2015 New Year’s Greeting!

Happy New Year!

As we move into the new year, it is my pleasure to share my heart-felt thoughts about Tenshin-Ken (天真剣).

This has a lot to do with philosophy of life and my search for the changes that I believe we all hope to see in our world. But as usual, let me take a technical approach first!

Tenshin-Ken, Practice and Your True Self

As you know, in Shintaido we have a large group of kumite forms that fall under the category of Kirioroshi Kumite.

Within this group of movements, Tenshin-Ken = Daijodan Kirioroshi. We take turns cutting through our partner’s core. That physical movement cuts away tension, opens up blocked places, and frees our inner self (“Jiga”). In this process, together as partners, we can reach “Muga.” Unification beyond conflict: 1+1=1

A famous Japanese poet wrote a haiku:

shizukasaya iwa ni shimi-iru semi no koe

“The silence fills everything, even the rock. And then the voice of a cicada …”

When most Japanese people read this haiku, they think of a beautiful summer day in the country.

But when Philippe Beauvois, one of my students in France, studied this poem, he came away with a completely different understanding:

The silence = complete silence, a world in which noisy thoughts and unnecessary things have been completely cut away

The rock = the ego that is wrapped up in the self

Semi no koe = a message from nature, Tenshin, ends up penetrating your true self

So to put it all together,

“The silence quiets noisy thoughts. Unnecessary things slip away, and my ego is finally quiet. Hear that? The universe is speaking.”

Escaping Our Privilege

In Rakutenkai there were two Okada brothers. Everyone knows Mitsuru Okada, who was a founding member of Rakutenkai and is now a master instructor. But a lot of people have never heard of his younger brother, Gan Okada, who was also one of the core members. Before I left Japan to be a Shintaido emissary around the world, I managed the Shintaido headquarters in Tokyo in the 1970’s. We had a little office in Shinjuku, and Gan Okada helped me a lot with the human relations side of running that office. Like his brother Mitsuru, Gan drove a taxi for a living, and when he got off work he would come in to the office, when most people would want to eat or relax or sleep. He didn’t have a lot of business skills such as accounting or administration, but he was wonderful with people.

Gan had a really big heart, and he was concerned about things that most other people didn’t think about. He was concerned about women who were being used by the underworld in prostitution, and he would show documentaries in the Shintaido meeting space about the difficult lives of single mothers who had children. He was so passionate that the Japanese secret police started keeping an eye on him.

We were all young, and most of us were just crazy about martial arts. We loved to move our bodies, and we loved the feeling that we got from the keiko, but we hadn’t really integrated our martial arts practice into our hearts. But Gan already knew, at a deep level, why he practiced Shintaido.

Gan loved a song by the Japanese singer and songwriter Nobuyasu Okabayashi:

Here is what we dream!

We dream of no more sorrow,

We dream of joy not yet seen

We must not be trapped in sorrow

Let’s turn toward the unseen joy, and fly in that direction!

Okabayashi worked with disadvantaged people, almost like what some would call a slum doctor. But after a while, he became famous, and wealthy people would attend his concerts. Okabayashi then turned the song upside-down and invited the audience to not be trapped in their wealth and privilege, but to get out and go into the world of disadvantaged people.

Gan Okada had that same feeling. In Rakutenkai, he always encouraged us to get out of our privileged position and share our lives with people who were having a hard time. Of course none of us had any money, but we were healthy and excited about our practice. And most people wanted to stay around Aoki-sensei and practice with him, rather than going out to help the world. So Gan was often frustrated.

After I left for the U.S., Gan went back to his small hometown in Aichi Prefecture. The biggest city is Nagoya, but Gan was out in a very rural area. He supported himself as a taxi driver, and started a private daycare center to take care of mentally and physically disabled young people.

That was 35 years ago. He has been helping people ever since, and now is the director of one of the most successful nursing homes in Aichi Prefecture. He truly embodied his dream of helping disadvantaged and forgotten people; he made it happen in his life.

My Current Understanding of Tenshin-Ken

Simply speaking, the spirit of Tenshin-Ken can be expressed in the Italian phrase” Bella Ciao!” Bella Ciao is an expression of a deep passion for life.

The Hasta Siempre music video by Nathalie Cardone captures my passion about empowering people around us. In the video a young mother with a nursing baby in her arms and a rifle on her back is walking through the streets of a small South American village and out into the fields. She walks past poor people who are hopeless, some of them slaving in the fields, and they put down their tools and come with her.

Nowadays I’m very passionate about original spirit of Bushido – the heart of the martial arts – that is at the center of my life work. While Budo is the technique of the martial arts that many of you have studied, Bushido is much deeper.

In developing Shintaido, Aoki-sensei stripped away all the attractiveness and packaging of the martial arts, as well as its connection to Bushido. He chose to remove the connections to Bushido due to the environment in Japan at the time — the Japanese military wanted to use Budo to strengthen its culture.

So Aoki-sensei practiced and taught a pure form and movement (detached from its context).

Shintaido’s philosophy revolves around opening, stripping away and discovering anew. So now, having practiced the form Aoki-sensei gave us, we’re left with the question, “How do we strip away the surface of our own practice (i.e. deconstruct it) in order to find our own form and true essence?”

For me, Bushido means standing at the edge of life and death on behalf of others. We need the courage to stand up for those less fortunate – to inspire people to stand up for themselves. That involves two steps – 1) Finding one’s true essence and gaining strength and inspiration and 2) Taking action to make that possible for others.

In Shintaido, Tenshin-Ken became kirioroshi kumite and we’ve gained great insight by practicing it. We’ve work hard to give up our ego and go beyond the self. But that can also become a kind of self-centered enlightenment without the second step. If we get stuck at the first step, we miss the courageous message of the video and the opportunity to be truly free and unified. When we stand up and say “No!” to an unfair situation, like the suffering of the poor people in the video, we’re no longer defined by our ideas of personal risk and loss. Our own courage emerges, and with it our true self, which is much bigger than our ego-self.

The original message of Tenshin-ken is the ability of someone who is really weak or in an unfair situation, to connect to Ten (Universal Truth) and express themselves and change his/her life. My hope is to re-infuse this original message of Tenshin-ken into Bushido.

In order to realize this, we have to step out of our comfortable and privileged lives, and reach out to those less privileged than we are (Step Two). The question is, “How can we create space for others to gain their voice and stand up for themselves?

Gan Okada was very clear about why he was studying with Aoki-Sensei: to develop a sense of social justice. He took in the values and practices of Shintaido and translated it into social justice action. We each need to find a way of translating our learning into something that creates a positive change in the world, drawing on what we’ve learned in Shintaido.

I hope we can rediscover the original heart of Bushido this time.
Looking forward to going with you into 2015, into this new world of courage and hope.

Haruyoshi Fugaku Ito
January 1, 2015


Many thanks go to Lee Seaman and Tomi Nagai-Rothe who helped me express my message in English, and to Partick Bouchaude who helped in French!

Comments are closed.