Where Keiko and Worship Meet

Where Keiko and Worship Meet

by Tomi Nagai-Rothe

I led a group in meditation/worship at the beginning of a gentle movement workshop for Friends.* Without thinking, I took the group of 18 people into Um. After the session a participant came up to ask, “Is this group especially good at getting into deep meditation?” I remember thinking “That’s just Um.” I didn’t want to take too much credit, but I mentioned that it’s possible to lead a group into a deep meditation. 

Friends spend a great deal of time in silence: it’s a familiar place to be. We also try to be attentive to those around us. That is where keiko and Friends’ culture overlaps. It hadn’t occurred to me how attentive to gorei a group of Friends could be.

In July I traveled to Western Oregon University in Monmouth, Oregon to lead a five-day workshop (2.5 hours per day) entitled, “Gentle Movement for Traumatic Times.” The workshop was inspired by two F/friends who had survived serious illness and were unable to find accessible movement classes. Beyond that, I had heard many stories from Friends of the Global Majority who had been traumatized by insensitive interactions with white/European-American Friends. I wanted to both create a welcoming space and to share traditional martial arts tools from Shintaido to work with stress and conflict.

Over the five days I shared Panic/Rock/Wakame/Bamboo solo and with partners; Wakame kumite; Soto Irimi – stepping in; Sagari Irimi – dubbed “Welcome, This Way Please” by Ito; Tenshingoso and a simple leading/following kumite. 

I shared Panic/Rock/Wakame/Bamboo as options for addressing stressful interactions. The main point was knowing when to let things go and go with the flow (wakame) or to stand firm (bamboo). People had a chance to think about situations in which they wished they had had these tools, and current situations in which they could practice them.

I was really glad that everyone took to kumite so quickly and took good care of their partners. It makes me think that I don’t often consider the deep opportunities that kumite really offers. It really can be a door to liberation that I cannot access alone.

I knew I wanted to share Soto Irimi – simply stepping in and changing the plane of one’s body to be closer to an attacker. In the 1990s I was working closely with a talented woman I call my mentor/tormentor. I learned strategy from her and much more, but she moved fast, was intense and had huge demands. Eventually, I felt like she was coming at me full speed like a freight train. One evening I told this story to Lee Seaman in my kitchen and she had me stand up and pretend that she was my tormentor. She said, “Try stepping in.”

Stepping in and changing the plane of my body made all the difference. That practice helped me survive the next three years. I no longer felt like I had to be plastered by someone coming at me.

Everyone quickly connected with their partners and we practiced with just one step. During the debrief one person shared that their health care provider had demonstrated a stepping back technique that they had used to engage in a conflict, but that stepping in hadn’t even occurred to them. They asked themselves, “How could I make use of that in my situation?” they asked themselves.

I talked about and demonstrated – with my F/friend who was a great demo partner – how being in close is safer and not at all threatening to the other person: it’s simply in close and connected.

Then we moved on to a form of Ushiro Irimi that Ito calls, “Welcome, this way please.” 

This 7 second video show me and Connie Borden demonstrating it. Ito describes this as going to the front door to greet a visitor, then opening the door and guiding them inside. I especially love this kumite.

Perhaps it’s because I was so incredibly slow to be able to demonstrate it. It took me years. In fact, Ito tried using different names, taught it several times in the Bay Area, and organized a workshop that I later realized was specifically for me! I was able to teach this to people who had no martial arts experience in a few minutes, so I think I finally get it.

During our debrief I shared what Ito says about literally sharing the same perspective as your opponent, standing shoulder to shoulder – and the game changing attitude of welcoming the person who is attacking. 

I think it was hard for Friends to understand the value and importance of a sincere attack: Friends tend to be conflict averse (or passive aggressive!) so tsuki was a bit challenging.

During one of our large group conversations there was a long silence and the group naturally dropped into worship sharing — a time during which people can speak out of the silence on a particular topic. It was wonderful that everyone was so comfortable with silence – not something I ever experienced as a meeting facilitator since groups expect a meeting to be filled with talk.

It was fascinating to navigate across my experiences of meeting facilitation, gorei and worship leading –  especially when these distinct practices overlap.

One big takeaway was how tiring it is to undertake a gasshuku without the support of a director of instruction or any sensei care. Outside of Shintaido and Japanese culture, no one thinks about such things. I did just submit a proposal to offer the workshop again next summer and this time I will make sure someone comes to support me! Stay tuned for a Body Dialogue update next year.

*Religious Society of Friends (also known as Quakers)


Shinsei – New Life

Shinsei – New Life

by Connie Borden and contributions by Rob Gaston, Sarah Baker & Peter Furtado (the Daienshu reporter)

Thirty-three people attended the British Shintaido Daienshu 2023 held at Worth School from the 18th of August to the 20th of August 2023. Daienshu literally means “great maneuvers” and was the name given to the annual Gasshuku of the Sogo-budo Renmei (the transition organization from Shotokai karate to Shintaido and means “federation for a holistic martial art”). Worth Abbey is home to a small community of Benedictine monks. Worth School is an independent school in Turner’s Hill, W. Sussex UK. This event, led by Masashi Minagawa and managed by Charles Burns with the assistance of Viola Santa, represented new life.

As Charles Burns explains about the theme: “Shinsei (new life) allows us to look beyond the darkness of our turbulent times to find the hope that new life always brings. Joy, community, and our encounters with one another are all strong themes in our Shintaido world. Let’s imagine and experience new possibilities in our own lives, while enjoying the opportunities presented by a new venue for our ongoing practice.”

