View Full Version : Long Distance Koryu?

Gareth Del Monte
26th January 2014, 14:38
I live in Cape Town South Africa and unfortunately there is a lack of Koryu Schools not only in my area,but in the country(1 Katori Shinto Ryu School in Durban)
I was wondering if there is any way that an individual can basically study an art like this via "long distance"?
By this I mean going to Seminars when one can(which hypothetically at best might be once a Month)and then continue study via the use of books and DVD's which are readily available through sites such as BudoVideos.com?
I understand that the transmission of these arts is very important and must be done correctly be it physically or verbally.
I understand that it takes much time,dedication and perseverance to make it in this endeavor.
Excuse me if this is an ignorant question.
I understand that the time taken to become acquainted with these arts takes time and the time taken would depend on the particular Ryua in question and its principles(ie.a composite Heiho would need more in depth study than a strictly Koryu Jujutsu Ryua)
Basically I am looking for a bit of a yes or no from the experts.
Can I make this happen(as I believe where there is a will there is a way) or is this basically a bit of a fantasy and I can only admire these Arts as a spectator?
As an individual I am resourceful,Hardworking and self motivated.
Thank you,
Gareth Del Monte.

Ellis Amdur
26th January 2014, 17:13
Mr. Del Monte - I would bet that many shared my first impulse, which was simply to write "no," and leave it at that. But your question - and you've been asking a lot lately on e-budo - is honestly given, so let me try to give an honest and complete answer. First of all, some of your questions would be answered with a basic education: You need to read some books, if you haven't—and if you have, you need to read them again and really learn what is being said in them: The requisite books would include those of Draeger's three part series, Classical Martial Arts & Ways of Japan; Skoss' three part series on koryu; Karl Friday's Legacies of the Sword; David Hall's, Encyclopedia of Japanese Martial Arts; - - - well, there's about ten more, I can think of, but that's enough.
Beyond that, koryu bujutsu is properly taught through a direct relationship with a fully licensed and fully expert shihan. There MUST be a profound personal relationship between teacher and student. There is no doubt whatsoever that one can learn the kata of a koryu "at a distance." But that is not koryu. Does that mean one must live next door and see that instructor five times a week? No, not necessarily. I have students in several other countries. I can see them only twice a year, in two intense, many-hours-a-day weeks. But we have that profound teacher-student relationship, AND, they are very dedicated--the students practice together many times a week, and they are in frequent contact with me to fine tune what they are learning. They have a study group, and it is one of the most important things in their lives.
One other point—I do not earn any money whatsoever from my students, so I am free to teach as I will, throw out who I want, or stop entirely. The power differential between teacher and student is asymmetrical and one-way. This is spiritually important—learning a koryu requires a loyalty to the ryu, which the teacher embodies. Far too many people today see learning a koryu as learning the martial arts techniques within it, like learning dance steps.
Can one kind of distant learning be done? Yes. But it requires enormous dedication of a GROUP of students, and a powerful relationship with a shihan—not merely an assistant instructor (or as I've seen more and more, an assistant of an assistant of an assistant).
However, the way you are describing things is different—and although relatively common these days, it's a sad degeneration of koryu form transmuted into a modern populist martial art. Far too many koryu—some very prominent indeed—use a seminar format. Large groups of students are taught, and those students have a very attenuated relationship with the teacher. In fact, they mostly interact through senior students if at all. They learn kata and some become physically adroit. They send money to the shihan/headmaster, who is now making a living through this seminar circuit. This is not koryu, anymore than a stuffed animal is alive.
Since you asked about koryu, I'm giving you a koryu answer. What you are proposing is liked watered down beer. Maybe it smells something like the real drink, but it's worse than useless. At this point, you think you care about koryu, but honestly, you don't, because your question illustrates that you do not know what it is. Once you've educated yourself through reading—(and I'd recommend scanning ryu on YouTube—so you see exactly what <they> do-you may be imagining something very different from what koryu actually are), and if you want to commit the rest of your life to doing it too, then find out where legitimate ryu are teaching LEGITIMATELY. Move there. If you have to, change your job, change your life. Anything less on your part, and anything less in terms of what is calling itself a ryu is not worth it. Rather than something watered down, I'd train in a solid judo dojo, for example, to train both body and mind, and if, in the future, an opportunity for genuine koryu study presented myself, then I'd be ready.
Ellis Amdur

