Life is a path. We come from Mu and we go back to Mu. Life is long, and our own lives are each a small part of life. Sometimes rain, sometimes wind, sometime life or death. Pretty simple, actually, it is what it is. Ikkyu
Joe and John. I’m sorry I missed a chance to talk to you just before your departures.
In these days, the more I practice Tenshingoso, the more I appreciate the end of the movement (Oooooo~Uuuuuu~Mmmmmm)!
When I was young, I was practicing this part of Tenshingoso according to the text/recommendation written by Aoki-sensei.
I enjoyed it, and I kept sharing my understanding with many people having the confidence of how much I know about the cycle of our life.
Now that I’m 76 years old, I understand that my grasp of this part of Tenshingoso has been rather superficial.
It is always difficult for me to watch those who helped me share Shintaido leave for the next stage of their life. I wish I could have had a face-to-face meeting and express my gratitude in person.
But, I am lucky that I can still communicate with you, through the following ways:
Through the sound of Oooooo, I believe that I can reach you who are now omnipresent in the universe!
Through the sound of Uuuuu~Mmmmm, I can feel you in my Hara, You are gone but I still have many memories of the goodness I have studied from you.
Through the sound of Mmmm~Aaaaa, I can ask you to appear!
I hope you will continue to share Shintaido, and want to ask you to become our “Guardians” in the sky!
Looking forward to talking to you in Ten in the near future!
[John Seaman, a long-time Shintaido instructor, passed away in April of this year. See the News Item. John and Lee started their practice during the early days of Shintaido in Japan. They taught groups in Oregon and Washington for many years. In this article, Tomi Nagai-Rothe writes about how influential John Seaman was in her life. Body Dialogue Editor]
John at Seminary
With John there was always a story. I remember his account of his studies at San Francisco Theological Seminary in San Anselmo, California during the American War in Vietnam. John was active with students who participated in the 1960s version of an underground railroad, housing draft dodgers and conscientious objectors as they made their way north to Canada where they could request asylum.
John didn’t fit into the mold of the purely intellectual student and struggled against what he felt was the seminary’s narrow and academic view of the world. He spent time in the outdoors to decompress and often visited the Mountain Theater on Mt. Tamalpais. And John often took an unorthodox approach to life, driven by his creativity and curiosity.
One of my favorite stories was the visit that Sara Lee Morrissey (later Seaman) made to campus as a visitor. Lee met John on campus and they became fast friends. Fellow students remarked that John’s personality had mellowed noticeably during Lee’s visit, and they appreciated it!
John drove Lee to the airport when it was time to leave. As they drove, something hung in the air — perhaps it wasn’t the right time for Lee to leave? Return home or stay? The car turned around and they never made it to the airport. Lee stayed on at the seminary for some time, and John’s fellow students welcomed her salutory effect on him. John and Lee were always together after that.
There were a raft of “teaching” stories and when John started one, the longer term students would nod knowingly and watch the expression of the newest people. What were they taking from this story? What did John intend to convey and for what reason? The stories were an opportunity to see a part of oneself reflected in a safe way — in a medium that had space for feelings and upwellings of memory. It was also a chance for those who had heard the story many times to see if they could harvest new insights.
My early questions to John were about Shintaido practice. Once I was scared by a feeling that came up during practice and while others laughed it off, John simultaneously took it seriously and made it seem normal and unsurprising. I was so relieved and grateful to be seen at that moment. And I was able to relax, knowing that my experience wasn’t unnatural.
Over the next ten years my questions expanded to ones about life. I had dozens of conversations with John about personal challenges because I knew he would never be shocked, and would always tell a story that contextualized my experience. John modeled how to create a safe harbor. Since then I have mentored and coached many people and drawn continuously on John’s model to try to provide a safe harbor for others who are seeking.
