Gentle Shintaido

Gentle Shintaido


H. F. Ito
Shintaido Master Instructor

What is Gentle Shintaido?

Since this Spring Gentle Shintaido has been the topic European Technical Committee instructors have wanted to discuss.

Looking back at the history and development of Shintaido, “Shintaido for Everyone” has been an intention and repeated refrain. Although the term Gentle Shintaido makes sense in English, in French it sounds like a diluted version of Core Shintaido − like flying economy class because you can’t afford anything better.

During my Shintaido career I have seen many animated email exchanges on this topic.

“Shintaido without losing the experience”

I have been closely involved in this discussion because Gentle Shintaido mirrors the approach I took starting in the early 2000s. I wanted to make Shintaido accessible to people outside the martial arts. My motto was “Modify Shintaido without losing the core experience.”

In talking with instructors – regardless of whether or not we use the term Gentle Shintaido – I have noticed the following themes:

  1. When we teach Shintaido to people who have physical, mental or emotional difficulties, the movement has to be gentle and soft. However, if that is all there is the students as well as the teacher may become bored.
  2. It is important to periodically share some Kaiho-kei techniques, or to do Chudan-tsuki on kibadachi with a firm kiai. Or you can give people the experience of Toitsu kihon movement, even if their bodies can’t sustain it for very long. This allows them to have an awakening experience.
  3. If we look back over the history of Shintaido, we see that in order to be avant-garde it is necessary to be classical first. From Karate to Shintaido Kaiho-tai to Shintaido Yoki-tai, we continue to build from classical roots. Jigo-kei, Kaiho-kei, Yoki-kei, Seiritsu-kei — all of these keiko forms have advantages, but none of them are as powerful alone as they are together. Good teaching must include them all.
  4. That is why Gentle Shintaido instructors must be able to switch immediately from one style to another in response to their students.

Should we say that, for example, students might start with Yoki-kei and as they grow stronger advance to Kaiho-kei (or maybe even Jigo-kei), and finish up in Seiritsu-kei?

I suggest that the 2020 examinations for Sei-Shihan and Dai-Shihan should focus on candidates’ ability to understand these points and to put them into practice in their own teaching.

For your information,  I’m including a table showing the relationship between Yoki-kei and Kaiho-kei, as well as Jigo-kei and Seiritsu-kei. I originally developed this table to clarify my own thinking about the differences and similarities among these elements of Shintaido.

A reference table comparing Yokitai and Kaihotai

Style of postureKaihotai: The front of the body is completely open. Attitude is full of confidence. Lower back is slightly arched. "Life gate" tsubo immediately behind belly button is closed. Eye direction is forward and slightly upward.Koshi is flat (not arched). "Life gate" tsubo is open. The back of the body is open. Eye direction is slightly downward. Appears somewhat weak, as if lacking confidence. Expressing humility (unassuming).Stance is solid like an unyielding oak tree, with a strongly defensive fist. Strength is focused in the Tanden, as if lifting something heavy.Seiritsu-tai. Stance is erect. Eye direction is straight forward, looking to the horizon.
Method of doing keiko, waza and kataKeiko is based on the fundamentals (Daikihon) of Tenshingoso, Eiko and their applications as well as Shintaido jump, Kaikyakuzenshin, Kiai and Hassei renshu (shouting practice), open-hand techniques, etc.Seaweed, meditation partner work, Musoi-, Muso-ken, Hoten-Kokyu-ho, Mae-geri (soft & gentle). Meiso-jump.Jikyo-ken. Uke-zuki Sei-ken. Sumo-sytle pushing practice. These forms are commonly seen in Shintaido karate.Chusei-ken. Oi-zuiki Sei-ken. Ki-ichi-i. Freehand Diamond Mudra cut.
Method of doing GoreiThe strong survive. Go, go - More, more, faster & farther. Gorei is strict and demanding, with no questions asked. Competitive and challenging, like teaching rock climbers how to focus completely on getting to the top. No compromise. Awakens abilities in students that are usually asleep, like being in a fire and finding strength you never knew you had.Everyone comes together in companionship, holding hands and gradually walking up the mountain together. The Gorei leads people on a cooperative and enjoyable hike, aware of and appreciating the four seasons and the scenery of mountains, rivers, grass and trees. People gain energy and consideration for others, and are encouraged to help each other.
Effect of keikoTranscending the current situation, the body and mind open with flexibility and without hesitation. At the same time, all energy is released and the new self emerges from the old skin. Develops positing thinking. Goes through the Kongokai Mandala.Accommodating the current situation. Tension and fatigue melt away. and the body becomes like a seaweed in the ocean. Encourages insight into the self and understanding of others. Goes through the Taizokai Mandala.Taking energy from outside the self and collecting it in a self-defense mindset. This is commonly seen in the kata of Shintaido karate.Standing in the center of Kaihotai, Jigotai, and yokitai, the posture becomes straight and clear.

