Identity & Character (Updated: 07/20/18)

“Life is provocation for releasing our sacred selves, and butoh opens up this irritation to my most intimate self.” – Diego Piñón

There are three ways to think of the archetypal person: (1) Subbody; (2) Cobody; (3) Nobody.

Subbody/The Secret

We might as well call it the shhhbody. Subbody means the subconscious body, but can also mean the first person, Self, or Atman. The subbody is the shadowbody. Subbody is associated with depth or the hidden and the mental, emotional, and somatic aspect is one (no mind/body dualism). The subbody is also a rhizome. The subbody however may be a misnomer. For the purposes of this manual, the subbody (subconscious) is merged with Freud and Lacan’s views of the unconscious without all the limiting sexual and patronal association, which keeps it from being rhizomic (multi-dimensional).

Another way to view the subbody is the dreambody, even the daydreaming body. To Hijikata, this was the obscured body or clouded body. To Akaji Maro (of Dairakudakan), the miburi. This is even the vaporized body. To the surrealists, automatism, often irrational. To Artaud, it was the Interior Theatre: “My inclinations urge me on to ‘Interior Theatre,’ theatre of dreams incarnate, of thoughts projected on the stage in a pure and unhindered state.”11 Geoffrey Galt Harpham (of On The Grotesque) links it to myth/primitive narrative.13

Put simply, this is the qualia cloud surrounding one’s body or memories that latch on to one’s being. It is inherently a mystery or big secret to others because everyone has a different history.¹ This secret is butoh’s magic ingredient. It might even be a deep dish pizza, the deep fake. We can recall Nietzsche’s words: “One must still have chaos in oneself to be able to give birth to a dancing star.”

When we find a very deep subbody (shin), we may run into the bottom body, which is also a deep mystery. This is also the deep shadow, which is the starting place for major shadow work. The bottom body can be imagined through a series of images or sayings: (1) “rock bottom”; (2) genie’s lamp; (3) “new low”; (4) edge; (5) threshold; (6) “no escape”; (7) trigger; (8) the cruel. In the words of Kazuo Ohno: “Rather than analyzing your movements…push yourself right to the very edge of sanity… Our dance becomes godlike once the ghosts of the universe surge forth from the depths of our consciousness.”²

To Antonin Artaud, this would be the realm of the cruel, where something immediate or bloody real finally happens, a “hungering after life, cosmic strictness, relentless necessity, […] a living vortex engulfing darkness, […] a necessary pain without which life could not continue.”12 Everyone will have their own personal bottom body or subbody limit/wall/edge. Due to the mind/body connection, the bottom body may be instigated by physically forming into one’s idea of the weakest, most physically twisted, or uncomfortable position.


Cobody can mean the second or third person, the other, or Brahman. Cobody is more than one subbody.


Nobody is completely impersonal and up for interpretation. Sometimes subbody may become cobody and possibly even nobody all at the same time. Nobody can also be ambiguous or anonymous. The question of nobody is raised, for instance, when reading a Buddhist text such as the Heart Sutra. Nobody can also be one individual’s bottom body. Nobody can be associated with The Void or Abyss. It has also been called Enlightenment’s Evil Twin.

The following comes from the Russian absurdist writer Daniil Kharms entitled The Redheaded Man:

There lived a redheaded man who had no eyes or ears. He didn’t have hair either, so he was called a redhead arbitrarily. He couldn’t talk because he had no mouth. He had no nose either. He didn’t even have arms or legs. He had no stomach, he had no back, he had no spine, and he had no innards at all. He didn’t have anything. So we don’t even know who we’re talking about. It’s better that we don’t talk about him any more.³

Nobody can be the shadow of the subbody, or the subbody’s subbody. This can be thought of as the edge of the concept of the subbody itself. Nobody can even represent deconstruction (see section Semiotic interpretation). Nobody can also be a bit boring.

Social Identity

Everybody has multiple identities within the social world (family, gender, age, vocation), but we must know how and when to shed these. Within the butoh world, all of these limiting stratums (forms) are generally deterritorialized (escaped). In performance, we are all or beyond age, gender, race, and familial bloodline (family and race being especially arboresque, a tree hierarchy instead of a multidimensional rhizomic structure).

reduction/regeneration or de/reterritorialization of our socially-conceived age, for instance, can be either about shifting between them or not acting our age (being very old or very young). We can also play at the hermit or shaman that breaks free from family relation.

Another example can be how socially, we know to keep a certain amount of space, but the deterritorialized or reduced space taken to its extreme would be the uncomfortable squeeze or in terms of audience relationship, uncomfortable personal space invasion, breaking of the 4th wall.

