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Thread: Koryu Tomorrow?

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    Default Koryu Tomorrow?

    Hello Everyone,

    The other day I was watching a UFC; and it got me thinking about how far the sport has come since I saw the very first UFC with Royce Gracie. This, also got me to thinking about the role of traditional martial arts today. Where I live in Texas, Iíve noticed a definite shift in what kind of martial arts school are popular around here and I believe there is a direct correlation to the popularity of mixed martial arts as it is promoted by the UFC and itsí parent company ZUFFA. My major concern in this is what I perceive a decline in the interest in the Japanese martial arts like Kenjustu, Jujutsu, and others of the sort. Even in the popular gendai arts. Does anyone else feel this way? It makes me worried about the state of the traditional martial surviving for another 20 years as it would be hard to find students who are interested enough to stay dedicated and preserve and carry on as the are so few now compared to so many years ago.

    Sincerely

    Thomas Kurian

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    I dunno, I think its apples and oranges. Some people doing jiujitsu/MMA type stuff are also doing jujutsu and kenjutsu.

    Those doing it for personal, cultural or historical research interests are also always going to be there. For most, it isn't about being practical or street effective, its about preserving a tradition.

    I may be in a minority as even many koryu practitioners don't believe there is a practical usage, but my own experience, and some trends occurring within law enforcement lead me to believe that there may also be something within the strategic, tactical and even technical teachings of the closer maai stuff that has direct relevance in an area where the sport stuff doesn't: armed close combat. Probably not in the purely koryu format, and still at an exclusive level - maybe only for instructor-level people, but there are things there that bear deeper consideration for persons willing to look.
    Kit Leblanc

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    I would agree. I still believe that the traditional styles still have relevance today both in technique and in a more academic for lack of better word in the understanding of fighting and fighting principals. Iíve always thought of mma as exactly what it isÖa sport. Does it have practical applications? Yes.

    But a sport mentality and a martial mentality I would say are similar but can be very different, especially if Iím attacked on the street. The only rule is the rule of survival, and I agree that maai and positioning is probably one of the most important things. The mental aspects are very relevant today. The mental psychology of a warrior can be very different than that of a sport.

    What I feel is the new generation of martial artists donít really value this. Arts like Brazilian JJ for example offer a relatively quick, effective, and realistic answer to self defense. With traditional arts, say iaijustu for example, take more mental contemplation of a relation to modern relevance. But the thought process you go through to see that correlation is vital in my opinion.

    I see more people coming into dojo asking about mma programs and a decline long term membership of traditional dojos. Iím not necessarily trying to put mma in negative context. It has it place. I train in BJJ too. I just think itís taking a lot respect or appreciation away from the history of what it came from. Iím coming from a limited perspective on this, but do you think this a trend that is going around?

    Sincerely

    Thomas Kurian

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    Now here's some food for thought. Not intended to be snarky but for discussion:

    I still believe that the traditional styles still have relevance today both in technique and in a more academic for lack of better word in the understanding of fighting and fighting principals. Iíve always thought of mma as exactly what it isÖa sport. Does it have practical applications? Yes.
    I think everybody thinks of them as a sport. That does not make it necessarily less practical, any more than koryu not being a sport (today....they used to do more competitive practice) makes it more practical. It is situational, and I believe in some cases having a sport background will make your koryu more practical.

    But a sport mentality and a martial mentality I would say are similar but can be very different, especially if Iím attacked on the street.
    Yes, indeed. That being said I know a judoka/MMA-er that used his judo and MMA, combined with a very aggressive attitude, to fight off eight white supremacist idiots that assaulted a group he was with.

    The only rule is the rule of survival,
    This is not actually true, and I think is one of the problems with translating a "battlefield" koryu to non-battlefield applications. You have to very much meet a standard to articulate the use of damaging techniques in a street altercation. You don't just get free reign because "the only rule is survival." Navigating this takes a training program based in legal and social realities that very few martial arts - koryu or modern - really provide.

    I agree that maai and positioning is probably one of the most important things. The mental aspects are very relevant today. The mental psychology of a warrior can be very different than that of a sport.
    Agreed. What is the "psychology of a warrior" to you and how do you pursue that in your training and your life?

    What I feel is the new generation of martial artists donít really value this.
    There are some serving in Afghanistan and Iraq right now that probably understand it far, far better than martial artists, to be sure.

    Arts like Brazilian JJ for example offer a relatively quick, effective, and realistic answer to self defense.
    I don't think BJJ self defense is very realistic...


