The Origins of Shintaido
The roots of Shintaido lie in karate, which had been brought to Tokyo from Okinawa by Gichin Funakoshi in 1922. One of his students, Shigeru Egami introduced important modifications, so that it assimilated the values of traditional Japanese martial arts. Hiroyuki Aoki, a student of Egami, reached the highest level of his federation in just four years in the early 1960s. Egami asked him to help teach the new generation of karate students and to take on his researches, which he himself was unable to pursue owing to ill-health. After the Second World War karate, like other martial arts, had acquired a sudden international popularity as a result of the interest taken in them by the American forces occupying Japan. The number of schools multiplied; but at the Tokyo Olympics in 1964, the Japanese judokas were beaten by a foreigner (Dutchman Anton Geesink), an upset that had a dramatic effect on all Japanese martial artists. For Egami, it proved that the process of rationalising the martial arts had emptied them of substance. Assisted by Hiroyuki Aoki, he began to collect and transcribe the katas, the historic heritage of karate. This led them to contemplate the use of the body and how it expresses force. They realised that while certain theories current in martial arts circles were erroneous or even useless, others, though neglected, were real treasures.
Budo for the modern age
Hiroyuki Aoki’s spiritual and artistic aspirations could never have been satisfied by karate as it existed in the 1960s. Striving for beauty and peace, he was searching for ‘both soft and expansive movement, spreading out to the ends of the earth – and power which could be used comfortably without turning against nature or the body.’
While still studying under Egami, he created his own research group which, as well as including karate practitioners, included others who had abandoned it as being too severe and unsparing, and also people with physical limitations. Then in 1964 he reached his goal of discovering a way of moving the body in a more natural, beautiful and effective manner. Yet he believed it might have taken a beginner 20 years of study to achieve this kind of movement. If it were to spearhead the new culture that he aspired for, Aoki realised that he needed a system that could be learned relatively easily. He wanted to create an entire martial art that would convince the public at large – but one capable of revitalising both the body and the spirit, giving energy, refreshment and the hope of living a more colourful life, of restoring the soul day by day.
Aoki has said that he wanted to bring martial arts to the same level of attainment as the works of great Western artists such as Beethoven, Van Gogh or Dostoyevsky, or the American writers he admired, notably Henry Miller, Jackson Pollock or Walt Whitman.
To this end, on 23 September 1965, he collected an informal group around him which he called ‘Rakutenkai’, which had as its aim to pursue truth in daily life, acquire perfect liberty, live within the light of liberty, and become the light of the world. The only requirement was that members should practise with the group at least twice a year; among its members were active high-ranking martial artists, others who had given up their practice, women, children, old people and people with physical disabilities. Aoki wanted even the least strong people to be able to enjoy the fruits of his study even though the traditional processes of the martial arts tended to be selective and exclusive. From his own experience and careful study of the texts, Aoki believed that anyone, if properly supported, could reveal him or herself as a ‘living treasure’. So he set the group five rules:
- Stick to your own morality
- Never forget your original self
- Never judge others
- Love your neighbour as yourself
From this group he chose a team of around 30 instructors to conduct deep research into technique. From their experimental practice, Hiroyuki Aoki selected certain movements and techniques, and introduced them into his new system. Three fundamental kata emerged during this period: Tenshingoso (which Aoki had created by April 1966), Eiko (which the Rakutenkai discovered during a late-night practice on 1 December 1966; and Hikari (see below). In 1970 he set up his own school, Sogobudo (holistic martial art) Renmei, to revive traditional Budo by developing and teaching Shintaido.