koryu practices

Discussion in 'Koryu Corner' started by Aiki Lee, Jan 26, 2011.

  1. Aiki Lee

    Aiki Lee Master of Arts

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    I was having a discussion with Chris about koryu and ninjutsu which has become a discussion about koryu in general and I thought maybe other people might want in on this.

    I was gonna pot in in the traditional ninjutsu section but I think the topic has gone beyond that. Here's our conversation.

    Himura Kenshin
    "Hey Chris,

    From reading some posts I've come accross people mentioning that the Xkans are not really recognized as koryu practitioners.

    I'm a little confused on this subject. Are they saying that the Xkans as orginizations are not koryu (as that would make perfect sense) or are the individual traditions in those organizations not considered koryu?

    If it is the latter, how can this be so? Are the arts of Togakure ryu, Koto ryu, and the like not backed up by hisotrical record or something?

    Just wondering if you knew what the deal is on this subject."


    Chris Parker's response:
    "Oh boy.... let's see how we go here!

    The arts that make up the Bujinkan (and related organisations) system are a mix of definitively Koryu systems (Takagi Yoshin Ryu, Kukishinden Ryu), and a number of systems that claim to be Koryu, but there is some contention to that (Gyokko Ryu, Koto Ryu, Togakure Ryu, Shinden Fudo Ryu, Gyokushin Ryu, Gikan Ryu, Kumogakure Ryu). However that does not make the Bujinkan a Koryu system. And that really comes down to what the Bujinkan really is, and what the Koryu really are.

    First off, Koryu are concerned with one thing, and that is correct transmission and preservation of the Ryu-ha itself. That means that changes are kept miminalist, adaptation to modern methods/weapons are eschewed, and many are aimed at preserving the art the way the founder developed it. In Koryu, you don't "train" them, you join them. As a result of all this, Koryu tend to be rather selective of how many students they accept, they will only take those who are seen to be potentially able to carry on the tradition in it's pure form.

    The Bujinkan, on the other hand, doesn't teach these arts (in a very real way). It teaches what is refered to as Budo Taijutsu, which is Hatsumi's creation, based on a series of principles gleaned from the source Ryu, and stressing creativity, spontenaity, free-flow, and so on. It is highly adaptive, and includes expressions including modern weapons (such as firearms). It does not transmit the Ryu-ha themselves.

    As a result, although the technical makeup of the system is Koryu, the Bujinkan itself, and what it teaches, is not.

    In terms of historical records, there are a few bits of evidence around, I've seen a scroll mentioning the Togakure Ryu name which is apparently from about 1864, there are a few mentions of arts such as Gyokushin Ryu and Gyokko Ryu, so although the histories as provided by the Ryu themselves are probably exaggerated (to say the least!), that is hardly unique amongst Japanese systems. Personally I feel that they are authentic, just not as old as the traditions say. But to be a part of a tradition means that you follow what the tradition teaches, so while Togakure Ryu may only be from the 16th or 17th Century, when teaching it, I say that the tradition itself says it dates from 1182.

    Hope that helps in some way, good to see you back,
    Chris. "

    __________________

    Himura Kenshin:

    "I appreciate the speedy and informative resopnse!
    What you said is sort of what I assumed but I wanted to know for sure.

    I did not know that koryu were committed to not changing their cirriculum. I always kind of assumed that they kept the old traditions but added to them. Hmmm. It makes sense though when you think about it.

    In your own opinion do you feel that koryu schools are not practical to today's self-defense scenarios? I would assume one does not enter a koryu school with this in mind. Is it more about preserving a tradition that achieving skill applicable to todays world?"

    Chris Parker:
    "Koryu aren't commited to not changing, they are commited to preserving.... it's slightly different, but can have some big effects on the system itself.

    A few case studies:

    Hyoho Niten Ichi Ryu was passed down on the understanding that the methods would be passed on unaltered. It was passed to three people, and the Ryu has continued that tradition by only having three people awarded Menkyo Kaiden in a generation.

    Tenshinsho Den Katori Shinto Ryu, according to their traditions, are based on a scroll presented to the founder by the deity of the Katori Shrine in a dream. When he awoke he had the scroll in his hands. As a result, the Ryu is deemed to be Tenshinsho Den (Truly and Correctly Transmitted from Heaven), and to change anything would be seen as rather sacreligious. It is believed that every possible usable method of using a sword is present in the Ryu, so adding to it makes no sense as well. Over the years certain aspects, such as it's Kyujutsu, Bajutsu, and Suijutsu have been lost, and the current thinking is that if the aspects were reconstructed (the documents relating to them still exist), the risk of getting it wrong, and therefore making them no longer Truly and Correctly transmitted, so there are no attempts to do so.

