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Geoff Warr (1951-2024)

By 14/02/2024Articles

Geoff was in every sense a dearly loved pillar of Shintaido in Britain, practising for over 40 years, serving twice as chair of our organisation, and a man always ready to throw himself into keiko, whatever the strain it imposed on his body, and to support and entertain his keiko friends, in and out of the dojo. He will be truly missed.

A tall, heavily built man, Geoff had an enduring love for life in the fast lane of the swimming pool (which he continued to enjoy until a few months before his death), and life in the depths of the rugby scrum, a place he had to give up through injury in his early 20s. He began his Shintaido practice in the early 1980s with Stuart Blackburn, when they were both working at Orchard Lodge, a secure unit for teenage boys in Crystal Palace, London, and also practised with Tony Hammick in Twickenham. After he moved to a new job and home in Greenwich, he was important in maintaining a monthly programme of “joint branch keikos” which allows practitioners in the four or five classes spread across London at that time to meet up, enjoy the gorei of other instructors, and learn from one another.

Sensei care with Ito Sensei

He was a regular at workshops and gasshukus, where he delighted (a favourite word of his) in the role of sensei care, one that allowed him to offer the boundless warmth of his heart to his instructors – especially Ito – to ensure their comfort, and to quietly support the smooth running of the event for all. In this, he shared the qualities that he developed, studied and taught in his work, where he looked after some of the country’s most troubled teenagers, continually searching for ways to keep them physically and emotionally safe and make them feel listened to, while maintaining strong but humane boundaries for the benefit of all. Eventually, he devised a training programme for his colleagues that he called “Safe Holding”, which brought together principles and techniques he had learned in Shintaido, with others he had learned on the job; this allowed him and his colleagues to support and calm down the most distressed and chaotic people in their care without violence or coercion. He taught the technique across southern England, and also in Jamaica – as well as in some Shintaido gasshukus.

After passing his Instructors exam in 1994, he moved to Ramsgate and for a while he became less regular in his keiko, but always stayed in touch with Shintaido friends, vision and practice. He served on the Management team and was briefly Chair in 1998, and again from 2009-2012. During this period he pursued the notion of creating “Shintaido packages”  – building on the model of Safe Holding – in which we make Shintaido principles, techniques and skills more generally available in non-dojo contexts. Although this proved hard to get together, he was on the verge of launching just such a “package” that combined Shintaido, amma and tai chi for Parkinson’s sufferers in Kent, when his final illness struck in December 2023.

Geoff loved both words and music, and took great pleasure in exploring the outer reaches of many familiar metaphors, rolling the ideas slowly around his tongue to tease to whatever new meanings he found perfectly apposite to the moment. He wrote poetry that he would share during and after gasshukus to express his enjoyment of their most special qualities, and a novel, Alright Now, based in part on his life and work.

A lymphoma diagnosis in 2021 gave him a renewed sense of the preciousness of the time we all enjoyed together, and he stayed active in keiko. Sadly, though, in December 2023 he found the cancer had spread. Typically of Geoff, he was still able to respond to the news of Ito Sensei’s passing at the end of the month by digging out his extra-heavy boktoh, and raising and lowering it in Tenso/Shoko. But after a short illness he died on 4th February 2024, and will be much missed.