Addendum (Lee Seaman’s experience):

When I started Shintaido, I was 25 years old. Most of the other students were between 18 and 30, and Aoki-sensei had just celebrated his 30th birthday. Everyone was in great physical shape, and we did nothing but Kaiho-tai keiko. Aoki-sensei told us that Tenshingoso and Eiko were the core of Shintaido, and those two forms were also the core of our practice. The bigger the better, the farther the better, the louder the better.

I have been practicing Shintaido for almost 40 years now, and I have come to the conclusion that Aoki-sensei had a hidden teaching. In my experience, there is something more basic than Tenshingoso and Eiko. It reminds me of the koan about the gateless gate – I call it the techniqueless technique. It embodies Tenchijin, informs Tenshingoso, and is the beating heart of Eikodai. This core Shintaido is the basis of all our practice, and Kaiho-tai, Yoki-tai, Jigo-tai, and Seiritsu-tai are its branches.

I believe that, to give Shintaido to a world that needs it more than ever, we need roots in this core place.

Notes on Training – Kaishoken

Notes on Training – Kaishoken

by Mark Bannon

What is the strongest martial arts technique? Over the years, I have heard different answers depending on style, training, and teacher. Some believe a strong kick, others a strong punch (tsuki), others a secret mix.

How would I answer the question if I were asked this morning? My response would be “Shintaido kaishoken is the strongest technique and worthy of daily practice.” In the Shintaido glossary, kaishoken is defined as the “opening and expressing hand”. Maybe that’s a puzzling answer to some. Others may have a different understanding and thoughts on the subject. Here’s my current thinking and perspective.

When I first started studying martial arts, I observed a fascination with developing the most efficient technique to address a perceived opponent. In the Funakoshi-Egami-Aoki lineage, there is a well documented path that occurred to develop the tsuki (as currently practiced in Shintaido) as a proven technique.

As I understand the story, there was immediate joy when Master Egami found his new tsuki (front-punch). Very efficient, elegant, flowing motion, full body application of force that could easily knock a man down with one blow. An elegant weapon if there ever was one.

Photo by Mark Bannon

What followed, however, was a realization that this new technique was so powerful that the traditional blocks and strategies were no defense against this new tsuki. An even stronger technique was needed to respond to this new weapon. A literal arms race had ignited.

The story of the tsuki is in Section Seven of Master Aoki’s Shintaido book. Master Aoki discusses the research he and Master Egami did to become “tsuki specialists” and his discovery of kaishoken as a defense against the new tsuki.

I began trying the open hand as a technique to receive a tsuki. At first, it was not a very satisfying technique. As I continued my Shintaido practice, I heard other students ask about kaishoken. I was apparently not the only one that didn’t immediately get it. In response, more experienced students (senpai) would respond that, kaishoken in Shintaido actually means “open hand – open body.” This expanded definition started to make more sense. Very good. I could practice that – receive the tsuki with an open hand and an open body. My technique seemingly started to improve.

