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.

Shintaido in Transition

Shintaido in Transition


Michael Thompson

Recently I came upon a reference to Howard Schultz, who founded the Starbucks chain. It described the transition of the company from “founder-led” to “founder-inspired” now that he has retired from day-to-day involvement. This is a good way to describe the current state of affairs in the Shintaido universe. Aoki-sensei has retired from active involvement in the international Shintaido movement and is focusing on his work in the Japanese Tenshinkai school as well as participating in the international Le Ciel Foundation project. We have moved to a “founder-inspired” phase of our history.

Aoki-sensei’s last creative endeavor has been the founding of a Kenbu school in Japan and Europe. A bilingual Japanese/English text has been published. Several YouTube videos have been posted for anyone who might be interested in that development.


Aoki-sensei Kenbu

The current international organization (ISP/ITEC), under the direction of Ito-sensei and Minagawa-sensei, is working to develop a third pillar of the Shintaido curriculum–Kenjutsu–to go along with Shintaido Karate and Bojutsu. So far there has been no cross-pollination between the two sword practices, although we shouldn’t rule it out in the future once the international kenjutsu task force has completed its work.

During this transitional phase I would like to see the Shintaido curriculum move from the martial arts/dan examination model to an instructor certification system. Rather than having a separate assistant category, there could be a combined advanced student/assistant evaluation which would precede the first examination, now called Graduate. This ranking in turn would be replaced by an instructor certification designation, recognition that an individual is qualified to teach Shintaido. The Senior Instructor level would be open to someone who has a teaching resume as well as a demonstrated advanced keiko level, roughly encompassing the curriculum now in effect. The entire bokuto Kyukajo program should be completed by then.

General Instructor would become an honorary title conferred by the international organization in recognition of long-term commitment and contribution to the practice and dissemination of Shintaido. The title of “Doshu” should be retired with the current holders for now, perhaps to be resuscitated in the future if deemed appropriate.

The Japanese martial arts kyu/dan examination/ranking system would still be used in the three pillars of Shintaido Karate, Bojutsu, and Kenjutsu. It’s time to reframe Shintaido itself as a separate art which was Aoki-sensei’s original idea and inspiration.