Prior the Daienshu, Robert Gaston, Connie Borden and Sarah Baker traveled to Scotland and the UK for 10 days. We are grateful to the hospitality of Nagako Cooper, Ula Chambers, Pam & Masashi Minagawa and Charles Burns for the extended time in Shintaido community. We practiced Taimyo, Shintaido, Bojutsu and Kenjutsu over these 10 days. We enjoyed the countryside around Dumfries Scotland, a river cruise in Shrewsbury UK and then taking a thermal spa in Bath! 

Durning our travels we took many trains and climbed even more stairs, Fitbit not required. Some trains were fun, some were cumbersome, and some were rather stressful as we learned the ropes, but all got us to where we were heading, generally in one piece, if not worn out by more stairs. Also, for our traveling enjoyment, there were a few words of wisdom to live by which were frequently repeated, least we should forget: “Mind the Gap”, “Mind the Step”, and “See it, Say it, Sorted” (the latter referring to unattended baggage, of course right? I mean who wants unattended baggage left not sorted out?).

When we arrived at the Daienshu we were joined by other SOA members: Laura Sheehan- Barron with her husband Ted Barron and David Franklin. Our Daienshu experience was rich with 3 keiko plus two morning sessions and a special invitation to the British Shintaido College keiko and exams. The opening meeting started and ended with a long, low, resonant blast on a huge conch from Jackie Calderwood. 

Master Instructor Masashi Minagawa was the instructor for the BSC keiko and three keiko in the Daienshu. Minagawa sensei shared in the BSC Keiko his insights into diamond 8 practice giving clear stepping sequence to go along with diamond 8 sei. Friday evening keiko was in the sports hall to the sounds of British rainfall outside. This first Keiko began with joyful warmup by Ula who had all laughing and relaxed. Minagawa sensei emphasized making and restoring strong connection since it has been some time since such a large and International group of shintaidoist have come together. Many stayed to practice long after keiko ended.

Our two morning keiko were outdoors under oak trees with a view of the green golf course. Nagako taught the first morning session on Taimyo Part III and Ula taught the second morning session on Diamond 8 Sei and Dai. 

The Daienshu reporter Peter Furtado states:

“The second keiko (Saturday morning) began with some vigorous tsuki and Eiko, before moving onto kumite, receiving tsuki attack with Tenshingoso applications, and receiving jodan attack with mai irimi and yoko irimi. Building on yesterday’s Ma exercises, Masashi stressed the importance of settling or grounding as you receive the attack, and before sending the partner on their way.

The (Saturday) afternoon session was entirely taken up with exams – which ranged from 9/10 kyu boh and karate exams, to nidan bohjutsu and kenjutsu. The entire session was very impressive, the examinees were all seriously committed, and the nidan kumite, in particular, both skillful and spectacular. Watching was a great opportunity for the newer members to see what their practice might lead to one day, and for older members to revisit their prejudices? about exams.”

Congratulations to all who passed their examinations! 

A party on Saturday night included being bathed in sound from the gong played by Jackie Calderwood. Masashi Minagawa explored the possibilities of sonic calligraphy, tracing the characters Do-Kan (way of the circle – the theme of next year’s International) on the gong. Carina hosted our party and Terry played the guitar while we joined in singing. Ula led us in dancing. 

As Peter Furtado further reports:

“Early Sunday morning was just as bright, but somewhat dewier, than Saturday, as Ula led us in Diamond Eight Cutting under the trees. But by the time the final keiko began, in the outdoor dojo, dark clouds had appeared and the keiko was interrupted with short showers that made us move under the trees. The extensive kumite – wakame, more Tenshingoso applications – built on the previous two keiko, before we picked up our bokken and practiced kyukajo.

Building on all this, the keiko finished with a rare treat – genuinely spectacular and moving demonstrations by the ITEC members of key features of the keiko (and incorporating some exam feedback): Gianni Rossi showing tsuki, Tenshingoso and boh kata; Charles Burns and Rob Gaston showing neriai; Ula Chambers and Connie Borden kyukajo; and finally David Franklin and Gianni Rossi doing a typically free and powerful kiri oroshi kumite. Everyone watching knew that they had seen something very special, and had been given a unique gift, an intimate vision of what Shintaido can really be in the hands of committed practitioners.”

A strong ma lasted throughout the gasshuku and is continuing to maintain its presence in a vigorous dialogue on WhatsApp. During the closing ceremony, diplomas were distributed, sharing of experiences occurred and enthusiasm for returning in 2024 was said by all. Gratitude was expressed to the organizers and sensei. Jackie closed out the meeting with the blowing of the conch. 

Here are some additional comments

Robert Gaston – There was a sense from the start of the Daienshu that the trees grew higher, and their roots deeper, over the course of our gasshuku.

Sarah Baker – Through the height of Covid we learned new ways of connecting using Zoom and other video resources. In those times seeds were planted as we all worked to continue to connect. In meeting together New Life has begun to sprout and take hold. Let us stay connected, however we can, and see what comes.

Connie Borden

Masashi Minagawa reflected the theme of « New Life » translates into his teachings. Teaching Shintaido movements in ways that are accessible and beneficial to the practitioners. His teaching such as Kiroroshi no kumite is to go far enough with the technique to find a person’s center and by going through Ten to reach « just the tipping point » that results in change. The goal of rolling is not the goal, the goal is to change your partner with just enough technique to be effective and nothing extensive that might be too harsh for your partner to appropriately receive. 

Feeling inspired to join the community? Then consider attending the International 2024 being held in this same location from 16 August 2024 to 20 August 2024.  As Peter Furtado reports:

The site is vast, green, orderly, and peaceful, with wonderful outdoor dojos and fabulous spaces for morning Taimyo; a large sports hall . . .and a huge dining room where we were offered huge school-food portions supplemented by a salad bar.”