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Thread: Hidden in Plain Sight - Discussion

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    Default Hidden in Plain Sight - Discussion

    Now that I've sent approximately 400 books out - I'm happy to discuss this book, as I did with my previous releases. If you have a specific question that you think my engender a long discussion of it's own, feel free to start a new thread, as in "HIPS - Chapter 1" or "HIPS - Influence of Chinese martial arts," etc.
    And if you don't have a copy to enable you to discuss anything, there is an easy solution to that.

    Best

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    Just got my copy, will try to post something once I get through it, if I can think of anything original to say that is.
    Best regards,
    Bruce Mitchell

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    Quote Originally Posted by Ellis Amdur View Post
    Now that I've sent approximately 400 books out - I'm happy to discuss this book, as I did with my previous releases. If you have a specific question that you think my engender a long discussion of it's own, feel free to start a new thread, as in "HIPS - Chapter 1" or "HIPS - Influence of Chinese martial arts," etc.
    And if you don't have a copy to enable you to discuss anything, there is an easy solution to that.

    Best
    I'm reading it now - and my congratulations to you. It is very, very interesting, very readable. If I may be bold enough to say, your writing has improved over time, too, and has a nice informal touch with plenty of personal asides.

    I'm impressed by your effort to tie so many different ryuha together. I don't know how some folks will take the lack of precise references (like: page numbers), but even that seems manageable.

    I've finished the intro regarding Chen Gin'in, and you make as good a case as possible for his impact on the arts of the three ronin given the lack of hard data. I'm not convinced yet, as presumably will never be because of that lack of data, but am intrigued by your take on it all.

    More to come....
    Lance Gatling ガトリング
    Tokyo 東京

    Long as we're making up titles, call me 'The Duke of Earl'

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    Default Citations

    Lance - by page numbers, I think you mean from some of the source material I cite. I made a deliberate choice there, actually. Either the book would be a true, sourced research book - or a broader sketch. I did not want a <poorly> developed research book. At any rate, I've provided all the sign posts for those who want to follow up and really develop or disprove any of my theses - or others I cited in the text.
    At the same time, I admit - I could have been more scrupulous in some of the citations.
    Ellis Amdur

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    Yes, I meant pg numbers of the many, many references. The bibliography alone is worth the price of the book.
    Lance Gatling ガトリング
    Tokyo 東京

    Long as we're making up titles, call me 'The Duke of Earl'

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    Hi Ellis.

    I have always liked your writings and this book is no exception . My congratulations on a wonderful piece of work.

    It will be a long time before this one will be topped.

    Happy landings and all the best.

    Johan Smits

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    Johan - honestly, the way I hope it will be topped is if one or more people do the research that still can be done.
    • I have a section in the book in which I try to offer guideposts of what to look for and where to look for historical information on the history of Chinese influence on Japanese martial arts, on the history of jujutsu, Daito-ryu and of aikido
    • I've described some (well-informed) speculations on how certain things developed within Japanese martial arts. These things can be proved or disproved, if someone is able and willing to do the leg-work.
    • It is VERY likely that certain factions of Daito-ryu have archival material that has not been released to the public. I am a big supporter of traditional martial arts keeping gokui to themselves. That is what makes the art what it is. However, when historical material, be it documents, films or whatever is held in secret, this bespeaks a certain kind of greediness that I have seen in the Japanese martial arts community - not so much among the "fighters," but among the scholars and collectors. Like a person who buys a Rembrandt and shuts it up in his house, never letting anyone see it again. Hopefully, with diplomacy and tact, some of these closed organizations can be prevailed upon, not to release proprietary technical information, perhaps, but their archival material.
    • Finally, Daito-ryu and aikido have diffused in many factions, with many senior students branching out on their own. Aside from secrecy, many teachers will not answer historical questions OR technical questions unless a student shows that he or she really cares. This is shown, not only by dedicated practice, but also by seizing the opportunity to ask the PROPER questions. Among my greatest regrets about my own training years in Japan is that I know now that certain questions I could have asked WOULD have been answered, had I asked them. Particularly with some of the younger teachers, who are delighted with the power they can now play with as they train, the opportunity to find a kindred spirit, hungry for answers and for getting better, is welcome - at least among some. But if you hold back, in what you think is humility, you will be taken for granted. I'm not talking about being crude or demanding, but this idea that the ideal student of Japanese martial arts is a craven just-follow-orders-it'll-all-come-clear-in-a-couple-of-decades, is pretty new. In Meiji, there were menkyo kaiden in various arts in FIVE years! Not because they were put-up jobs, but because the country was in ferment and often at war, and the students were hungry for knowledge. Too many students today are hungry for membership. They are happy to tell stories about the founder's miraculous power, but don't seem to crave any for themselves. If the teacher has a bit of power himself, why would he desire to give it to such spineless wretches? Step up and ask. Confront the teacher with your desire to surpass him or her. Any teacher worthwhile would be delighted. If not, maybe you should start looking again.

