View Full Version : Models -- Koryu, Jutsu, etc.

Joseph Svinth
13th October 2000, 20:26
I was going to post this in response to a discussion in jujutsu, but decided it would be better to start a new thread.

Recently I asked Professor Bodiford if I could repeat some words he wrote in a private e-mail on another topic. He gave me permission, provided I made some minor changes to the text and added some preamble. So here goes. The following is from Professor Bodiford:


(1) I originally addressed a different topic in a private message not intended for the general public.
(2) I have given you permission to quote me in a public forum because I trust your judgement that my remarks might shed some light on the issues involved.

This is the prevailing model:
medieval martial arts = Tokugawa martial arts = bakumatsu martial arts = Meiji martial arts = Showa martial arts = post WWII martial arts

The prevailing influence of this model explains why so many books on the history of the modern sport forms of kendo (i.e., modern kendo) begin with accounts of medieval Japanese warriors. The authors of these accounts never stop to consider the fact that "sport" itself is a modern concept that did not exist before the early 1800s. (It is equivalent to writing a book about the history of baseball that begins with accounts of sling shots and clubs in medieval European warfare!?) -- In a remarkable historical coincidence the historical roots of kendo go back to exactly the same time period as when the concept of "sportsmanship" was being invented in Europe. During the 1830s there was a revolution in the ways that kendo and other Japanese martial arts were taught and popularized among the general population including people of lower social status (i.e., non-samurai).

Our understanding of martial art history would be much better served if more authors recognized the importance of this period of change. An excellent example of this approach is *Nihon Kendo no Rekishi* (A History of Japanese Kendo, 1995) by Ohtsuka Tadayoshi---which begins with an examination of the rise of recreational forms of kenjutsu between ca. 1790 and 1850 and which devotes considerable attention to the evolution of rules and procedures for
judging matches.

But I digress. Let me return the main topic.

Donn Draeger challenged the above model by adding a new layer:

(layer 1) Meiji martial arts = "modern" martial arts = modern practitioners of "modern" martial arts
(layer 2) medieval martial arts = "classical" martial arts = modern practitioners of "classical" martial arts

At first glance it might seem that Draeger's approach is an improvement in so far as it draws a distinction between modern and classical. In reality, though, Draeger too often wrote as if both "modern" and "classical" were unchanging, timeless, and static ideals. As a result, Draeger's model did not fully succeed in placing martial art developments within their historical and sociological contexts.

Note: by "historical context" I mean a process of change or causality; by "sociological context" I mean a process of serving the needs of society (i.e., the economic, status, religious, group solidarity needs of the people in martial art schools).

Neither of the above models accounts for the fact that traditions can survive through time only by reinventing themselves in new ways that serve the changing social needs of the people who live in each age. In short, treating martial arts as physical techniques is inadequate. They must be understood as social systems that bring people together and train those people for certain ends (which always include economic, status, religious, group issues, etc., not related to fighting skills). For this reason neither model is satisfactory.

Practitioners of Japanese martial arts outside of Japan deserve to be presented with a better understanding of what it is that they are practicing, how they are practicing it, and what they can reasonably expect to achieve thereby. This better understanding must, it seems to me, fully appreciate the social dynamics that caused martial arts to be one way at one time and to change into something else at another time. While it might be true that certain technical aspects of martial arts have not changed or resist change, they are never fully immune from that social dynamic. When the social context changes, the people who practice the unchanged technical aspects must understand or appropriate them in new ways. Therefore, in addition to
examining what remains unchanged, we also should be aware of the process of adaption and reinvention as illustrated by the following model:

medieval martial arts differed from: Tokugawa martial arts, which differed from: bakumatsu martial arts, which differed from: Meiji martial arts, which differed from: Showa martial arts, which differed from: post WWII martial
arts (etc.)

This process of change, reinvention of tradition, and redefinition of goals of training is fully documented in the written record. Tokugawa writers in the early 1700s were well aware that the martial arts they practiced
differed considerably from the methods that had been current only a hundred years before. Tokugawa writers in the middle 1800s were well aware that the martial arts they practiced differed considerably from what they had known
during their youth. Bakumatsu writers debated how to create new martial arts that would serve the military needs of defending Japan. Meiji-period writers advocated and debated how best to create new martial arts to serve modern
military needs and serve modern educational needs to strengthen the citizenry. Showa-period writers advocated and debated how best to teach "budo" for ideological mobilization. Occupation officials debated how to best reform the educational system. Post WWII writers produced a slew of books in which they reclaimed what they wanted to see as "true" budo and attempted to differentiate it from Showa "corrupted" budo. Today we see the same process in articles and books that debate whether or not martial arts are sports or debate the proper relationship between koryu and kendo (etc.).

(By the way: 1930s German Nazi ideology denounced "sports" as a British corruption; thus, Japanese educators in the 1930s and 40s also denounced "sports". The modern debates over whether or not martial arts are sports echo those arguments from the 1930s.)