Into the Blue – SNE Kangeiko 2024

Into the Blue – SNE Kangeiko 2024

by Heather Kuhn

I arrived at the Petersham Town Hall with a heavy feeling the size of a grapefruit in my solar plexus. It was mostly grief with an edge of an almost stubborn need to honor the mounting deaths in our local and larger Shintaido community. I was a little afraid we wouldn’t be able to find the courage among us to fully acknowledge the impact of the missing people in our circle and the tragedy that we’ve all watched recently unfold.

When Joe Zawielski sensei died in the Summer of 2018, it was a huge loss for Shintaido Northeast (SNE) and for his students, among many others. To this day, my eyes well up every time we do bokutoh practice. I can see Joe swerving around his koshi as he gently cuts the space around him. There have been several keiko when I have felt his presence in the circle, but it’s challenged me to know what exactly to do with that feeling. Whether to acknowledge it out loud or not, and I wonder whether anyone else is noticing it too.

On November 2, 2023, we tragically lost Brad Larsen. Since then, I have spent hours on the phone, texting and talking to SNE members; trying to wrap our minds around what happened to him, and how to find peace with the sudden empty “Brad-shaped hole” that was left. For a long while, we’d named this persistent unsettled vigilance when we were checking the news daily for any indication of how he’d passed. It was difficult to find acceptance when there were so many questions surrounding why and how he’d died.

Just weeks before Kangeiko, we received the answers we’d been seeking, and they were devastating. But, it did mean we could finally move on to the task of embracing the grief that had in some ways been on hold. February 10-11, 2024, would be the first retreat where a large group of us would gather to practice since his murder.

Rob Kedoin sensei led our opening keiko, and generously helped warm up our wintered and weathered bodies, preparing us for the keikos to come. He reminded us that the sword’s movement comes from the hara and introduced the idea that the end of our bokutoh was like a radiating beam of light that made it possible for our message to be felt by our partner.

Margaret Guay sensei, who was also Director of Instruction, stepped in last minute to lead our second keiko in the afternoon. With no advanced planning, she masterfully modeled how to say yes to the unknown and trust that it will all be as it needs to be. Without a single word said, we riffed on one another to warm the group up. Although I did not have a personal relationship with Ito sensei, I had really enjoyed reading the commemorative posts and especially his rendition of Neurologic Music Therapist’s Allison Davies song “Every little cell in my body is happy.” We marched and skipped around the dojo singing this song over and over.

The Keiko progressed to bokutoh kumite trying to catch our partner’s timing without being able to see them coming. I noticed it was nearly impossible to catch the timing of a daijodan cut when my partner was shining their sunbeam from the start. Reading you loud and clear already!

Also, we did some profound investigating around tenshingoso kumite, where I had some new insights. I was experiencing the end of “Ohh” as either being a gift offered to the world or doing the offering of the gift. Like, ‘behold this amazing being!’ And feeling myself as a gift when following my partner’s “Ohh.” This was the keiko where I entered full on cosmologic consciousness.

We ran eiko dai around and around the Petersham Town Hall for what seemed like forever. For me, it was very clear we were doing this together. Not little islands of trying, but a community finding it’s voice, and the courage to keep going.

That evening we went to Matt Shorten’s beautiful rural homestead to share a meal. Many stories, hilarious, inspiring, and questionable, were told about the early days of Shintaido. People I have never met were invoked and one story led to another. It was a real trip down memory lane, especially for those at the table who have been around the longest.

It felt as though all those people, and all of us, and all of you represent a cluster of glowing threads that make up the Shintaido community. People who have experienced Shintaido’s embodied transcendence. And we all speak this language that allows us to connect without talking, more deeply than words could ever aspire to. Through the tiny electro-kinetic sun beams we cultivate within and between our bodies and then blast off into the universe as a message back to itself.

Stephen Billias sensei was the steadied goreisha we needed for our third and final keiko. We did a series of toitsukihon exercises with the boh and bokutoh which were a welcome grounding and centering after the previous day’s big opening. We did an experimental kumite with both bohs and bokutohs. We’d been instructed to bring a “Brad” stick for the weekend and, after introducing them to one another, we went out into the winter air, next to a big old tree and pointed our pure and glowing intentions up to the heavens. It was the first time it felt like we could directly bring Brad into our awareness as a group. And, I felt like Brad could sense our message. I heard the words “there are my people.”

I sometimes feel grief that, if I’m lucky and live a long life, I may very well be the last Shintaidoist in the Northeast someday. Michael Thompson sensei said something to me this weekend that brought me tremendous relief. He said “everything in a grain of sand…it’s all there.” He was referring to William Blake’s poem “Auguries of Innocence” that begins:

“To see a World in a Grain of Sand
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand
And Eternity in an hour.”

The universe will remember and accommodate all the exploration we’ve done in Shintaido. Nothing gets erased at death. Every action and every person leaves an imprint. As Shintaidoist, we have practices that give us tangible ways to deeply connect with one another. I think that’s one of Shintaido’s greatest gifts.

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