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    Ellis,

    Proper questions reminds me of something many years ago. I always had more enthousiasm than intelligence when younger. Since my enthousiasm has waned considerably now it is divided equally.
    Anyway, a Japanese teacher (who shall remain unnamed) of sword was quite happy with me working hard and doing my best, etc. This was going to be the beginning of a good relationship. Saving money to go to Japan, etc.
    I even send him an interview which a English-speaking student of him would translate back and forth etc.
    One of the questions I asked was if he had any stories to tell about his sword using it for real in WW2.
    End of relationship...

    For me it was not a big deal asking such a question but I was sorely lacking in understanding, etc, etc.

    Apart from the above I wonder if Japanese teachers are aware of the enormous interest in their arts and if so if they understand students of different cultures have different ideas and needs?

    Something totally different - after reading your book again I got the feeling you should publish a photobook. Hardly any text but wonderful photo's from your own collection.
    You can write me down for a copy.

    Happy landings,

    Johan Smits

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    Hi Johan - Well, there are questions and there are questions . . .In my previous tirade, I was talking about technical matters. It is not enough to simply ask questions. One has to present the teacher both with your dedication, as I said, but also with what one is doing. For example, I engaged in some "bouts" with people from other ryu - both with shinai and with wooden weapons. With one individual, although I more than held my own with several weapons, I was clearly beaten (60-40) when we were sword on sword. When I recounted this, my teacher was not at all interested in the other weapons. I'd lost. With a sword. He meticulously went over with me everything that happened. And for the first time in our relationship, he bowed and apologized to me. He said, "This is my fault. I should have taught you . . .(and then proceeded to teach me a gokui of sword usage - not concerning internal training usage, btw). And several weeks later, I had another bout with this man - and acquitted myself well enough that there was no need for an apology. (Remarkable, isn't it? One instruction of maybe ten minutes - and it transformed my sword - just like in the novels).
    What happened, if I may translate, is that I DID confront my teacher - not with some childish whinging that "You never teach me anything!" Or, "How come I don't have internal skills yet?" Instead, he was confronted with my sincerity - I was training passionately enough that I had a) taken to the "end" everything he'd taught me b) was actually putting myself at physical risk to master it. Given that he had information that he hadn't taught me, he either had to be a man of integrity or a hypocrite. If your student treats things as a hobby, why teach him? But if your student performs up to the ideal, how can you not teach the truth, unless from that day forward, you are, essentially, lying to him.
    So the burden is very heavy on the student. If you aren't willing to give everything, the teacher is not obligated to give anything. But if you are, the teacher has no right to escape.
    THAT'S what I mean by "confronting."

    And I heard all I needed to about WWII from my teachers once they were drunk.

    Oh yeah - photographs. Actually, I have very few - and few of high quality. As you see, most of the photos in HIPS are from others. When my Araki-ryu and Buko-ryu websites are up (within the next six months), I will post the few photos I have.

    Best
    Ellis Amdur

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    I've finally had enough time to read and at least start digesting the book. On the whole I enjoyed it and found it well worth the cover price.

    Before thinking about the book's content, I'll say that I was very impressed with the binding and book design. It is a handsome book and of much higher quality than I expected. In my experience both martial arts books and privately published books have a tendency towards cheap printing, and I was very pleased to see Mr. Amdur bucking that trend.

    With regards to content, I found the book to be both interesting and thought-provoking. Not all of it was to my taste; I could have easily read another hundred pages of history on the Kurama-den, while I could have done without the "three peaches" discussion altogether. For many people I'm sure that this would be reversed. Each section of the book, however, offered its share of interesting nuggets of information and intriguing ideas, and many interesting historical records and first hand accounts are provided.