I made regular visits to Bellingham to study with John and Lee and their students. I was interested in John’s unorthodox (compared to the Bay Area) teaching style that included a very informal warm-up with lots of conversation and new ways of presenting bo technique. I appreciated that the focus was never on perfect technique, but on what the technique allowed us to learn about ourselves and our relationships with our Shintaido practice partners.
John created a big space around practice so we could look at what we hoped to gain from Shintaido, what stepping back or stepping forward could be an analogy for (for example), why being opened up by our partners made us cry, or even why we just didn’t feel like participating. John made space to look at inward manifestations as well as outward ones. Any topic was fair game.
Life Practice and Life Teaching
John had a very high expectation that people around him pay attention to their spiritual development including their shadow side – and address those changes that need to be made in their lives. If you saw him irritated or short with someone, it was probably because they are not paying attention to this aspect of their lives.
John and Lee and their more experienced students used to have regular conversations they termed “staffing.” It was a cross between addressing personnel issues and mapping personal development. They would talk about where people were in their practice and their lives. It was always compassionate and never gossipy and the goal was supporting people in the way they needed to be supported.
At first I mostly listened and then, after many visits to Bellingham, Washington, I came to know their students better and began to participate. Each person’s situation was held lovingly and with respect. Decades later I serve as an elder at my Quaker church and know the tone and approach to take for pastoral care because I practiced it with John and Lee.
When I began preparing for my instructor exam I turned to John and Lee for support and advice. John was incredibly supportive and one day I surprised him by asking if he would support me by taking the exam with me. It was a bit mean because I had cornered him, but John agreed. We had many conversations about the exam elements and about Taimyo Kata, which John didn’t much like. In the end, it made a huge difference for me, being able to take the instructor exam with him in the big, cold gym at Mount Madonna Center in Watsonville, California. It was one example of John going the extra mile for his students.
One of John’s maxims (and stories, of course) was that a good teacher always creates students more talented than they are. It was set as the gold standard and gave John an opportunity to tell stories about students who had gone on to become talented Shintaido practitioners and teachers.
After I became an instructor John and Lee provided so many opportunities for me to teach in Bellingham and to work with them on exams. The debriefs about how people did and what they showed were always the richest part of the experience.
When I met John and Lee I was a spiritual seeker and they provided glimpses into their practice as Christian mystics. Just enough to make me curious. I asked lots of questions and John told stories about the Presbyterians and I learned about pentecostals, fundamentalists, contemplatives and mystics.
I spent years asking very basic and dumb questions about Christianity and faith in action. John always had good information and a contextualizing story to help me feel less dumb. He and Lee were endlessly supportive without pushing me in any particular direction. It was an unconditional love that modeled being a follower of Jesus in a profoundly life changing way. Without that love and guidance I would not have found my church home with the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) nor be doing the work I am doing as a Quaker.
The Old Growth Douglas Fir Grove
On one of my Bellingham visits John took me to a special stand of old growth Douglas Fir near the highway to Mt. Baker but tucked back from the road. John and lee had learned about it from a Lummi elder who trusted them enough to take them there.
I walked a short path and stepped under the dark tree canopy and felt like I had entered another world — as in a storybook. The air felt different, the light was filtered and soft and it felt like a very old yet alive place. It looked like a forest but it felt inhabited like no forest I’ve ever entered. We walked quietly and connected to the trees, and sat on the moss and downed trees.
In the first version of my will I asked to have my ashes scattered under the trees there. And in the current version of my will John is named as the person to lead my memorial service. When I heard that John had died I knew I wanted to organize a remembrance for him — since I outlived him, and in thanks for his willingness to do the same for me.
The Wolf Pack
One of the deepest lessons I carry from my study with John and Lee is how essential a learning community is if one is adventurous and interested in spiritual growth. I think it is either too terrifying or too dangerous as a solo activity. John used to say, “a lone wolf is a dead wolf.” Hunting for insight with the support and help of the pack makes a successful hunt more likely, and my study with John proved that.