    With traditional arts, say iaijustu for example, take more mental contemplation of a relation to modern relevance. But the thought process you go through to see that correlation is vital in my opinion.
    Iai is a different animal. There is not a direct correlation, I think it would be foolish to study Iai for street defense purposes. That being said - and provided it was trained in a certain format - iai does I think have relevance on a strategic and tactical level.


    I see more people coming into dojo asking about mma programs and a decline long term membership of traditional dojos. Iím not necessarily trying to put mma in negative context. It has it place. I train in BJJ too. I just think itís taking a lot respect or appreciation away from the history of what it came from. Iím coming from a limited perspective on this, but do you think this a trend that is going around?
    I think that the people getting into BJJ and MMA are not the people that get into koryu. For most koryu I don't think they'd want them, as they are either the tatted up fighter types or now, mainstream soccer moms and dads. Neither really fits in the koryu/traditional milieu.

    I think that in particular jujutsu has been affected by this since the advent of judo, not just BJJ and MMA. Strong young grapplers are far more likely to be attracted to it (and BJJ and MMA) than they are to a traditional jujutsu, in large part because koryu does not really randori, certainly it doesn't publicly, and there is very little outlet for competitive energy. If you aren't getting strong grapplers, and they are not testing against each other, any grappling tradition will weaken.
    Kit Leblanc

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    ... as the are so few now compared to so many years ago.
    I believe that this is an erroneous statement. While there are less "traditional Japanese jujutsu" schools than there used to be, there are a great many more opportunities to learn legitimate koryu arts than there were. 20 years ago, jujutsu was the fad of the day, and there were a great many jujutsu dojo in existence. Of course, the number of legitimate Japanese koryu schools was far fewer. Fads come and go though, and today's fad is MMA and UFC fighting. However, there are now more legitimate koryu dojo in the states than there were legitimate koryu practitioners 20 years ago. It is the more obscure koryu schools in Japan that are dying out now unfortunately.
    Paul Smith
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    I'm quite fine with a low number of practictioners.

    Everyone wins as the students want to be there and they get the benefit of more time with Sensei.

    Large groups are not ideal for this
    Mat Rous

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    I think it is somewhat interesting to ask why bushi in the Edo period did not turn all of their martial arts into sports? They no longer had the battlefield to hone their skills, why not hold matches and tournaments with rules and point scoring? It is interesting how even 200 years after the end of the warring states period, they hadn't developed large-scale MMA sports in Japan. Must be because the warrior class had a very clear understanding of the difference between sport fighting and real fighting.

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    Didn't they, Cliff?

    The difference was at first their "sports" were deadly duels, and later more with things like bokuto, and would have been unacceptable by today's standards. Kinda like "Dog Brothers" but with no gear and oaken weapons. But when you are hardcore, you are hardcore.

    Still later gekken with grappling - how's that for "MMA?" Maybe Dog Brothers, still. Some of the names to conjure with in budo were veteran exponents of these kinds of fights. Takeda Sokaku is a name that immediately springs to mind. The dojo he was doing this in were very well known sword schools still practiced today - but I don't think they do this kind of thing publicly, at least. It is perhaps significant that Takeda was also a sumotori of some repute, apparently.

    In the grappling world, they went around from dojo to dojo challenging each other, and did other competitive fighting to the point that venerable combat grappling arts like Takeuchi-ryu devised tactics for just such kinds of matches. Some devised tactics to "deal with Judo" as Kodokan was in its ascendance. (senior koryu members have repeatedly confirmed this in writing on E-Budo, other forums, and in personal communication to me. Dr. Will Bodiford wrote a review of a book years ago in a piece called Jujutsu in the Old Days that discusses this, and it is clear from reading EJ Harrison that even at the turn of the 20th century jujutsuka were routinely engaging in competitive matches.)

    These were mixed as well, Mataemon Tanabe wrote of engaging in "sumo vs. jujutsu" matches. Syd Hoare's site has a fascinating piece on this that speaks to a larger competitive culture going on:

    http://www.sydhoare.com/FUSEN.pdf

    And you saw an ongoing debate on "flowery" and "kata" swordsmanship vs. competitive based swordsmanship arise. G. Camerson Hurst and others have written on this.

    It does seem that it was a rural vs. a city thing, at first. Commoners getting involved. But then even the Kobusho - which of course was training the warrior class for combat - began to judge their training and instructor standards based only on competitive skills (by government decree) versus lineage or claims such as divine or mystical inspiration. Dr. William Bodiford again has written some very interesting stuff on this in - I think its the Martial Arts of the World encyclopedia edited by Thomas Green.)


