Stream of Consciousness

Facing Death - Part I

Facing Death - Part II

Passive Resistance - Part I

Passive Resistance - Part II

Workshop Reports - August 2004

Passive Resistance, Part II

Applying Passive Resistance

Published in Body Dialogue #8, 2000

This article is a copy of correspondence exchanged between David Franklin and H. F. Ito, triggered by Ito's article published in the Shintaido magazine Body Dialogue, 1998. A summary of that article, "Stream of Consciousness: Shintaido and Non-Violent Resistance" by H.F. Ito, Body Dialogue #7, 1998, follows.

Summary of Earlier Article

Shintaido practioners in Germany who are also members of the anti-nuclear power movement asked Mr. Ito how Shintaido could be used in their confrontations with police during their demonstrations. Ito thought about this question for several years. He realized that in such a situation, using the force in Shintaido would lead to an escalation of force between the police and the demonstrators. He found himself wondering and questioning all the years he had studied martial arts, and had dedicated his life to this study.

After he met with a pacifist choir group, he realized that their singing at the picket line during a demonstration had the effect of calming people and avoiding an escalation towards violence. He realized that Shintaido would not help these people fight with the police, but it could help people prepare their minds to face them.

He determined that the goal of Shintaido practitioners should be to find peace in their minds.

Ito discussed this issue at a later time with some different peace activists who were also not Shintaido practitioners. They agreed that martial arts training would be valuable for people on the front lines of picket line protests because it would help people control their fear and anger. If people are trained in martial arts, it gives them confidence because they can choose to fight back successfully if they wish to. Even if they choose not to, they feel free in their minds and their confidence is reflected in their bearing and actions, keeping them calm and steady in times of crisis.



Dear Ito-sensei,

I thought this was a very interesting article.

The only part I'm not sure about it this:

"Here is the analysis: If you are trained in martial arts and know how to defend yourself, you have choices. For instance, you can fight back if you really wish, but you may choose not to on purpose. When you have choices in your mind, you feel free. If you are free in your mind, you end up having confidence. Once you start having confidence in yourself, it appears naturally and automatically in your actions."

If I read between the lines, this analysis is the one idea in the article that was contributed by people who are not actually Shintaido practitioners. Am I correct? I know that they are peace activists and Buddhists or whatever, and so we might expect their ideas to fit harmoniously with Shintaido's philosophy. And superficially there may be some similarity. But I suspect that someone who has experienced Shintaido's philosophy in their body would not have written that part. Here is why:

To be honest, I have heard this kind of explanation applied to other martial arts such as Aikido and even traditional Karate. I think it is a shallow philosophy. My own experience was that my Karate instructor also said that we should only use Karate for self-defense, and never to initiate an attack. But I don't need to tell you that in reality, the movements are very violent and so you almost end up hoping that someone will attack you so you can test your technique. This was the kind of mentality that led me to search beyond Karate and find Shintaido.

The idea that "you can fight back if you really wish, but may choose not to, and this gives you confidence" reminds me of the idea of "peace through strength." Of course you may recognize this phrase from the book 1984 by George Orwell. "Peace through strength" was the phrase the government used in its propaganda to justify totalitarianism. So in this case, "peace through strength" was a way to suppress people, to take away their freedom by preventing them from thinking for themselves. In the real world I believe the concept of "peace through strength" has been used to justify the nuclear arms race in the first place, and it is not that different from traditional martial arts philosophy.

I have observed that Shintaido often has an odd effect on people: it does not make them feel "confident"; in fact, sometimes it makes them feel uncertain, helpless, or spiritually weak. Yet just exactly at those moments, they are sometimes able to act boldly and courageously.

One of the sentences in the Shintaido textbook that has always remained in my mind is: "Accepting defeat and crying for help are stronger than the strongest form in the martial arts." This seems to me one of the unique points of Shintaido that sets it apart from other martial arts, and obviously this is very different from "peace through strength" or having "confidence."

But as for exactly how to apply this philosophy concretely and practically when dealing with police and picket lines, I have no idea at all.

In any case, it is a very interesting and thought-provoking article; it certainly made me think a lot about why I do Shintaido and how it relates to the peace movement. The Shintaido /peace and anti-nuclear movement connection is a story that not many people know about. The idea of "losing the battle as slowly as possible" is especially interesting. Thanks for writing it.

- David Franklin


Dear David:

Thank you for your honest feedback! I really appreciate your sharp criticism regarding the "confidence" I described in my last article. Also, I was very impressed by your essential understanding of Shintaido that sometimes creates feelings of uncertainty, helplessness, or spiritual weakness.