    Unfortunately there are many places where the intriguing ideas seem to vastly outnumber the nuggets of information. Mr. Amdur is careful to remind his readers that he is often speculating, but there are a few places where I felt this should have been underscored even more forcefully. The problem here is in some ways worsened by Mr. Amdur's decision to provide limited citation. It is often possible that the ideas he is spinning have a solid foundation, but if so the reader is left without any clue to that.

    Also, while Mr. Amdur's speculation is often intriguing and thought-provoking-- well worth considering, even if we have no way of knowing whether or not they are true-- sometimes they seem to be logically inconsistent, a case of shoehorning in the known facts to fit the image that Mr. Amdur has in his mind. One particularly perplexing example of that came in "The Birth of Daito Ryu":

    Can you, then, imagine Sokichi trying to teach such a boy [Takeda Sokaku] the kind of stilted, rigid kata you see enacted in present day Daito Ryu? He would have had to burn a pile of all the incense in Aizu on him to make this wild child pay attention to that!

    Instead, Sokichi taught him sumo-- but not just any sumo. I believe he coupled this with solo power training exercises, breathing coordinated with mindful attention to lines of tension and relaxation... that very likely were part of the Inagami Shinmyo-ryu curriculum...

    Amdur, 87.
    I'd like to unpack a few problems that I have with this passage as a way of illustrating the level of speculation present in this book.

    First, let's look at Mr. Amdur's suggestion that Takeda Sokaku would have been unlikely to settle down long enough to learn the kata of modern-day Daito Ryu. I'm not sure if I buy that statement on its face. Even if it is true, however, why does Mr. Amdur assume that the kata practiced in that time period were done in the same manner that they are today? I vividly remember a passage in one of Mr. Amdur's earlier books in which he described watching a film of a recently-extinct naginata school in its last generation. The practitioners minced along, their movements confined and restrained by their lovely kimono, their attacks lacking any type of power or commitment, their "martial art" devoid of any realism or threat. He mournfully compares that final evolution of the school with what the kata must have looked like when practiced by the gigantic, savage battlefield veteran who first brought the school to life. If the kata of today's Daito Ryu are "stilted" and "rigid"-- an assertion that I'm not quite prepared to accept-- then Mr. Amdur's own writings give us ample reason to know that we cannot from this assume that the kata of past generations were the same.

    Playing along with Mr. Amdur's assumption for the moment, however, look where we land-- because Sokichi clearly could not have taught his son formal kata, he must have taught him sumo and internal power training exercises, "breathing coordinated with mindful attention to lines of tension and relaxation." So, we assume that Takeda Sokaku was too unruly to settle down into kata training, but at the same time we assume that he willingly sat down to practice these solo training exercises that involve both intense concentration and myriad repetition, often requiring the practitioner to stand, unmoving, for long periods of time? Those ideas aren't even consistent-- either he was too wild to sit still long enough to learn the kata, or he had the patience to devote hours of training to internal power until he developed the skills that Mr. Amdur describes him displaying in his sumo bouts.

    The assumptions don't end there-- this passage continues with the assumption that Takeda Sokichi learned Inagami Shinmyo Ryu, an assumption based entirely on circumstantial evidence. It assumes that Inagami Shinmyo Ryu has internal training methodology-- a bold assumption considering that no records of that school survive. That assumption is, in turn, partly based on Mr. Amdur assumption that Inagami Shinmyo Ryu is "given the name,...almost surely a local offshoot of Shinmyo Ryu" (Amdur, 69). Mr. Amdur, of course, knows full well that such names are not a guarantee of relationship; given the presence of Itto Ryu (particularly of the Mizoguchi-ha) in Aizu, Aizu Itto Ryu would "surely" be a local offshoot of the Itto school-- but as Mr. Amdur points out only three pages earlier, it is totally unrelated to the Itto family of sword arts. And even if Inagami Shinmyo Ryu is a local offshoot of Shinmyo Ryu, we've still seen only tenuous evidence that Shinmyo Ryu has the type of training that we are looking for in Takeda Sokaku's early life.

