The Shintaido Farm is now Windhorse Hill

The Shintaido Farm is now Windhorse Hill


Stephen Billias

In 2006, Bela Breslau and Stephen Billias founded the Shintaido Farm, a center for the practice of Shintaido. Many, many Shintaido events were held there during its ten-year existence. In 2016, Bela and Stephen sold the Shintaido Farm. What has become of it since then? The Shintaido Farm is now known as the Windhorse Hill Retreat Center, housing the Engaged Mindfulness Institute. It is a thriving enterprise under the leadership of Fleet Maull, a student and Dharma Successor of the late Roshi Bernie Glassman of the Soto Zen Buddhist sect, and Kate Crisp, who lives at the farm and is the Executive Director of the Prison Mindfulness Institute.

The guest instructor list of the Engaged Mindfulness Institute reads like a who’s who of American Buddhism: Joan Halifax, Pema Chodron, Joseph Goldstein, Rick Hanson, Jack Kornfield, and Sharon Salzberg have all taught there.

Fleet and his business partner Kate Crisp have expanded the house in several interesting ways. They converted the two-car garage into an office. They extended the dojo entryway deck and added a bathroom off it. They finished the basement. They added sconces on the dojo walls, a very attractive lighting change.



The dojo, which Stephen kept empty as a sacred space for the time it was the Shintaido Farm, is now a multi-use space. The front east-facing part with the two big windows is a meditation room. A large statue of Jizo, the bodhisattva who is the protector of travelers and the unborn, stands in the northeast corner of the room, a gift from Roshi Glassman. A set of shoji screens divides the room. The back third of the dojo is now a meeting area with tables and chairs. The piano has been brought into the dojo from the living room.

We like to believe that the spirit of Shintaido still resonates in the space. A young organizer named James Frank told us that he occasionally sleeps in the dojo for the good feeling he gets from doing that. He said that many people have commented on what an ideal meditation space it is. The room still has glowing ash floors and bright yellow pine walls, now covered with many lovely Buddhist scrolls and paintings.

Windhorse Hill meeting area

Windhorse Hill meeting area

If you visit the website, you’ll see many pictures of the place as it is used now, with students in meditation and meetings. Bela and Stephen are excited and gratified that the Shintaido Farm has become a lively and active place of spiritual development. All who participated in the Shintaido Farm experience contributed to the feeling that we created, and we can all be thankful and that good and important things continue to happen there.

Buddhist paintings and scrolls

Buddhist paintings and scrolls

On October 19th, 2019, from 2:00-4:00 p.m., Bela and Stephen are returning to the place on River Road for a book launch/book signing/book party to celebrate the publication of Stephen’s collection of short stories entitled A Book of Fields: Tales from the Pioneer Valley. A local band called The Green Sisters, made up of four real sisters who play and sing Appalachian folk and other musical styles with wonderful sisterly four-part harmonies, is going to provide music, taking advantage of the amazing acoustics in the dojo. See The Green Sisters Gigs web page. This is an opportunity for those who cherished the Shintaido Farm to pay a remembrance visit.

Joe Zawielski Joyful Gorei

Joe Zawielski Joyful Gorei

Best of all, the Shintaido spirit that flourished in New England before the founding of the Shintaido Farm continues to burn brightly in the hearts of Shintaido Northeast (SNE) practitioners even after the Farm is gone. SNE is still dealing with the loss of its leader Joe Zawielski.

We have hundreds of pictures of Joe giving gorei in the dojo and on the fields of the Shintaido Farm. His teaching and his spirit imbued the Farm with some of its special magic. Gambatte all!

Shintaido in Transition

Shintaido in Transition


Michael Thompson

Recently I came upon a reference to Howard Schultz, who founded the Starbucks chain. It described the transition of the company from “founder-led” to “founder-inspired” now that he has retired from day-to-day involvement. This is a good way to describe the current state of affairs in the Shintaido universe. Aoki-sensei has retired from active involvement in the international Shintaido movement and is focusing on his work in the Japanese Tenshinkai school as well as participating in the international Le Ciel Foundation project. We have moved to a “founder-inspired” phase of our history.

Aoki-sensei’s last creative endeavor has been the founding of a Kenbu school in Japan and Europe. A bilingual Japanese/English text has been published. Several YouTube videos have been posted for anyone who might be interested in that development.


Aoki-sensei Kenbu

The current international organization (ISP/ITEC), under the direction of Ito-sensei and Minagawa-sensei, is working to develop a third pillar of the Shintaido curriculum–Kenjutsu–to go along with Shintaido Karate and Bojutsu. So far there has been no cross-pollination between the two sword practices, although we shouldn’t rule it out in the future once the international kenjutsu task force has completed its work.

During this transitional phase I would like to see the Shintaido curriculum move from the martial arts/dan examination model to an instructor certification system. Rather than having a separate assistant category, there could be a combined advanced student/assistant evaluation which would precede the first examination, now called Graduate. This ranking in turn would be replaced by an instructor certification designation, recognition that an individual is qualified to teach Shintaido. The Senior Instructor level would be open to someone who has a teaching resume as well as a demonstrated advanced keiko level, roughly encompassing the curriculum now in effect. The entire bokuto Kyukajo program should be completed by then.

General Instructor would become an honorary title conferred by the international organization in recognition of long-term commitment and contribution to the practice and dissemination of Shintaido. The title of “Doshu” should be retired with the current holders for now, perhaps to be resuscitated in the future if deemed appropriate.