Gareth Del Monte
26th January 2014, 18:10
Hello Sir,
Thank you for your honest and direct answer.
Thank you for really taking the time to address me on this issue and I appreciate your candor.
I would like to apologize to you and the other members of E Budo for asking so many questions and displaying my ignorance.
I do not understand Koryu which is why I joined this Forum.Hopefully to educate myself.
I was arrogant as I had read some books by Mr. Donn Draeger,Mr. Serge Mol, Mr. Risuke Otake and Mr.Dave Lowry.
I thought I knew something about a subject I clearly know nothing about.
I will read and re-read your post to clearly try to understand everything said.For me it is quite a lot to take in.
Thank you again for taking the time to explain this situation to me and I am sorry if I offended anyone.
Keep well,

Ellis Amdur
26th January 2014, 20:59
Gareth - let me give you one more tip. Don't walk on eggshells. These were - and hopefully continue to be - fighting man's arts. Not the mincing, overly stylized, way-of-the-mystic-warrior larping that all too many - in Japan as much as in the West - fantasize.

No one likes a rude or crass person, but equally, there is also no need whatsoever to be overly polite or overly humble. Personally, I won't take a student that I cannot laugh with and drink with. (And not someone who is always trying to fill up my cup).

Simply do due diligence in trying to find out the answer yourself, and when you've run out of the usual sources, then ask directly.

Yes, there are some customs - but it's just martial arts in an older form. Nothing special.

Ellis Amdur

26th January 2014, 23:04
Mr. Amdur,

I only just two days prior finished reading your chapter in the first of the Skoss three-part series and appreciate you taking the time to give a response. Your own story of how you found yourself in an Araki Ryu school was inspiring to say the least.

Also your list of books was surprising to me as I've read most of them entirely unintentionally and now have them on my bookshelf. I'm curious as to what the other books you suggest might be.

For those of you who, like me, are looking to read more here is the list with some links.

Draeger: (http://www.amazon.com/Donn-F.-Draeger/e/B001KIJ8EK)
Classical Bujutsu (Amazon mispells it "bujitsu")
Classical Budo
Modern Bujutsu and Budo

Diane Skoss: (http://www.koryu.com/bookstore/classicalwarriortraditions.html)
Volume One: Koryu Bujutsu
Volume Two: Sword & Spirit
Volume Three: Keiko Shokon

Karl Friday: (http://www.amazon.com/Legacies-Sword-Kashima-Shinryu-Samurai-Martial/dp/0824818792/)
Legacies of the Sword

David Hall: (http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1568364105/ref=oh_details_o00_s00_i01?ie=UTF8&psc=1)
Encyclopedia of Japanese Martial Arts

Ellis Amdur
27th January 2014, 01:56
There is an "essential reading" page on my arakiryu.org website that might prove useful. To be sure, there are many more. And just as much that is junk. Turnbull is prolific, for example, but not historically accurate.

Gareth Del Monte
27th January 2014, 03:37
Hello again Mr.Amdur.
Thank you for the next tip you have given me.I will take it too heart.
I read a follow up post on this thread by another member and then read your response to his question.
You mention Stephen Turnbull who writes many Japanese Medieval Warfare books for the Osprey Publishing Group.
I have read and collected quite a few of these books.(mostly the ones pertaining to warriors and warfare during the Sengoku Era).
I seem to get the impression that you believe his writing to be inaccurate?(not trying to put words in you mouth)
Could you please let me know what you think of his writings in general?
Thank you,

Ellis Amdur
27th January 2014, 05:20
Turnbull - inaccurate, poorly sourced. Will give you an idea of the general arc of Japanese history, but far better to read academic books on said history. Turnbull has no first hand experience of Japanese martial arts—or if he does, it's certainly not reflected in his writing. Read Karl Friday instead - and look in his bibliography for the books he uses. Also Anshin (last name).

Ellis Amdur

Ellis Amdur
27th January 2014, 05:26
Turnbull - inaccurate, poorly sourced. Will give you an idea of the general arc of Japanese history, but far better to read academic books on said history. Turnbull has no first hand experience of Japanese martial arts—or if he does, it's certainly not reflected in his writing. Read Karl Friday instead - and look in his bibliography for the books he uses. Also Anatoly Anshin.

