View Full Version : What does "koryu" mean?

4th April 2002, 21:26
I'm certain I'm missing some very obvious FAQ or header message, but I'm going to ask anyway until someone sends me to it. What exactly is "Koryu"? What's the meaning of the word and how is it applied to the martial arts? Why was there a large arguement before I arrived on this board about the relationship between ninjutsu and Koryu? Thanks in advance! Gambatte!

4th April 2002, 21:52
Hey Mr Rankin

The word Koryu translates to "old school" I think.
In terms of the martial arts it's used to describe the old styles of martial arts taught to the samurai. I think the basic cutoff used is that they must have been founded pre-meiji (1868)

There are a few different organisations which oversee the koryu in Japan (they're pretty much not taught outside Japan, other than a handfull).

None of the popular ninjutsu organisations (Bujinkan, Genbukan, Jinenkan etc) are members of these organisations, and I think that's where the controversy arises. Dr Hatsumi apparently did try to join the Nihon Kobudo Shinkokai, one of the two biggest and most respected koryu organisations, but didn't end up becoming a member. Why? ...hahaha join the fray

For more info on the definition of koryu, see koryu.com, it's got quite a bit of info on definitions (even an article on why ninjutsu isn't classified koryu by them-though this doesnt show the ninjutsu point of view)

Hope this helps a bit,
Brendan Finn:smilejapa

Warren Wright
4th April 2002, 22:30
Is the term "gendai" used to mean anything that isn't koryu, or is its meaning different altogether?

Thank you,
Warren Wright

Nathan Scott
4th April 2002, 22:51
I believe the literal translation of gendai is "new period", or, anything later than the "koryu" (old tradition) period - the date of which is not set in stone.

Gendai arts could be any one or combination of:

1) an art founded after the Meiji period (usually)

2) an art that cannot provide reasonable evidence of lineage reaching back prior to the Meiji restoration

3) an art that has been largely reconstructed or substantially adapted to modern methods/techiniques. Such an art may feel classical on some levels, but would have diverged so far from the previous methodology and techniques to warrant a new classification.

These kinds of things are often in a gray area, even when considering the above guidelines. For example, some people consider Daito ryu to be koryu while others insist that it lacks pre-Meiji documentation and has changed so much as to be a modern art. On the other hand, Toyama ryu might be considered "koryu", even though it was founded in 1925, because it was a sword method adapted from koryu arts to be used by the IJA on modern day battlefields. The art was in fact used and tested, so some believe that it should be considered koryu in keeping with the spirit of the classification.

BTW, I understand that getting accepted into the Nihon Kobudo Shinkokai and/or Nihon Kobudo Kyokai is no picnic. They are apparently very strict about proof of lineage, require access to the ryu-ha's records and mokuroku, and consume quite a bit of time and money. As a result, many ligitimate koryu are not members of these organizations, even though being members might be a good idea.

We probably should stick an introduction at the top of the Koryu forum with this kind of info, huh?

Hope this helps to confuse you futher,

Warren Wright
4th April 2002, 23:29
Thanks Mr. Scott,

That answers it very well for me, and confirms my guess from seeing how the terms tend to be used on these forums.

Warren Wright

Nathan Scott
5th April 2002, 01:01
Glad to be of service.

Another set of terms you might here are "koryu bujutsu" (old tradition martial arts) and "shinbudo" (new martial ways) or "gendai budo" (new period martial ways).

Same basic idea.


5th April 2002, 01:36
Thank you very much indeed, sir. I appreciate it-I can actually understand some of what's going on around here now! Gambatte!

5th April 2002, 04:53
Originally posted by Nathan Scott
I believe the literal translation of gendai is "new period"

"Gendai" is more along the lines of "contemporary." As such, it often refers to recent things, but it can refer to really old things as well, depending on context. At least that's what my Japanese instructor explained when I asked about the difference between "gendai" and "kindai." ("Kindai" = "recent period," hence "modern.")

I've always wondered why "gendai" got chosen to partner with "koryu," instead of "kindai".

Nathan Scott
5th April 2002, 07:46
That's a good point actually. My "literal translation" of gendai was from memory, not from looking up the kanji! The kanji for "gen" is Nelson's 3645 (present, existing), and the kanji for "dai" is Nelson's 125 (period, age, generation).

Nelson's defines gendai as "present age, today, modern times", however, contemporary is a fine translation as well. I'm not familiar with the usage your teacher referred to, so I'll take your word for it for the time being. Looking at the kanji meaning, it would seem that "gendai" is "now". There could be a better term that could be used that would include the period from Meiji forward. Gendai is pretty commonly used though.

Anyway, thanks for motivating me to look it up - got to learn something new (associate the proper kanji with the term)!


Earl Hartman
5th April 2002, 18:14
"Kindai" is written with the characters for "near age", that is, a past period of time close to the present. "Gendai" is written with the charcters for "present age", thus, "present times" or "modern".

Brently Keen
6th April 2002, 22:18
I prefer "classical" rather than old. But either interpretation will generally suffice for the "ko" prefix. Generally, I think it refers to anything Pre-Meiji, but in martial arts I would say it refers to arts originating prior to the ban on wearing swords, which really signified the end of the samurai era, even if the class was 'officially' abolished some years earlier roughly 1868-1874. Some really opposed the changes of the new Meiji government and sought for some time to overthrow it and preserve their previous way of life, some of these persisted in the spirit and attitude of the samurai class in spite of the changes going on around them.

As I think Nathan noted, there are other characterisics of koryu martial arts, and so the date of orgin may not be the sole demarcation between "old and new". Certainly many pre-Meiji arts have more in common with gendai systems and a few early Meiji systems (but not very many) also have more in common with classical traditions. Hence the grey areas.

The character for 'ryu' is also pronounced 'nagare' which refers to 'flowing', as in the flow of water trickling or streaming down. Like the way a river flows. In this case it also denotes tradition, since traditions flow down from generation to generation from a source. Since different traditions also came to be seen as representing particular schools of thought or teachings, their institutions and styles also came to be referred to as various 'ryu'. So 'ryu' pretty much refers to a tradition, school, or style of something that was or is being transmitted.

While mine may not be a proper scholarly explanation, it does convey the sense of the terms as I understand them, and think that they are commonly used and understood.

Brently Keen

Adam Young
7th April 2002, 13:44
"Kindai" is written with the characters for "near age", that is, a past period of time close to the present. "Gendai" is written with the charcters for "present age", thus, "present times" or "modern".

I belive this is right. To my understanding, "kindai" (at least in historical refernces) refers primarily to the Meiji period, and perhaps very late Edo and the Taisho period as well. "Gendai" is after that, and particularly after WWII.