Rediscovering Kyukajo: Pacific Shintaido Kangeiko 2020

Rediscovering Kyukajo: Pacific Shintaido Kangeiko 2020

By Derk Richardson

When Pacific Shintaido invited Master Instructor H.F. Ito to be the special guest instructor for the PacShin Kangeiko 2020, it was with a poignant sense of historical import. We knew, given Ito sensei’s plans to cut back on international travel from his home in France, that this was likely to be one of his last formal workshops in the San Francisco Bay Area. 

From a position of deep respect, the PacShin board—Shin Aoki, Cheryl Williams, and Derk Richardson—requested that Ito sensei define the curriculum theme for the two-day gasshuku, which was held at Marin Academy, San Rafael, on the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday weekend, Saturday and Sunday, January 18–19, 2020, with an additional workshop for advanced practitioners on Monday, January 20. Master Ito chose “Rediscovering Kyukajo.” His intention, he explained, was to share what he described as his “new appreciation” of the series of nine-plus techniques fundamental to classic Shintaido Kenjutsu practice.

 Asked to deliver remarks at the Sunday afternoon closing ceremony, Master Ito, true to his unpredictable nature, chose to deliver them during Saturday morning’s opening ceremony. He kept them brief. He eschewed long, nostalgic reminiscences, and quoted General Douglas MacArthur’s 1951 farewell speech to Congress: “Old soldiers never die; they just fade away.” 

Ito Taimyo
Ito Taimyo

But Master Ito did offer slightly lengthier introductory remarks to set a conceptual tone for the gasshuku. He showed us three styles of kanji representing the idea ten (“heaven” /天)—the precise, formal, stroke-by-stroke kaisho calligraphy; the more flowing, semi-cursive gyosho approach; and the free-flowing sosho style. By “Rediscovering Kyukajo,” Ito sensei meant returning to—and finding new meaning in—the fundamental kaisho movements of Kyukajo. Many Shintaido kenjutsu practitioners have practiced Jissen-Kumitachi for so long that the flow of continuous kumite in a wakame-informed sosho style has become second nature. Ito sensei took us back to the original nature of Kyukajo as a way of reinvigorating and deepening our practice. 

Ichi - One
Ichi – One

Over the course of three keiko—Saturday morning, Saturday afternoon, and Sunday Afternoon—Master Ito led a dozen or so practitioners of mixed age and experience through the 14 Kyukajo techniques. Although kyu indicates that there are nine techniques, numbers three (sankajo), four (yonkajo), five (gokajo), eight (hachikajo), and nine (kyukajo) each have a basic and an advanced movement. During the general keiko on Saturday and Sunday, Master Ito taught ikkajo (one) through nanakajo (seven) and jumped over hachikajo (eight) to kyukajo (nine). He held over the more complex hachikajo for the Advanced Workshop on Monday. With different kumite partners during the three keiko, we repeated and refined our footwork and sword movements, and experienced how timing and ma are unique to different partner pairings. 

In addition to guiding us in rediscovering Kyukajo, Master Ito shared his renewed understanding of three elements that are basic to formal Kyukajo practice: It should be done with the straight sword, bokuto, designed by the founder of Shintaido, Master Aoki Sensei, rather than bokken; stepping sequences all end by drawing the feet into musubidachi stance; and each kumite begins with partners bowing to each other, drawing their swords into shoko position, lifting their swords in tandem into tenso, and returning together down to shoko. The partners repeat shoko-tenso and bow at the conclusion of kumitachi, as well. 

Beyond Kyukajo. On Sunday morning, with Robert Gaston serving as exam coordinator, Connie Borden as goreisha, and Ito sensei as examiner, Nicole Masters took her exam—and was the next day awarded her certificate—for Shintaido Kenjutsu Shodan. In the gap between the exam and the break for midday brunch, while Ito sensei and National Technical Council members retreated for exam evaluation, Lee Ordeman, visiting from Washington D.C., taught a fun and brisk mini keiko focused primarily on stepping practice. Between-keiko potluck brunches were hosted by Sandra Bengtsson and Robert Gaston (Saturday) and Jim and Toni Galli Sterling (Sunday). Michael Sheets was the videographer for the gasshuku and documented every step of Ito sensei’s teaching—both for posterity and for the eventual production of edited segments for study.