Semiotic Interpretation

Because the subbody, like everything in this manual, utilizes language to express itself, the concept of Subbody can also collapse under its own feet. The reason this happens can be explained via the post-modern thinker Jacques Derrida’s critical analysis called deconstruction.

Deconstruction is founded on the concept that all language has a shaky foundation. Deconstruction knocks down the concept of logocentrism. Logocentrism is “the orientation of philosophy toward an order of meaning – thought, truth, reason, logic, the Word – conceived as existing in itself, as foundation.”4 Subbody can be one such foundational concept which is also not transcendental or immune to collapse. Else, this form of butoh would be just another religion where the new God is Subbody.

But before you feel I have undermined my entire manual, there is a consolation. If indeed all is ambiguous and/or makes no difference, this certainly does not take away the ability for play. Playing is still optional. It is a coincidence that another word for “theater” is “play.” For Derrida, all is the play of difference. Difference is “defined by its relation to what it is not rather than by its essence.”5 In other words, difference means that the momentary or semblance of meaning is derived from everything which the concept is not like the term “apple” defined by other words that are not “apple” and then those terms defined by terms that are not those terms. Is there a word that sits by itself, needing no definition? Not to my knowledge because a word would cease to be a word. “Subbody” is not immune.

Children play as if their play is at the moment the case, so why can’t we? Subbody can simply be utilized as a tool to remind or allow us to attempt to go deeper, and so possibly creating a more preferable performance. Whether or not it is illusion is arbitrary.

There are many ways to reach an intention, and if we have to “fake it to make it,” so be it.


Who is doing the moving? Will is ambiguous. However, the will may be closely related to in-the-moment awareness.

Exercise 1: Owning Automatic Responses

Allow yourself awareness for any automatic impulse such as twirling hair. scratching, biting tongue, and own it in one of three ways:

1. Negate the action

2. Copy the action exactly and repeat the action

3. Exaggerate the action.

Exercise 2: Sigil

See section sigil.


“Attempts to get rid of the ego can easily result in one-sided development, fostering both self-importance and a ‘holier-than-thou’ attitude. Avoiding the so-called ‘dark’ aspect of human desire results in a shallow caricature of human potentiality, a blandness which avoids plumbing the depths of the psyche.” –  SKaRaB, SNaKe, Sister Apple & Bro. Moebius B6

This manual takes an integrative or taming approach to ego. Though ego here is defined as the concept of self, identity, or the “I,” the concept may still remain ambiguous. What exactly is “I” and “self?” Everyone’s definition may vary. Some may want to destroy ego, but because there is ego in desire, there is ego in desiring to destroy ego. So instead of getting lost in the terminology or judgement, humility is preferred. Availability for learning and receiving is the most important aspect, whether or not an elusive ego is in the background or not.

That being said, desire is often linked to ego, and so is the concept of moving ourselves. Generally, what is sought after in butoh is something else moving us. For this, ego and desire need to be tamed. To Sri Sri Ravi Shankur desire is “not now, not this – that and then,” and so gets in the way of love or Divine Love/bhatki (100% Life Resonance) that limits presence.14

To Swami Bhuteshananda, there is a mature ego (what Ramakrishna calls ripe “I”). This ego is specifically for Divine Love/bhakti. (Divine Love is 100% love towards Source/God/Universe or 100% Life Resonance). He notes: “The ripe ‘I’ . . . feels, ‘I am God’s devotee.'”15 In other words, I am devoted to 100% Life Resonance/Universe/Source, etc.

Try out this psychodrama related to the immature ego: Ego Feast.

Mirror Use

Unlike other movement forms that make great use of the physical mirror, its use in butoh is downplayed. The mirror (like any tool) can be used for assisting body conditioning, e.g. learning neck isolations, but outside of this, it is best to not use it. Outside of being associated with the ego, the mirror can be too distracting. We might get too easily stuck in a particular form and forget about the subbody.

Kate Parsons further notes:

The mirror seduces the dancer’s focus outside of him/her, leaving the ability to focus inwardly untapped. Watching one’s body in the mirror relies on vision, the sense we tend to exercise most, thereby failing to exercise the dancer’s ability to invoke the perceptual capabilities of other senses, such as the olfactory and auditory capabilities, and especially the tactile.7

Exercise 1: No “I,” Two Weeks

This is an Aleister Crowley exercise that lasts two weeks. To the best of one’s ability, one is to omit the first person–”I,” “me,” or “myself” from communication. For instance, if somebody asks you how you are, you have to answer without using the first person. In my past of doing this exercise, I have answered the question of “How are you?” with “It’s a beautiful day outside.” If you accidentally slip and say the first person, you should negatively reinforce yourself in some way like snapping a rubber band on your wrist. You can also make use of positive reinforcement. If you go a whole day without slipping, treat yourself in some way.

A further form of this exercise involves not even thinking the first person for two weeks.

