The Essence of Taiko


The history of taiko is interwoven into the history of the Japanese people. Regarded as sacred since ancient times, the drum was first used to drive away evil spirits and pests harmful to crops. It was believed that by imitating the sound of thunder, the spirits of rain would be forced into action. At harvest time, the taiko was played in thanks for a bountiful crop. Today, taiko is played not only in the festivals, but in concerts throughout the world.


The essence of taiko is not only the skillful playing of percussion instruments, but also the discipline of mind and body in the spirit of complete respect and unity among the drummers. It is also the ultimate challenge of reaching the point of unity of the drummer's spirit with the drum

- Grandmaster Seiichi Tanaka

Grandmaster Seiichi Tanaka founded San Francisco Taiko Dojo in 1968 based on the philosophy of unity of mind, body and spirit. Influenced by Confucianism and his training in the Chinese martial arts, he emphasizes the importance of rigorous physical, mental and spiritual training.

The Elements of Taiko

Kokoro - In martial arts, seika tanden is considered to be the central force of KI energy and is located about three fingers below the navel. KI is the life energy that must flow from the performer to the drum. Another important concept is I or mindfulness/consciousness. Both I and KI must come together for taiko to have life and expression. When you stand by the drum, your body should be relaxed yet grounded and full of spiritual power. Feel the energy coming up from mother earth through the bottom of your feet, filling your entire body and extending through your hands to your bachi. You must be aware of both mindfulness I and energy KI at the ends of your bachi. Your bachi are not separate from your being, they are an extension of it. If you are not connected through KI and I to your bachi, your stick action as well as the sound of your drum will be lifeless.

Waza - Tanaka Sensei believes in preserving the oral tradition of passing songs on through words. Taiko songs are not learned through a notated score. Playing taiko is an act of communication When taught through words like "don" and "tsu-ku" the passing on of songs is also and act of communication. By speaking the song, the spirit of the song can be conveyed. Ultimately, the sound of the drum must communicate this spirit. The voice is also used extensively in performance. When playing taiko, each player is conductor. By beginning a song with a unified vocal exclamation, the performers learn to breathe together and feel the communicative spirit among them. Throughout the song, the voice is used for encouragement, communication and expression.

Karada - Physical strength and endurance is important. Running, push-ups, sit-ups, finger crunches and other exercises are necessary to develop power and stamina. Dojo members repeat basic drills over and over. However, strength training is never separated from training of the spirit. "When you have played with all your strength and you feel tired, that is when you can truly begin to play, tapping into the energy deep within you," teaches Tanaka Sensei.

Rei - Basic communication always begins with a greeting. At San Francisco Taiko Dojo, students learn the importance of greeting their instructors and each other when meeting or taking leave, with an energetic "Ohayogozaimasu" or "Oyasuminasai". Taiko students always bow to their teachers and when entering or leaving the dojo, a place of study and discipline. The bow and the audible greeting convey appreciation and respect. The attitude is vital when approaching the drum.