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Thread: Question of legitimacy

  1. #16
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    Never one to muddy the waters (or clay as it were)

    but.... may I present a hypothetical story about pottery.

    Say I am Japanese and from a long line of Otsu pottery makers. My great grandfather sort of took pottery serious, my grandfather less serious, my father hardly at all. Lets say I became interested in my families past and found examples of my families past pottery & scrolls. I did my best to research what scant family methods of making Otsu pottery actually survived. I consulted with some other Otsu pottery makers, filled in the blanks myself and ..viola! I reformulated my families Otsu pottery tradition from other schools input, from our own scrolls and from my own wits, claiming an unbroken lineage going back 15 generations. Heck, why not? I've got the scrolls to prove it!

    A mediocre European pottery maker and magazine publisher interested in learning a rare tradition of pottery approaches me wanting to be a student. After he developes a modicum of skills in this unbroken "15 generation old" Otsu pottery ryu, he goes public and proclaims his expertise and subsequently mine to the world. He sites his studies and training under my mastery as his source of authority on what is genuine and what is not.

    Now, years later and back in Europe he aggressively attacks and marginalizes via his magazine another pottery maker and her ryu as less "legitament" than his - although they make some damn good pottery. In truth many of the secrets of this other ryu were passed directly to the daughter of a European businessman who became fascinated with pottery while living in Japan in the middle of the century. Although only interested in pottery as a serious hobby instead of a profession she is initially unwilling to present private personal letters from her teacher to justuify her claims. She is eventually branded as a phoney by the"expert" in his magazine. The fact that her examples of pottery are in fact superior examples of Otsu pottery compared to his and that this is agreed upon by other experts doesn't convince the skeptical expert/publisher. After intense scrutiny subtle evidence of modern materials within her pottery finally"prove" to his mind that she is a phoney. This self appointed expert is now positive that he is the "The Real Deal" and that she is not.

    After endless harrassment she finally presents incontrovertible evidence of her claim with passports, photos and the letters from her teacher. She openly admits to changing certain elements of the traditional formula which in her opinion have improved on the one passed to her. Now her legitamacy is not attacked by the self appointed expert but her audacity to change the classsical formula in the ryu is condemned. In disgust she quietly fades into a reclusive environment but continues to teach a small group of dedicated students who are undistracted by the controversy and who produce some damn excellent Otsu pottery.

    So who is the more legitament? Who does the public think is more legitament? hummm...

    _______________________

    In a personal discussion with Ellis Amdur at his home a couple of weeks ago we lightly touched upon this phenomonon because we have both been accused of being "koryu kops" ( I don't claim Shindo Yoshin ryu to be koryu, BTW ). I understand the ire raised by those who trained under a traditionally authorized sensei only to see a phoney open up shop down the street, fraudulently parading their wares to an ignorant public. But I also know for a fact that variations on the above hypothetical story above have genuinely occurred in the west on a couple of "rare" ocassions.

    The question of legitamacy is a complicated one both for the layman and the "expert" . I suggest we all tread lightly.

    Tobs

  2. #17
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    Hi Paul,


    The first story would make you an honest man, so the choice is easy.
    When I started training I thought the world of my teacher, later I trained under whomever was willing to teach me.
    After that I thought good teachers were very hard to find. Later when teaching I thouhgt serious students were very hard to find.
    All I care for now is that my teachers are honest and decent people and I will not teach people I do not like.

    O Yes, no money, about nine students, seven train regularly, five of them pay.
    Call me stupid, but I am happy.

    Best Regards,

    Johan Smits

  3. #18
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    Hi all,

    just one little thing. How about the responsability of the prospective student. As I said before, honesty is (I think) most important in a teacher.
    I guess it is the students job to find a good, true teacher. When you ask me that is more easy than let's say 25 yearrs ago because there is more and better information availabel.

