Thread: On Koryu
View Single Post
Old 03-09-2011, 11:18 AM   #15
Mike Sigman
Location: Durango, CO
Join Date: Feb 2005
Posts: 4,123
Re: On Koryu

Cliff Judge wrote: View Post
What phyla of martial arts are you referring to by your terms traditional styles and family traditional styles?

I think you may be missing a point that makes koryu really fascinating if you are into such things, and that is historical significance and the irrevocable shift in context brought about by the Meiji Restoration and abolition of the bushi class.

To understand koryu I think you must understand the economics of the Edo period. These entities existed because there was a market for them. Samurai were paid stipends by the government and were given social and some economic incentives to spend a portion of their money and time building "warrior virtue." Most though not all of this picture involved combative training, for which a samurai would seek (for himself or for his sons) whatever instructor or school was within his means and appropriate to his station and ambitions.

Before the Edo period, the common theory is, these arts were judged on the battlefield. During the Edo period there was rarely a battlefield, there were occasionally duels of varying levels of lethality and publicness, and there were public demonstrations. But schools kept their secrets because they were basically trade secrets. If a young warrior was being taught a way to subtly shift his weight to draw an attack that lures the opponent into a very bad position, and he gets involved in a duel in broad daylight and pulls this trick, then somebody from a rival school is going to see that and steal the trick and devise a workaround for it. The value of that teaching has just dissolved.

And in general, the koryu were evaluated on very utilitarian grounds. "Will this school give my son power that he can use in his everyday life as a 100-koku samurai?"

Mike, I think you may be saying that the reasons for secrecy among koryu and these other arts you draw a parallel to are similar. Perhaps, but i think the criteria by which they were evaluated in their time and place may be different.

When the Samurai class was abolished in 1868, the economy changed drastically and the market for martial arts was dramatically reduced. What to do with the whole "warrior thing" as Japan pressed onwards towards the future becomes the defining question of Japan for the next hundred years, obviously. What happened to koryu at this point is something that I and others find really really interesting.

Now, I've heard Ellis Amdur describe a difference between "kobudo" and "koryu" where the former is a school that is stuck in time, whereas the latter is more of a living thing that flows through time.

But IMO, koryu are taught and transmitted today with the understanding that the only set of merits by which they can be objectively judged are gone. This means that you do them because you like them and feel like you have to. You aren't going to get many chances to feed your ego, use what you have learned in a reality that it was designed to prepare you for, get paid, have women flock to you, etc etc. The only reason to do it is because you wanna do it.

Now an interesting thing about this is that, in historical situ, koryu kept their secrets because divulging them would have direct negative economic consequences. In modern times its the opposite. Why wouldn't somebody who spent 20 years training severely in some koryu jujutsu school, while trying to make enoguh money to eat teaching english in some rural town in Japan, want to put together a two-hour DVD "Inner Power of the Samurai" and sell it? Heck productize the system and get MMA trainers to come out to your gym for two-week intensive certification sessions. Why wouldn't they indeed?

At the end of the day, some of the luminaries have made the decision to offer the outside world a bit of their knowledge. But I assume that decision is informed by their understanding of what their art was in a different era.

So what i was trying to do here was just offer some thoughts on what make koryu distinct from other arts. I'd be interested in hearing about the historical context of "family traditional systems" etc which I assume was a reference to internal chinese martial arts.
Hi Cliff:

Well, my comment about some of the koryu was along narrower lines than that. Take as an example Karl Friday's book on KSR, "Legacies of the Sword". The early chapters make it clear that KSR is one of the many arts, including koryu, that asserts its basis on the Yin-Yang, Five Elements, and so on, which incontrovertibly will contain the body skills of ki and kokyu development. Whatever else that koryu contains doesn't interest me, at first, until I have some idea of how well-developed or retained those basic skills are. The reason you see these cosmological pronouncemenst so early and so clearly in the literature of almost all Asian arts is that these skills are baseline skills, not some dispensable facet. My comment was along the lines that most of these arts have lost these skills (or most of them) over time, so I simply was asking whether it is a good strategy to struggle along without the actual baseline skill or whether they should try and regain it (IF they need to). If they need to regain some of the old skills, then being secretive while looking for outside information simply doesn't appear like a good strategy, at least to me. That's all I was saying. Period.

All the other things that an art may contain is interesting. But think of it like this. I studied Aikido for between 7 and 8 years, but all the things I learned were essentially wrong because my teachers didn't really have kokyu/ki/qi/jin skills.... so we were doing external (but effective to some extent) techniques. To do Aikido correctly, I would have had to go back and retrain the way I use my body, using kokyu, hara, ki, etc. My point being that if the basics are wrong, then comments about the "high level" stuff, etc., premature or off-topic.

A 'koryu' is many things that I don't understand? Fine... I don't have a problem with that. My question was only about having a secretive in-house strategy while perhaps needing to get some outside information that might change the whole art. It was just an offhand observation about a limited aspect of koryu's and other schools, not the schools in toto.

2 cents.

Mike Sigman
  Reply With Quote