View Full Version : Modern or Traditional?

30th May 2000, 05:09
I think you could make a case that until the koryu disappear Aikido, Judo, and Karate will be considered modern. Heck some pretty old art is still considered modern. Maybe we need to call all of the really recent stuff post-modern (a bunch of classical elements jumbled together). I do see the gendai arts being practiced in more conservative and more eclectic ways. An easy check might be to see how much early 20th cent. custom is retained. For example - wearing American Flag outfits vs. plain white or indigo. The retention of kata study in judo and karate. Retention of Japanese nomenclature. Emphasis on training the spirit over a lifetime and probably a lot more.

30th May 2000, 09:29
Are the "big three" gendai arts, Judo, Karate (TKD), and Aikido going the way of all things modern, ie, have they been modernized even more today? Or are these "gendai" arts, since they all are about one-hundred years old (give or take a decade) becoming more traditional, as the specific ryu of jujutsu? Have Karate and TKD changed all that much? Is judo, in its roots, really changed in practice? Aikido seems to change a lot, or at least, there are many different stylists out there, even within a style, eg, Shodokan. Leaving competition out of this discussion, if possible, do you think they will ever mature enough to be called "traditional" or will it always be forever changing and thus, always be gendai arts? I thought of this as I read the description of this forum "...the modern martial arts tradition of Japan." Well, someone had to kick off the gendai forum.

Mark F. Feigenbaum

John Lindsey
30th May 2000, 13:55
Great question.

I think the ones that will be called tradititional will be those who stay closer to their founder's ideas.

30th May 2000, 15:19
You say, leaving "competition out of this", but I must confess that it seems to me that competition is one of the primary mutative aspects that serves to threaten what might be more traditional arts. I do not mean that competition is a bad thing. Indeed, I enjoy a good Kendo tournament, both in watching and participating! Rather, it seems that many styles that make competition a part of their curriculum are in a constant state of flux due to regulations being adjusted every year. Many Karate and TKD stylists out there can no doubt speak of the frustration of having to relearn their forms every year because " Now there has to be a pause before the jump" or " Well, yes, we did train that the hands should be together here, but now Murphy Sensei insists that they should separate before the jump in order to be in accordance with the New Forms standard." The same goes for sparring techniques. I am sure that, like me, you have seen the sort of techniques in kumite competition that seem more like a slap fight than a focused application of any sort of skill.
On the other hand, competition can have some very beneficial attributes. Certainly the Gracie family was able to use competition as a means of better exploring their art and introducing it to the public. I believe that in most of the more recent arts, competition is one of those attributes that will always exist on the periphery to exert it's influence on modern practitioners. Even if one practices Aikido for the benefit of non-competition, one is still taking competition into account as a variable that one would prefer not to introduce into one's practice.

Krzysztof M. Mathews
" For I am the Cat who walks by himself, and all places are alike to me"
-Rudyard Kipling

31st May 2000, 08:28
Nice responses. I wanted to leave competition out as I was interested in hearing which may all ready be traditional (Ueshiba's aikibudo/aikido) and which may finally fall to the wayside. Even in judo, with all the controversy concerning shiai, judo is still taught mainly the same way as it was before Kano's death, but of course shiai plays an important role, and I believe we will see, down the road some, what will finally make a tradition stick. Daito ryu ajj is really a gendai art, but with traditional values. Is this a problem with the arts which choose to spread to anyone who may come calling? IMO, judo and aikido, for that matter may want to do some body checking before registering as tradional arts, or should they? After all, judo, even though it is a combative sport, has retained much of the desire of its founder. The changes are really only evident in shiai, especially on the international stage, but most still play judo as it was intended. Yes, in the competitors, something has been lost, but when I go to the dojo, it really doesn't feel all that different than when I first did this in the sixties. Aikido is making adjustments because it really only became well known as of the post WWII era. All in all I too enjoy a good kendo tournament. The general 'wa' at these events could be a lesson we all should take. But I think Krzysztof is correct. Competition should not have been left out because it seems it will always be part of the gendai arts no matter what the outcome. I am just hoping it reurns to the days of an offical shouting "IPPON!"

Mark F. Feigenbaum

Joe Long
31st May 2000, 14:56
It seems to me to be hard to speak of what an art as a whole is doing - particularly in such a contentious setting as martial arts. There is quite a bit of creative tension between the traditionalists and the innovators, who react against and sometimes learn from each other - then of course there's the malicious influence of commercialism and media, and the mixed influence of competition...
But it could be argued that the popularity of modernized or even commercialized styles actually helps the traditional styles, since a lot of folks would never learn about the existence of the traditional styles - or feel an attraction to them - until checking out their local "storefront" dojo, getting interested, and years later proceeding on to a harder-to-find traditional style. And how many gung-ho koryu budo practicioners got their start in an informal and maybe wildly inauthentic college martial arts club?
So - in a hundred years - there will likely be new traditional schools from today's innovators, diehard traditionalist survivals from schools already old and prestigious today - and lots of eager commericialized mediocrity...and the more things change, the more they'll stay the same.

Goon Jhuen Weng
31st May 2000, 19:06
This is a tricky question to answer. I suppoe a lot of it would depend on the kind of perspective that you view it from. For example, if you look at it from the historical point of view, then arts founded after 1876, the year which the samurai class was dissolved, would forever remain as modern arts. If you see if from the fact that all Gendai arts originated from the classical traditions, then Gendai arts would be considered traditional in their own manner. However, as to the sporting aspect of it all, that is a touchy subject and it remains to be seen as to how it will affect the Gendai arts.