I understand that I cannot ignore the opinion of someone like you by describing the effect of Shintaido superficially.

Let our discussion go a little farther!

In the days of Rakutenkai (the group that originally developed Shintaido), I remember that Master Aoki often set up a kind of life-threatening situation and put us into it while we were experimenting with many kinds of sparring exercises. The challenge we were requested to overcome was not simply how to fight back or escape, of course, but how to break through the actual situation, ideally without hurting the opponent(s). Then, some of us ended up re-experiencing true Sankaku-tobi (triangle step – a secret stepping technique of martial arts), while the others ended up finding the form of Tenso.

In fact, you know that you end up moving your body against gravity, when you play Sankaku-tobi perfectly while you are in Shintaido-Karate sparring exercises.

Also, while you are doing Kumitachi (sword sparring exercises), once in a while you get a chance to cut Daijodan, but on purpose, you freeze it at Tenso position, because, if you had kept going, you would have ended up actually smashing the head of your opponent. If your opponent is sensitive enough, immediately he feels that an actual incisive energy is exactly coming down from the top of sword, so that his body gets frozen.

In Eikodai, or Shoko, you have experienced that, the more Ki-energy you spent from your own stock, the more Ki-energy you receive from Mother Nature. The more you give up, the more grace you receive.

The following is my interpretation of what is happening in this kind of situation:

In cases where we are in an urgent and life-threatening situation, and still our mind is clear and we have the power of concentration, our body ends up going beyond our usual sense of the three-dimensional world, and moving freely or expressing unusual energy. In a way, you end up experiencing a kind of "twilight zone" (if you will let me use a technical term of science fiction).

In order to describe this kind of phenomenon, the example does not have to be in martial arts training. You may find it in stories, in which people saved themselves in case of fire accidents, or natural disasters, or in stories of athletes. After the event, in a peaceful environment, they were never able to repeat what they had done.

For example, someone ended up carrying a big refrigerator out of his house by himself. Two persons ended up moving a piano through many tight doors within a few minutes. A non-athletic mother ended up running faster than an Olympic level sprinter in order to catch her baby who was falling out of the window of her fifth floor apartment. Some physically disabled patients ended up running away from their hospital rooms when a giant snake moved into the building.

Once we have experienced these phenomena, we start thinking that what can be seen by our eyes, touched by our hands, and scientifically proven is not really everything that exists in this world.

Obviously, in 'regular' society, we are not allowed to put people into life-threatening situations in order for them to re-experience the spontaneous reaction mentioned above. But, in the case of martial arts training, the situation is a little different. I think that it is still possible for the practitioner to put himself into this kind of situation voluntarily in order for them to find their Senzai-nouryoku or deeply hidden talent or subconscious talent.

This is one of the reasons why we keep Shintaido within the required conditions of Budo, or martial arts. I believe that a good Shintaido instructor always creates a kind of unusual environment (a temporary crisis) in which his students have to study how to let their mind and body react in order to find a new way to break through.

By knowing that the ordinary world which we are seeing 'regularly' is only one part of reality, and confirming the "body wisdom" with which we went through a different dimension of the world, we can keep a higher consciousness – we can keep our heads above the crowd. In this way, I think that a Shintaido practitioner should be able to keep his or her mind clear and cool even though he or she is facing an unfamiliar life-threatening situation.

And, of course, the more often he or she goes through a similar situation, the more genuine confidence and inner peace he or she will win and store in himself or herself.

In order to confirm my image, I would like to share two of my favorite texts with you.

One is from a famous Zen koan which says:

Hyakushaku kanto subekaraku ho o susumeba, jippo sekai kore aratanari.

Translation: "If you step out of the top of a 100-foot bamboo pole, your whole world view will be completely renewed."

The other one is from an essay written by Henry Miller, which I read a long time ago and still remember only in Japanese. So, I have to translate it from Japanese to English. (If you know someone who loves his essays, please ask him to find the original quotation for me.)

Hito wa sono nagashita chi to onaji ryo no jiyu o kakutoku suru.

Translation: "One will only win as much freedom as he spills his blood for!"

By the way, I am very happy to hear that the new decision made by the German government has created a new atmosphere in Germany. They have decided to stop using nuclear power in the future and they have begun to close down nuclear power plants. This reminds me of what Kazu Tanahashi said: "Finally you will find new directions for what was once a problem, and the problem itself will have disappeared."