Truth be told, Draeger is a good start, but he is inaccurate in his views on koryu in many ways - he sees everything through the lense of Katori Shinto-ryu and Shindo Muso-ryu, regarding them as paradigms. They are exemplars, but not paradigms. But compared to Turnbull, Donn is a ray of truth. He was the trailblazer - it's worthwhile reading who followed him as well.

Ellis Amdur

Gareth Del Monte
27th January 2014, 05:33
Thank you,Gareth.

27th January 2014, 20:18
There is an "essential reading" page on my arakiryu.org website that might prove useful. To be sure, there are many more.

Thank you. While I've read a few more from your "Essential Reading" page there are lots more there for me to dig into.

And just as much that is junk. Turnbull is prolific, for example, but not historically accurate.

This certainly has been my experience. The majority of what I find on the bookshelf in the "martial arts" section of any bookstore is worthless or simply highly inaccurate at best... and the more I read, the more it feels like (at least here in the US) I've been lied to about the Japanese martial arts.

One example being the supposed "differences" between budo/bujutsu as was pointed out by others and in your own writing: "Araki-ryu, for example, which is surely one of the crudest and roughest of koryu, with a savage attitude towards combat, always referred to itself as a budo."

So now I go into a classroom with students of a gendai budo form of jujutsu and I see this dichotomy being expounded from senpai to kohai... I myself am guilty of doing it... and it makes me wonder how many more falsehoods are being propagated in this unintentional cultural "telephone game"?

Joseph Svinth
28th January 2014, 00:55
For my two cents, anything written by William Bodiford is worth the price of admission. http://www.alc.ucla.edu/people1/106

28th January 2014, 12:31
...and of course all of Amdur Sensei's GREAT books!


Guy Buyens
29th January 2014, 06:41
I do train from a distance in both Hontai Yoshin-ryu and Ono Ha itto-ryu. But this is only possible with good guidance (similar to what Ellis Amdur suggested). We did it for Hontai Yoshin-ryu but only after I spend a full year in the honbu dojo in Nishinomiya and with a 15 year background in karate. The art we choose was mainly jujutsu (where our gendai budo past helped for the co-ordination of movements) and in the school we were introduced to arms in parallel. We did go back to Japan every year for the last 24 years. We now also train Ono Ha Itto-ryu from a distance but we try to stay at least 2 weekends per year in Tokyo to train in the Reigakudo (dojo of Sasamori soke) in Tokyo (inbetween we go to Nishinomiya. Given the distance, Sasamori Soke allowed in Europe to have a Keiko-jo (Practice Place) where training is coordinated by a more experienced practitioner (not a teacher since in Ono Ha Itto-ryu, true teaching is only provided by soke).
As far as seminars is concerned, I do attend them both for Hontai Yoshin Ryu and Ono Ha Itto Ryu and although they are good training gatherings, if you have to rely only on them to interact with soke, they will never bring you beyond the point of introduction. In koryu, The term training, is not very accurate in describing the combination of practising, learning, training, searching and even questioning, which characterises the process. In Japanese, this is better described by the word “keiko”. Keiko refers to the teaching of the old masters. Their skills have been passed from generation to generation. Therefore we have to rely on our own search with the guidance of our teachers.
So in short: I would agree with Ellis: it is possible but…
As far as books is concerned, you already received a good list by Ellis and of course his books (e.g. old school) should be on it. Dave Lowry wrote a number of excellent books that are very nice to read and help to put things in their context. His book “In the dojo” is recommended reading for our students (I wish I wrote it).
Apart from books, there are also some excellent articles written and some can easily be found on the internet. A good start is koryu.com which also has an overview of “The Good Stuff (Some Great Books You Really Oughta Read)” by Meik Skoss, which covers not only koryu but also books on judo, kendo, atarashii naginata and so on.

30th January 2014, 14:58
I second the suggestion of "In The Dojo" by Dave Lowry (http://www.amazon.com/In-Dojo-Rituals-Etiquette-Japanese/dp/0834805723). I have two copies, one expressly just for lending to students.

24th February 2014, 08:19
Sure, definitely not))), distance learning karate - not possible!
Defeats the purpose of many years of training, seminars, sports camps, tournaments and competitions.