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.

Pacific Shintaido Kangeiko 2019

Pacific Shintaido Kangeiko 2019

By Shin Aoki and Derk Richardson

Over the Martin Luther King, Jr. weekend, January 19–21, Pacific Shintaido hosted its Kangeiko 2019 at Marin Academy in San Rafael, California. Master Instructor Masashi Minagawa traveled from his home in Bristol, England, and, as guest instructor, developed and taught a curriculum loosely based on the theme “The Sword that Gives Life.” PacShin board members and gasshuku organizers Shin Aoki (Director of Instruction), Derk Richarson (Gasshuku Manager), and Cheryl Williams (Treasurer) presented the theme to Minagawa sensei, inspired in part by the recent passing of beloved Shintaido teachers John Seaman, Joe Zawielski, and Anne-Marie Grandtner, and the naturally arising question of how a community can heal and revitalize itself in the wake of such losses. In Japanese tradition, the sword has been used for the purpose of purification and cleansing, Minagawa sensei explained. When people pass on, the sword is used in ceremony to purify evil spirits and ensure the loved one’s safe journey.

Minagawa Sensei Giving Gorei

Minagawa Sensei Giving Gorei – photo by Chris Ikeda-Nash

Holding this idea in heart and mind during four keiko—the first taught by Shin sensei, the next three by Minagawa sensei—anywhere from 15 to 18 practitioners cultivated their relationships with bokuto and bokken through a variety of movements, kata, and kumite.

Kenjutsu Kumite

Kenjutsu Kumite – photo by Tomi Nagai-Rothe

These included:

Irimukae. Individually, each of us held our sword like a candle in front of our body, and walked forward and backward. Your body enters the sword, and the sword enters you. The sword and you become one—and move as one. This exercise helps shift our fear of “getting cut by a sword” into “welcoming a sword.” In kumite, two people held one sword and moved the sword like a kayak paddle, in a figure-eight pattern of jodan and gedan cuts, to unify three worlds—the self, the other, and the sword. Elements of martial art, abstract art, meditation, and body care come together in the movement.

Diamond Eight Cut. In preparation, we held our swords with both hands far apart and, following the Diamond Eight pattern, reached up and down, side to side, back and forth, and diagonally to synchronize the sword movement, the body twist, and the traveling gaze. At the beginning of the more formal kata, we visualized the heavenly sword descending and entering our bodies, coming together with our inner swords. Thereafter, every swing of every cut could be done in concert by the physical sword, the inner sword, and the heavenly sword. In unison, we moved back and forth through the dojo, each of us continuously following the Diamond Eight Cut sequence. Eventually, we all started interacting with one another. Some continued cutting precisely, some were swimming through the crowd like fish, and some were dancing joyfully.

Group sword kumite

Group sword kumite – photo by Chris Ikeda-Nash

An outside observer might have seen the swirl of bodies and swords as the spontaneous manifestation of li, a Neo-Confucian concept that Alan Watts described as “the asymmetrical, nonrepetitive, and unregimented order which we find in the patterns of moving water, the forms of trees and clouds, of frost crystals on the window, or the scattering of pebbles on beach sand.”

Shoden no Kata. This was the first Kenjutsu kata for many gasshuku participants. Slow and graceful, it emphasizes the continuous flow of the sword movement from the beginning to the end of the kata, it demands seamless concentration, and it develops your awareness of every moment of your sword swing.

Without sword, we practiced Tenchi-kiriharai, a karate technique used against a tsuki attack, which helps the attacking partner connect with heaven and earth, and invites investigation and embodiment of a liberating upward-and-downward spiral motion.

Minagawa-Shin kumite

Minagawa-Shin kumite – photo by Chris Ikeda-Nash

On Sunday morning, Kenjutsu exams were offered, with Robert Gaston serving as exam coordinator and Connie Borden as goreisha. Cliff Roberts took a “mock” exam for evaluation and received feedback, and Chris Ikeda-Nash performed, passed, and received his certificate for Shintaido Kenjutsu Ni-Dan. Rounding out the morning, Margaret Guay taught an abbreviated keiko that explored deep listening and brought participants into intense and subtle levels of ma.

At one point during Kangeiko, Minagawa sensei talked about our Shintaido practice—and our everyday lives—in terms of walking a path, on which are also treading all those who have come before us and all those who will come after. The majority of participants at Kangeiko, and at the Advanced Workshop taught by Minagawa sensei the prior weekend, were Bay Area residents. But with Shintaido practitioners flying in from the East Coast (Margarat Guay, Rob Kedoin, Brad Larsen, Lee Ordeman, and Elizabeth Jernigan), and with Minagawa sensei coming from England and H.F. Ito sensei coming from France, the gasshuku felt at once local, national, and international. Minagawa sensei encouraged us to invite John, Joe, and Anne-Marie into our practice, which gave the event a spiritually universal feeling, as well.

