especially in the beginning:
Take the plain and simple don do ko rhythm. Boem boem-boem.
We get taught the “right way”: Right hand, right hand-left hand. So the first Boem is with the right hand, the first boem of the boem-boem is also with the right hand and the second boem of the boem-boem is with the left hand. With me?

We spend like a month or even longer (okay, I may be exaggerating for special effects, here, but bear with me) to perfect our right-handed Boem boem-boem.

Then, surprise-surprise, we get taught another “right way”: now starting with the left hand, which is quite frustrating to left-handed players after having gone through the trouble of learning how to NOT play with their naturally leading left hand first!

After a month (or even longer) of perfecting now both ways of playing Boem boem-boem, we find out that there is still another way of doing it: The Swing. You start with the right hand leading, but then switch to the left hand. [Actually, The Switch might have been a more appropriate name.]

Long story, short: Try to learn some new moves to turn on the right side of your brain. Chances are good, though, that you’ll end up exercising both sides of your brain. A win-win situation, if you ask me.


Tamashii Daiko and Riverdance used in the same sentence? How you learn from Taiko to expect anything.

Wow! There’s just nothing like receiving compliments, is there? Tamashii Daiko performed at the centennial celebrations of the Taiwanese Consulate in South Africa. And may I say this, as a member of the group: We were simply SENSATIONAL!

One guy compared our accuracy with that of Riverdance. Check this out if you’re living in an alternate universe and have no idea what I’m talking about. Now if that’s not a compliment, I don’t know what is.

Nervous energy abounded. We set up so that everybody that was anybody (important from the organising side, that is) could see where the drums should be and then they were moved to the side for the speeches. A variety of people came to offer help to move the drums. Each of them got a calm description and explanation of what were to be done. [The word ‘calm’ should indicate to you that this was not done by me.]

We were there, of course, L-O-O-O-O-NG before the guests arrived. This could be considered a good thing: we did not feel rushed; we knew where everything was and how we were going to do things. But it could also be considered a bad thing: L-O-O-O-O-TS of waiting = ample time for building panic and getting second thoughts…

But once the first note hit the Odaiko we were in the zone. OK, I admit this is my own personal experience and evaluation. When Stephan’s drum rolled of the stand, I’m pretty sure he must have felt not quite “in the zone”, but he recovered quickly and didn’t miss that many beats [not the best of puns, I know].

Not only does Taiko take us to interesting places, it also teaches us to deal with whatever is thrown at us! [Maybe I should rephrase: “whatever is thrown at us” conjures up images of rotten tomatoes.] It teaches us to deal with whatever comes our way. Let’s try again: What I’m trying to say is that we learn to adapt to circumstances. To go with the flow. To change according to the surroundings. As the saying goes: The only certainty in life is uncertainty.

To be able to adapt to uncertainty is a valuable life skill to have.

Bet you didn’t have this on your imaginary list of “Advantages of Taiko”.

What do tiles, tyres and tekkies have in common?

As there is probably just a few people who have an inkling of the answer, let me put you out of your misery. Bachis, of course.

Say what?

Tamashii Daiko has been practising Japanese drumming on tiles, tyres and tekkies because our usual practice space became unavailable and our leader is visiting family and learning new stuff to teach us (:-D). Lindie kindly offered her garage, but as she wanted to remain on speaking terms with her neighbours we opted for less noisy “drums”. Amanda kept us on track:

I believe our brains are like jungles. When we learn something new, we start cutting a pathway through the jungle. But the jungle being the jungle, quickly starts to grow back across the pathway. When we practise something, we prune and cut the branches back before the pathway is totally reclaimed by the jungle. So even though we did not drum on real drums, we managed to keep the regrowth at bay. [Of course, we explored some new pathways as well – don doko 1-2-3, clack-clack!]

We are looking forward to practising with drums again, though! Hitting tiles, tyres and tekkies are a bit like having an argument with someone who doesn’t argue back. Sometimes you want the noise and vibrations and passion and sore muscles that come from jumping yokatas and long arms and deep stances…

Conference taiko – a different lamb on the spit

So, we had this big gig at an agricultural conference this week. I am still battling with some negative emotions regarding the performance, because I made a lot of mistakes and I didn’t feel a connection with the audience.

Not that it was the audience’s fault. My thoughts were with the cramp in my left foot, trying not to grimace, and then trying to figure out where we were in the piece. Famous last words: I recently boasted that I don’t find myself in that type of situations any more… Obviously people show their appreciation, or lack thereof, in different ways and I knew, even before I started playing taiko myself, that not everybody like Japanese drumming.


With our informal performances the other day, we could see that the audience enjoyed our playing because they came closer. They smiled widely. They clapped hands enthusiastically. They wanted more. They came and tell us we were awesome. We felt their energy.

With our more formal performance this week we could see that the [much bigger] audience enjoyed our playing, I suppose, because they turned their chairs to look at us. Some recorded us with their cell phones. They clapped. Some smiled. Some covered their ears. We got paid.

And we got fed. That lamb was quite something, not to mention the pumpkin fritters! Yum!

Doing the work to be the ball

I’ve come across this idea long ago in Cheryl Richardson’s Life Makeovers: that in order for you to achieve something, like say, getting to your goal weight, you have to BE a slim person. You need the habits and characteristics and qualities of a slim person to become one.