At the conclusion of the general Kangeiko on Sunday, PacShin presented Ito sensei with two gifts in gratitude for his teaching and invaluable contributions to the cultivation of Shintaido in the Bay Area over the past forty-six years—a beautiful bokuto/bokken cover stitched from upcycled fabrics by Nao Kobayashi, and a hard-bound book of historical photographs and written tributes from Shintaido practitioners who benefited from Master Ito’s teaching in the Bay Area. The true gifts, however, have moved in the other direction: They are the knowledge, wisdom, and practices, all of which carry over into everyday life, which Master Ito has bestowed on us all. 

Shintaido Kenjutsu Q & A with Master H.F.Ito.

Shintaido Kenjutsu Q & A with Master H.F.Ito.

Interview by Sarah Baker – January 2020

What is Shintaido Kenjutsu? Shintaido means “New Body Way,” or we could also call it a new art movement of life expression. When people hear Shintaido, the syllable at the end is Do, which is usually used for martial arts. But Shintaido is more than a martial art. It is a movement for the development of human potential. 

What is the difference between Kendo and Kenjutsu (Judo and Jujutsu)? Kenjutsu means sword-fighting techniques. So Shintaido Kenjutsu presents your life expression through sword techniques. During the samurai period in Japan, no one used the word kendo (or judo, for that matter). The terms were kenjutsu and jujutsu, and they referred to fighting techniques. The words kendo and judo came into use as Japan began to modernize, after the Meiji Restoration around 1865. That marked the end of the samurai fighting lifestyle. People were no longer allowed to take matters like law and order, and revenge into their own hands; those things were now handled by the police and the courts. Sword techniques and other martial arts were still practiced, but more as a form of sports or physical training, and done in spaces akin to a gymnasium. That’s when the terms kendo and judo came into popular use. 

Kendo literally means “the way of the sword,” and Judo literally means “the way of flexibility.” Although those words sound great, and the practice is supposed to lead to enlightenment, that kind of keiko can actually become hollow and inflexible when it is removed from the demands of the battlefield. At its core, Shintaido is designed to help us experience life-and-death interactions without actually having to kill each other. 

What is the difference between Karate and Kenjutsu from your cultural point of view? Karate came from Okinawa and as a result there was a great deal of influence from Chinese martial arts because Okinawa was occupied by China and Japan and various times in history. Kenjutsu is totally Japanese, and is affected by what we call the “island culture” of Japan, meaning that it was relatively isolated and not much influenced by other martial art forms. In addition, Kenjutsu has close ties to Zen, which is the form of Buddhism that was followed by many Japanese samurai. 

Karate characteristically has kata, practiced individually, kihon, practiced in unison with a group, and kumite, practiced with a partner. Traditionally in Kenjutsu, both Kihon & Kata werepracticed individually, not in unison.

Because Karate has group exercises, Master Aoki was able to develop Goreijutsu, techniques for giving gorei. This is one of the strong points of Karate, from its Chinese influence.

Karate is a horizontal relationship: it’s very practical. The instructors are not responsible for their students’ spiritual development. Kenjutsu has a big vertical component – mind-body-spirit – and the instructor works to develop all of those in his or her students. 

Where does Kyu-Ka-Jo Kumitachi come from? In Shintaido: A New Art of Movement and Life Expression (1982), Master Aoki said that Kyu-Ka-Jo Kumitachi came from Master Inoue Hoken, who was the founder of Shinwa Taido. I heard a rumor that Master Inoue was in the line of Itto Ryu Kenjutsu, and Master Ueshiba was in the line of Shinkage Ryu Kenjutsu. I believe that Kyu-Ka-Jo Kumitachi came from the Itto Ryu tradition. That means Shintaido practitioners are so fortunate, because we have access through our keiko to the traditional Itto Ryu practice. 

