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Thread: Thoughts on Koryu and Stagnancy

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    Over the past week, I have had the opportunity to view videos and "secret footage" from some of the koryu and their lead proponents. The experience has provided me with much food for thought.

    The traditional kata demonstrated in most of the videos (which were produced by the highest-level representatives of the respective ryu)were ritualized. Their demonstrators were devoid of passion or purpose -- as though they had forgotten the reason why their art was developed to begin with. Yet, each kata began and ended with elaborate rei that seemed to have more meaning to the demonstrators than the kata themselves.

    My belief is that modern ways and peacetime societies have given rise to hobbiests who do not represent martial personalities. They prefer to avoid the intensity and life-or-death method of the ancient groups that practiced these arts of necessity. Even the koryu (or, perhaps, especially the koryu) are not safe from stagnation and drift away from the source and original intent. Based on what I have seen, the koryu themselves are becoming like inbred, pedigreed dogs that have had the fire and spark drained out of them, to be replaced by receding jawlines and hip displacia.

    There was only one video -- one ryuha -- which showed a clear connection to its martial purpose and heritage. Subjectively speaking (after being jaded for decades), to me the practitioners depicted were the closest and truest inheritors and disseminators of the art as it was intended. Their kata were as intense as life-or-death combat, while adhering to the principles that the kata were designed to teach. It was the perfect balance of teaching/learning tool and the opportunity to train and practice for crucial neuromuscular spontaneity and mental focus.

    I owe the quality of practice to the senior practitioner and teacher, who has retained the vision of bujutsu as tool meant to be kept honed and ready for use -- not left on a shelf gathering dust. It would be just as easy for his particular ryu to get lost in ritualization as were the others whose demonstrations I viewed.

    It almost seems to me as though the sole function of many (if not most) ryuha today are to serve as repositories for ancient principles, but not necessarily as producers of able practitioners. The arts lie sleeping, their principles groggily handed down generation to generation, until it is received by one person, an innovator, who is awake and has his eyes open. He sees the principles and their cogency, is grateful for their having been preserved, albeit not utilized, and promptly procedes to reinvent and restore their original purpose.

    If for no other reason than that, we owe a debt of gratitude even to the sleepers and their stagnant kata. As long as they do not lose their understanding of the principles (making the kata into meaningless dances), then the koryu will remain alive as the keepers of the principles until a martially-minded innovator -- such as Otake of the TSKSR -- comes along to reclaim them and put them to use.

    Just some thoughts. Gotta go watch those tapes again a few dozen more times. Meik Skoss admonished readers not to use videos to learn an art, and I agree with him. Videos are best used to provide comparisons and contrasts to knowledge you already have, for overviews of systems and their methodologies, and to get a sense of individual practitioners and leaders of established systems.

    Cady




    [Edited by Cady Goldfield on 12-18-2000 at 11:43 AM]
    Cady Goldfield

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    Cady:
    I always get a little skeptical about "secret footage". In the Koryu I study the bows are pretty basic, the etiquette reasonable (I also get skeptical about the old "you may not speak with the master" routine)and the practical training is fast and hard. If you ever get to see Otake's (TSKSR)old tape/live or see Yamada Sensei (SGR Batto Jutsu) you'll get an idea of what I mean (maybe you have already).

    Being a Federal Agent for a quarter of a century I'm not to sure whether a koryu art is field practical in the sense of sword work, but the study in strategy has aided in long term planning; and the strategic positioning learned has been indispensible during possible life threaten situations. Of course, failure to block/move fast and quick could/would bring you out of any lethargy you might have slipped into while practicing. But to be fair I personally found all that to be true in several gendai sword arts.

    Carl McClafferty

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    Thanks for the insights, Carl. My post was a spinoff of the musings we've been doing in another thread, about the stagnating of kata. Of course I'm aware that in any demonstration, you are not going to see anything near what the core is, but you should see a fair representation of what the art has to offer. Doing kata without purpose or intent -- even if purportedly for the sake of "hiding secret principles" or to give beginners a chance to see things slowly -- seems to defeat the purpose of demonstrating one's art to begin with. I mean, why even bother to make a video if you don't want to put your best foot forward and show the world that the fire and power still exist?