    So, while this passage introduces a very interesting-- and, I think, an ultimately plausible-- explanation of Takeda Sokaku's early training, it is made only by piling speculation on speculation. We assume that the jujutsu kata of the time would have been fairly uninteresting to someone of Takeda Sokaku's temperament, we assume that he paradoxically would have had the temperament to make the rigorous and exacting study of internal power, we assume that his father had studied Inagami Shinmyo Ryu, we assume... if there is firm evidence backing these ideas, I've missed it.

    And this, in short, is my main problem with the book-- so many wonderful ideas, but so little support for any of them. Mr. Amdur seems to spin theory after theory, but only rarely do we see a firm bedrock beneath them.

    Having said all of this, I'd like to point out one of my favorite things about the book. Mr. Amdur takes great pains to show what, exactly, is expected of someone who wants to be the next O Sensei. He spends an entire chapter laying out the type of dedication, the type of sacrifice, the type of obsession that went into the forging of Ueshiba. This is not an easy road; this is not something that we will be able to catch by going to the dojo once or twice or three times a week. If we want to have what the old masters had, if we want to follow their path to the forest, and say their prayers and sing their songs, we must be prepared to make their faith a daily practice. We must be ready to eat, sleep, and breathe these arts. We have to be willing to make each movement of our daily lives part of our budo. We have to be willing to look beyond what we are spoon-fed, to seek the art that lies behind the drills and the kata. And we have to have the right attitude. One of the most beautiful lines in the entire book is a quote from Terry Dobson, when he told fellow students that he didn't care about being O Sensei's student; he wanted to be O Sensei.

    That sums up in one line the attitude that we have to have if we want to be serious about our budo. Our teachers were not born superhuman-- some of them started younger than we did, but all of them started at some point. If they are better than us it is because they have been training longer, because they have trained harder, or some combination of those factors. If we are content to be their students, content to say, "Wow, isn't he great?" then our arts won't survive our teachers. We have to be willing to say, "He got there... and I can too." Mr. Amdur's book is a sharp reminder that rather than sitting around and swapping stories about great masters of old, we can walk the paths that those men walked and eventually reach, if not the exact same destination, a destination worthy of their successors.

    There is so much more that I could say about this book; it is an excellent read and each time I return to it I come away with more thoughts. However, given that I've been rambling for quite a while, I'll wind down now and simply say that this book is definitely worth the read.
    Last edited by DDATFUS; 17th September 2009 at 20:53.
    David Sims

    "Cuius testiculos habes, habeas cardia et cerebellum." - Terry Pratchet

    My opinion is, in all likelihood, worth exactly what you are paying for it.

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    David - Thank you for such a thoughtful set of comments. First of all, regarding the cover. McNaughton-Dunn is the printer. They are excellent. Several of my books have been translated in Europe, and the quality was so much higher, that I sent M-D copies of those books, and asked if they could duplicate the quality. They definitely did - and at a really inexpensive price. (appr. $2.50 per book). If anyone thinks of self-publishing, they make it easy.

    Most of what you critique, I shan't argue. My problems with the entire history of the aiki-arts is that too many people accept too much at face-value, they don't question the "history," and they offer mere awe at the wonder-stories. Imagine you've got a nice little manicured clearing where you grow your vegetables. But the land is getting played out. So you go off in the brush and clear some new ground - that's my intention in speculation. Hence my last chapter where I suggest that if someone wants to cultivate that ground, so to speak, I give my suggestions on where to establish the solid research that should have been done a long time ago. And still can.

    Three Peaches discussion? It gave a chance to pull out my thirty years abandoned training in Jungian psych, in what is called amplification of the image. I had a lot of fun with that chapter, because I've always wondered what the hell Ueshiba was thinking - or at least, how he thought - and figuring things through there gave me at least a hint.

    Actually, I do provide full citation, as the book merits. I got information from several sources: 1) actual texts - and these, I believe I do cite. If at any point, I actually quoted someone and didn't cite the text, I apologize. 2) personal communication from researchers (such as Chris Laughran and William Bodiford). In this case, THEY have done the research, and if/when they choose to publish their word as research, then you will have the sources, in toto - and maybe conclusions different from mine 3) Personal communication from practitioners - the problem is that, in many cases, they preferred that I not name them, saying that they would get in trouble with their own organization. When I do cite the person, there is nothing to keep "you" from contacting them and asking if they agree with my conclusions. I tried very hard, however, to take responsibility - in the sense that I say that I got this bit of info from so-and-so - or anonymously, from this circle/dojo, etc., and I take responsibility for the conclusions I draw.

