by Connie Borden
Rob Gaston, Senior Instructor, ranked Sandan in Shintaido bojutsu had an inspiration to hold a Shintaido of America boh workshop in 2022. Post COVID, it would be an in-person gathering in the San Francisco Bay Area open to all Shintaido bojutsu practitioners. The theme would be “Connections in Nature”. Charles Burns, from the United Kingdom, accepted the invitation to be a guest instructor. Charles holds the ranks of Shintaido General Instructor and Sandan in bojutsu. Shin Aoki, ranked Yondan in bojutsu and Senior Instructor in Shintaido, graciously agreed to join the teaching staff.
As a Nurse Practitioner trained within western medicine, I reflected on this theme, and thought of the recent health-focused activities that recommend including nature in our lives. This is a growing trend of so-called “park prescriptions,” which have increased in popularity over the last decade along with research into the benefits of spending time in nature. In these programs, physicians strongly encourage patients young and old to spend more time outside to improve their mental and physical health. In Japan, this has been called “forest bathing.” Thich Nhat Hanh spoke of the healing capacity of the natural world.
“When we suffer, the Earth embraces us, accepts us, and restores our energy, making us strong and stable again. The relief that we seek is right under our feet and all around us.”
So, I reflected on my good fortune to be introduced to Shintaido in 1984 and the many opportunities to practice in nature. I was eager to see the impact from our outdoor boh workshop.
Charles Burns arrived from the UK on Tuesday to allow for two days of keiko with Rob and Connie and to explore our keiko sites of Golden Gate Park and Ocean Beach. Charles shared his inspirations of study of a Boh Kata called “Karei no Kon,” which translates into ‘Spirit of the Flower.’ Those who visited Japan in 2004 for the Matsuri international event may recall this long kata, introduced there by Oi sensei. Charles shared his inspiration to use segments from this kata throughout his keiko during warmups and kumite. Hoshi o Toshi was shared from this kata to take our eyes and vision to the horizon for greater awareness of nature. Charles then visited Stow Lake in Golden Gate Park and the majestic redwood trees in Muir Woods. Friday the 29th of July, Shin joined Charles, Rob, and me for a collegial keiko in Upper Noe Park for a study of yondan and godan kumibo and Hakuson Kata.
On Saturday 30 July, the workshop began at 8 AM in Golden Gate Park with Rob Gaston, teaching the first keiko. Nature provided heavy fog and drizzle. Rob taught a gentle ten-nage (catch boh – literally “throwing to heaven”) sequence which developed from mochikae to feel like doing eiko dai. We sent energy high into the sky/heavens as we pulled the boh up through our bodies to pass it overhead to our partners. We held shoko to shine brightly for our partners. Next, we explored the same idea using chudan Tsuki; receiving directly into our stomachs, tightening the ma, and then moving to one side to allow the boh to pass. We were taught to take hold of our partner’s boh and lift it skyward into age-oroshi. This transformed the horizonal chudan attack into a peaceful dissolving of energy.
Rob closed with repetitions of Hi No Kata sharing the imagery of a brightly burning fire. Nature provided sunshine to break through the clouds to create focused areas of bright light on field. We did larger and free movements and closed with one synchronized kata.
The second keiko, at Ocean Beach, was taught by Charles Burns. We arrived in light fog and mixed visibility of the ends of the beach, and the windmill above the sand dunes. Pelicans flew overhead in formation several times. Charles had us tie green flags on the end of our bohs asking us to use it like a paintbrush. He began with a warm-up sequence based on mochikae in which the side-to-side movement of the boh gradually morphed into various basic kihon.
Charles then described the experience of being inside Millennium Dome in London, a building visible from space. He wanted us to visualize painting the inside of this vast dome with our boh. We painted from side to side, from top to bottom and all around this dome as we moved our bohs to his gorei. Charles then led the group into kumite with neriai. We started one to one with our partners, then in groups of three and finally with much amazement we became a group of six. It felt as if we formed a large teepee with our bohs, moving in unison with everyone and nature.
Our second kumite was Dai-jodan versus ichi-monji receive and then jodan to jodan kumite to create a simple kihon kumibo sequence. Charles moved us into kata to face the ocean and do Kaze no Kata, repeating it several times going faster and faster, then one slow kata. We closed with Hoshi o Toshi as we stirred the clouds and the stars beyond the clouds.
Sunday 31 July started our second day and third keiko at Golden Gate Park taught by Shin Aoki. Shin taught stepping with boh movements so that when we moved into kumite, we did a soft yet direct jodan into our partners center/their heart. We repeated this movement twice and then our partner descended energically deep in the earth to hook, turn and raise our partner up into the heavens – wakimuso. Shin taught about the flow of energy in circles, moving the energy inward and moving the energy outward. The next kumite was daiheigen against chudan tsuki, so we began to move energy at the level of the horizon. Shin concluded the practice with Mizu no Kata, completing the sequence of three basic boh katas which we practiced throughout this event.
The Fourth Keiko was at Golden Gate park taught by Charles Burns. With instinctual awareness of the group energy after three Keiko, he led a boh massage warmup. He then reviewed aspects of the first three Keiko so our bodies could remember the richness of the teachings. First, we reviewed the neriai / ten-nage combination introduced by Robert in keiko one, developing it into Shoten. Next, we practiced the Daiheigen movement shown to us by Shin in keiko three, developing it into Eiko. Charles encouraged us to cry “look at the beautiful horizon!” as we opened our arms to send our partner rolling backwards with their boh.
Finally, Charles reshared the Millennium Dome image to combine the three basic boh kata into one kata. Through the apex of the dome, energy came down above to the ground, igniting our world in fire. We did Hi No Kata. Then water fell from above to extinguish the fire and as the world filled with water, we did Mizu no Kata. The ground was now wet, however fire and water created stream, and this created a wind – a vortex and we started Kaze no Kata. We closed with a large horizontally encompassing Hoshi o Toshi.
We finished with deep gratitude for the teachings and for our community. I felt content, my mind was calm, and my heart felt wide open. Charles expressed his appreciation to teach within his new role of General Instructor. Shin expressed his learnings of more imagery work with kata. Rob expressed his gratitude the workshop was successful to connection further with nature while building a story across the boh kata.