Paul Kisho Stern

Dharma River Founder, Teacher, Activist, Roshi

“Everything we do matters.  Even the smallest of activities play a significant and cumulative role in shaping our individual lives and further all of these activities weave into the tapestry of this fantastic and wondrous world we move in and through.  This manifests in a dance that weaves the fabric of living and being woven as part of that same tapestry.”


Kisho sees his work at Dharma River and in life in general as being focused largely on developing contexts within which individuals are able to engage in life practices that allow them to connect more completely with themselves, their communities, and their world.  His professional life and academic life has focused on developing educational environments for students from a variety of backgrounds, age groups, and content areas. Over the past two and a half decades, he has worked as a classroom instructor, a behavioral specialist and youth counselor, a curriculum designer, a martial arts instructor and an organizational design innovator.

This work is central to the Zen education and practice, mindfulness programming, resilience and compassion programming, and martial arts/movement arts practices offered through Dharma River.  All of these areas of study are pathways that foster holistic personal development and help connect and integrate people more fully with their communities and their world. This was a life path emerged to him when he was 6 years old in his first grade class at Northern Elementary School outside of Bemidji, MN.   The activity was a simple one-students were asked to select their ideal career. While in line, Kisho selected becoming a hockey player, but while waiting in line he realized this was not really the case. Actually, he wanted to do what Kwai Chang Caine did in the then famous Kung Fu series.  The dream was to be a wandering kung fu monk that focused their journey on helping people. Ms. Phelps was quite impressed with this choice at that time with this rather unorthodox life path and years later was impressed that he was actually able to pull it off.  Of course, there wasn’t a single program that put it all together in one place, but over the years Kisho’s study of martial arts, of qi gong, and of meditation, mindfulness, Buddhist (Shingon and Nyingma) and Zen practice in particular coalesced into a lived model of that early iteration of Kwai Chang’s characterization.  

Kisho began working with movement and combat arts as a wrestler when he was five years of age.  This gave him a solid skill set to being his journey with martial arts in 1989. He has studied martial arts consistently from that time forward with an emphasis on Choy li Fut, Baji Quan, and Hung Gar Kung fu as well as  Chen Style Taiji Quan. He has studied extensively in the United States,Taiwan, Canada, and Europe. He has taught martial arts since 2000. He continues to cultivate and grow his personal practice of martial arts under the instruction of Masters Lee Chang Ren and Lee Chang Chih in Taiwan as well as Tai Sifu Neil McRitchie and Sifu Eric Muchowski in North America. 

Over the years, it has become increasingly clear to him that martial arts and qi gong training offers a context that is very much more than training the body to move in specific ways, or even more than integrating body, mind, and breath.  It offers a manner to access the more fully our individual and shared human experience as it unfolds.  It further provides the practitioner with access to understand more completely the interwoven dimensions of their physical, emotional, and psychological make up.  From this understanding, martial arts affords the individual the opportunity to expand the choices they access as they move through the spaces of their life beyond the dojo.

Kisho began his interest and study of meditation in the early 1990’s. This journey brought him to study with a variety of teachers both in North America and abroad.  He deepened his connection and study through during his years in Taiwan, where he studied at Bu Dong Shi in Pingdong Province of southern Taiwan.

Upon returning to Minneapolis, Kisho studied Zen Meditation and Buddhist studies at Dharma Field Meditation and Learning Center in Minneapolis under Steve Hagen and Tibetan Buddhism with the Bodhicitta Sangha under Khenpo Sherab Sangpo. This journey has lead him to becoming a dharma successor in the tradition of  Roshi Paul Genki Kahn and Roshi Monika Genmitu Kahn  of the Ancient Oaks Temple, where he continues his study and growth in this area of human development and Zen practice and acts as a teacher within this tradition.

Currently,  Kisho lives with his family in Winona where he works at WSU, provides supportive work in engaged compassion as a consultant with his love and life partner, Trish Baishin Johnson, and provides mentorship and instruction at Dharma River, a member of the Zen Garland Order.


Find Us

686 W. 5th St., Winona, Minnesota

(507) 961-5665    |

Get in Touch with Us

Ask us questions. Share ideas. Send us a message.

Set up a time to meet with us. Tell us your story.

This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.