    But what I will guarantee, for better and/or for worse, there are NO textual sources that I have that would better establish my speculations. What is in the book is ALL I have.

    As for kata and Sokaku - every source we have - and these I do think I cited - state that Sokaku's training in sojutsu/kenjutsu, etc., was not kata based. Furthermore, Tokimune stated that his father didn't teach him by kata when he was a child, and that he did not know how to teach a child (his descriptions (AJ - see, a source!! - are brutal).

    ACtually, I don't think the kata of Daito-ryu were practice in the old days in the manner they are today, because I don't think they existed, something I assert in the book (and this is supported by Sagawa Yukiyoshi, btw, in Tomei no Chikara). I assert that Takeda, afterwards, retrofitted kata to illustrate his principals and also have a means of transaction.

    As for Takeda settling to train, we know he could. We have many descriptions of him doing solo training - thrusting a spear at a hanging ball, (AJ), hitting a dangling stick of wood with a bokken (Sagawa), etc. And I can testify that sumo training is a lot more fun, and a lot more accessible than kata. Speaking personally, the only reason I can stand continuing to do jujutsu kata is we added a pressure/testing, randori/break the kata component. (Heck, maybe I was just writing about myself, not Sokaku). Umm, as for standing unmoving - no, that's not part of any Japanese internal training I know of. That's Chinese stuff. The Japanese - and really, most of the Chinese, are movement oriented. And I've seen, in Japan, a lot of kids with attention problems thriving in judo and sumo, including repetitive foot sweep practice against a wall, etc. There is something hypnotic and peaceful in good solo practice, that I, for one, never found, in two-person jujutsu kata.

    It's very possible that Takeda learned the same way Sagawa asserts he did. Takeda would do something to him and Sagawa, remembering the feeling, would try to replicate everything that he perceived Takeda doing, and tried to recreate it. Just because Takeda was willful, defiant and rebellious does NOT mean he couldn't focus. But like many such children, I believe he would choose what he could focus upon. In this case, it wasn't that his father would have taught him seventeen exercises. His father did sumo with him, and Takeda felt power that was not purely muscular. Perhaps he saw exercises his father did. Or perhaps he developed his training routine on his own. And perhaps when he achieved something, his father added some more information, perhaps just physically. (Yes, I'm aware I'm saying "perhaps" a lot - it's deliberate).

    I shan't reargue my suppositions about the descent of Inagami Shinmyo-ryu into Sokaku through Sokichi - it is a chain of evidence, a skein of possibilities or a house of cards. But as to your question based on no evidence of the ryu survives, THAT'S why I wrote it. I don't believe that. I simply believe no one has looked. It was an otome-ryu! There have to be records, unless the entire area was firebombed to ashes.
    It cannot be me - my Japanese isn't up to it, and I no longer live in Japan. But when I did live there, I found all sorts of history on Araki-ryu in towns that no one recalled it even existed. A friend of mine started asking questions about Masaki-ryu, by going down to Ogaki, where the ryu originated. And al these people started pulling out 300 year old chains, densho, diaries of their grandfathers - they just thought no one was interested! And if no one thinks to look, the documents, if they exist, will just rot in an attic. And up to now, no one, to my knowledge, has even tried to link up extant jujutsu schools in Aizu coupled with what ryu Sokaku's family was practicing. That I did.

    Either Sokaku created, all on his own, a form of internal training and practice fully the equal of Chinese martial training, the latter taking 100's of years to develop, or he learned it from others. So after trying to establish that such training was rife in Japanese schools, I simply am trying to figure out what alternative there is to the implausible ideas in the standard Daito-ryu history (which several of most prominent of Sokaku's students also doubt, btw).

    And this, in short, is my main problem with the book-- so many wonderful ideas, but so little support for any of them. Mr. Amdur seems to spin theory after theory, but only rarely do we see a firm bedrock beneath them.
    This, notwithstanding any of my responses above, is an absolutely valid critique. I conceded that going in. I would be delighted if someone would prove me right - but truth be told, equally as happy if someone proved me wrong.