    I have seen the Otake footage, and that is what keeps the hope going that not all koryu will go into some form of deep freeze. Nothing else I have seen comes close to his interpretation and continuation of a fighting ryuha. He retains the power, intent and intensity, passion and cogency of principles that seem to have been lost or are at least lying dormant in many other ryuha. Perhaps the latter are awaiting a person of vision to revive the art as well.

    As far as practicality in application goes, I certainly don't expect swords, yari or naginata to be of much use in modernday warfare. Well, barring a nuclear disaster that sends us back to using rocks (remember what Einstein said about "World War Three" -- that it will be fought with sticks and stones). Still, if you're going to practice an art, why not practice it as it was originally intended, keeping the authenticity? To let the practical principles slip away means that we are left culturally poorer for the loss. We may as well be contra dancing or arranging flowers.

    Cady

    Regards,
    Cady

    Cady Goldfield

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    Default some thoughts


    It almost seems to me as though the sole function of many (if not most) ryuha today are to serve as repositories for ancient principles, but not necessarily as producers of able practitioners. The arts lie sleeping, their principles groggily handed down generation to generation, until it is received by one person, an innovator, who is awake and has his eyes open. He sees the principles and their cogency, is grateful for their having been preserved, albeit not utilized, and promptly procedes to reinvent and restore their original purpose.
    Cady - First, I think it is a point of pride for some ryuha to serve as repositories of ancient arts. I also dare say that they may consider this function to be their primary function. To my mind this is critical to a koryu art's survival and the idea that lack of change is a bad thing - (for ex: choice of word "stagnant" vs. "timeless") maybe very much a bias of a modern industrial society. Maybe somethings are best unchanged.

    Second, I wonder why you would think that the good practitioner is necessarily the same person as the innovator? I think the whole transmission of koryu relies on practitioners who can accurately reproduce the techniques of the past and NOT innovate and muddle transmission. In any culture I know of, that person is not the same person who has the charisma and spark of the innovator.

    Finally, why should the concept of stagnancy should be applied to koryu generally as opposed to being applied specifically to a particular performance of koryu?

    For me the analogy to koryu kata is in performance arts. Ex: You witness a pathetic rendition of Shakespeare's Hamlet. Does that render the play stagnant or is it just a bad performance of a masterpiece?

    Hey I can ramble too.
    M

    [Edited by Margaret Lo on 12-18-2000 at 03:41 PM]

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    Kata training can (but CERTAINLY does not have to) lead to stagnant, meaningless repetition of movements, with no understanding of those movements or the potential variations of them. It is up to the teachers and practitioners to be vigilent in their training to make sure that this does not happen.

    A koryu is a living entity, which goes through a life-cycle, or a series of life-cycles, over time. The ryu-ha which people think of as being the most vibrant and realistic were not necessarily so a generation ago, and may well not be a generation in the future. Similarly with those now regarded as in decline. If you watch (either on video or live) a particular ryu perfoming demonstrations over a period of time, some ryu will develop, and some will decline. It is the responsibility of the members of the ryu to make sure that the vibrancy and realism are maintained. The koryu are certainly hierachical organisations, but every member plays a part in the life of the ryu. No matter how good the kata, a ryu is only as strong as its current members and their understanding of the ryu.

    You can also often see at demonstrations two (or more) different lines of the same ryu, and the difference between the two can be huge, even if the split was quite recent. This ebb and flow over time is probably unavoidable, and it is a credit to the creators of the kata that those kata can survive (almost hibernating) through an era of lack of understanding, to be revived when circumstances (the ryu's present head master and members) allow.

    Certainly in Japan, many practitioners of koryu train mainly to maintain a link with their cultural heritage, and have no desire to make their training combatively realistic. ("Will I join a tennis club, or join xyz ryu?") Their primary motivation is cultural preservation. It's a bit like people in western society who practice (for example) falconry. They don't do it to get food. They do it because they enjoy it (as recreation) and it gives them a link to their cultural past. It doesn't really matter if their training methods are in line with the latest psychological research, or even if they are exactly the same as those of their ancestors.

    I think the Shakespeare analogy is a good one. All we really have to go on is the written play, with minimal stage direction written in. The same play can be performed in enourmously different ways, some better than others. No matter how bad a performance, group or interpretation is, the potential exists for a revival.

    Just my two cents worth. Although, since I live in Australia, that's only one cent US.

    Warwick Hooke

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    The Buddha sat under the Bodhi tree, and all I got was this lousy T-shirt.