    Best Regards,

    Johan Smits

  4. #19
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    Sorry - double post

  5. #20
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    Mr. Threadgill,
    Your theoretical example is interesting and certainly worth a separate discussion. There are several examples of Westerners revivifying Japanese arts, or reanimating those that have become quiescent or attenuated. There are examples of Westerners who have arguably surpassed the Japanese in these arts. Clifton Karhu, for instance, the extraordinary woodblock artist in Kyoto, produces works that rival any modern or even historical Japanese woodblock artist. His works sell for enormous sums to Japanese and all over the world. A couple of qualifications, however, should be kept in mind.
    a) in these cases, the Westerners have not made unsubstantiated claims linking themselves in a formal lineage to a ryu with an historically verifiable past.
    b) these Westerners have been content to have their works judged entirely on the works themselves and not on claims of formal connexions with past artistic traditions that cannot be authenticated. On the contrary, they are entirely forthcoming about their own history in the art, their teachers, and their roots.

    The theoretical Mr. Steadman has placed before us, though, is different substantially from yours and please let’s return to it. If his potter is indeed producing better Jomon style pots than the originals, he should be acclaimed—and probably would be. If, whether the pots are better than the originals or not, he is selling them as such, selling them as originals, then he is a crook and a humbug. Some buyers will be content to have modern versions; others will want only historical examples. They have the right to make this decision, one that should not be rendered more difficult by dishonest or deceptive advertising by the potter.

    Despite raucous protests of the threat of “budo cops” who demand all must conform to their views of the world, I doubt there are any examples of critics who would disparage the “self-made master” so long as the master was honest about who did the construction. If you wanted to say “This is something I made up; here were my inspirations;” that’s fine. It can be judged entirely on its own merits. Say, on the other hand, you inherited this art from some lineage, that it has a history in Japan, and that it should be afforded the same respect as legitimate arts because of that, and it seems hardly unreasonable to expect a protest when you can’t or don’t come forward with the proof.

    I’m not indicting you, Mr. Threadgill; I’m sure you understand this. What’s so perplexing is that so many others apparently do not. Sure, as you observe, there are some grey areas in the passing down of traditions. Those providing fascinating debates and studies and inquiries and this is a perfect forum to pursue those. There are also clear and beaming frauds, mountebanks, and mendacious thimbleriggers and there’s nothing unreasonable about saying so.

    Cordially,
    Dave Lowry

  6. #21
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    Hi Dave,

    I understand and agree with you absolutely. I am just as mystified as you are at those who pretend to have learned some unknown koryu from some unnamed "master"..... and this in every bagel shop from Harlem to Highland Park. It does get comical doesn't it......and I know you weren't indicting me.

    I agree that we should not take the word of anyone without proof of their claims but you and I both know of some who were accused of being phonies who have in fact later been found to be legit. Sometimes doubts about these individuals legitimacy persist even years after proof of the accurate nature of their claim is presented. That is why I suggest that those in positions to comment on the veracity of others initially do so with caution. If specific claims are found wanting after thorough investigation then this forum is as good a place as any to present these findings.

    I appreciate your presence here on e-budo and always find your posts valuable and enlightening. Thanks for your engaging commentary. I look forward to meeting you in the future.

    Toby Threadgill

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    I'm going to make a tangential leap here, back to the original subject. Given a number of people whom I respect posting on this thread, I've been thinking about it awhile.

    I have seen many demonstrations in Japan where eminent teachers knowingly participated with people they regarded as frauds. I've sat in the wings waiting our turn, and had my instructor(s) or seniors say, "look at that nonsense." On one occasion, a teacher pointed out a group (rather well known, and recently better accepted, due to inertia rather than newly discovered information, I believe) and said, "They had X -san (a well known non-Japanese practitioner) for a number of years. He seemed so dedicated, and I used to feel sorry for him. He'd come all this way to train with a fraud. Then, I figured, he has seen everybody else at demonstrations like this, he's visited other schools, and he stays with Chankonabe-ryu. I guess he found what he needs. Not any of my business anyway, is it?"

    In recollection, I believe that most of the teachers I was acquainted with rejected venues, not people they would be alongside. They'd demonstrate if they liked, or felt an obligation of some kind to the place or organization. I certainly do not recall any time that a teacher said, "I'm not demonstrating because Toronigiri-Ryu is going to be there." Or, to the venue organization, "do you know that they are fakes? They shouldn't be on the same venue." I'm not saying it didn't happen. I was simply not aware of it.