She likens it to checking under the hood. When we plan to go somewhere, we decide where we want to go, we check the map, but often we start out with our journey without making sure that our vehicle will get us there. We don’t check under the hood. In the same way we have to look inside ourselves when embarking on a journey of whatever kind. Most often “we focus on what needs to get done without looking at who we need to become in order to get there”.

For some reason this reminds me of a scene in an animated movie about ants where the ants form themselves into a ball and chain and the weak-link ant anxiously reminds himself to be the ball. Be the ball actually implies that you should stop thinking and do things instinctively. Others seem to link it with visualising something – preferably holding it in your hands, because when you have it in your hands, it’s closer and therefore more important.

But maybe ball is not the best metaphor for a weight-related goal?

Let’s rather go to taiko.
After our Summer Party we’re now focussing on technique. Hours and hours (I’m exaggerating, of course) of don-do-kos in various configurations, how to hold the bachis correctly, how to stand correctly, how to jump…

Painful now, but you just wait till next year’s Summer Party. We will all be smiling comfortably during the fast part of Shimafu-uchi drumming instinctively without thinking (as opposed to this year’s grimacing and praying that nobody notices I’m not actually playing all the beats).

Point is: if I want to be a better player, if I want to be able to be the ball/bachi :-), I have to do the work. If I want to reach whatever goal, I need to do the work that will get me there.

By the way, rather than focusing on the frightening images and bad news from Japan, join us in sending positive vibes to Japan: We’re letting the power of the drums talk by beating the drums with the intention of sending positive energy to Japan. Learn more about using the power of group mind to send Divine Love to Japan here.

Tamashii Daiko – infecting the city and surrounding areas

Alex, Ursula’s taiko teacher from Germany came to help us prepare for Tamashii Daiko’s 2nd Summer Party. While training with the visiting expert, I felt infused with energy and respect. For this woman did for our pieces what punctuation does for writing – you know, a comma here, a full stop there… Amazing what a difference a loud note in the right place can make, or a few fast notes in the ground rhythm and, of all things, silence! Not to mention dramatic gestures and shouts from the belly!

I would like to boast that she took my taiko to a new level, but I seem to be more aware of how much I still have to learn. 🙂

Of course, we blew the socks of our audience with our last number at the Summer Party when we played Kazan in the dark with glow-in-the-dark bachis. We hit the bachis beforehand so that the room was pitch black when the lights went out. Children and the young-at-heart “ooh-ed” and “aah-ed” when we took out the coloured bachis. It really was amazing. And I thought we were quite professional because we managed not to hit ourselves or our colleagues during the performance in the dark.

Yesterday morning we performed at Cape Town’s station on a stage constructed of recycled materials as part of the Infecting the City Festival. The stage was quite sturdy, made up of blocks of crushed cool drink cans. The floor was rather slippery, though. (Before, I wondered why we sometimes did balancing exercises in our training sessions. Now I know!) The floor was so slippery that Alex had to pull back the shime with her right leg while playing; balancing on the left leg…

The background of the stage consisted of plastic bags (and smelling mostly of fish). Even though we expected most people would be in a hurry to get to work, some did go out of their way to come and look at us.

I had my first experience of letting my bachi fly during a performance, as well as totally forgetting where I was in the piece. I thought I was in the flow of things: I looked at the audience, looked them in the eye, smiled, and then promptly lost track of what came next.

You might have heard of psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihályi’s ideas on flow: a special state of mind in which there is total absorption for a period of time in a given activity?

Philip Zambardo and John Boyd discuss a few characteristics of flow in The Time Paradox. I felt the following four sufficiently covered what I understood under flow:

  • You don’t feel self-conscious – your action and your awareness merges.
  • There is a balance between your ability level and how much of a challenge it is.
  • You have a sense of personal control over the situation or activity.
  • The activity is intrinsically rewarding, so there is an effortlessness of action.

Well, turns out my flow needs some more preparation, repetition and work! 😉

Taiko isn’t called a martial art for no reason – a tribute to The Tantrum

It was very exciting news when we heard that Ursula started a new class. The more the merrier, yes. But it also meant that we (Carol, Lindie, Stephan and I) have acquired “intermediate” status. Bachi five, everyone!

People tend to think that playing the drums is not that difficult. And sometimes – but only rarely – it is true. After all, how difficult can it be? If you can count to eight, you fulfil one of the basic requirements for most pieces (at beginner level in any case – I can’t speak for the intermediate level yet. I’ve only just begun. 🙂 ).

But counting to eight becomes a complex matter when each player is starting at a different time, playing another rhythm at a louder/softer intensity…

Oh, and when you start feeling the vibrations: Anyone who has ever played Kazan would know what I’m talking about. There’s this one part: We affectionately call it The Tantrum. It goes like this:

1-2-3-BAM!-5-BAM! 1-2-3-BAM!-5-BAM! 1-2-3-BAM!-5-BAM!  BAM! BAM! BAM!

 When you stand with drums on both sides, playing with the left hand on the left drum and the right hand on the right drum, and two other players are throwing that tantrum on that same drums… Boy, you can feel it! And it can blast your ability to count clear out of your head!

Until recently I felt rather smug about not having blisters on my hands like the others. Somehow I managed to not get any. But our hot weather and the intensity of our sessions now in preparation for the Summer Party on the 19th is taking its toll. 😉

I also found out that it can actually be quite dangerous to be a Taiko player. Bachis sometimes fly through the air so that, in addition to the counting etc., you also have to be able to duck rather quickly in the right direction…

It’s not called a martial art for no reason!

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