by H. F. ItoShintaido 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…Read more
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…Read more
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…Read more
By Matt Shorten In June 2019, ten Northeast American retreatants ventured across the pond to Achill Island, a wind- tossed haven on the westernmost coast of Ireland. Led by Rev.…Read more
Springtime in New England means many things. For Shintaido Northeast (SNE) it has come to mean “Springeiko” – a gasshuku to welcome the return of warmer weather and outdoor practice. This year, like last year, we met in South Deerfield. However, unlike last year, this year we had to deal with the absence of our beloved Joe Zawielski. The loss of Joe, who was often SNE’s Director of Instruction for gasshuku, and a mainstay of SNE, has left us facing some major shifts. We decided to have a meeting over the Saturday night potluck to think about new directions.
At lunchtime, three questions were proposed for our unconscious minds to ponder during the afternoon keiko. After dinner, we looked at our individual responses. The two fundamental themes that emerged are community and a holistic practice. But rather than interpreting these responses, they have been collated here. I invite you to think about how you would answer these questions for yourself.
- What did Shintaido give you when you first encountered it, and what did you bring to it
- What does Shintaido give you now – and what do you give to Shintaido?
- What do you hope Shintaido can give you in the future – and what do you envision you could contribute to Shintaido?
- What did Shintaido give you when you first encountered it?
- A new universe to explore, and a willingness to do so. An opening for a new way to look at the world
- Energy – and lots of it! Vitality!
- Beginner’s mind and fresh eyes
- An excitement about life’s journey and a new lens to look at it through.
- Showed me the whole body-mind-spirit connection.
- Strong legs and a wonderfully toned body. Sore thighs. A broken nose!
- A completely new way to be with my body. I was able to feel (and be) strong, graceful, capable.
- An opportunity to learn that my body was more than just flesh and blood and bones – that there was whole being who encompassed also memory, spirit, energy and will. This was news to me at the time.
- A community of people. Community is fundamental to Shintaido. Fun, laughter. Welcome. A sense of belonging.
- A place where it was important to express all of myself, and not have it be viewed as ‘too much.’
- An outlet for self-expression and extension of one’s interest into a bigger realm.
- Big nature: Ocean Beach, Tennessee Valley, Golden Gate Park…Hard practice on the beach in the cold and not-so-cold, but being one with the beach and cold and the others practicing.
- A sense of community and a practice to develop and work on.
- It challenged me to open my body and heart and spirit. Physical, mental and existential challenge. It gave me many, many opportunities to challenge myself.
- Stress relief. Bright, shining world.
- The thought of “Wow! This is pretty neat stuff.”
- It gave me a different way of connecting with my undergraduate students.
- Shintaido gave me hope for extending a truncated life, being more expressive, feeling more deeply.
- It gave me license to be weird, and made my body stronger.
- It gave me a lot of challenges – for years I felt that I would never improve; I was just terrible at it. So it gave me difficulty, and that intrigued me, I think it kept me coming back.
- Commitment and enthusiasm. Back then, I gave it my enthusiasm, going to as many classes as I could. My time, as an eager student.
- A lot of energy, interest, and thought.
- I gave an injection of foreign perspective to French Shintaido practitioners.
- A level of participation both in and out of keiko.
- Perseverance – it took a long time to “get” certain movements.
- I gave Margaret Guay a student!
- Not so long after starting, I volunteered to serve as SOA treasurer, SNE board member, etc.
- It gives me an indomitable spirit. When I do the movement, even it is only ten-part meditation, I am reminded of the many instances when the body was weak but the spirit was willing. And there’s also a sense of community that is, I think, a vital part of Shintaido.
- A place to start over.
- Rebirth, new beginning.
- A different perspective and philosophy.
- A community of people. (Several peple said this in different ways.)
- Connections that go back a very long way.
- Knowledge to share in my own voice and in my own way (example: teaching at Senior Center)
- The confidence and expertise that comes from doing something for more than 40 years.
- A wholeness of spirit.
- It still gives me community and a practice to work on. But Shintaido also helps me grow spiritually, and it provides a form for me to express my physical self with.
- It gives me a community of people I have known and done something with for more than half my life, and friendship – or really, more like family.
- When I practice with others, it give me energy and joy.
- It gives me a depth of contact with myself, my body, my spirit that I can count on, and that I can find when I need it.
- Now I know how to relax, and how to deepen.
- Shintaido provides a form for me to play with physical expressions in nature. It also provides what has grown into a long-lived community of friends.