The Japanese martial arts kyu/dan examination/ranking system would still be used in the three pillars of Shintaido Karate, Bojutsu, and Kenjutsu. It’s time to reframe Shintaido itself as a separate art which was Aoki-sensei’s original idea and inspiration.

Pacific Shintaido Kangeiko 2019

Pacific Shintaido Kangeiko 2019

By Shin Aoki and Derk Richardson

Over the Martin Luther King, Jr. weekend, January 19–21, Pacific Shintaido hosted its Kangeiko 2019 at Marin Academy in San Rafael, California. Master Instructor Masashi Minagawa traveled from his home in Bristol, England, and, as guest instructor, developed and taught a curriculum loosely based on the theme “The Sword that Gives Life.” PacShin board members and gasshuku organizers Shin Aoki (Director of Instruction), Derk Richarson (Gasshuku Manager), and Cheryl Williams (Treasurer) presented the theme to Minagawa sensei, inspired in part by the recent passing of beloved Shintaido teachers John Seaman, Joe Zawielski, and Anne-Marie Grandtner, and the naturally arising question of how a community can heal and revitalize itself in the wake of such losses. In Japanese tradition, the sword has been used for the purpose of purification and cleansing, Minagawa sensei explained. When people pass on, the sword is used in ceremony to purify evil spirits and ensure the loved one’s safe journey.

Minagawa Sensei Giving Gorei

Minagawa Sensei Giving Gorei – photo by Chris Ikeda-Nash

Holding this idea in heart and mind during four keiko—the first taught by Shin sensei, the next three by Minagawa sensei—anywhere from 15 to 18 practitioners cultivated their relationships with bokuto and bokken through a variety of movements, kata, and kumite.

Kenjutsu Kumite

Kenjutsu Kumite – photo by Tomi Nagai-Rothe

These included:

Irimukae. Individually, each of us held our sword like a candle in front of our body, and walked forward and backward. Your body enters the sword, and the sword enters you. The sword and you become one—and move as one. This exercise helps shift our fear of “getting cut by a sword” into “welcoming a sword.” In kumite, two people held one sword and moved the sword like a kayak paddle, in a figure-eight pattern of jodan and gedan cuts, to unify three worlds—the self, the other, and the sword. Elements of martial art, abstract art, meditation, and body care come together in the movement.

Diamond Eight Cut. In preparation, we held our swords with both hands far apart and, following the Diamond Eight pattern, reached up and down, side to side, back and forth, and diagonally to synchronize the sword movement, the body twist, and the traveling gaze. At the beginning of the more formal kata, we visualized the heavenly sword descending and entering our bodies, coming together with our inner swords. Thereafter, every swing of every cut could be done in concert by the physical sword, the inner sword, and the heavenly sword. In unison, we moved back and forth through the dojo, each of us continuously following the Diamond Eight Cut sequence. Eventually, we all started interacting with one another. Some continued cutting precisely, some were swimming through the crowd like fish, and some were dancing joyfully.

Group sword kumite

Group sword kumite – photo by Chris Ikeda-Nash

An outside observer might have seen the swirl of bodies and swords as the spontaneous manifestation of li, a Neo-Confucian concept that Alan Watts described as “the asymmetrical, nonrepetitive, and unregimented order which we find in the patterns of moving water, the forms of trees and clouds, of frost crystals on the window, or the scattering of pebbles on beach sand.”

Shoden no Kata. This was the first Kenjutsu kata for many gasshuku participants. Slow and graceful, it emphasizes the continuous flow of the sword movement from the beginning to the end of the kata, it demands seamless concentration, and it develops your awareness of every moment of your sword swing.

Without sword, we practiced Tenchi-kiriharai, a karate technique used against a tsuki attack, which helps the attacking partner connect with heaven and earth, and invites investigation and embodiment of a liberating upward-and-downward spiral motion.

Minagawa-Shin kumite

Minagawa-Shin kumite – photo by Chris Ikeda-Nash

On Sunday morning, Kenjutsu exams were offered, with Robert Gaston serving as exam coordinator and Connie Borden as goreisha. Cliff Roberts took a “mock” exam for evaluation and received feedback, and Chris Ikeda-Nash performed, passed, and received his certificate for Shintaido Kenjutsu Ni-Dan. Rounding out the morning, Margaret Guay taught an abbreviated keiko that explored deep listening and brought participants into intense and subtle levels of ma.

At one point during Kangeiko, Minagawa sensei talked about our Shintaido practice—and our everyday lives—in terms of walking a path, on which are also treading all those who have come before us and all those who will come after. The majority of participants at Kangeiko, and at the Advanced Workshop taught by Minagawa sensei the prior weekend, were Bay Area residents. But with Shintaido practitioners flying in from the East Coast (Margarat Guay, Rob Kedoin, Brad Larsen, Lee Ordeman, and Elizabeth Jernigan), and with Minagawa sensei coming from England and H.F. Ito sensei coming from France, the gasshuku felt at once local, national, and international. Minagawa sensei encouraged us to invite John, Joe, and Anne-Marie into our practice, which gave the event a spiritually universal feeling, as well.

Between-keiko pot luck brunches at the homes of Sandra Bengtsson and Robert Gaston (during the Advanced Workshop) and Jim and Toni Galli Sterling (during Kangeiko), plus a group Mexican dinner and post-gasshuku restaurant brunch in San Rafael, all served to strengthen and refine the ma between participants, and added to the sense that the sword had indeed given new life to our Shintaido community.