Exercise 2: Vow of Silence

For however long, take a vow of silence. This is excellent for focusing in on the subbody.

Exercise 3: Butoh Fashion Show

Having trouble pruning the ego? Try this exercise here.


Thought appears to be closely related to ego and words, e.g. “I think therefore I am.” With thought, there is generally judgement and dualistic logic such as good/bad, subject/object, etc. Unless thought is engaging in poetry or imagery, it is best to quiet the mind by cultivating humility in order to focus more on the feeling and moving body.

Exercise: No Opinions, Two Weeks

This is another Aleister Crowley exercise and involves not having any opinions for two weeks. You will have no judgements and have nothing to say about much other than whatever it is certainly exists. Negatively reinforce yourself upon making mistakes.


In Claudia E. Cornett’s words, “Characters initiate and carry out the plot.”8 In Butoh, there may be vague line between character, persona, and the subbody. The three may even merge at times or be a mode of influence by each other, expressing false separations such as the mind/body. Rachel Rosenthal says of the distinctions: “In acting, or playing a character, you want to impersonate the personality of a person that is not yourself. A persona, however, is an artifact, a fabrication, that corresponds to what you want to project from yourself, from within. It is like taking a facet, a fragment, and using that as a seed to elaborate on. It is you and yet not you – a part of you but not the whole. It is not a lie but neither the full truth.”9

Richard Schechner sees no difference between the two distinctions. “‘Me behaving as if I am someone else’ or ‘as if I am beside myself, or not myself’ […] may also be ‘me in another state of feeling/being,’ as if there were multiple ‘me’s’ in each person.”10 Whether persona, character, or both, the most important thing is that we attempt to reach from within the subbody in some way.

Generally, characters in the theater world are of human qualias, but characters in butoh do not need to be human. Tatsumi Hijikata was not only a dancer, but a poet, and was constantly documenting his discoveries and characters. Characters can be pulled by the subbody or anywhere else. I recommend crafting a list of character names (the more creative the name, the better). You can even follow them up with descriptions.

Exercise 1: Character Transformation

Performer transitions from Character A to Character B. The gradient between is very important to feel.

Exercise 2: Owning Your Name Calls

Take some time to remember any names whether positive or negative that you were called in life. These can be used as your  new characters. The character can even take on that of a bouffon.

Exercise 3: Naming the Mundane

When we give animate or inanimate objects names, we bring their character to life. It is an identification of the object in question. For instance, name the trees around you. The more creative, the better. If a particular tree provokes another qualia because of its shape or form, this can inspire a name. After a name has been given, a personality or character is created which can be danced.


¹ Hijikata, Tatsumi. Sick Dancing Princess, Translated by Rhizome Lee. 2017.
² Ohno, Kazuo, and Ohno, Yoshito. 2004. Kazuo Ohno’s World from Without and Within.
Connecticut: Wesleyan University Press.
³ Kharms, Daniil (2009): Today I wrote nothing –The selected writings of Daniil Kharms. Translated from the Russian by Matvei Yankelevich. Ardis Publishers. New York.
4 Culler, Jonathan, After Structuralism, Ithaca: Cornell  University Press. 1982.
5 Auslander, Philip, “Just Be Your Self: Logocentrism and difference in performance theory.” Acting (Re) Considered. London. 2002.
6 SKaRaB, SNaKe, Sister Apple & Bro. Moebius B, Apikorsus: An essay on the diverse practices of chaos magick.
7 Kasai, Tosiharu and Parsons, Kate, “Perception in Butoh Dance,” Memoirs of Hokkaido Institute of Technology, No.31, 257-264, 2003
8 Cornett, Claudia E, and Katharine Smithrim. The Arts As Meaning Makers: Integrating Literature and the Arts Throughout the Curriculum. Toronto: Prentice Hall, 2001. Print. Page 233.
Rosenthal, Rachael, “The Death Show,” high Performance 2, 1:44-5. (1971). Telephone conversation with author, 8 october, 1984.
10 Schechner, Richard, “Introduction: Exit Thirties, Enter Sixties,” Between theater and Anthropology, Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press. 1985. in Erika Munk (ed.) Stanislavski and America, Greenwhich, CT: Fawcett. 1966.
11 Artaud, Antonin. Artaud on Theatre. Edited with commentary by Claude Schumacher. 1989. Page 61.
12 Page 107.
13 Harpham, Geoffrey Galt. On the Grotesque. New Jersey. 1982. Print. Page 54.
14 Shankar, Sri Sri Ravi, “Narada Bhakti Sutra: The Aphorisms of Love.” 2008. Bangalore. Page 7.
15 Swami Bhuteshananda. Narada Bhakti Sutras. Kalkata. 2009. Page 88.