The them for this year’s kangeiko was Dokan: Way of the Circle (or is it Circle of the Way?)
As every year, the kangeiko took place at Douai Abbey the first weekend of January, but this year it was very much overshadowed by the death only the previous Saturday of Ito sensei. There were also a few absent faces, and these two things gave the weekend a very distinctive flavour.
There were several important and interconnected themes throughout the kangeiko, which appeared both in keiko and personal interactions and practical matters like cooking.
One was connection . Wakame was introduced in the first keiko and remained a constant throughout and tried to maintain the relationship with the partner so one did not lose connection even when an interaction in kumite or kumitachi had apparently ended, or even if the partner was behind one. There were also moments of connection when doing Taimyo part one in a circle or Diamond Eight dai. Outside there was cutting nature and then each other in a group, introducing connection to everything around us from the earth to the heavens.
Expansion was a second theme and a particularly beautiful moment was an afternoon keiko which began with Charles leading aozora taiso in a circle which gradually enlarged as people arrived, and the movements themselves became very expansive.
A third theme was coming back to Um, of sinking down into quietness and ideally emptiness. This was stressed after each interaction with our partner/s especially in kumitachi, and was also described as giving the keiko back to the other. This created a different and valuable rhythm to the whole event.
Fourthly there was sensitivity from listening, not only in the actual keikos but outside them as well, and in practices like receiving seichuken from behind. We were asked not to react immediately we felt the energy of the person coming towards us but to wait, which proved surprisingly hard.
And as always there was time and space management, be it the time keeping, or the space in wakame, or kumitachi, and timing, A B or C. It felt that we were encouraged to experiment with all of these, and to learn from what happened.The sense of openness and exploring was marked and created a sense of freedom. But of course this occurred within careful boundaries where there was always an emphasis on safety and one of the senseis was always on hand to survey and respond to any questions.
The pattern of events.
After the first BSC keiko it was time to settle into the White Cottages and prepare the meal.
Those responsible for creating menus, shopping and organising the cooking did a fantastic job and every meal was indeed nutritious but also delicious. After supper the opening ceremony was conducted in front of a mantelpiece adorned with photos of Ito sensei and candles lit for him.
People expressed great gratitude to him for all that he had brought and his extraordinary support for all of us. it was suggested that though we think we are supporting him in the bardo with the morning mourning ritual, maybe it is the other way round- he is actually supporting us even now. We thanked him for his vision in preparing the future of shintaido. Kim then led us in reciting the heart sutra.
Before going to bed, we went outside and after taikimai we did hoshi otoshi towards the stars.
The next day began with Taimyo accompanied by the chanting said to be by the Dalai lama for Vaclav Havel in Prague cathedral. After breakfast we went to the field for the next keiko. The coldness helped us to be willing to move and we began with a thorough warm up, including focus on weight and the feet and then much tsuki . After kihon of dai jodan, jodan and chudan kiri komi and then the same using the sword as an extension of our hand, we focussed on grounding and resetting after each interaction. We were asked to find precision in each movement, and to listen to and pass the management of space and timing to and fro. This felt somehow like catch bo. In seichuken we were invited to experience cutting into vastness, or this is what i felt, and inviting the cut into ourselves.
Throughout the kangeiko we practised wakame with eyes open or closed or half open, and noticed the difference this made.
The afternoon keiko continued with wakame and we began to move and turn as we received the ocean wave and finally there was neither wave nor seaweed.
Kihon with kiri harai cuts followed and then Diamond Eight sei and dai in a circle. We then tried to extend one cut the entire length of the dojo and in kumite we tried to make each cut last the whole of each interaction. Finally we split into two groups, one group continuing with kihon of jodan and chudan , and then seichuken many times up and down the dojo.
Next came the exam session where we witnessed three splendid exams: Mirabelle in karate, Craig in bohjutsu and Jackie in shintaido. Encouraged to show their best, we saw lovely interactions, movement and flexibility from the candidates.
After supper we discovered that all had passed.
The supper was enhanced by the galettes du roi made by Laurent and the crowning of the king and queen , those who had found a bean in their portion,. Amazingly this turned out to be Charles and Ula!
Some discussion ensued about Dokan and Jackie showed the connection to the gong and its vibrations.
The next day began with sunrise sunset led by Nagako. Keiko was again outside, and we began by cutting everything as expansively as possible- the sky, nature, others, using chudan and jodan cuts. We opened our bodies at three levels and expanding and then tapping deep into the earth as if to expand vertically. Kihon followed , and then in groups of three or four, kumite. We continued with bokutohs including seichuken from behind. There was no line and no bridge but it was like sannin ichi retsu as two people did dai jodan against one doing chudan or jodan.
After lunch it was already the last keiko, which began as mentioned with aozora taiso expanding into something very joyful. We returned to wakame and seichuken, with the receiver turning and doing chudan kiri komi. Only one person had a bokutoh here. Two people attacked sequentially .
We then arrived in sannin ichi retsu whereby only one person had a bokutoh and then we did Diamond eight as kumite, trying to extend each cut to reach two people. One could use two cuts for two people or one cut for both. As in kayak in bohjutsu we were encouraged to bring people in or to move them out, managing the timing and the space. Finally we did Diamond Eight in a circle.
By this time as it was very cold it was agreed to return to the White Cottages to join in Taimyo kata being done over the world, particularly in the US, to accompany and honour Ito sensei. There is no internet signal so this was done without zoom.
The following morning there was a last taimyo again accompanied by chanting and the kangeiko ended.
All those fulfilling a role did so seamlessly, and it was a very unique occasion. People were full of enthusiasm about the various practices, itself a tribute to the quality of the teaching and the engagement of those attending.
It was a very unique occasion and impossible not to recognise that none of this would be happening without Ito sensei, Minagaw sensei and all the other senseis in the circle of Dokan.