As students prepared to face off at the first Shintaido class at Synetic Theater last week, instructor Lee Ordeman had one direction: “Be like seaweed.” He was explaining the practice of wakame-taiso, an exercise in which one partner remains loose like aquatic algae while the other gently pushes on him or her like an ocean current. So, not exactly the kind of sparring you might see in another martial arts class.
What it is
Developed in Japan in 1965, Shintaido incorporates techniques from the oldest forms of combat karate into a new art that strives to achieve calm. “We don’t study it as a defense or a fighting form,” Ordeman said. “We distill the aspects of it which help people develop themselves and their bodies.” Though Ordeman has been practicing Shintaido for 30 years and is the head of one of seven U.S. Shintaido centers, he wears a beginner’s white belt. (There are no other colors to aspire to.) And he doesn’t expect students to don anything other than their usual workout attire: “Shintaido shuns all the hierarchy. We don’t pigeonhole people by their development.”
There’s a right way and a wrong way to bounce, Ordeman explained. Staying on the balls of your feet can hurt your calves, so he told students to think of the motion more like a stomp as they moved about the room. “This isn’t ballet,” Ordeman said. “Feel yourself interact with the earth.” Prepare to interact with classmates, too. At last week’s debut, everyone formed a conga line, an exercise that requires tapping into nonverbal communication to determine the group’s tempo and speed. (Otherwise, a crash is unavoidable.) But the punching segment was a solo endeavor. Ordeman corrected some students who clenched their fists, telling them to instead remain soft, focus on their breathing and, later, to make noise as they punched.
That performative aspect went over well with the group, which was dominated by actors. Alex Mills, 25, who has appeared in many Synetic productions, likes that Shintaido complements the theater company’s standard athletic regimen. “Our style of training is more forceful, kind of using our bodies in an intentioned way,” he said. “Whereas this allows you to see what the energy does to you.”
The meditation and guided breathing at the end of class left students feeling calm, not worn out — even though much of the hour was spent getting their heart rates up. Maria Benzie couldn’t help but compare her experience to the taekwondo classes she took as a child. “I just remember in taekwondo holding some sweaty guy’s feet while he did pushups,” she recalled. Shintaido is entirely different, Benzie said. And it sure doesn’t stink.
Shintaido classes are offered at Synetic Theater’s Studio Violet (2155 Crystal Plaza Arcade T-19, Arlington) on Tuesdays at 6 p.m. through April 21. Drop in to one class for $20, or purchase a pass for all 12 remaining Shintaido classes for $180. More info at synetictheater.org.
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