As improvement came, a senpai instructed me to open eyes. Pay attention, see everything. Don’t become distracted by shiny objects. That lesson resonated. It occurred to me that kaishoken was not only open hand, open body, but add open eyes. Don’t fall into the trap of your surroundings and initial encounter. See everything. Look at the situation with soft eyes. Take it all in. I was feeling pretty jazzed with kaishoken at this point. What could be better?

A few weeks later I attended a Shintaido workshop in Quebec. During the exercise, I was instructed to “open my mind” and go beyond this world and travel to the corners of universe. See all the angles, potentials, challenges, look beyond, travel time and space. Wow. Things changed. I experienced something new. From that moment, my Kaishoken evolved from open hand – open body – open eyes – to open mind.

Phot by Mark Bannon

Armed with an open mind, I saw possibilities coming at me before they were in sight. I was no longer on the defense. I was actively receiving intention and anticipating. Now that is a strong technique! I started using my new kaishoken (open hand-open body-open eyes-open mind) in all sorts of circumstances. I was using kaishoken at work improving relations with co-workers, with clients building more innovative projects, and building closer relationships with family and more meaningful relationships friends. A true keiko was developing.

Then one day I found myself in an encounter and I admittedly didn’t handle it very well. Nothing serous, but I thought about it all day and actions I could have/should have taken to cause a different outcome. It suddenly occurred to me, the answer could be kaishoken. This time, I realized had I approached the encounter with an open heart, the result could have been much improved. I realized kaishoken is really open heart.

Photo by Mark Bannon

My definition of kaishoken started simply as a glossary note “open-hand.” As my practice became more rich, my understanding evolved: open hand – open body – open eyes – open mind, – open your heart. Kaishoken is arguably the strongest technique and one I need to practice every day. A technique to end the arms race.

H.F. Ito’s Bay Area Summer Workshop 2019

H.F. Ito’s Bay Area Summer Workshop 2019

By Derk Richardson and Connie Borden

On Saturday, August 17, at Marin Academy in San Rafael, California, Master Instructor H.F. Ito led Bay Area and visiting Shintaido practitioners—12 in the morning session, 10 in the afternoon—through two keiko based on the theme “Opening the Door of Perception: Muso-Ken.” Given his intention to cut back on transatlantic travel from his home in France and to visit North America only once a year, this was possibly Ito Sensei’s last summer workshop in Northern California. For some of us, that fact added a subtly poignant undertone to Ito Sensei’s deep and nuanced teaching. Throughout the day, Sarah Baker and John Bevis documented the workshop on video.

Keiko began with a form of warm-ups that was new to many of us. Connie Borden introduced the movements based on the end of Taimyo kata part III flowing into the start of Taimyo part I.

Connie Leads Warmups
Connie Leads Warmups

These movements are called Hugging the Sky (ho-ten-kokyu-ho), Three Quarters turn (hokushin kokyu-ho), oodachi zanshin, and kan ki. They focused on breathing (kokyu) while having us rotating, spiraling, and twisting our spine and our being to reach higher into the heavens and lower into the center of earth. We studied contrasts of creating a small circle below ourselves then opening diagonally to draw a big circle and embrace the sky. As we bowed, we studied compressing the air and space in front of us. To start hokushin kokyu-ho, we hugged a tree in front of us and then slowly expanded ourselves upward and downward, experiencing the contrast between up and down while elongating our beings, continuing our focus on deep and slow breathing. Our front hand reached up with the fingers and palm facing back, while the lower hand pointed down and three-quarters behind ourselves with the palm facing inwards.

Throughout these movements we practiced having our eyes follow our movements, ultimately having our eye movement help us go further into space and across time. In the last segment, we opened to Ten with kaisho-ken hands to the sky and then formed a tight tsuki to grasp what was waiting for us, then crossing our arms in front of ourselves we ended in the classic karate stance, kaiho-tai. With kan ki as the opening of Taimyo part I, we reached out in front of ourselves as if to dive out into the ocean of ki, and after making one last big circle around ourselves, we let ki energy land in our outstretched, wide-open palms and made a tight tsuki. We pulled our tsuki back to our sides, letting our elbows point behind ourselves while deepening into kiba-dachi (horse-riding stance). After holding this stance for a moment to allow our bodies to feel warmed, we stood in seiritsu-tai, letting our arms move downwards to our sides with our fingers actively pointed downwards. From the warmups of breathing, twisting, spiraling, and elongating, we ended feeling straight and clear, hopefully ready to study awareness of ourselves and increase understanding of others.