    So, while I think "large scale" is up for debate, and its perhaps a different way to think of sport, by all means it was just that. It was quite common, and the warrior government took notice and changed its training practices because of it.

    Probably similar to how MMA is starting to change law enforcement and military training today.
    Last edited by Hissho; 15th April 2011 at 04:16.
    Kit Leblanc

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    Quote Originally Posted by Hissho View Post
    Didn't they, Cliff?

    The difference was at first their "sports" were deadly duels, and later more with things like bokuto, and would have been unacceptable by today's standards. Kinda like "Dog Brothers" but with no gear and oaken weapons. But when you are hardcore, you are hardcore.
    Or fukuroshinai as far back as the mid 1500s.

    To add what Mr. Leblanc says, it would be a mistake, I think, to take the koryu that exist today as typical exemplars of the common ryuha that existed in the Edo period. The ryuha that exist today represent a conservative strain, that put value on kata and tradition. It is that conservatism that allowed them to survive into the modern age. The vast majority of the hundreds of kenjutsu and jujutsu ryuha were quite on board with sparring matches, which is why they became subsumed into kendo and judo.

    (On a side note, competitive matches were not uncommon even in those more conservative ryuha. In addition to Mr. Leblanc's examples on the jujutsu side, in kenjutsu you have Yagyu Shinkage ryu, Jikishinkage-ryu, Maniwa Nen-ryu, and the various Itto-ryu. Among others that participated in gekken.)

    To put the OPs question into perspective, neither MMA nor any other martial art trend will ever be a serious threat to koryu. Koryu have already survived the complete modernization of Japan, standardized budo for the masses, and countless others. They did it by holding to tradition, and focusing on quality rather than quantity. It can be kind of scary to watch; individual koryu lifelines can seem so tenuous. But even if you only have one good teacher, and one dedicated student, that koryu is as healthy as it needs to be.
    Josh Reyer

    Swa sceal man don, Ģonne he śt guūe gengan Ģenceū longsumne lof, na ymb his lif cearaū. - The Beowulf Poet

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    Those are good points. Come to think of it, Draeger mentioned that, I believe Mizoguchi ha Itto ryu it was, had exhibition matches between a man with a bokken and a lady with a naginata, with ticket sales, that were very popular with the commoners.

    I guess I've always thought that dojo breaking and "friendly" free competition between jujutsu schools, the competitive activities of the mid-to-late Edo period, were not that common. But I don't have that data. But certainly the evolution of medieval Japanese battlefield arts into modern-day combat sports is a long smooth progression and its not easy to draw a line and say, THIS is where it became "sport."

    I also lost an argument on Aikiweb about the validity of the A in MMA. Fact of the matter is, MMA is a market force that, in the present day, is driving the creation of dojos/gyms that offer physical conditioning and training that "works in the ring." (Which IMO makes it not an "art" in the same sense as something you would spend years learning for itself, but that's an argument for the other thread.)

    Koryu, in particular, as Josh noted, the ones we know today, are complex holistic things that are impractical to separate from tradition. They also move along quite nicely with small groups of students who are willing to devote time, energy, gasoline, and beer to them. So while I could see MMA doing in traditional BJJ, Judo, Muay Thai, and other historically competitive arts, I don't think the same thing is possible with the koryu.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Cliff Judge View Post
    Koryu, in particular, as Josh noted, the ones we know today, are complex holistic things that are impractical to separate from tradition.

    Good discussion.

    But by this view, wouldn't it seem that you can just as readily remove the idea of "real fighting" from the koryu, as we would remove "art" from MMA?

    It seems the warrior class clearly differentiated the traditional holistic approach as not conducive to real fighting.
    Kit Leblanc

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    Quote Originally Posted by Hissho View Post
    Good discussion.

    But by this view, wouldn't it seem that you can just as readily remove the idea of "real fighting" from the koryu, as we would remove "art" from MMA?

    It seems the warrior class clearly differentiated the traditional holistic approach as not conducive to real fighting.
    Could you clarify the bolded point? I don't quite follow.

    There has been some discussion in another thread (http://www.aikiweb.com/forums/showthread.php?t=19702) about the "bujutsu vs budo" notion, that is commonly ascribed to Draeger, and refuted by Drs. Friday and Bodiford. The gist of it is that the bujutsu systems are for "real" combat, and the budo systems are for cultivating the individual in a peaceful society. As a rule of thumb, pre-Edo systems are bujutsu and Edo-and-later systems are budo. (Just to clarify, I am trying to paraphrase what I believe has come to be an interpretation of Draeger's thoughts on the matter; I don't think he was 100% trying to set up this dichotomy.)

