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