Nen Daiko recently dedicated an entire practice to a workshop from Kaoru Watanabe, a taiko and fue playing expert. Practice time is at a premium since we only practice once a week. We've already set our pieces for the next performance season, and most of them are pieces the group has been playing for years. It might be tempting to say we know what we need to do and should just focus on our plan. However, the workshop with Kaoru was an incredible growth opportunity, so we made time for it. Here's why you should pursue any opportunity to learn from experts in your field, no matter how busy you think you are.
1. If you're smart about investing in your education, it will always pay off.
As requested, Kaoru taught us excellent stretches for particular pieces we will be performing this season. He taught us three valuable warmup lessons: flexibility is key to physical health, exercises that target multiple skills simultaneously (like balance and strength) warmup the right muscles without requiring boring push-ups, and you don't need much time (10 minutes max) to warm up if you're doing it right. These stretches and his philosophy will serve us for years to come as they help prevent injury and warm us up for practice as efficiently as possible.
One example of a warm-up exercise Kaoru taught was one that strengthens the lower body and fine tunes your movements.
The tricky part of this exercise is you should make sure your head remains level: no bobbing or vertical movements as you slowly shift from side to side. Pay particular attention to your hips and your torso: is your torso remaining upright? Does it jerk when you get to each side lunge position?
You can then speed this exercise up by shifting back and forth between left and side lunges 8 times within a count of 8. This warm up works on all of these diverse areas: opening up your hips and flexibility, balance, core strength, body awareness and precision, and lower body strengthening.
2. You always get more than you expected.
While demonstrating a few pieces for Kaoru, he asked some pointed and insightful questions about the motivations behind the choreography behind certain movements. He made us think more deeply about *why* certain movements happen and reminded us that once you establish the natural movement to get from point a to point b, then there is room to play with embellishments and style. Now, we are rethinking some movements and form for several of our pieces, and they will be much stronger for it. This opportunity to improve pieces we've played for years would not have happened without this workshop.
3. You always benefit when you "relearn" the basics.
When we discussed this workshop idea with Kaoru, we initially requested stretching and warmup ideas for the pieces we are playing this season. He certainly delivered on that request, and then he took it a step further when he made keen observations about how we might improve or approach improving some of our most seasoned pieces. Finally, he brought the group back to the basics, teaching us his approach to basic form and technique. It's easy to get caught up in learning a new piece, or focusing on making precision movements in another, and too soon we forget about the basic form that should be driving each strike of the drum. Kaoru's focus on basics served as a reminder that when form and technique are correctly applied, everything else falls into place.
The bottom line is, workshops from experts like Kaoru teach us something new, reinvigorate our playing, and reinforce basic form and good taiko playing practices. We can't wait for the next workshop we attend!
Thank you Kaoru for the workshop! If you are interested in inviting Kaoru to teach at your taiko group, check out his website!