    But, long story short, yesterday's bujutsu is today's budo. The koryu kenjutsu schools from the Sengoku Jidai are misplaced from their historical context so they are not likely to be dramatically informed by combat experience anymore. As combat arts, they are antiques, but aside from combat, they are still quite vital; as a means of cultivating the individual they are pretty darn awesome. Their unfaltering orientation towards their origins brings along the trappings of the past and makes them accessible to the present. That's something that is very different than MMA.

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    Could you clarify the bolded point? I don't quite follow.

    Sure, I should have more clearly tied it in. In your first post you wrote:

    It is interesting how even 200 years after the end of the warring states period, they hadn't developed large-scale MMA sports in Japan. Must be because the warrior class had a very clear understanding of the difference between sport fighting and real fighting.
    I think its been shown that there actually was a pretty widespread competitive combat practice - not quite modern MMA, but certainly for the cultural context, an MMA of sorts: combined fencing/grappling, even mixed weapons, and mixed grappling matches.

    And while I am sure some in the warrior class had a clear understanding of the difference - they started to develop a clear understanding of the similarities as well, and of the unquestionable value of competitive fighting in the training of people for real fighting.

    Some quotes from Dr. Bodiford from the "Competition and the Foreign Menace section of his piece on Japanese martial arts before 1868:

    "...adherence both to religious practices and to abstract metaphysics declined throughout the late eighteenth and, especially, nineteenth centuries. This was due first to widespread adoption of competitive forms of martial training and then to foreign influence..."

    "...Lacking scholarly pretensions, rural martial artists emphasized mastery of technique and physical prowess, which they tested in competitive matches. During the early 1800s, when rural-trained fencers finally appeared in Edo (modern Tokyo), they easily defeated men of samurai status who had been trained in Confucian theory (or Zen), ceremonial decorum, and prearranged pattern exercises (kata). Established martial art lineages that emphasized theory or mental training quickly became subjects of ridicule, while new lineages that taught competition (uchikomi keiko) flourished...."

    "...practical application (jitsuyo) became more important than mental training or moral development. The Tokugawa government gave its stamp of approval to this change when it decreed that competition alone would be taught at Kobusho, the military training school it established in 1856...."

    So, the warrior class at its highest level is turning to competitive training, as it turns out to face a perceived menace from foreign powers.

    "...Kubota Seion (1791Ė1866), one of the directors of the Kobusho, amply illustrates late Tokugawa attitudes toward religious influences on martial arts. Kubota authored more than a hundred treatises on all aspects of military strategy and martial arts.... ....He is credited with having personally trained more than three thousand samurai soldiers. Thus, he can be seen as representing the prevailing military views of government officials. According to Kubota, any martial art instructor who said that the founder of his lineage was initiated into religious secrets, or had learned his skills through an inspirational dream, or had been taught by mountain demons (tengu), or had mastered his art through Zen training was simply a liar preying on the religious sentiments of gullible students."

    So the ultimate point is when it came to the expectation that they were again training people for real fighting, they turned to competitive training and turned away from previous pursuits.




    RE: Budo and Bujutsu
    Now we are starting to mix some time frames here. Noting the above, that was "before koryu." The practices engaged in were current, and in fact were some of the systems that in the modern era since abandoned the competitive practice that they once engaged in. While new lineages developed, old lineages (sword and jujutsu) as Josh noted, had either always done it or adapted their arts to meet this change.

    The eventual turn to kendo/judo may have been akin to the modern practitioners of established arts like BJJ, Judo, and kickboxing (karate and muay Thai systems) turning away from their "style" of practice and simply embracing MMA for its own right as that kind of competition is what they are interested in. Whether it is a "martial art" in its own right, or will eventually become one, remains to be seen. (With the rise of strip mall, soccer-mom MMA schools it appears MMA may have jumped over the "martial way" stage entirely and gone straight to McDojo, though! )


    I saw Dr. Friday's refutation as more that bujutsu was pretty much always budo, they were interchangable and the ethical teachings were part of it.

    He makes the point that the sword was the chosen "core" weapon despite the fact that it was not the primary weapon of the battlefield.

    However, he makes another point that is I think very relevant. That being the "sword-as-sidearm" analogous to the modern pistol. While the Japanese warrior fought on the battlefield with bows and naginata, or with bows and guns and spears, the sword was the weapon of street fighting, duels, and ambushes in daily life. Combat - real fighting - doesn't just happen on battlefields.