What is Jissen Kumitachi? The original concept of Jissen Kumitachi came from a project team consisting of Master Okada, Master Minagawa, and me. Kyu-Ka-Jo Kumitachi is a great vehicle for spiritual development and mind- body harmony, but it isn’t necessarily very practical in terms of working sword technique. By that time, I had studied Shin Kendo from Master Obata in Los Angeles, and because of his Aikido background, he had a lot of Shinkage Ryu influence. So the three of us were able to benefit from the strong points of Shinkage Ryu in our work with Jissen Kumitachi. The word jissen can be written two different ways in Japanese: 実戦 and 実践. The pronunciation is the same, but the first one means “for practical fighting” and the second one means “for practical living.” We were able to incorporate the mixed wisdom of both Shinkage Ryu and Itto Ryu into Jissen Kumitachi. 

What is the difference between Bokuto and Bokken? In the regular martial arts world, bokuto 木刀 and bokken 木剣 are the same. Both mean “wooden sword.” But in Shintaido, we make a distinction: the bokuto is a straight wooden sword and the bokken is curved. We recommend that you use a bokuto when you practice Kyu-Ka-Jo Kumitachi, and that you use a bokken for Jissen Kumitachi. 

More specifically, the original, formal bokuto practice was designed by Master Aoki. He believes that the bokuto form can naturally help practitioners experience Ten-Chi-Jin vertical energy when doing Tenso. Shintaido Kenjutsu (e.g. Kyu-Ka-Jo Kumitachi) is meant to be practiced with a bokuto (straight wooden sword). 

Shintaido Kenjutsu (e.g. Jissen Kumitachi) is meant to be practiced with bokken (curved wooden sword). And in both cases, it is very important to study and experience the techniques and philosophy of Tenso and Shoko when you are a Shintaido beginner. 

What is the difference between Kirikomi and Kiriharai 

See Hiroyuki Aoki, Shintaido: A New Art of Movement and Life Expression (1982) – , pages 46-47 and 70-73. 

2 Shintaido Kenjutsu Q&A with Master H.F. Ito 

What is Toitsu Kihon? See Hiroyuki Aoki, Shintaido: A New Art of Movement and Life Expression (1982) – pages 88-99. 

What is the relationship between Master Egami, Master Inoue, Master Funakoshi, Master Aoki? See Tomi Nagai-Rothe’s scroll of our inheritance from three masters, created in the 1990s. 

What is your overview of Shintaido history as a stream of consciousness? Shotokai Karate ~ Egami-Karate ~ Rakutenkai-Karate ~ Discovery of Kaisho-Ken ~ Shintaido (Toitsu-kihon) ~ Discovery of Tenshingoso & Eiko ~ Sogo-Budo ~ Shintaido-Bojutsu/Karate ~ Yoki-Kei Shintaido ~ Shintaido as a human potential movement 

What is Shintaido Kenjutsu for you? My life work, the conclusion of my life time training of Shintaido, a crystal/reflection of Kaiho-Kei Shintaido, Yoki-Kei Shintaido, Shintaido Bojutsu, and Shintaido Karate. 

What is your recommendation to those who want to start studying Shintaido Kenjutsu? If you are a beginner, you should study Shintaido Daikihon first: specifically, Tenshingoso, Eiko, and Hikari/Wakame (Stage 1). After that, Toitsu Kumite using kaishoken (Stage 2). Then you can start Kyukajo Kumitachi (Stage 3), and after that Jissen Kumitachi (Stage 4). 

If you already have experience with another martial art, especially related to Kenjutsu, you can jump in at Jissen Kumitachi (Stage 4), and if you like it, you can then study Kyukajo Kumitachi, too. And if you really want to understand the discipline in depth, you’ll end up studying the Daikihon (Stages 1 and 2), too. 


Have you studied any other martial art besides Shintaido ?

