Thread: On Koryu
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Old 03-10-2011, 12:50 PM   #21
Toby Threadgill
Location: Evergreen, Colorado
Join Date: Oct 2006
Posts: 166
Re: On Koryu


A couple of comments.

Ellis Amdur wrote: View Post
Speaking for myself: Neither of the koryu I studied (and am fully certified to teach) had in their curriculum "baseline" skills. [list][*]However, the physical movements are such exquisite vessels that I can fully imagine that some generations back, they were an explicit part of the study.[*]Having learned some small modicum of these skills has virtually transformed my traditional practice, without any discernible (external) changes in the kata
Ellis and I have discussed this many times and this has been my claim all along. Many koryu embraced some form of internal body training but the implementation of these skills was probably quite diverse. The problem is trying to define what represents a "baseline skill" if you are not intimately familiar with the school and its technical heritage. As an example, imagine someone outside Komagawa Kaishin ryu defining what a students "baseline skill" must be without being intimately familiar with the school's curriculum and tactics. I find this sort of thinking arrogant sophistry. Anyone making such a proclamation can't know what they're talking about because they don't have proper context to make an informed opinion.

Ellis Amdur wrote: View Post
Also, records indicate menkyo kaiden in 5-7 years in the Meiji period. It is my belief and experience that koryu training takes far too long, because many teachers, greedy for power and status, withhold information or drag out the teaching.

I'm not arguing with any of the above posters, most of all Toby. I keep some things in house, some things secret from my own students - at least until a certain level. BUT - my research indicates that "koryu," back in their founding years were far more prosaic, often an exchange between skilled individuals from other schools.
I absolutely agree with Ellis on this and so would my teacher. I started training with Takamura sensei 1986 and trained intensely with him until 1995. I progressed from shoden to joden gokui in this 9 year period. This represented my assimilation of the majority of the TSYR technical curriculum. When I started I was not a beginning student but a competent practitioner with a decade of broad experience in martial arts. It might also be accurate to say I was a bit of a fanatic.

In the Edo period many of the famous budoka mastered their study in about the same period of time but these men were not beginners either. They were usually highly trained professional warriors. The founder of Shindo Yoshin ryu was highly licensed in 5 different traditions by the time he was 32 years old, holding terminal licenses in Tenjin Shinyo ryu and Jikishinkage ryu.

An interesting thing to note is that many of the most famous Edo Period budoka living in Tokyo trained in dojo's almost literally down the street from one another. During a historical research visit to the National Diet Library in Tokyo, budo historian Shingo Ohgami and I were able to pull up Edo Period maps of Asakusa. By examining these maps we realized how close all the famous dojo's of the period were to one another. Evidence indicates the members of these dojos were socializing and/or training together. For instance, Matsuoka Katsunosuke while a student of Tenjin Shinyo ryu was also training in Hokushin Itto ryu with Shusaku Chiba, and why not. The two dojo's were literally next door to one another. A similar story is true for other budoka like Sakamoto Ryoma, Shigeta Ohbata, Sokaku Takeda, Yoshida Kotaro etc.... So Ellis's contention that koryu training was often occurring between skilled practitioners from different schools is not mere speculation. It is supported by a great deal of hard evidence.

Now, it could be argued that in these modern times it takes longer to master koryu study because we can't devote the time or intensity to study that Edo Period practitioners did. I find this to be an accurate observation, but there are definitely instructors out there who hold back teachings in an effort to maintain power and status. I have seen it up close myself. It is a shame but it is also an all to common fact in all martial arts traditions regardless of origin.

Takamura sensei saw the passing of all his knowledge to be a sacred duty to his ancestors. He did not hold anything back from his students but instead inundated us with information when he determined we were ready for it. He confided to me several times that his biggest fear was that he would die before he had successfully passed all the wisdom of his teachers forward. ( Imagine hearing that and then receiving a menkyo kaiden from the man? Talk about pressure.... )

So sure, many koryu have been neglected and their mokuroku compromised to one degree or another. Others have been the victims of egomaniacal leaders whose arrogance has led to teachings being interned in a grave, but koryu are very diverse entities and must be evaluated on an individual basis. Many survive as vibrant and living windows into budo's past. In my experience, generalizations about koryu by armchair experts are mostly flawed and paint such an utterly distorted picture that they should be viewed with intense skepticism, if considered at all.

Toby Threadgill / TSYR
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