At our recent SOA board meeting, an attendee asked: “How do you recharge after teaching?” I became curious about what works for our Shintaido teachers to recharge? So, I ask for your comments and strategies and let’s see what a community does to sustain its teachers.
My interest stems from being a nurse, a nurse practitioner, a palliative care consultant, a woman, a wife, a mother and a caregiver who has experienced times of professional burnout and is aware of the risk of burnout in all caring professionals. This question has often been asked of me in my role as palliative care consultant. When I explored this topic, answers included the capacity to build resilience. Resilience is often a characteristic attributed to those who continue with caregiving of various types– body work, fitness coaching, life coaching, teaching, healthcare professions, parenting, and being human.
Keiko at Matsuri
What are some of the ways to build resilience and recharge? There are plenty of research studies, talk shows, and books on this subject. Categories include but are not limited to self-care, spiritual inspiration and meditation, networks of likeminded people, expectations and goal setting, and time management and planning vacations. Self-Care typically includes exercise, diet, and sleep. So, I wonder, for a person teaching body movement (Shintaido, Pilates, Fitness coaching and more) – what does exercise look like when this person is physically active as a teacher already? I also wonder, if a network of teachers is part of success, how does SOA become a learning community to support its teachers?
I look forward to reading your ideas and what you have learned from being a teacher (in all the ways we teach and are caregivers) to answer the question “How do you recharge after teaching?” Please post comments in response to this to this article so that all can read your replies. Thank you!
I AM BEAUTIFUL. That was a sub theme of a gasshuku, which Bill Burtis reminded me was in California in 1990. I am a slow but steady learner. Why could I not say that to myself or feel it in anyway? This was beyond me; it took years of life and Shintaido practice to finally understand—even beyond understanding. I now feel the truth and realize the universal truth that comes with the realization that yes, I AM BEAUTIFUL. WE ALL ARE BEAUTIFUL. We are perfectly imperfect. And that is okay. This is part B of the story that helped me to a new awareness. Part A: The Joy of Love appeared in a previous Body Dialogue.
After my brain biopsy, I woke up in recovery. After lying in isolation with all the beeps and hospital noises filling my senses, praying and trying to just be and feel and experience whatever it was that I was supposed to experience, I was transported to a place that is so difficult to describe—perhaps a poet could describe it more clearly—but I will do my best to put into words something much larger and more beautiful and incredible. I was in a place of infinite space, there was a web that stretched out in all directions and in that web was a place that was mine. I was connected by the web to everything and everybody. When one part of the web vibrated, the whole web was affected. The stuff of the web was made up of Love. That is what connects us together. Nothing can happen to any part of the web without the entire web being affected. This was ALL SHOWN TO ME BY GOD (HIGHER POWER) THE UNIVERSAL ENERGY. For the purpose of this article I choose to refer to this presence as God. Anyway, God showed me this wonder of Heaven, the interconnectedness of everything and everybody.
I have to go back for a second here. Back in Worcester, before they sent me to Boston, I was privileged to have friends, both old, long-time ones and people and relatively new ones express to me their love and gratitude for my place in their lives. I heard things that most people only hear said of others at a funeral or gravesite. What a blessing.
So I am back with God in heaven. My life rolled in front of me and God asked what I thought. I considered and felt that I was content and pleased with my life so I told God that I could stay. I considered my life well spent. I could stay in that place of connection and love. God then showed me a vision: a V-plow with God in front of the V and me behind and in the opening of the V. God went on to explain that I was able to do okay with the little bit of His grace that managed to get over the V that was blocking me from His grace. What would could happen if I were able to open the closed end of the V and funnel the full grace into and through me? He had me then. I agreed to go back. He said that it would not be easy but I figured, what the heck, what is easy anyway. So I decided to return. Before I returned I asked: What is it that is holding the point of the V together? That is the bondage of SELF was the answer. It is all the lies you tell yourself about yourself. You are not enough. You are lacking here and there, you are giving away your power to a false self. Your true self, the God-given expression, that essence, is there inside of you waiting and wanting to BE, and God wants nothing more than for each and every one of us to live it. We just have to get out of the way.