I’ve never joined or belonged to any other martial arts dojo, but I did six months of training at the Aikido Headquarters in Japan in 1970. That was just after Master Aoki had completed the Daikihon, and right after Master Ueshiba had passed away. Master Aoki was ready to come out of the “Egami World,” and he sent me to the Aikido Headquarters to see how practical what he had taught me really was, and to see what Master Ueshiba’s legacy was − his secret key points. (In Japanese, we say, “Find out what is written on his tombstone”). Master Aoki didn’t tell me how long I would be there, so I assumed it might be for a year or more. Every night I would come home, and he’d ask me what I had studied. I got more and more interested in Aikido, and I was surrounded by people who had studied with Master Ueshiba, even though I had never met him myself. But, I was really flexible because of all my hard keiko at that time, so their joint locks didn’t work on me (I didn’t tell them, of course, I was respectful), and my tsuki was really strong, so I knew I could hit them any time (but I didn’t do it of course, I was respectful). I was working with an older man, not an instructor, and I was attacking him gently, but once I attacked him strongly without warning, and suddenly I ended up on the floor! After that, I became much more respectful toward Aikido. When I told Master Aoki that story he said, “Okay, you don’t need to go there anymore.” I think Master Aoki was collecting Aikido techniques through me, but he probably recognized that I had been getting rather proud of myself, so he likely sent me to the Aikido dojo to learn some humility, and respect toward other martial arts. 

Soon after I was appointed as Doshu (Master Instructor) in 1988 in Tanzawa, Japan. Master Aoki said that since I was a Master Instructor, I needed to go and study Tameshigiri (actual cutting techniques) from Master Toshishiro Obata. He had been the Tameshigiri champion in Japan for five years before he moved to Los Angeles around 1985. 

Master Obata was still new to the US when I first met him in 1989. He was one of the top disciples of Gozo Shioda who was 10th Dan in Aikido. (I think he studied directly from Master Ueshiba.) He was the founder of Yoshinkan Aikido a school of Aikido that is famous for being extremely practical and very difficult.  

Starting in 1989, I studied with Master Obata three or four times a year, about a week at a time, for three years. I thought I was there to learn test cutting, but I ended up also practicing Yoshinkan Aikido and Kenjutsu. At that point he called his style Toyama-Ryu Battojutsu, which was the kind of training that was taught to Japanese Army officers during wartime. Very practical – scary practical, actually ! In Los Angeles, Master Obata had a small Aikido dojo, but his teaching was so demanding that he was not very successful with his dojo. When I first started to study with him, he didn’t speak English very well, and was very frustrated with his American students. He complained, “They have no guts, no manners, and no concentration !” Of course, I know how to study from Japanese masters, so he shared a lot with me. It was like a brain dump – all of his frustration, but all of his technical skills in Aikido and Kenjutsu, too. He taught me a lot, but he was very tough on me – I would be black and blue all over after working with him for a week. He would whack me with his practice stick whenever I left an opening. We were practicing kata, and from his perspective he wasn’t hitting me – he was teaching me. But he couldn’t treat his American students like that because they would sue him. And Master Aoki had introduced me to him as a 20-year practitioner and his best student. So, he was very generous, but also very challenging. And, of course, this wasn’t kendo with a lot of armor – we didn’t have any kind of protection. I guess I had become proud again ! So, this was a good lesson, too.

Interview by Sarah Baker.  Sarah was born in the Bahamas (1965) to American parents. She returned to Rhode Island in 1966 and moved to Massachusetts in 1969. She has been a caregiver and Touch Pro Certified Practitioner since 2003. She holds Aikido 2-dan examined by Don Cardoza (Aikido 5-dan) founder and head instructor of the Wellness Resource Center, North Dartmouth, MA. in 2011. She holds Shintaido Kenjutsu 1-dan examined by H. F. Ito at the Doshokai Workshop, September 2019. Presently she resides in Sarasota, Florida. She acts as the project manager, Shintaido of  Americavideo documentation archive project 

James Cumming’s Boh

James Cumming’s Boh

by Stephen Billias

James Cumming, a longtime Shintaido practitioner from England now living in Brattleboro, Vermont, has given me his boh (six-foot staff) and has asked me to find a new home for it. This item is a treasure. It’s made of Japanese oak, which is difficult or impossible to get any more. The boh is probably forty years old and in magnificent condition, still straight and giving off no splinters. It is one of a batch that Aoki-sensei brought from Japan for the Second Shintaido International.