- One can understand the value of Shintaido in Jungian terms – that it allows us to grasp our shadow and bring it forth in creative and constructive ways if the forms are allowed their full spiritual breadth, depth and energy. But it is still shadow and can overwhelm and even terrify people (I think this is really why people stop.) It can also put people into a frustrating tension if it is dampened by focus on linear hierarchy or mere from, since the spirit understands its bounded nature, senses the great sky. Of course this is easy and in some ways formulaic thinking in the part of someone who has lived in the more visceral tension of shadow-fear for a lifetime! That’s my rant!
- It continues to give me a way of thinking about my body as embodied spirit, which is helpful in my current situation.
- It gives me connection. Ten, chi, jin. It gives me a remote connection to others, and a spiritual practice.
- A door into Japanese culture that enlarges my understanding of their art, film and literature.
- A chance to reconnect with other practitioners, some of whom are close (or closer than) family. It also reminds me of the physical person I used to be, and even though I’ll never get back there. I am more aware than many people about what’s going on in my body.
- An embodiment and practice of a life philosophy.
- A framework in which to continually question evaluate, and reconsider my choices in life, and a way to work through them with a very valued physical, mental and spiritual practice.
- I still volunteer on the SOA and SNE board.
- I’m not currently practicing, but I’m on the SOA and SNE boards.
- A desire to contribute to Shintaido’s ongoing existence.
- 48 years’ experience.
- Some tribal knowledge.
- Lots of sharing and work at the organizational level of the Shintaido community.
- As I am aging, I trust it will continue to support me throughout my life journey. And I also see that the physical part is less, and the spiritual is more.
- Community, continued community.
- I hope Shintaido will continue to provide this community that gets together throughout the year on different levels.
- I hope that it will help to keep me healthy physically and mentally.
- An option to share knowledge and movement in my own way separate from the Shintaido hierarchy.
- A changing practice that will sustain me even as I become less able to execute physically challenging movements.
- I hope it continues into the future. I worry that it will become extinct.
- I hope to get back to teaching and possibly giving Shintaido retreats and classes at other venues.
- In the future I plan to continue practicing as best I can despite aging. I hope my practice and insight will deepen.
- A legacy to pass on/lineage.
- Continued enjoyment with sword!
- In-home services for the elderly? I expect there will always be some kind of practice for me if I continue to stay in touch with Shintaido. But there will always be the core movements of Shintaido that have kept me well in spirit over many years. Simply doing tenshingoso in the morning or evening or maybe both helps me to maintain an attitude of gratefulness, humility and wonder.
- I hope to share more through teaching.
- Continued time and commitment to practice and share Shintaido with others.
- I will continue to volunteer as best I can during a big transition in life.
- What I give is my most sincere effort in keiko, and I try to bring what I’ve learned to other aspects of my life.
- I’d like to contribute to planning special events, like Anne-Marie’s memorial in Montreal, and special classes with James Cumming.
After we had reflected and written in silence for several minutes, people were asked to come up with two sets of ideas to share: one abstract, and one concrete. Perhaps you’d like to do the same? Here are the combined lists from SNE Springeiko 2019:
- Tribal knowledge
- Integration of physical and spiritual self
- Embodied spirituality
- Practice of opening body and heart
- Bring one new person each (1 + 1 = 2; would double our group)
Concrete (something we’d like to see happen within the next two years)
- Let’s collaborate with thriving organizations!
- “Collaborative teaching”
- Hold a longer gathering with multiple teachers
- Bring keiko up to Bill Burtis!
- Collaborative workshop on “mindful movement” with EMI (Judy Tso)
- Have Margaret Guay teach a weekly class again!
- Teach Shintaido at USJ again.
- Anne-Marie Grandtner memorial in Montreal
- Make a new video – to preserve knowledge
- More active social media presence
- Teaching at Senior Center(s)
As many of you know, in the summer of 2017, our friend Joe Zawielski was found to have a brain tumor. The Shintaido community wrapped itself around him, sending messages, positive energy, and love from all over world. After surgery and treatment, he began his recovery.
That fall, Joe came to a Shintaido Northeast event in Worcester. It was the first time I had seen him since his treatment, and it was very hard for me to see the change in this once vibrant man with seemingly boundless energy. During lunch, he said that he wanted to do the Pan-Mass Challenge (PMC), the bike ride that raises money for Dana-Farber Cancer Institute (DFCI), where he had received his care. At the time, his balance and stamina weren’t great, so I toyed with the idea of partnering with him, perhaps the two of us riding a tandem to complete the ride. I’d known Joe nearly 30 years and this was the least I could do to repay all those years of instruction and friendship.
Unfortunately, the cancer returned, and his health declined rapidly. Many of us were lucky enough to attend Joe’s last keiko, which was a truly blessed event. On my last visit with Joe before he passed, I asked him if I could ride the PMC in his place. Though he wasn’t able to articulate his answer, Joe started to cry; his wife Deb assured me this meant “Yes!”
