Can people with tattoos do koryu?

Discussion in 'Koryu Corner' started by kuoshu, Mar 27, 2007.

  1. pgsmith

    pgsmith Master of Arts

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    Misconceptions regarding the koryu ...
    Many people speak of "the koryu" as if they are a single thing. Many see them in western terms as if they were a business. These are two very common misconceptions. "The koryu" refers to Japanese martial arts schools or traditions (ryu) established before western intervention opened Japan's borders in the late 1800s. These schools were originally established as political/familial entities. They all had their own particular ideology, outlook, and hierarchies, and their training was geared toward this. There are still quite a number of koryu in existence today in Japan. I know of only one (and there is some controversy over whether it actually qualifies as koryu) whose head lives outside of Japan. Therefore, the koryu are a distinctly Japanese creation, and they operate by traditional Japanese rules.

    In Japan, tattoos are still seriously frowned upon because of their centuries long association with the Yakuza. There are koryu where the fellow in charge does not care much about them. There are also koryu where they are strictly forbidden. Checking on tattoos is absurdly simple since onsen, public baths, are still a very large part of the culture in Japan. By the way, many onsen still refuse service to people with tattoos. I personally know people that have been asked to leave onsen because of their tattoos.

    However, tattoos are actually pretty irrelevant. A koryu can, and will, refuse admittance to anyone that they think will not properly represent the outlook and ideals of the ryu. The members of the ryu are there only to further the aims and goals of the ryu, not the other way around. This is the centuries old Japanese outlook on it that has allowed the koryu to survive for so long. It is also what will allow them to easily outlive all of us. The oldest one that I know of that is still in existence was established in the late 1300s. That's over 600 years of continuous history in a single tradition. I seriously doubt that they'll change for our wishes.

    To many of those that are unfamiliar with Japanese society and history, this is a ridiculous outlook and not worth even looking into. This is perfectly understandable, and pursuing the koryu is not something that these folks would enjoy. For others, the history and ideas behind the koryu are very interesting, and are worth the changes in thinking that are necessarily required. To each their own, it's what makes the world an interesting place! :)
     
  2. Saitama Steve

    Saitama Steve Blue Belt

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    Koryu are a link to classical Japanese culture and the attitudes that formed them in some cases. Certain conservative opinions and viewpoints, nay rules are passed down. It does depend on the ryuha in question, since each ryuha's policy differs in format, function and execution. It really is a case-by-case thing.

    I know some people in koryu with irizume (Japanese for tattoo) who do koryu. I know some ryuha that just won't allow you to train in their arts if you have irizume, as per policy. There is still a very ultra-conservative mindset where irizume are consiedered the mark of criminals in Japanese culture.

    Before someone tries to chew me head off by saying "but this isn't Japan!!!", no, you're right, it's not Japan, but the discipline, culture and art that is being learned and taught is inherantly Japanese. If you want to study a Japanese cultural art, then you better start respecting the social norms by which that culture is structured. (You don't enter a mosque fully shod, you don't take someone else's pint on the bar, you don't show your tatts in a koryu dojo.)

    Some teachers of koryu have adapted some of their attitudes with the times. None of my teachers have tattoos, but understand that popular culture today sometimes encourages young people to have them. They do however respect military tattoos, since the men who have them have earned that right. (Not my opinion, it's an interpretation of a viewpoint, so put the flamethrowers away please. [​IMG] )

    I have a sempai that has a tattoo, yet does koryu, but he *must* cover it up for public demonstrations. I as a representative of a koryu in the UK have been told not to accept students with tattoos unless they are of exemplary character and will cover up during training and public demonstrations.

    Koryu isn't a business, it's a cultural study. As a norm, no profit is made in teaching or conducting koryu classes. It's a private institution, where the instructor & coordinator of the classes has the final say on whether you are allowed to learn or not. Since it's not a business, and there are no real financial profits to be made, there are no comebacks. And since this is so, no legal cases for discrimination can really be brought forward. ​
     
  3. Kreth

    Kreth Grandmaster

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    Isn't it irezumi? And from what I understand, a lot of artists and collectors prefer horimono, since the original term irezumi referred to the practice of tattooing criminals.
     
  4. Saitama Steve

    Saitama Steve Blue Belt

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    The kanji is the same. Also you have to understand, there still is a slight regional dialect in certain parts of Japan. They don't all talk the same standardized "NHK" Japanese (The equivalent of BBC English).
     
  5. Logan

    Logan Green Belt

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    In Japan, it depends on the dojo but from what I have been seen and told by natives is that tattoos are generally frowned upon. The yakuza link is the one most often quoted and it might sound strange when applied to westerners but there is simply an association with crime attached to it. Some younger Japanese seem to be experimenting more with tattoos as fashion now but for the older ones there are connotations attached.