    I recall Otsubo Sensei of Yagyu Shinkage Ryu stopping in the middle of a demo at a shrine, i and walking his group off because there were people eating. I also recall Tanemura Sensei of the Genbukan demonstrating for the Japan Martial Arts Society (an organization for non-Japanese studying martial arts). There were two people sitting leaning up against a wall with legs outstretched. He verbally blasted them and said that if people's deportment wasn't better, he was leaving. In the former example, Otsubo was outraged that the setting, a jinga and the demonstration (a honno embu-offering to the god) wasn't being treated respectfully. In the latter, Tanemura, who was offering the best he had as a gift, was outraged he wasn't being treated respectfully.

    I don't demonstrate very often. But my main consideration is that I want to be presenting something I value to the organization and the people watching. Therefore, (just a personal reaction here), I would find myself, in imagination at least, hesitant to demo at a sword show/selling exhibition. In my mind, that is not an environment that I would want to be presenting - and that would, for me, far outweigh my stagemates.

    As for the ongoing question of legitimacy, I care, but not nearly so much as many. I deeply love my ryu, and am very happy that there are other ryu surviving. But I don't love Koryu, per se, as some of my friends do.

    I have demonstated alongside people/organizations of whom members of this board have frothed at the mouth. And my perspective is this. Some of what I see "them" do is silly, laughable, irritating, boring, and sometimes, some is intriguing or even pretty good. Sometimes I can't even bear to look (sort of like watching an early Woody Allen movie). But what they do is their business, and my opinion is mine. At some point, I will eventually demonstrate with my group. And I figure that anyone I'd like to meet will see immediately the qualitative difference. My attitude is that those who don't see aren't interesting to me. {BTW, I made be absolutely wrongheaded in this - no one has to accept my definition of things. One might look at what we do and say, "that's nonsense. If that's authentic, please send me vanilla." Or, "That's fake. What we do is real." My response is "great - we've both succeeded in sorting out our social calendar."}

    Respectfully


    Ellis Amdur

  8. #23
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    Ellis:

    Nice reply. I don't care what art someone else cares to demo. But I do reserve the right to discuss history/lineage of an art I'm studying, Koryu or Gendai. I try to do it, one on one, in private.

    Unlike Japan the only places to demonstrate in the States where people are interested in swordsmanship is at a sword show or taikai. The Taikai scene in the States just improved this year thanks to Bob Elder and one other (which I believe is by invitation only). So we do the best we can, which for me probably means the San Antonio Sword Show and Bob Elder's Taikai each year.

    I also do demos at two or so charity karate tournaments each year to help raise money for sick kids, silly American that I am.

    Carl McClafferty

  9. #24
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    I shouldn't be posting here, but I have been really caught up with this thread and seeing everyone's point until Mr. Ellis's point. It deeply disturbed me because he is on the money. His post is the best I read. If you really think about it. You koryu guys love your swords, but if you really love your art people with gray area backgrounds won't matter soo much. I think our "Americian problem" is we ar obsesed with being on the top, the only #1 around, and our ego's are huge, and intolerant. We are excessivly competetive, and often live in glass houses ( no insult our directed to anyone) which is risky if you throw stones. WWe also have grandure and power issues. America is big and powerful, and one of the best country in the world with so much resourses, hence we think the same and don't take critizim well.

    Now before anyone blows a button off their shirt. What I am saying is this applies to both sides of this issues, to those who are questionable and those not. It's part and parcle. The more you have people announcing who and what they are as legit experts or in the "know" the more you have people making questionble claims. Why, because people think being on top in the limelight is desirable and rewards abound for being #1 to do that we squash the competetion and enjoy the monopoly of fame. That is our culture. Now, Ellis, tells us how to avoid and reduce questionable people. Now it is up to us to listen. I think it may be a much more effective way then what has been happening lately. But then again debate is engrained into our culture. It may be very difficult for some to hear that the best way to avoid people not legit is just let them exist and allow the audience to determine what is quality and what isn't.