Now when I open up to the heavens in Tenso, Ahh, my hands and fingers and heart/soul open and gratefully receive and funnel the Grace of God, nurturing my True self and truly connect with all that is. The Body is and can be the message of the Universe.
I do not mean to indicate that, in some way, I have arrived. I just have a newer awareness to help me move more (hopefully) gracefully through life. Through this whole process of restoration to health, I realize that, way back, I was guided to Shintaido to help me move and grow through all of my life’s situations. I did not realize what a reserve of energy, support and true feelings of connection I had being part of me. I was so blessed to have countless Tenshingosos, scores of Wakames, Hikaris, Eikos, and numerous, wonderful Kumites to tap into inside of myself. Thank you all for being part of my life. I AM BEAUTIFUL, YOU ARE BEAUTIFUL, WE ALL ARE BEAUTIFUL.
When we drove away from the Shintaido class at the South County Senior Center in South Deerfield recently, Stephen said something like: “That is so inspiring. I always feel great after that class.” I have to agree with him. I am teaching the class and Stephen is assisting me.
The class ranges from 4 to 8 participants; all women and all in their sixties or seventies. Shintaido always seems to work its magic. As the teacher, I often leave work, drive home and get myself to the class feeling a little rushed and tired. Afterwards I feel clear and uplifted. We have come to see by their regular attendance that these seniors are also enjoying themselves and the spirit of Shintaido.
The center is an older building right in the center of town. When we practice inside, we have to move the tables and chairs of the big room to the side to make some space. When the weather is beautiful as in the past few weeks, we set up outside under the shade of two big maple trees.
We always start in a circle sitting on chairs. We concentrate on our breathing and then move into seated warmups. Soon we are up and at it – warming up, stretching, doing balancing exercises. I originally thought that would be about all we would do but I soon recognized that this is a hale and hearty group.
I have surprised myself by what I have been teaching. These women are not afraid to use their voices and they enjoy the sounds and movements of Tenshingoso. We have practiced wakame and other soft movements, but also enjoy stepping, cutting and most recently Tsuki!
The classes last approximately one hour. We asked if they would prefer six or eight-week sessions but they all want to keep going. We may take a break in August, but otherwise we will continue the class on an ongoing basis.
It is true that some seniors have physical limitations, but everyone in this group seems very self-aware and able to work within their limitations and of course, Stephen and I are careful and make adjustments as necessary.
Who knows if some of these seniors will become active and participate in the larger Shintaido community? I hope so, but I am also quite content to continue this lovely weekly practice.
The most surprising thing for me is how very like any other Shintaido class this class is. It is the transformation that comes from connecting with heaven and earth and with one another that gives a meaningfulness to our movements and our practice together.
The following message was sent by General Instructor Pierre Quettier to attendees at France’s recent national Shintaido event for instructors and assistants. The event was intended to strengthen the relationship among faculty through in-depth practices and discussions on matters of teaching. We are republishing it here as an inspirational message to all Shintaido instructors and practitioners. [Body Dialogue editor.]
Reaching the Shodan / Jun-shidoin (Graduate) level of a Shintaido curriculum (Bojutsu, Karate, freehand Shintaido, and now, Kenjutsu) means that one now possesses all the elements of action and meaning to deepen its study and its application in the dojo and in various situations of everyday life.
To give gorei in Shintaido, means in the strict sense, “to give the tempo of the collective action” (counting aloud) and more broadly “to order the beginning or the stop of the action,” and “to decide the nature of action,” directing the action of a group of people (including oneself) in the course of personal development.
If one chooses to study and apply Shintaido while directing such a group, one creates in a certain fashion “squared Shintaido” (Shintaido²) . To make “squared Shintaido” implies that the gorei becomes our means of personal artistic expression and at the same time a privileged space to improve ourselves by ourselves and by and for the group by means of the common language of practice.