    If nothing else, it can be applied as an easy means for rejecting unwanted members. In the west, such an approach can result in an angry "it's my right to study this..etc". Personally, I feel that access to authentic Koryu traditions and culture should be treated as a privilege and any serious applicant to study should respect the wishes of the dojo (as you would be a reflection of the art and dojo).
     
  6. Brian R. VanCise

    Brian R. VanCise MT Moderator Staff Member

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    Personally any organization has a right to take or reject members whether in the west or in the east. However, they will be viewed or judged by people on how they do this. Still they certainly have the right.
     
  7. Saitama Steve

    Saitama Steve Blue Belt

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    Yep, that's pretty much it in a nutshell.
     
  8. Blindside

    Blindside Senior Master

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    I can still say "goodbye" if I don't like your hair, your mama, or your shoes. I pick who I teach based on whatever criteria I choose. If you don't like it, you don't have to study under me. Seems pretty simple.

    Lamont
     
  9. Monadnock

    Monadnock 2nd Black Belt

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    Exactly. This attitude comes about because in the US the "martial arts" have become looked upon as a service (or diservice, depending on the mcdojo) that the "customer" gets in return for payment. Most koryu are not operating out of the Mall, so I don't see a whole lot of opportunity for this situation to arise, but it's good to see them get some coverage here on MartialTalk.
     
  10. Saitama Steve

    Saitama Steve Blue Belt

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    Well it isn't that radical in Japan. Background usually isn't that important, but the person must prove himself to be not just another waste of time to the instructors and students who take time out of their training schedule to teach and help and then see him bugger off after three to six months.

    I have experienced this several times as one of the only bilingual students in a koryu dojo in the ryuha I train. There's always someone who reads a book, reads a website or a web forum like this one, then decides to come to Japan, comes to the dojo without an invite or introduction and we have no choice but to take care of them. Then after about 6 months, they'll make their apologies, leave Japan and prove our suspicions right.

    I had to prove myself over an eight month period. Noone would really socialize me and I knew why, they thought I was just another fly-by-night Charlie. My Japanese got better and I attended every class, come hell or high water. Eventually, I was one of the social group.
     
  11. Brian R. VanCise

    Brian R. VanCise MT Moderator Staff Member

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    Good for you and I for one am happy to have you on MartialTalk as you bring a certain wisdom to matters like this. [​IMG]
     
  12. Saitama Steve

    Saitama Steve Blue Belt

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    No problem.


    I'm just highlighting the fact that you have to earn the right to study a koryu. It isn't just put on your lap and you're told, "take it or leave it!"

    You earn this, you make sure you have the rudimentary general knowledge, the linguistics, the attitude and reigi. If not, you're not going to fit in and will sooner or later will make your way to another dojo.
     
  13. Brian R. VanCise

    Brian R. VanCise MT Moderator Staff Member

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    Yes I think most good Training Hall's are like this but it is probably even more stringent training in Japan at a Koryu Training Hall.

    However what is funny is that most people in America sometimes feel it is a good given right to train in whatever they choose.
     
  14. pgsmith

    pgsmith Master of Arts

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    But you can't really fault them for it. The vast majority of Americans only have a tenuous idea of the martial arts. All they know is what they see on TV and movies. There are thousands of corner karate stores that cater to this misconception. At the corner karate store, you are buying a commodity. You pay X number of dollars for their "black belt program". The number of people involved in the koryu is very small compared to the number of people doing "martial arts". Most people don't understand, nor do most of them really want to. Nothing wrong with that really, to each their own. I just get upset when people say something is automatically wrong just because it's different than what they're used to so they don't understand it.
     
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  15. Brian R. VanCise

    Brian R. VanCise MT Moderator Staff Member

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    No you definately cannot find it hard to fault them and your example is unfortunately very, very accurate on the state of things in America and around the world for that matter.
     
  16. Sukerkin

    Sukerkin Have the courage to speak softly

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    A very telling and balanced statement. pg - can't rep you for it sadly as I must 'spread the lurve' a little more first :tup:.
     
  17. Saitama Steve

    Saitama Steve Blue Belt

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    Like the "Luuuurrrrve" spread on another thread on a different forum? ;)

    The eight deadly cuts of Miyamoto Musashi!
     
  18. Sukerkin

    Sukerkin Have the courage to speak softly

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    :lol:

    :D Is that you, Kogu? There can't be too many people with a 'location' line like that - I should've spotted it before {guess my zanshin needs new batteries :eek:}.

    No :shing: :slice :thud: this time I hope, I've only just got my head stuck back on straight :). Still, it's hard to fault a chap who has Sid James as his avatar :tup:.
     
  19. Saitama Steve

    Saitama Steve Blue Belt

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    Hyah Hyah Hyah!
     
  20. pgsmith

    pgsmith Master of Arts

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    Gasp!!!
    You know better than to mention those in public Steve! Now you must commit seppuku!

    Alternatively, you could eliminate 10 YouTube backyard ninjers and regain your respectability and honor! :)
     

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