Interview by Sarah Baker – January 2020 What is Shintaido Kenjutsu? Shintaido means “New Body Way,” or we could also call it a new art movement of life expression. When…Read more
By Derk Richardson and Connie Borden
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.
On April 13, 2019 in Bruges, Belgium, I presented Shintaido for a second year at the 2nd Global Conference on Death, Dying and the 21st Century. This year 22 people from 10 countries came together for 2 days as an interdisciplinary research community. We discussed the ways culture impacts the care for the dying, the overall experience of dying, and the ways the dead are remembered. Attendees came from the Netherlands, Australia, Portugal, Switzerland, Wales, the UK, Israel, Lebanon, the USA, and Canada. Our interdisciplinary group included scholars from philosophy, ethics, the law and literature; experts in the field of design for both products and processes; photography and videography; writers; and healthcare professionals including me as both a healthcare professional and student of Shintaido.
I presented Tenshingoso with overtone chanting, as part of an array of topics from personal reflection on the journey through and after death of a loved one to review of literature and poems that gave voice to the illness experience. During the 45-minute interactive demonstration, the participants used their voices and their bodies to explore the sounds of Ah, Oh and Um to express grief and facilitate mourning. Participants were first given the opportunity to stand facing inwards in a circle, and then with alternating groups they were invited to stand in the center of the group while these three movements were being done by the external circle.Participants reported feeling soothed and relaxed. Many reported feeling the vibrations of sound within their bodies. All agreed the simplicity of the three repeated movements made it easier to learn and potentially use in the future. Many were eager to work with their colleagues and explore how patients might benefit from these movements and sounds.
Our group quickly formed an intimacy and connection through our mutual sharing and teaching over these two days. For almost everyone, these two days moving toward the unknown and mystery of death brought us closer together. I received feedback that the inclusion of body movement was welcome to both “get out of our heads and into our bodies” and to facilitate our interconnection as a group. I am making plans for next year’s meeting already!
Here is my paper on my presentation:
Kotodama Applications for End of Life; a performance/audience participation presentation
Abstract: The use of sound combined with body movement crosses all cultures, languages and religions to provide a physical means for spiritual growth that for end-of-life purposes can provide a way to express grief and connection with the deceased. When the voice is added in Japanese martial arts such as Shintaido, the sound can be a spiritual basis for teaching. The Japanese word for sacred sound or word spirit is Kotodama. In the Japanese belief system, mystical powers dwell in words or names and ritual word usages can influence our environment. The Japanese martial arts body movement is Tenshingoso, with specific attention to the sounds “Ooo”, “Uumm”, and “Aaa”. This presentation will bring the results many years of weekly practice and instruction for use in celebrations of life.
Presentation: Tenshingoso is called “The Cycle of Life” so that through body movement one can study life as measured from moments to a lifetime, while using the voice to increase the flow of energy. Tenshingoso is derived from esoteric Buddhism with each movement accompanied by a Sanskrit sound. For this presentation, the sounds of O-Um-Ah will be presented and practiced. This movement with voice will advance to transition from one sound to the next sound ultimately doing three sounds with one breath.
O – Reaching out into the universe to reach what is omnipresent
Push hands forward and up as far as possible with the palm facing forward, fingers pulled back so as to open the palm of the hand. The sound of “Oooo” is made throughout this movement and as the movement Um is started, the sound changes to “Uumm” to start the stage of Um.
Um – Bringing the universe, perhaps those who have gone before into one’s center
The right-hand rests lightly inside your left hand. Eyes can be half closed or completely closed. Bring all your concentration into one single point where everything else disappears. Release all tension from the top of your head to your feet. Bring the hands back to rest lightly over your lower abdomen. The sound of “Uumm”” continues through this movement and begins to change to the sound “Aahh” to start the stage of Ah.
Ah – Opening Space – asking those who have died to reappear.
Opening your eyes, drop your arms down and backwards with shoulders relaxed, your fingers open and palms open, leading with the thumbs pointing backwards. Look toward the skies. Your chest will be open, head tilted backwards so that your chin and face is looking up. Your arms with palms open will be at your sides. Making the sound of “Aahh” and transitioning to the sound “Ooo”.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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. . . .
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.
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.
The second beach keiko was bojutsu lead by Alain Chevet, Georg Muller and Stephan Seddiki. The group experienced an Italian sunset over the water.
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.
The United States was represented by David Franklin, Mike Sheets, Connie Borden, Michael Thompson, Mark Bannon, HF Ito and Shin Aoki.
Photos by Marc Plantec.
Master Instructor H.F. Ito
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.
Thank you, John, for including me in your pack.
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.
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!
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.