Before we began physical practice, we sat in a circle and Ito Sensei gave a free-flowing talk based on a double-sided handout. With Tomi Nagai-Rothe and Nao Kobayashi assisting with translation, he first discussed the various forms of ki (energy or, in French, esprit), ranging from lack of confidence/fearfulness (yowa-ki) to being resolute and ready (tsuyo-ki) or easy going (non-ki), from taking care of your own energy (ki wo tutete) to being considerate of and attentive to others (ki-kubari), and more.

Ito's Talk
Ito’s Talk

The thorny concept of sak-ki, which translated to “bloodthirstiness” or “the intention to kill,” was pivotal because it related closely to the second area of discussion, muso-ken. In our practice, we would be working on developing sensitivity to energy behind us, specifically the intention and approach of someone attacking us from behind. Mu-so, Ito Sensei explained, can be taken to mean “dream,” “vision,” “premonition,” and “clairvoyance,” on the one hand, or “no phase,” “no phenomenon,” and “emptiness,” on the other, akin to the complete absence of light or dark matter.

Muso-ken, then, can be thought of as employing the sword of perception, the English definition given by French Shintaido General Instructor Pierre Quettier. And the physical practice of the morning and afternoon was dedicated to learning how to use this sword effectively.

We began with partner wakame, the initiator using a lighter and lighter touch at a quickening pace, and the receiver developing a more and more refined sensitivity to the contact and the direction of the energy through the body. Ito Sensei emphasized that wakame is something that you can never assume to have perfected, something to work on for the rest of your life—in relationships, in the family, at work, and out in the world.

The core of the practice was developing sensitivity with our backs, making our entire backside a sensor (or an array of sensors), like radar, detecting and becoming aware of what’s coming at us from behind. As we cultivated sensitivity to someone approaching from behind, we worked on two different stepping patterns to receive the attack. One involved stepping forward and slightly out (with the right foot, for instance), opening a path for the attacker by pivoting and drawing the left foot slightly aside and “welcoming” her to enter and pass with a Tenshingoso “E” motion with the left hand. The second stepping pattern involved stepping back and slightly behind (with the right foot, for instance), again opening a path by pivoting that leaves room, but not too much, for the attacker to pass, and again welcoming and urging the partner forward with a right-hand “E” motion. Both techniques are ways of managing space and time. Although Ito Sensei did not talk much about it, receivers were encouraged to be aware of and experiment with A, B, and C timing on the early-to-late-response spectrum.

After working on the stepping, the receivers took up weapons—a rolled magazine playing the part of a short stick, and then either a boken or bokuto—and added gedan bari and ha-so movements to their receiving.

As for the attackers, they approached their receiving kumite partners from behind with different techniques (and weapons), as well: using the first movements of the Diamond Eight Cut kata and stepping forward with a spearing motion; using a rolled up magazine as a short stick; and using a boken or bokuto. During the afternoon keiko, Ito Sensei had us receive dai jodan sword attacks from behind, eventually receiving two attackers so that we could gauge and deal with their different energies. Between sessions, we retreated to the home of Jim and Toni Sterling for a potluck brunch that became a continuation of keiko through social communion and philosophical discussion.

Sword practice
Sword practice

Toward the end of the afternoon keiko, Ito Sensei talked a bit about Tenshingoso in metaphorical terms, likening the patterned movements to a constant turning inside out, as we might do with socks; extending ourselves to the other side of the earth and beyond the boundaries of the universe; holding our planet with loving kindness and bringing it inside ourselves. Finally, he charged us with solo “homework” practice of the Muso-Ken movements he had taught us, and reminded us that we need to apply our Shintaido practice in general to the way we think about life and death, and the way we live our lives in the world.