It comes in a beautiful cloth cover, decorated with colorful images of cranes. The fabric is from Japan and made in England.

Also, the boh is imbued with James Cumming’s wonderful Shintaido spirit. I have gotten to known James and his wife Vangie in the years since Bela and I moved East. You might check out their website, Paths to the End. This picture of James on a falconry outing comes from that site. I’d like to make whatever we do with the boh a tribute to James’s longtime dedication to Shintaido and a thank you to him for the donation.

I’m looking for creative ideas for what to do with this wonderful piece of wood. For example, we could have an auction to raise money for Shintaido. If I was an auctioneer, I might set the initial value of this boh at ~$150, but it’s priceless. Or someone could nominate a particularly deserving candidate who needs a boh. What else could we do with it? Please post your ideas as comments to this blog entry. I’ll read them, and I hope other people will also, and we’ll decide what to do with this beautiful boh.


Attending European Shintaido College 2019 in Reims, France

Attending European Shintaido College 2019 in Reims, France

By Mark Bannon and Connie Borden

The European Shintaido College (ESC) held their fall gasshuku from Wednesday 31 October 2019 to Sunday 3 November 2019 in Reims, France. Reims is in the heart of the Champagne region. The beautiful Cathedral in the center of the city played host to the coronations of the kings of France. A wonderful destination to combine some tourism before the gasshuku.

The theme of this gasshuku was Shinten: Development. The theme comes from the five stages of Shintaido keiko: Shuchu-Concentration; Toitsu-Unification; Shinten-Development; Seiketsu-Pure Cleanliness; and Rakuten-Freedom. This gasshuku studied the flow from Concentration through Unification to Development while experiencing the familiar forms of Tenshingoso, Eiko and Meiso. The emphasis was on joyful and healthy life expression. We were encouraged to be curious, be open with a focus on finding the inner calm necessary to share harmonious, soft, and deep kumite so that we unite with our partners.

Ula Chambers (UK) was Director of Instruction. SOA Member Margaret Guay was the Invited Instructor. Ula has been practicing Shintaido since 1980 in the UK, becoming an instructor in 1987 and a General Instructor in 2016. Her work has been with people with learning disabilities and the elderly to explore the transformative aspects of Shintaido. Margaret Guay started Shintaido in 1985 and has been teaching for over 25 years. Margaret has jointly studied with the school for Body-Mind Centering® to better understand her own movement and gain insight into the states cultivated through practicing Shintaido. Body-Mind Centering® (BMCSM) is an integrated and embodied approach to movement, the body and consciousness developed by Bonnie Bainbridge Cohen. Margaret has conducted developmental movement lessons with infants and young children and worked in several after-school enrichment programs for children with special needs.

Fifty-three people attended this gasshuku, coming from France, Germany, Italy, the Czech Republic, the UK and the USA. On Thursday & Friday the European Technical Committee held three meetings and two ETC keiko taught by Ito-sensei. These keiko continued with the study of Kenjutsu and the approach of Musoken. European Exams were held Friday afternoon. Two people advanced to Nidan Kenjutsu, one person advanced to Nidan Bojutsu and one person advanced to the rank of Shintaido Nidan Instructor.

Saturday and Sunday were the general gasshuku with three keiko with additional two morning sessions focused on Kenko-taiso. The event included a party on Saturday evening.

Margaret Guay taught the opening keiko combining her study of Body-Mind Centering with Shintaido. She allowed us to explore our body movements from early cellular development approaches so that we were rolling and twisting on the large tatami mats. As Ito-sensei commented, “At one point it looked like wriggling compost pile”. For some, it felt like a giant game of Twister® as we moved over and under each other. Margaret sat regally and patiently as we explored familiar movements with new insight of our early nervous system development. Margaret closed with Tenshingoso.

“The mind is like the wind and the body like the sand: if you want to see how the wind is blowing, you can look at the sand.”