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    Chi Guest

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    Originally posted by Cady Goldfield
    (remember what Einstein said about "World War Three" -- that it will be fought with sticks and stones).
    Sorry... I know this is WAAAY off-topic, but Einstein didn't say that WWIII would be fought with sticks and stones. He said that (paraphrasing here as I don't have the precise quote at hand) he didn't know with what weapons WWIII would be fought with, but can confidently predict that WWIV would be fought with sticks and stones.

    Anyway... I'll go back to lurking now...

    Regards,

    Chris.

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    Oops... right on, Chris.
    That's what happens when I'm trying to write a post while also pretending to get work done! Which also explains how I can come up with words such as "stagnancy"!

    Back to "work"...

    Cady
    Cady Goldfield

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    Default Re: some thoughts


    Second, I wonder why you would think that the good practitioner is necessarily the same person as the innovator? I think the whole transmission of koryu relies on practitioners who can accurately reproduce the techniques of the past and NOT innovate and muddle transmission. In any culture I know of, that person is not the same person who has the charisma and spark of the innovator.

    [Edited by Margaret Lo on 12-18-2000 at 03:41 PM] [/B][/QUOTE]

    .....................
    Thank you very much for your kind words Margaret. Most of us practice the arts old and new because we enjoy them. With constant practice we all improve. But that does not mean to say we are all experts. There are various thoughts within koryu as to inovation being a bad thing. Or to succeeding Menkyo not being appreciated as they are considered to be clones of their respective teachers.

    Without knowing which ryu and who was performing the Embu it is difficult to comment. However if one is watching the most senior people. That is exactly what one is looking at and should expect no more from elderly people who's attribites possibly lie in the way they teach and not necessarily in the way they perform.

    As the promulgator of an almost extinct Ryu and student of one of Japans most well known I would like to think that I added a bit of fire to my waza. However in years to come I daresay the way I perform will not reflect the knowledge I have aquired.

    The time will come that even Otake Sensei will slow things down a bit.

    Hyakutake Colin

    Kage Ryu

    Hyoho Niten Ichiryu

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    Of course one wouldn't expect fire from a 90-year-old who can barely hobble. But Colin, wouldn't one expect to see the principles and martial application re-seeded in these venerables' advanced (but younger) students? After all, they too are vessels for the continuation of the art. As they practice, so will their students adopt the method. If their teachers lack martial intent, then won't the art become lackluster and for aesthetics only for the descendents?

    cg

    Cady Goldfield

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    To all people involved in this thread,

    I would like to sincerely thank everyone for such a thought-provoking and mature discussion. The whole subject of koryu(ism) is always discussed haphazardly, and it is interested (and quite refreshing) to hear educated opinions on the issue.

    I would also like to say that in my system, the Bujinkan, there has been a long-running issue of "koryu" or "not-koryu", which has been beaten to death, and subsequently I am not wishing to discuss here.

    I particularly liked the comment:

    "It almost seems to me as though the sole function of many (if not most) ryuha today are to serve as repositories for ancient principles, but not necessarily as producers of able practitioners" - Cady Goldfield

    Moreover, I also liked the analogy of the Shakespearean (sp?) play and the actors, though I would like to say one thing on that.

    When Shakespeare wrote "Hamlet", he obviously had certain principles or ideas in mind, ideas that he wanted conveyed to all those watching. And certainly if a particular thespian screwed up the leading role, that doesn't make the play itself useless. But if that performance is repeated for generations and generations, then the so-called "stagnation" can occur.

    It is an interesting psychological phenomenon that occurs in people. Perhaps some budoka don't want to look too deeply into the "life of the kata" because they secretly fear that they might find out that all their efforts, all their indulgences into "samurai fantasies" have all been in vain.

    But enough out of me. I promised myself I wouldn't ramble.

    Great Thread!

    Julian Straub
    Bujinkan Kageyama Dojo
    Muso Jikiden Eishin Ryu Iaido
    Hyoho Niten Ichi Ryu

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    I think the line of thought Cady is following in her post which began this thread is a false one. I think it goes something like this:

    "The koryu video I saw was bad, therefore koryu is bad."

    I think a better conclusion would have been:

    "The particular ryuha/exponents I saw on this video were bad, therefore, I guess these particular ryuha/proponents might have some problems."