    And after a while as there are fewer and fewer battles farther and farther between, the sword would naturally come to the fore as the most practical weapon. For the reasons he states, (more iai and close quarter stuff) and for duels and murders, and later for the sport fighting was gradually becoming the only legally acceptable outlet for proving martial prowess.

    Some people - soldiers, law enforcement, and probably people in certain professions that would be waylaid by highwaymen (or were highwaymen) would have gradually become some of the only people in society that had any real need (outside of competitive fighting) for the practical use of the sword. I think his analogy to sidearms once again is particularly apt here and corresponds to modern usage.


    The koryu kenjutsu schools from the Sengoku Jidai are misplaced from their historical context so they are not likely to be dramatically informed by combat experience anymore. As combat arts, they are antiques, but aside from combat, they are still quite vital; as a means of cultivating the individual they are pretty darn awesome. Their unfaltering orientation towards their origins brings along the trappings of the past and makes them accessible to the present.
    Sure, now they are. But I think that was a gradual process that in the 200 years after the Sengoku era was not the case, and since then has gradually been supplanted.

    However, in terms of the sword, some things that are interesting in this light are that the lack of competitive training is in fact a turn away from tradition; and the current instances of change and re-creation of classical ryu; trying to re-establish part of a ryu that was lost (was it Kashima Shinto-ryu's iai?) or changing kata as the soke develops a different understanding.

    Why do that? Can one do that with integrity when clearly none of the people making the changes are engaging in lethal combat with swords, so there is a blind spot there that will always exist? I am not qualified to answer that - some would say not qualified to even ask it. But it is by definition a step away from tradition and origins as it is something new, even following old teachings, it is from a modern perspective.

    Jujutsu of course remains an open question, but interestingly it seems to be in a place that the swordsmen of the 1800s were: turning away from traditional lineages, mental training, and theoretical practice focussed solely on kata as it was/is eclipsed by competitive training outlets, despite the fact that the classical lineages were once very much in the mix of competitive practice.
    Last edited by Hissho; 16th April 2011 at 00:55.
    Kit Leblanc

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    Nice discussion Kit, Josh, Cliff, Paul, Thomas, everyone. This is why I still check e-budo from time to time.
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    However, in terms of the sword, some things that are interesting in this light are that the lack of competitive training is in fact a turn away from tradition; and the current instances of change and re-creation of classical ryu; trying to re-establish part of a ryu that was lost (was it Kashima Shinto-ryu's iai?) or changing kata as the soke develops a different understanding.

    Why do that? Can one do that with integrity when clearly none of the people making the changes are engaging in lethal combat with swords, so there is a blind spot there that will always exist? I am not qualified to answer that - some would say not qualified to even ask it. But it is by definition a step away from tradition and origins as it is something new, even following old teachings, it is from a modern perspective.
    A couple of thoughts on this ... First, changes in the ryu, be it changing the kata or going toward, or away from, competition is NOT turning away from tradition. Change has been a tradition of the koryu since their inception. Other arts are subsumed, kata are added or lost, subtle differences are introduced depending upon the thoughts, ideas, and understanding of the soke and shihan of the school. This doesn't change the koryu, it merely changes some of the training methodologies employed by the koryu. Many people view the koryu as a 'collection of techniques', but this is far from the truth. The koryu are a way of thought. A school with its own political and social identity subject totally to the thoughts and ideas of its soke and shihanke. It is very much, in my mind at least, akin to today's universities. You could get a degree from any college in the country. However, if you have a degree from say Harvard or MIT, you will have been taught certain ideals and ways of thinking that go along with that particular college. While I would like to believe that the soke would not alter the underlying principles of the ryu, there is nothing that says he wouldn't other than the possible objections of the shihanke. So, it is my belief that the koryu will continue to survive as they have for centuries. Will the future school be the same as the one now? No more so than today's koryu is the same as it was 2 or 3 centuries ago.

    As for the competitive aspect, I don't believe that the koryu trained for competition in the past any more than they do today. Many koryu exponents also train in kendo, much the same as they practiced for gekken in the past. This doesn't make kendo a part of any of the koryu though. I don't think MMA fighting will ever be very high on the priority list for the koryu, although I'm sure many current koryu exponents also train at MMA gyms, and may even join MMA competitions. However, competition has never been what the koryu are about, so I just can't see any of the schools changing their aims that radically.

    As I heard one of my instructors say a number of years back ... "you don't do a koryu, you join a koryu."
    Paul Smith
    "Always keep the sharp side and the pointy end between you and your opponent"

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