Taiko as Practice
Author: brenda joy lem
Originally taiko were made from one continuous piece of wood, no glue, no nails. The drum maker would cut one segment of the tree, carve it into shape, hollow out the middle. How many years does it take for a tree to grow big enough to have the circumference necessary to create a big drum? Many, many years. And the drum skin? Most taiko use cow hides, ours also have been made with deer and bison hide. How do we honour these animals? In many old cultures, there is a belief in the healing power of playing and hearing the sound of the drum. When I sound the drum, I want to align my practice with how to fundamentally be at peace with myself, with the modern world we live in and with nature. I also believe this is a way to honour the drum.
I began drumming over 30 years ago with Wasabi Daiko, instructed mostly by senior members, Shinobu Homma and Rick Shiomi. I was a bookish, shy, “90 pound weakling” as described by one of my instructors. In order to sound the drum as loud as my male counterparts I needed to use more than my arms, I needed to draw on core strength, chi and concentration of mind and energy. Over the years I developed a way to teach taiko, integrating yoga, chi kung and meditation. Practicing taiko this way, for many years, has not only changed my body, but also my awareness, my very being, in subtle and not so subtle ways. Oddly, when I teach I do not spend a lot of time talking about this theory, as I feel it is important to understand through experience and in the very cells of your body. I am grateful to the members of Inner Truth who have all brought their openness, respect and patience to this practice. I am going to share, how I lead Inner Truth Taiko Dojo Practice, and how I envision this theory based on how my practice manifests in my body, but I don’t imagine other members of the group necessarily experience it this way.
Sitting on our yoga mats, we start taking a few deep breaths together, allowing us to arrive at our practice space. As we stretch, the breath slows down and begins to lengthen, we may become aware of where we are holding tension, which muscles are tight. Many of the positions use gravity to open us, allowing us to let go. It is a process; as we move through our ritual poses there is a gradual feeling of the body opening, a feeling of releasing the stresses of the day, burdens which we may unconsciously be holding. During chi kung, we assume a horse stance, connecting to the earth’s energy, our hands sensing the energy around us, between us. Aligning the crown of the head with the spine through the tail bone, we are a conduit of the energy from the heavens above to the earth below. Before we drum, a few minutes of meditation quiets the mind and we are ready to concentrate, to share, to learn in community with one another.
The drumming part of our practice is more flexible. We may begin with drum exercises in a circle, or we may go straight to practicing songs and technique, or we may create a new song together. With time, when we come into stance to play the drum, our bodies will automatically remember warrior stance from the warm-ups, or when we practice a technique, we might slow down the movement to find the expansiveness we experienced during our stretch, the sound of the drum played from a place of expansiveness has much more depth and resonance than sounding the drum with force and tension, or in the midst of a drill which is fast and continuous, if we tire and tense up we can remind ourselves to focus once again on the breath… Ideally, when we are relaxed, open and fully present, is when we will feel the best and when we will have the best form to play taiko together.
Other members of Inner Truth Taiko Dojo have been drumming from 1 to 10+ years. Members bring a wide range of skills and knowledge – organizational, musical, technological, medical, educational, performance, social… all of which have both enriched and shaped our group.