    People are always talking about "the" koryu as though they formed some sort of monolithic structure. They don't. The koryu are, for the most part, fairly small groups that exist independently of one another. When you are in a ryu, you practice that ryu, not some other one. Unlike the modern disciplines which are subject to standardization by committee and are dedicated to having as many members as possible and structure their arts to achive that purpose, the koryu are not subject to arbitrary standardization by external forces. The plain fact of the matter is that some ryuha are going to be good and some aren't, just like anything else.

    If we're talking about koryu as a concept as opposed to discussing specific ryu or their exponents, then I think we have a real problem. A concept is by definition a general thing. A specific koryu is a specific thing.

    Anyway, I don't think that this discussion really has anything to do with koryu at all. It has to do with the validity of kata as a method of training. It seems that some people just equate kata with koryu since there is, in general, no free sparring in koryu, at least as it is understood by people involved in modern disciplines such as judo or kendo. However, there is kata in modern disciplines too, and I am sure that modern exponents have given kata demos that suck just as much as what some koryu people may have put on tape. However, I have yet to hear anyone say, "Yeah modern karate/judo/kendo/whatever sucks. I saw a video the other day and it was really bad." Yet, people seem to think it's OK to jump to conclusions regarding the koryu in the aggregate on the basis of a few videos of specific groups and people.



    [Edited by Earl Hartman on 12-19-2000 at 07:35 PM]
    Earl Hartman

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    Hello Mr. Hartman,

    I am not quite sure that the thread is about koryu "being bad" based on a few videos of people. I think (correct me if I am wrong) that Cady is making a reference to a possible consequence of training in relatively anachronistic arts. I think that the further down the road of time we go, the harder it is to relate to the original purposes of what we are doing.

    Indeed, there are people such as Otake-sensei who know the meaning of his "koryu", and are able to transmit the teachings in such a fashion that the "essence of the founder" (if you would) is maintained.

    Another speculative example would be that without Takeda Sokaku and his genius grasp of his own koryu, Daito-Ryu Aikijutsu and subsequently Aikido might not be practiced at this time.

    I think that big-K koryu (general) and small-k koryu (specific styles) are in good hands with people such as yourself.

    Introspection would seem to be the watchword.

    Yours Sincerely,

    Julian Straub
    Bujinkan Kageyama Dojo
    Muso Jikiden Eishin Ryu Iaido
    Hyoho Niten Ichi Ryu

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    Default watching and doing

    OK having read a lot of differant opinion here I'd like to relate my limited experience with Koryu, SMR Jodo in particular. When I watch Sensei Chambers (no idea what his age is but he's been at Jodo for almost 40 years, if I had to guess I'd say he was in his mid late 60's at least) train with other in the class it always seems as though they are going through the motions. This is especially prevelant with us junior folks not so much with the two senior guys. However when we actually face sensei all thoughts of 'going through the motions' are lost. Watching it is like watching a movie it looks sorta one dimensional doing it esspecially with this seemingly old man is the most scared I've been in a MA class. His eyes twinkle when you get it right and the attacks get really close. Both parties have to get is right for it to "Look" really good with "practice weapons" The best I've seen was some Kusari Gama work where the soft "Weight" hit a nerve plexus doing exatcly what a real weight would have done. This Kata was being done by our two senior practicianers and the junior guy was in shock at how the kata finished. What we all noticed was that it worked truely and correctly (now we just have to try and get that same ablity
    Suck, Squeeze, Bang, Blow...
    ...that's what makes my thumper go

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    Originally posted by Hiding Crow
    To all people involved in this thread,
    Julian Straub
    Bujinkan Kageyama Dojo
    Muso Jikiden Eishin Ryu Iaido
    Hyoho Niten Ichi Ryu
    Your from T.O.!! I'm curious...where do you practice Iai..and Niten? (I apologize for being nosy). Take care :
    Nulli Secundus

    Ed Chart

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    Originally posted by Hiding Crow
    Hello Mr. Hartman,

    I am not quite sure that the thread is about koryu "being bad" based on a few videos of people. I think (correct me if I am wrong) that Cady is making a reference to a possible consequence of training in relatively anachronistic arts. I think that the further down the road of time we go, the harder it is to relate to the original purposes of what we are doing.
    Yes, Julian, your interpretation is what I meant. My writing hasn't been too clear lately -- I ain't myself these days -- so I apologize for any miscommunication.

    cg
    Cady Goldfield

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