I’m riding this year in honor of Joe. I’m doing the one-day Sturbridge to Bourne route, a 108 mile ride. I haven’t attempted a journey of this length in nearly 20 years, but I’ll have the spirit of my friend and sensei whispering “Gambatte!” (Do your best!) in my ear as I ride. My fundraising goal is $4000. Last year the PMC raised $56 million for Dana-Farber; 100% of all rider-raised funds go to directly support DFCI and the Jimmy Fund, the charity which raises money for adult and pediatric cancer care and research at DFCI.
If you care to donate, my PMC webpage is: https://donate.pmc.org/RS0435. Contributions can also be sent to:
Roger Solomon 39602-8
77 Fourth Ave.
Needham, MA 02494
I truly appreciate any help you can give. Thank you!
On April 13, 2019 in Bruges, Belgium, I presented Shintaido for a second year at the 2nd Global Conference on Death, Dying and the 21st Century. This year 22 people from 10 countries came together for 2 days as an interdisciplinary research community. We discussed the ways culture impacts the care for the dying, the overall experience of dying, and the ways the dead are remembered. Attendees came from the Netherlands, Australia, Portugal, Switzerland, Wales, the UK, Israel, Lebanon, the USA, and Canada. Our interdisciplinary group included scholars from philosophy, ethics, the law and literature; experts in the field of design for both products and processes; photography and videography; writers; and healthcare professionals including me as both a healthcare professional and student of Shintaido.
I presented Tenshingoso with overtone chanting, as part of an array of topics from personal reflection on the journey through and after death of a loved one to review of literature and poems that gave voice to the illness experience. During the 45-minute interactive demonstration, the participants used their voices and their bodies to explore the sounds of Ah, Oh and Um to express grief and facilitate mourning. Participants were first given the opportunity to stand facing inwards in a circle, and then with alternating groups they were invited to stand in the center of the group while these three movements were being done by the external circle.Participants reported feeling soothed and relaxed. Many reported feeling the vibrations of sound within their bodies. All agreed the simplicity of the three repeated movements made it easier to learn and potentially use in the future. Many were eager to work with their colleagues and explore how patients might benefit from these movements and sounds.
Our group quickly formed an intimacy and connection through our mutual sharing and teaching over these two days. For almost everyone, these two days moving toward the unknown and mystery of death brought us closer together. I received feedback that the inclusion of body movement was welcome to both “get out of our heads and into our bodies” and to facilitate our interconnection as a group. I am making plans for next year’s meeting already!
Here is my paper on my presentation:
Kotodama Applications for End of Life; a performance/audience participation presentation
Abstract: The use of sound combined with body movement crosses all cultures, languages and religions to provide a physical means for spiritual growth that for end-of-life purposes can provide a way to express grief and connection with the deceased. When the voice is added in Japanese martial arts such as Shintaido, the sound can be a spiritual basis for teaching. The Japanese word for sacred sound or word spirit is Kotodama. In the Japanese belief system, mystical powers dwell in words or names and ritual word usages can influence our environment. The Japanese martial arts body movement is Tenshingoso, with specific attention to the sounds “Ooo”, “Uumm”, and “Aaa”. This presentation will bring the results many years of weekly practice and instruction for use in celebrations of life.
Presentation: Tenshingoso is called “The Cycle of Life” so that through body movement one can study life as measured from moments to a lifetime, while using the voice to increase the flow of energy. Tenshingoso is derived from esoteric Buddhism with each movement accompanied by a Sanskrit sound. For this presentation, the sounds of O-Um-Ah will be presented and practiced. This movement with voice will advance to transition from one sound to the next sound ultimately doing three sounds with one breath.
O – Reaching out into the universe to reach what is omnipresent
Push hands forward and up as far as possible with the palm facing forward, fingers pulled back so as to open the palm of the hand. The sound of “Oooo” is made throughout this movement and as the movement Um is started, the sound changes to “Uumm” to start the stage of Um.
Um – Bringing the universe, perhaps those who have gone before into one’s center
The right-hand rests lightly inside your left hand. Eyes can be half closed or completely closed. Bring all your concentration into one single point where everything else disappears. Release all tension from the top of your head to your feet. Bring the hands back to rest lightly over your lower abdomen. The sound of “Uumm”” continues through this movement and begins to change to the sound “Aahh” to start the stage of Ah.
Ah – Opening Space – asking those who have died to reappear.
Opening your eyes, drop your arms down and backwards with shoulders relaxed, your fingers open and palms open, leading with the thumbs pointing backwards. Look toward the skies. Your chest will be open, head tilted backwards so that your chin and face is looking up. Your arms with palms open will be at your sides. Making the sound of “Aahh” and transitioning to the sound “Ooo”.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.