In such a symbolic and collective space everything makes sense and the limits are the ones we give ourselves.
Everything makes sense because the practical space (the dojo), the relational space (the micro-society of the group) and the cultural space (the field of references of the group) are connected in multiple ways, explicit and implicit. The learning of the group occurs only if these different dimensions come into resonance, in coherence.
In all of these situations, the responsibility of the goreisha is very significant.
I have enjoyed steam cleaning the floors at Ojas Yoga Center for over a year. It is a quiet time when I have the studio to myself. On reflection, I realized my attitude toward cleaning floors was probably different than others at Ojas.
I learned the traditional Japanese style of floor cleaning through my Shintaido practice. I describe this to yoga practitioners as pushing a wet towel across the floor while running in Downward Dog — often in full-sized basketball gymnasiums with dirty floors. I put in about 15 years’ worth of pushing wet towels!
Americans generally think of cleaning as menial labor, but I always remember Ito telling me that floor cleaning was an act of spreading good Ki (Chi) energy as a base for our practice. So exhausting though it was, I tried to keep in mind the benefit to those practicing with me.
I remember that when our bodies couldn’t do the traditional floor cleaning any more, we switched to a wide floor mop but kept the same intention.
So when my yoga teacher showed me how she cleaned the floors at Ojas I knew exactly what to do: start at one end and clean board-by-board until the whole space was done. Using a Swifter mop is even easier than a floor mop so it felt almost luxurious. I’ve tried to remember to spread good energy when I walk back and forth across the yoga studio, though of course my mind eventually wanders.
I really feel that intention is important in life. One of the things I do outside of yoga is teaching visual meeting facilitation. When we talk about group dynamics I always say that a facilitator’s intention creates the space for great conversation. And I always remember Ito telling me that I should hold an image in my mind of what I want my students to experience, without revealing what that image is. People feel and respond to a strong intention in subtle and powerful ways.
Care and intention, practiced over tens or hundreds of years, create rich layers of awareness. I am reminded of the feeling in Kyoto, Japan where people have been meditating for over a thousand years.
There is an amazing and indescribable feeling that hangs in the air which I can only ascribe to 1,500 years of Buddhist and Shinto practices. Cleaning the floor is a small thing, but something important in the long term.
A few weeks ago, Peter Furtado of British Shintaido posted a charming video of two young people, Oscar Sharpe and Stephanie Roinier, teaching Shintaido to children in Guatemala. I obtained their email addresses from Peter, and contacted them with a few questions. Below are their answers, and a link to the video. Enjoy! [Body Dialogue Editor]
Q. Please tell us a little about yourselves. Are you a couple? Where do you live? A. We have been going out for over a year and are a couple – boyfriend and girlfriend. Right now we are traveling the world and exploring Central America. Beforehand we were both living in Bristol. Oscar – I am English, born in France and lived in Bristol for a couple of years. In my younger years golf was a major part of my life and something which I took very seriously. A number of events took place and my interests changed where I enjoyed my time training (in the gym), learning more about myself and discovering what I enjoyed doing in life. I am now a golf coach and a Personal Trainer where I taught in Bristol. As well as this I love doing Shintaido, this is a wonderful practice to intertwine with golf, fitness, and my daily life. In the UK both my instructors were Nagako Cooper and Masashi Minagawa. I have been doing Shintaido for a year. And now I’m traveling around the world working with children and encouraging them to experience this new and exciting body movement! My website is oscarsharpe.com where you can learn a little more about me.