Aaron Fields
31st May 2000, 19:46
Just to add my two cents (o.k. it is really 0only one.) Since traditional koryu were in a constant state of flux to fit the needs of the bushi, "traditional" could mean "changing." (For example, the bushi placed greater emphasis on the use of the spear and group tactics post Mongol invasions.) Not that I don't understand the original post (which is a good one,) but just to be the devil's advocate, maybe today's goshin jutsu are more in the "traditional" model than the historical koryu. As goshin-jutsu (if used for their purposes)are products of their time? In closing, will budo/jutsu practioners in the future call the goshin-jutsu of today traditional? Ah semantics.......


1st June 2000, 09:58
You brought up a good point concerning shiai. It is a tricky one and that is why I attempted to leave it out of the discussion. There are judoka, karatedoka, and kendoka who do not fight shiai style, but not many. Possibly, this is what will become traditional in the gendai arts: the ones who do not participate in that aspect (and this coming from a successful shiai kendoka!


That is a good point. After adding goshin jutsu no kata to my classes, you could cut the students' mental defense with a knife. Most are still interested in shiai, but there are always those who lean toward kata in every respect. All my classes now begin with some kata, even kata ate (kicking), but mainly atemi of goshin jutsu. Most will eventually question what they do and that is healthy. An energetic class focusing on how to throw someone who isn't wearing a dogi works fairly well

Mark F. Feigenbaum

[This message has been edited by MarkF (edited 06-01-2000).]

Anthony Chui
11th June 2000, 16:10
As some have pointed out or implied it is important to define what is meant by "traditional" and "modern". A lot of "traditional" practices are constantly changing, so why are they still considered traditional?
And if you talk about "traditional" values, it is surprising to discover how historically recent they are.
"The Invention of the Martial Arts: Kano Jigoro and Kodokan Judo" by Inoue Shun in the book "Mirror of Modernity: Invented Traditions of Modern Japan" S. Vlastos ed. is recommended reading for anyone really interested in exploring a more academic concept of "tradition" in the martial arts.

Apparently Kano considered Judo to be a thoroughly modern practice, the modern nature of it making it superior to jujutsu. The budo (post 1876 inventions), especially during the 1920s and 30s, were made to appear more traditional for nationalistic purposes(not by Kano).

Anyway, this line of thought was probably not intended by the original post, but the book is enlightening reading when thinking about traditions (not just martial) in Japan.

[This message has been edited by Anthony Chui (edited 06-11-2000).]

12th June 2000, 09:13
Welcome, Anthony,
For his time, I believe Kano was a true visionary although he didn't have to see very far in front of him to take note of what might happen to "tradition" if forsaken. He also lived to see the problems of contest judo and decried the lack of qualified teachers of this art. What might have been, we will never know, but to me, I have always been involved in something traditional. After thirty-seven years, you do get a feel for it I know Weng is concerened with how shiai in kendo, or anything else will be perceived and what effect it will have. Nevertheless, I believe Kano sacrificed a lot for Japanese sport as well as jujutsu. Even a simple name change (to judo) may play a role in how the future will see the newest generations. On the whole, it has held together, though it isn't perfect and it definitely needs tweaking now and then. If this is an important part of your life, then with age you will have to ajust. That is what I believe is happening right now, a state of ajustment. If I should live so long, 2030 maybe an interesting time. We shall see.

Mark F. Feigenbaum

Anthony Chui
13th June 2000, 02:45
Yes, after that length of time training you would certainly have a feel for the tradition.
I haven't been training long enough to have witnessed any changes that would mark a distinction between traditional and modern practices. I have not yet had to distinguish between the two, though I think the terms are being used in slightly different ways.
When the gendai budo are labelled the "traditional sports of Japan", and a brief history of the battlefield origins is given, it is implied, I think, that the "tradition" which is referrred to stetches back a few hundred years, a thousand according to some.
Reading anything about Kendo this is almost always the case.
To label something that has been practiced for two or three generations "traditional" in this context is to use it, I think - tell if I'm mistaken, in another way, to indicate what one generation practiced in contrast to the new developments of later generations.

Is efficacy versus sporting concerns an issue in debates about recent traditional and even more recent modern innovations?
According to Karl Friday(Legacies of the Sword) there have been those who doubted the usefulness of kata and those who have questioned shiai practice since the middle of the Edo period.
Another question, what has to change for something traditional to become modern?
Something in the art itself? Or its relative position to other arts?

I must admit I am a bit confused now.

Anyway, it would be interesting, probably entertaining, to see what is represented by "traditional" in 50 years time."Taibo" could be a traditional american sport, modern Aikido could be done to ballroom dancing music, and Kendo in Star Wars costumes.


13th June 2000, 03:24
Well, this might not be germaine, but here goes,

Without naming names a good friend (and training partner) is finishing up at MIT this year. For PE credit he has done mostly combative sports. This term, he opted to do a modern/traditional Japanese budo that has some common roots with the art that we train.

His description of his first class finished with a phrase that was etched into my memory, "... and halfway through, a wave of nausea swept over me as I realized that I was witnessing (first-hand) the degeneration of an art...".

To go from the founder (as seen on tape), to this, was a difficult moment for him. How much this 'tradition' was spoiled by a lack of fidelity in presentation is up in the air, but the instructor seemed to be aping (sp) the forms without seeming to have any sense of its deeper meaning, uses or applications. What this has to do with the cost of Ocha in Nihon is anyone's guess though

Be well,

[This message has been edited by kenkyusha (edited 06-12-2000).]