  10. #25
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    Default Oh the humanity

    Dear Sirs,

    What about those victimized by these frauds, the folks who waste (e.g.) 5 or more years of their lives learning something that is of questionable historical and combat legitimacy? What if they don't know any better and haven't the means to find out? It's not like there's an enbu every season over here in the U.S. and, if the fiction has been crafted with enough care, videos will be of little help.

    Do "the bad students go to the bad teachers," as some people I know believe?

    Just asking, I have no answers!

    Eric Baluja

  11. #26
    Jerry Johnson Guest

    Default Double Post

    OOPS Double Post
    Last edited by Jerry Johnson; 24th April 2001 at 20:29.

  12. #27
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    Default Re: Oh the humanity

    Originally posted by Eric Baluja
    Dear Sirs,

    What about those victimized by these frauds, the folks who waste (e.g.) 5 or more years of their lives learning something that is of questionable historical and combat legitimacy? What if they don't know any better and haven't the means to find out? It's not like there's an enbu every season over here in the U.S. and, if the fiction has been crafted with enough care, videos will be of little help.

    Do "the bad students go to the bad teachers," as some people I know believe?

    Just asking, I have no answers!

    Eric Baluja

    If I am qualified in anything this is it, and it is something I am not popular for. Allot of people have written me off because I am not koryu or some kind of a budo star. Why because I started out with "fraud" as you defined it. I am qualified because I started out with a so called fraud. Unlike those who aren't qualified and started with so called legit and koryu instructors. I spent over 5 years learning junk as it has been told to me. I started my own strip mall dojo for a short time. Without knowing that what I learned and taught was "fraudulent." Now did this hurt me. No. My ego, yes. Did I learn to defend myself, yes. I proved it on the street. It doesn't take fancy moves to do the average criminal in. Did I learn all the proper moves, fancy lingo, etc that comes with a legit or koryu, NO. did it make any difference in my skill, NO. What did make a difference me. My attitude. I worked hard at it and gained skill. Was I pointing my finger and lighting bolts shoot out of my finger. No. But, I was confident in what I could do. Was I taught incorrectly and dangerous moves possibly, but we are not talking about shooting a gun. I have seen so call legit arts and instructors do one thing and teach another because they don't want anyone one better then them. I have seen people seriously believe what they do is real and make it work and teach it exactly that way and have successful results. I have seen students of popular instructors that are thousands of years off base, because they naturally aren't martial artists. Yet they are teaching others. I have seen High rank poopa's be more concerned with politics and teaching that skill wise they are useless, and on the other hand I have seen low ranking nobodies with amazing skill. Sure there are people half-baked out in the martial arts, but they run along the whole spectrum. Must people over the age of 25 know a serious bull-$%^&er, it's the kids 25 and under that get wooed by the Mr. Hollywoods. But it is the sudtle and more sophisicated BSer that can be in legit Koryu or not that cultivate thier students ego in believing without about there is no one better. So when people ask me "what about the novice student" I say it doesn't really matter because only a few are talented, or endure long enough for it to matter. And that is why I really like Ellis comments.

    I learn this a long time ago, I was mad I spent over 5 years with someone less then honest. That was up until the time I realized everyone was that way. And real martial arts i.e. Koryu and good teachers are as rare as a $5.00 bill. And the only way to change things is put 100% in your training and in time something is bound to take place. Either your practice and skill will out the bugs, and bad habits and you will have something you will enjoy or it won't. An if it doesn't you have no one to blame but yourself. There is no law in the universe that says incorrect can't be corrected over time with diligence and commitment. And its that true for all martial art's training.

    Then the real question then boils down to personality, personal character and behavior is what makes the difference. To make the right choice on how to conduct yourself, when you find the truth. May it be in Koryu, or legit or not. Like a friend says to often, the weakness in martial arts isn't who is legit or not, but rather the inablity to keep the a**holes and politicians out. This is real issue for me, and not worrying out the novices learning a questionable art from an questionable instructor. But I will end with this, it is wrong to stay you studied judo or a branch of Aikido, or an instructor and then teach it to people which you never learned it at all. I am pointing toward a copyrights infringment type of thing.

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