— Bonnie Bainbridge Cohen, Body Mind Centering Developer

On Saturday afternoon, General Instructors Ula and Mieko taught a process to introduce Eiko Dai focused on the theme of “Infinity”. Mieko led us in stepping with musoken and kaishoken hands for the traditional dai-jodan, jo-dan, chu-dan and go-dan cuts. Ula then led us to the skies to fly like birds – the image of the unified flock of starlings doing murmuration. We cut in the infinity pattern – the figure 8 laying on its side. We swirled and soared in groups of 5 or 6 to follow and move in unified leaderless patterns. Then we joined into one group doing Dai jodan while the other group did the infinity cutting. We closed with one-on-one partner Eiko Dai using our voice.

Sunday morning keiko closed the gasshuku with studying a new approach of using Tenshingoso arrangements in Shintaido Karate. General Instructor David Franklin (SOA/Czeck) led with warmups, continuing the study of close communication with one’s partner through massage and stretches.

General Instructor Gianni Rossi (IT) then lead a series of kata to teach the process of sumo that lead to renki. The exercises started with simply shifting weight from one leg to the other. Gianni-sensei then added sliding the feet together as weight was shifted. When we became comfortable, we added squatting into the classic sumo wrestler shiko stance and then added raising a leg high in the air to the side, then bringing it down with a stomp. To some, these exercises highlighted a centered koshi and stable contact with the earth while others recalled that shiko stomping was also performed to drive away bad spirits. Gianni-sensei then asked us to teamed up with a partner for the sumo embrace and invited us to help each other become centered with our partner providing supportive structure and balancing force as we moved as one co-dependent team.

Master Instructor Minagawa (UK) taught as a kata familiar free-hand Shintaido movements to receive a overhand jodan uchite attack while keeping the Shintaido essence. The karate exercises kept the sharp focus while using the transformative nature of Shintaido to have everyone feeling successful in their body movement working with their partners.

These keiko show the continued adaption and development of Shintaido for people’s body conditions – truly keeping the “NEW” in New Body Movement.

The History of Taimyo for World Peace and Healing

The History of Taimyo for World Peace and Healing

By H.F. Ito

This is my story of using Taimyo Kata for world peace and healing over the past 20 years. It is a story about friendships and collaborations, world events, timely encounters and a personal calling to contribute to peacemaking and healing. I see my life as a tapestry of relationships and this is one part of that tapestry.

As you read along you can follow this story via the graphic history above, created by Tomi Nagai-Rothe.


In the early 1980s John Kent and James Cumming were leading business English trainings as well as cultural training for German and Swedish businessmen going to Japan. I led a Shintaido workshop for their clients. Later, John would lead kenko taiso in the mornings when he and Jim were teaching.

As their work expanded more into intercultural training, they hired me to offer intercultural workshops for their clients. This was the start of ITO Services (Intercultural Training and Orientation) which was my first adaptation of Shintaido to non-martial arts audiences.

Shoko Practice at a Distance

In 1996, Debbie Evans, a UK Shintaido instructor in Bristol, and her Shintaido friend living in London were feeling challenged by their shoko practice. Debbie suggested they practice at the same time to support one another. So at the appointed time, Debbie practiced shoko facing east (toward London) and her friend practiced facing west (toward Bristol).

In keiko we do shoko practice with partners facing one another. It allows us to do it much longer than we could alone. When Aoki-sensei practices toate he sends his awareness some distance to connect to another person because our imaginations can extend beyond time and space. Debbie put all of this into practice.

Stress Management Workshops and Distant Healing

As the executive director of Hospice by the Bay, a non-profit hospice service provider, Connie Borden asked me to design a stress management course for hospice caregivers. Families, friends and other caregivers of the dying experience stress and Connie felt they would benefit from a workshop aimed at their needs. I was happy to do it, but Connie had no budget for such a course.

At the same time, my friend Henry Kaiser was serving as a family board member with the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. He had had the idea of supporting my teaching for several years. Because Henry could not contribute to me as an individual, he proposed supporting my teaching for 7 or 8 years through a non-profit that would organize workshops which I would lead. I put Connie and Henry together and voila! This was my second major adaptation of Shintaido for a non-martial arts audience. This time it was specifically designed for wellness and healing.

