Let it go: the wadaiko way

Every few months or so, my taiko group goes through the basic forms/movements when playing the drums. Some of them are fairly straightforward: your stomach must be in line with the drum, not turned to one side; when hitting the drum, your drumstick should be angled down toward the drum, not parallel to it, and that sort of thing.

The hardest part for a lot of people, however, is the act of actually hitting the drum.

“Everyone set their drumsticks down,” Sensei told us. “Then put your hands up in the air (like you just don’t care*).”

When we obeyed, he added, “Now, on the count of three, everyone just completely let go. Don’t use any power in your hands. Ready? One, two, three!”

We dropped our hands. There were slapping noises as some of us hit our thighs with our own hands.

“Hm,” he said. “Imagine this.

You’ve been working for hours on end. You can barely keep your head up. It’s a miracle you’re standing. Everyone, adopt this pose for a moment.” When we did, he nodded. “This is what I want you to end on. Raise your hands again. On three. One, two, three!”

Again, we dropped our hands. It was easier to release any tension in our hands this time. The smacking sound was harder, and one woman let out a hiss of pain.

Sensei pointed to her triumphantly. “Yes! That’s it! If you let go enough, it should hurt when you hit yourself. Again.”

And so we did it, over and over, more and more people grunting or gasping in pain from the impact. Only after we’d forgotten what exactly we were practicing and why did Sensei stop, nodding in approval.

“That is what I want you to do when you are drumming. Let go of all your power. It’s powerful enough on its’ own. Don’t waste your muscle power on this.”

Hitting a taiko drum using your muscles versus using gravity are entirely different animals, and with training you can start to hear the difference. Of course, the former will be louder, but it’ll also be sharper, with a much shorter note. The latter will be softer, but it will also echo, and the energy will thrum through you.

We were allowed to pick up our drumsticks then, and after determining our stances and postures were correct we were led through drills. Raise one drumstick over the drum, then let it fall. Wash. Rinse. Repeat. Again, we did it so many times we forgot what we were doing or why we were doing it; we just knew that we were doing something together.

And it was at that point Sensei called an end to the drill.

I became aware of how asleep my feet were after standing in one pose for so long. Others rubbed the tops of their legs.

“Oh yeah,” Sensei said with a chuckle, “you might experience some bruising after today. That’s taiko for you. But I bet you won’t forget that feeling now.”

No, I suspect we won’t.

*Disclaimer: He didn’t actually say this part. I’m just hilarious.

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