Spirit of the Sword Self Defence

The Spirit of the Sword Youth Initiative was a non-profit youth movement originating in New Zealand during the late 1970s. The movement sought to marry New Age values of dynamic peace, self-improvement and environmentalism with physical training practices drawn from various martial arts and dance disciplines.

Origin: The Spirit of the Sword was originally a dramatic dance devised and performed by Dance Theater exponents Liong Xi and Faye Tohbyn. 

The dance told the story of a young Warrior who was tempted by the Spirit of the Sword, portrayed by another dancer, to take violent revenge for a fallen comrade. At the climax of the dance, the Warrior mastered his desire for revenge and was able to re-sheath his sword.

Xi and Tohbyn extended the philosophy expressed in this dance into a five-point “Code of Awareness” which was offered to hundreds of thousands of school children and their teachers during a series of annual Theatre in Education tours throughout New Zealand, between 1978-1985. 

The Code was a pledge to try to uphold the ideals of fitness, honesty, sincerity, respect for nature and peace, amongst other values.

Xi and Tohbyn also designed an insignia for the nascent youth initiative, featuring the Warrior and the Spirit in silhouette against a red background.

Non-aggressive self defence training: In 1987, martial artist Tony Wolf learned the Spirit of the Sword dance and performed it at a charity event in Wellington’s Memorial Theatre.

Taking the theme of “dynamic peace” as inspiration, Wolf proposed to develop a new system of non-aggressive self defence and physical training, designed particularly for children and teenagers as a defence against school bullies. This “non-martial art” was to became the central practice of the Spirit of the Sword youth initiative.

The Spirit of the Sword self defence system, occasionally referred to as Kenshindo (Japanese, “Way of the Spirit of the Sword”) and as Kenshin Taijutsu (“Physical techniques of the Sword Spirit”) was devised as a non-violent means of self-protection. It consisted entirely of evasive and defensive techniques drawn from boxing, wrestling and other sports as well as various Asian martial arts, geared towards avoiding and if necessary controlling an aggressor without injuring them.

The self defence method was taught through a series of games and drills and was augmented by a series of calisthenics and tumbling exercises derived from martial arts, gymnastics, dance and yoga. The training emphasized sparring contests, with increasing levels of speed and resistance as the students became more proficient in the various defensive techniques.

Students of the Spirit of the Sword self defence method wore training uniforms consisting of a black uwagi (Japanese martial arts jacket) emblazoned with a patch displaying the red and black Spirit of the Sword insignia, and black tracksuit pants. Training was conducted according to the protocols of Asian martial arts, including symbolic salutes between training partners.

The Rainbow Warrior programme: Inspired by the purported Native American prophecy of the “Warriors of the Rainbow” who would dedicate their strength and skill to the cause of peace, Wolf developed an achievement-based award system called the Rainbow Warrior programme. Spirit of the Sword members were awarded a series of points based on achievements including A and B grades on school report cards, proficiency in non-aggressive self defence skills, community services, completion of a series of projects relating to nature and peace and achievements in sports and hobby activities.

Upon accumulating 150 points, members could undertake a special test; if they passed, they would be acknowledged as Rainbow Warriors within the initiative and were eligible for more advanced training and to assist in teaching classes. The programme was designed to be achievable within approximately one and a half years.

Training groups: The original Spirit of the Sword training groups were established in various suburbs of Wellington, New Zealand between 1987-1990, at locations including the Raynor Greek Memorial Hall in Kilbirnie and the Wellington Boys and Girls Institute gymnasium in Mount Cook. They were open to children and teenagers between the ages of seven and eighteen.

Circa 1990, a Kenshin Taijutsu self-defence training group for adults was established at the Community and Cultural Centre in Newtown.

Post-1990 history: Since 1990 Tony Wolf has occasionally revived aspects of the self-defence training method at martial arts and performance conferences in New Zealand, Australia and the USA, but the the Spirit of the Sword youth initiative has been largely inactive.