Ten chi jin
Ten chi jin
Illustration by T. Nagai-Rothe

I created some conceptual charts to explain the concept of distant healing that could be used for Yokikei or Kaihokei keiko. I visited groups in Europe and the U.S. and recommended distant healing through keiko to help others with health issues, depression, etc.

I started teaching at L’Attitude in Quebec and at the Japanese Arts Seminar at Green Gulch Zen Center in Muir Beach, California and used the charts to describe Shintaido and particularly stress management.

Peace and Healing

Parliament of World Religions
Parliament of World Religions — Photo by Mario and Liz Uribe

Mario and Liz Uribe, founders of the Japanese Arts Seminar, were impressed with this approach and invited me to participate in their peace work. In 1993 I participated in the Parliament of World Religions at Mario and Liz’s invitation.

Parliament of World Religions
Parliament of World Religions — Photo by Mario and Liz Uribe

Mario took the brush-painted circle practiced by Kaz Tanahashi and made it a group activity to set the tone for peace among world religions. He created a huge brush that four people could use to paint a large circle (Enso). They asked me to ritually purify the canvas with Shintaido movement before the circle was painted.

You can read more about the Parliament experience here on page 2 of Body Dialogue.

UN 50th Anniversary 1995
UN 50th Anniversary 1995

In 1995 we organized another Enso painting ceremony in San Francisco’s Civic Center Plaza for the United Nations 50th Anniversary in San Francisco (Resource: Body Dialogue United Nations 50th – Will the Circle be Unbroken?)

The purification ritual for the brush circle is similar to what Kazu Yanagi (artist, painter) does by painting with water to purify a canvas. The house purifications I perform for healing and prosperity are the same: they clear away barriers and stuck ki energy.

Purification Rituals and End of Life Rituals

I was able to be with Bill Peterson, a Shintaido practitioner in San Francisco, at the end of his life. Sitting by his bed, I sensed that even though he struggled to breathe and be in his body, he was ready to go. As I held him, I asked him to do a meditation with me. We imagined ourselves doing Tenshingoso Dai and finally, Eiko Dai. I encouraged Bill to run and to let go. (Resource: Body Dialogue Facing Death, Part II)

Like the purification ritual, this was about clearing a path forward. In this life this process creates an open space for peace and healing, and for those leaving this life, it creates a path to peace.

The Development of Taimyo Kata

Master Aoki developed Taimyo Kata in 1995 and shared it at the 1996 Shintaido International in Sonoma County, California. Taimyo became a form to focus much of what came before: distant healing, stress management, spreading peace and purification.

Over decades of practice, I have come to see Taimyo as a microcosm of all of Shintaido – a gallery or collage of Shintaido movement. Taimyo is like a fractal. One part of it reflects the whole. In one sense, I feel like its parts express my own life.

Taimyo and Global Peace

Ito Taimyo
Taimyo at the Washington Monument, Washington DC.
Photo by T. Nagai-Rothe

I was scuba diving at Point Lobos in California on the morning of Tuesday, September 11, 2001 and learned about the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon (U.S. Department of Defense) after emerging from the ocean.

Hands around the world
Hands around the world

That week I was working with Rob Gaston and Tomi Nagai-Rothe to finalize plans for a weeklong meditation workshop starting Sunday, September 23 in the Bay Area. We had 17 people participating in person and 12 people participating virtually from different parts of the U.S. and other countries.

It was an ambitious format and the attacks upended our plans. How could we use our practice to make sense of what had happened? Could we do something positive through the workshop? We brainstormed many ideas: meditation as healing, creating stronger connections at a distance, managing our fears and pain. Then we came up with the image of practitioners standing at various places on the globe and, through their Taimyo practice, extending an enormous web of caring and peace around the earth. This was the genesis of the International Taimyo Network for Peace.

Developing and Expanding Taimyo Kata

Masashi Minagawa began to perform and teach Taimyo at conferences and music performances in Ireland and the UK. I expanded my teaching of Taimyo with a more global perspective on our practice and the need for peacemaking.