Between-keiko pot luck brunches at the homes of Sandra Bengtsson and Robert Gaston (during the Advanced Workshop) and Jim and Toni Galli Sterling (during Kangeiko), plus a group Mexican dinner and post-gasshuku restaurant brunch in San Rafael, all served to strengthen and refine the ma between participants, and added to the sense that the sword had indeed given new life to our Shintaido community.

A Recap of the Semi-International Gasshuku in Tirrenia, Italy

A Recap of the Semi-International Gasshuku in Tirrenia, Italy

31 October to 4 November 2018

By Connie Borden and Shin Aoki

For five days, sixty Shintaido Practitioners practiced in Tirrenia, in the Italian region of Tuscany. From pasta to wine, from early morning meditation to late evening meetings, the group was united in the theme Toitsu Tai. Organizers Davide, Patrizio and Gianni had the vision of each keiko trying to reach the core of Shintaido. They asked the teachers of the subjects of karate, bojutsu, kenjutsu, meditation and open hand Shintaido to show these disciplines as expressions of the same spirit from the deep heart of Shintaido. As Mike Sheets said: “The instructors had us work very hard to find the center of both yourself and your partner. The other reminder was not about pieces of Shintaido but the whole – how they are connected.”

Master Instructor Masashi Minagawa spoke of the theme Toitsu Tai – Unification. Here are his words:
“We (Gianni and I) agreed that when you let go of unnecessary things, only the character ichi- one -Oneness is left. . . .

Ichi - One

Ichi – One

For me, this one line contains everything. It is the ‘Line of Life’, the starting line, the goal line, the beginning and the end. It is my Golden Line, The Diamond Eight, One swing of the sword and “Ichi no Tachi” – the first movement of Jissen Kumitachi.”

The advanced group spent the first three keiko studying with Ito Sensei. Chuden no Kata and Okuden no Kata in the kenjutsu program were practiced. In addition, the group selected a few of the advanced Jissen Kumitachi to focus their study.

Advanced workshop group

Advanced workshop group

Minagawa Sensei lead the next three advanced keiko to focus on Jissen Kumitachi #1 to 11. Each morning started with an hour of collegial practice to review the teaching from the day before. Each evening concluded with meetings: the Kenjutsu Task Force, the European Technical Committee, and the general membership meeting of the European Shintaido College.

The last night was a party that included Ula leading ice-breaker activities and Shin teaching line dancing!

High level exams were offered Friday afternoon on 3 November. Congratulations to

  • Shigeru Watanabe – San Dan Karate
  • Daisuke Uchida – San Dan Bojutsu
  • David Eve, Alex Hooper, Georg Muller, Marc Plantec, Daisuke Uchida and Shigeru Watanabe – Ni Dan Kenjutsu
  • Shigeru Watanabe – Shintaido Sei-Shidoin/Instructor
  • Jean-Louis de Gandt, Serge Magne, Mike Sheets and Soichiro Iida – Shintaido Sei-Shihan/Senior Instructor

The general gasshuku began Friday afternoon with a keiko taught by Gianni Rossi. Two keiko were taught on Saturday. Weather cleared enough to be at the beach with a stunning view of the mountains to the north and a calm sea to the west. Shin Aoki and David Franklin taught karate.

Shin Aoki teaching in Italy

Shin Aoki teaching in Italy

The second beach keiko was bojutsu lead by Alain Chevet, Georg Muller and Stephan Seddiki. The group experienced an Italian sunset over the water.

Bojutsu keiko at sunset Italy

Bojutsu keiko at sunset Italy

Saturday morning and Sunday morning, Ito Sensei lead a 6:30am Taimyo meditation.

The fourth keiko was kenjutsu by Pierre Quettier and Ula Chambers. Pierre gave a demonstration with his katana showing Chuden no Kata and Okuden no Kata. Masashi Minagawa lead the closing keiko with open hand Shintaido.

Three masters of Shintaido

Three masters of Shintaido

The United States was represented by David Franklin, Mike Sheets, Connie Borden, Michael Thompson, Mark Bannon, HF Ito and Shin Aoki.

USA group at Italy semi international

USA group at Italy semi international

Photos by Marc Plantec.