In spoken language, physical experiences are invoked to convey the gravity of our feelings: a gut reaction is one that should be heeded; a hard-earned achievement is drenched in blood, sweat and tears; and when something knocks the wind out of us, it leaves us incapacitated. Grounding experience in physical terms facilitates understanding because when our bodies speak to us, we pay attention.
Taiden, or physical transmission, is a powerful aspect of training and its methods are some of the most common associations with budo. Taiden puts our bodies to work, making them interpret lessons that words can’t adequately capture in a more immediate language. There are some things we must experience firsthand to learn - things we need to see and feel before we can internalize them. When we can literally absorb the teachings of the Bujinkan, our ability to share them is enhanced.
Physical transmission is unforgiving when it needs to be. Corrections are instantaneous and lessons linger long after we leave the dojo. Aching joints and protesting muscles are relentless reprimands for our mistakes, insistent reminders of what we need to improve and unavoidable impetus to get stronger. The discomfort we experience keeps us humble; it makes us aware of all the different ways we can be broken and how easily weaknesses we never knew we had can be exploited. When a well-executed technique we’ve received a thousand times past still hurts, it is a reminder that no matter how hard we train, we will never be invincible. Taiden teaches us again and again how vulnerable we are and how vital it is to learn to deal with pain.
In training, as in so much of life, we learn to deal with pain by sharing it. Becoming accustomed to physical stress in an environment that fosters growth and progress helps us learn to withstand more over time. It helps take the fear out of a fight and prepares us to face the next challenge with resolve. It enables us to recognize power and intent in others; it helps us learn to control these things in ourselves; and it teaches us empathy as we watch our peers undergoing the same strains and stresses that make us wince at the sight. Offering our bodies to learn together is a pact we make with our fellow buyu to trust
and take care of one another as tori and uke, to support each other through hardship and ultimately to help each other get stronger.
Physical lessons imparted in the dojo translate into much more of our day to day lives. They implore us to take care of ourselves so we can bring our best honed abilities to our training, and to pay attention to sensory signals and feedback. In a society where we are increasingly disconnected from our bodies through increasingly sedentary lifestyles, the ability to be physically responsive is dwindling. As we progress in our training, we learn how to tune our physical bearing to engage with changing surroundings. We come to sense when we need to be supple like water, solid like earth, explosive like fire, evasive like wind or creative like the void. Habitual awareness of our physicality is our constant
kamae, alerting us to the potential in all situations and readying us to take appropriate action.
Taiden teaches us lessons we feel in our bones – sometimes they rattle us into attention and sometimes they cause our entire structure to break down so we can build it up stronger. In doing so, we tap the wisdom of our bodies, letting it bleed into all that we do. The scars we carry from taiden bear witness to our place in the chain of transmission – because we have healed, we know we can be hurt; because we have been hurt, we know we are fragile; and because we know we are fragile, we learn how to survive.