In 2006 we began an ongoing workshop series at the Day Street Dojo in San Francisco, thanks to Connie Borden. I built on the material covered in the Caregiver Workshops (1994 – 2003) incorporated Tai Chi from my study with Master Ma and connected the practice to personal peace-making (resolving conflicts within ourselves), healing (including distant healing) and peace – the impact we have on those around us and where we are called to create positive social change.

9/11 focused our Taimyo practice and connected it to our hopes for peace.

At the Day Street Dojo
Photo by T. Nagai-Rothe

Peacemaking Work

(Resource: Body Dialogue: Shintaido and Non-Violent Resistance)

My friend and colleague Kaz Tanahashi – artist, teacher, peacemaker and Buddhist practitioner – invited me and Masashi Minagawa to join him for an apology pilgrimage to Nanjing, China in 2007. Kaz had arranged to participate in the Nanjing University international conference on the 70th anniversary of the Nanjing Massacre.

We felt for some time that it was important to make a formal apology as individual citizens since Japan had not done so. Still, we were anxious about going to Nanjing concerned about an angry response from the Chinese.

Bodies of massacre victims on the shore of the Qinhuai River. From Wikipedia

The conference participants included those who have studied and experienced genocide in many parts of the world. There was press coverage of the conference and our apology ceremony. People in Nanjing seemed glad that we had come.

Masashi Minagawa and I went down to the edge of the river for our own meditation and form of apology. After some time I had a profound sense that the souls of those who had been massacred were present, and that they were not only forgiving but loving. I will never forget that experience.

That same year I organized a Meditation Workshop on Omaha Beach in France to lift up peacemaking — rather than the glorification of war that often happens there.

In 2009 and 2010 Elli Nagai-Rothe helped organize a Peacemaking Workshop at American University in Washington DC for graduate students in the International Peace and Conflict Resolution Program and others interested in practical peacemaking. Taimyo and Shintaido provided a powerful and practical antidote to the intellectual work of graduate studies.

Peacemaking Workshop at American University Photo by T. Nagai-Rothe

A Taimyo and Life Exercise Curriculum

With the help of Lee Seaman and Tomi Nagai-Rothe I created a curriculum and teaching program so that I could involve others in sharing this work. I began certifying my students in the U.S., France, Japan and Quebec. There are now 19 people coaches and instructors around the world.

(Resources: Taimyo/Life Exercise website in English, Taimyo Network website in French, Taimyo blog in French, Taimyo Network website in Japanese)

My students in the South of France have held an annual Taimyo Workshop since 2010. They invited me to teach for many years, and now four students have taken over and established the Institut des Nuages Flottants and lead Taimyo Workshops four times a year.

Diamond Eight Cut

In 2016 Masashi Minagawa was inspired to create the Diamond Eight Cut – an improvisation on Shintaido movement that brings to fruition 50 years of Shintaido practice, teaching and research and development. It combines Tenshingoso and Eiko as well as Kiri-Oroshi kumite in an elegant and accessible form that can be used for celebration or purification, energetic healing, and connecting our inner world with the Universe.

Diamond Eight is a perfect fit for movement inspired by Taimyo Kata. I have taught it and found innumerable ways to creatively adapt it to my students’ needs over the past three years. Its combination of centering, clearing, opening and healing makes Diamond Eight a fractal of Shintaido.

It miraculously helps us express and experience everything from Mother Nature and the deep Universe to the cells in our body and everything in-between. When I practice Diamond Eight it feels like my body is its own cosmos and, simultaneously, as if tiny versions of my cellular self are also practicing Diamond Eight.

After practicing the Diamond Eight, I understand meditation in a deeper way — in a way that monks probably understood intellectually, though not somatically. It is an amazing gift.

Ito and Lee Ordeman at the Washington Monument. Pearl Harbor Day – December 7, 2009.
Photo by T. Nagai-Rothe

Diamond Eight marks a new era for Shintaido and Taimyo that I trust will carry us for many many years to come.

(Resource: Diamond Eight Cut & Life Reflections article – downloadable PDF)

Thanks to Tomi Nagai-Rothe and Lee Seaman for their assistance in helping me tell this story.

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.