Stephanie – I was born in France and my passion for singing took me to different parts of the world as a performer until I realized the importance and the power of sounds. I moved to the UK to train to become a voice facilitator with the founder of The Naked Voice Chloe Goodchild. This is when I started to practice Shintaido with Masashi Minagawa then with Nagako Cooper. After I graduated as a voice facilitator I found my way working with children combining singing, music, dancing and Shintaido. Now we are traveling around Latin America singing and empowering children to be who they want to be. You can follow us on my website: www.letitsound.co
Q. How did you get started teaching Shintaido to children? The setting is clearly a school. Are one or both of you teachers at the school? A. Oscar was introduced to Shintaido through Stephanie in the beginning of 2017. Nagako has been my instructor and Masashi has been my Master where I have been having sessions with both of them since. Stephanie has been working in schools for over 10 years and founded Let it Sound for children in 2016 including Shintaido and sounds. The Waldorf Steiner School called ‘La Escuela Caracol’ in Guatemala accepted to have us for four weeks to run our program of Shintaido and sounds: in parallel teaching English classes and Personal training by Oscar. We were doing this together and separately to primary school children and adults.
Q. Did you encounter any difficulties teaching Shintaido to children? If so, what were they? A. This is something completely new for children, as a result they can get really excited or quite shy. As you can imagine this can be challenging at times. However this is a great learning for the children and us.
Q. Do you think any of your young students will keep up with the practice? A. It will be challenging for children to keep up a Shintaido practice because they don’t have someone there for support. However there were a number of exercises which were memorable due to the amount of fun they had. We feel very confident that this will remain in their memory for a long time.
Q. How, if at all, did the children relate to some of the larger philosophical concepts behind the movements of Shintaido? Did you even bring them up, or did you just let the kids enjoy the freedom of the movements? A. Before we start the movements we explain what they mean and the energy behind the practice. Stephanie has rearranged some of the exercises adapted for the children – this is done in a fun, light and meaningful manner. We show the movements to the children supporting them along the way, but also feel it’s important that we take a step back so they can learn and explore themselves.
Q. Do you ever come to the United States? What are your plans for yourselves for the future? Are you both on the path to becoming Shintaido instructors? A. We are not sure what the future will bring. Right now we are in Costa Rica and living each week as it comes. We intend to go to Columbia in a few months time and gradually make our way south. As for The States, if there is an invitation why not?
In the past we were both thinking of becoming Shintaido instructors, however with the journey we are on this is on hold.
Q. I see that Stephanie has posted other videos with the children in them. Is film-making your profession? A. Videos are a great way to share what we do. I (Stephanie) love recording children in action, they love being in the videos and I just love making them. I hope you enjoy them as much as I do 🙂
The conference was attended by 25 people from around the world with diverse backgrounds and experiences. Examples of the presenters include: an anthropologist presenting on the Mi’kmaq of eastern Canada and their Funeral Feasts; a social worker presenting on bereavement and the Malay Muslims; a PhD candidate in Russian Literature presenting on The Death of Ivan Ilych by Leo Tolstoy; a Portuguese Literature Professor presenting on Old Age in Jean-Rhys’s later texts; and an ethicist from the UK presenting on Presumed Consent for Organ Donation in England. Other examples are: a Canadian psychologist and his social worker wife presenting reflections from their Death and Dying Group, an Australian ICU physician presenting on advance care planning, an American Chaplain speaking on spiritual care counselling, and an English artist presenting on her use of cloth and textiles as a metaphor for conveying grief and loss.
I taught the five movements of Tenshingoso with return demonstrations by the group. The group expressed appreciation for the sensation of opening the body, using the voice and the sense of harmony created as the group did the movements together. We discussed the study of the Cycle of Life with the individual movements as well as the study over a lifetime. As I concluded my teaching and the group entered the final “UM”, the local church clock bell rang 12 times – a special moment at the ending! The group also requested that I lead them again in Tenshingoso at the closing ceremony of the two-day conference.
Welcome to the revised Shintaido of America (SoA) website! As part of this transition of the website to a new format, SoA’s Body Dialogue newsletter is becoming a blog. Anyone may post an entry at any time, by sending material to firstname.lastname@example.org. The Body Dialogue editor will review material and post all appropriate entries. Body Dialogue is now a real-time on-line publication with fresh articles and information on an ongoing basis. Please submit poems, pictures, articles, essays, anything we can post electronically, to email@example.com.