    As for the praise that you give other sections of the book, to those, I'll simply say thank you. And thank you for a critical read. (You don't happen to read classical Japanese, grass style script, and have a couple of years to wander around small libraries in in Northern Japan, do you?)
    Best
    Ellis Amdur

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    Quote Originally Posted by Ellis Amdur View Post
    (You don't happen to read classical Japanese, grass style script, and have a couple of years to wander around small libraries in in Northern Japan, do you?)
    Not yet. I'm working on it, though-- very, very slowly, as the real world has this nasty habit of intruding.

    Just to be clear, I enjoyed your speculations-- even when I don't necessarily agree with them, they are intriguing and thought provoking. Some I found more plausible than others (and thank you, by the way, for explaining how you envision Sokaku learning from his father-- I see what you mean much better now), but all of them are interesting. I think that the book has a real potential to jump-start new and creative research into Daito Ryu history. Where that will lead, who knows? I'm sure we'll all have fun finding out.
    David Sims

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    My opinion is, in all likelihood, worth exactly what you are paying for it.

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    I just read Transparent Power by Kimura. I was pleased to note that there are a lot of areas where Sagawa and Kimura tend to confirm some of my speculations:
    1. That Hoshina most likely did not teach "aiki" to Takeda Sokaku
    2. That Daito-ryu was not taught in the kata form we see it. In fact, Sagawa states that the "numbers" of kata in the various menkyo were, more or less, because Takeda thought those were lucky numbers. Arbitrary, in other words (which would suggest that the kata were placed on the "matrix" of the numbers later - by someone(s) else, yet another of my speculations.
    3. Takeda's character - which a) he did not play well with others b) he DID have a remarkable ability to focus on solitary study until he figured something out. Which would make him, in a dojo context, not so suited for years of cooperative kata practice, but very much suited for solitary figuring things out, punctuated by challenges, tests and other competitions.
    4. Sagawa scoffing at the idea of the "palace art of defense of the daimyo" - and suspicion/cynicism of all the kneeling techniques. I very much wonder if this was, in part, retrofitting of aiki/jujutsu to look more like classical jujutsu.
    Parenthetically, people have commented on Sagawa's "unpleasant" character - and if his accounts are true, he was gratuitously violent as a young man to test his skills on people who hadn't "asked for it." That said, I liked his arrogance very much - because it seemed based on the premise of "if you don't like it, prove me wrong." And his uncompromising views on training - he was NOT a supportive teacher. And a) this reminded me of my closest teacher in Japan b) fits my values.
    Shan't summarize the book here - but, as I say, I was pleased to have, at least in this teacher's account, some of my views confirmed.
    I know, in the Daito-ryu/aikido world, that is not proof. But nonetheless . . .

    Ellis Amdur

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    Quote Originally Posted by Ellis Amdur View Post
    I just read Transparent Power by Kimura. I was pleased to note that there are a lot of areas where Sagawa and Kimura tend to confirm some of my speculations:


    2. That Daito-ryu was not taught in the kata form we see it. In fact, Sagawa states that the "numbers" of kata in the various menkyo were, more or less, because Takeda thought those were lucky numbers. Arbitrary, in other words (which would suggest that the kata were placed on the "matrix" of the numbers later - by someone(s) else, yet another of my speculations.
    Although I am pretty sure you are already aware of this, Takahashi Masaru discusses the use of numbers in the Daito-ryu densho in similar terms of being unrelated to the actual number of techniques on pages 239-241 of his book on Sagawa as well.

    I've only read through HIPS once so far but I've found it a great work overall. I've been doing a fair amount of work with the densho surviving from the founding family of my own tradition of choice and overall I am finding a lot that also leads me to believe that these "skills" were not unknown to Japan (although lost to most modern pactitioners). I am also finding a lot of similar vocabulary usage between what they used and the more standard "Chinese" vocab used for many of these internal strength sort of concepts. Unfortunately they have left so much material behind that it will probably take me a decade or two to really work through all of it (much less figure out how to put any of it into practice).

    Rennis Buchner
    Rennis Buchner

  15. #15
    Join Date
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    Hi Rennis - Thanks for yet another confirmatory post.

    It's ironic, isn't it - that sometimes, one wishes there WASN'T so much information - it gets pretty overwhelming to manage it - figure it out - translate it. I really hope you are able to find out something concrete - and that some, at least, can be released beyond the confines to the ryu.
    Best
    Ellis Amdur

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