    Toda-ha Buko Ryu has, in it's current generation, reconstructed it's lost kata for Kusari Gama and Nagamaki. This was done with access to the historical documents and consultation with the Soke of the Ryu... but that was not without problems. The first time that Ellis Amdur presented the reconstructed kata to the Soke, she was not impressed. The methods worked, but that wasn't the issue. They didn't "fit" with the Ryu itself, so they didn't pass muster. Ellis had given them more of a "Araki Ryu" feel (we'll deal with that Ryu in a second). So he went away, and came back with a new expression of them, which fit with the Ryu-ha itself. So there the idea of preserving the core concepts of the Ryu come out.

    Araki Ryu has a history of pressure testing, constantly examining it's methods to ensure they stand up to the rigours of use. If something needs to be altered, it is. If it needs to be dropped, it is. If something needs to be added, it is. That, however, is not the same as saying it gets "modernised", as that is not the case at all. Simply that the methods are tested by each new generation. Araki Ryu also has a tradition of expecting each member to go out and "create" their own branch of the Ryu in their local area once Menkyo Kaiden is awarded, leading to a range of different expressions of the Ryu across different instructors.

    Hontai Yoshin Ryu in the last generation were finding that most of their practitioners were not highly skilled with a sword, making their Muto techniques suffer as a result. Due to that, the previous head and one of the senior students, who were both highly ranked in Toyama Ryu, added an Iai portion to the curriculum from Toyama Ryu itself. It is not considered Koryu from the Ryu's perspective, but has been added to the regular curriculum, so it approached with the same type of mindset as the rest of the Ryu.

    Shinto Muso Ryu Jodo/Jojutsu has, over it's time, added a number of other systems to it's teachings, such as Kasumi Shinto Ryu Kenjutsu (so the swordsmen attackers are competant), Uchida Ryu Tanjojutsu (created by a Menkyo Kaiden holder in the mid-19th Century, taking advantage of the Western walking sticks that were becoming popular), as well as other arts such as Isshin Ryu Kusarigama, Ikkatsu Ryu Jutte (including Tessenjutsu), and Ittatsu Ryu Hojo.

    These are obviously just a few examples, but they cover the range of different approaches different Ryu take.... as well as why it can be difficult to generalise about Koryu, similar to trying to generalise about martial arts themselves.

    In terms of Koryu being suited to self defence, no, they're not at all. They are completely unrelated to self defence when it comes down to it.

    A good article to read about Koryu attitudes is this one from Dave Lowry (Yagyu Shinkage Ryu):
    http://shutokukan.org/join_the_ryu.html

    Personally, I am a member of a Koryu Kenjutsu training group, and am about to join a second, as well as looking into a Koryu Jujutsu school, with my Ninjutsu making the modern Self Defence portion of my training. So that's where I'm coming from in this, so you know."

    Any other questions, just ask. Or, of course, these could be a fun forum thread as well.

    And so here we are. I was wondering if anyone else has any experience with koryu or if you have any other interesting tidbits about how martial arts have changed over the centuries or how some may have stayed relatively close to what they were in the beginning.


     
  2. Bruno@MT

    Bruno@MT Senior Master

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    Anyone interesting in that area should read this
    http://blog.bushinbooks.com/archives/4
    It goes a long way to answering the basic questions about why e.g. Togakure ryu is not formally recognized, yet probably is authentic.

    One of the points of contention is also that no written scrolls were passed down. But this is also something that was commonplace for ninjutsu ryuha, so it doesn't prove anything either way.

    If you want to learn some more about this, I advise you to buy this book
    http://www.amazon.com/Fujita-Seiko-Last-Koga-Ninja/dp/1436301769
    It reads easy, and it has some interesting background info about the man himself, as well as his thoughts about ninjutsu. Fujita Seiko was a very respected person among koryu practicioners, and recognized as a scholar. The book is worth the 10$.
     
  3. Aiki Lee

    Aiki Lee Master of Arts

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    Excellent! Thanks for the sources!
     
  4. Ken Morgan

    Ken Morgan Senior Master

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  5. Aiki Lee

    Aiki Lee Master of Arts

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    horray more useful posts!

    On a related note. there is some discussion in another thread about a person's "new ryu". From what I'm gathering about the posts it seems this person cannot simply call what he's doing a ryu. What then does it take for something to be considered a ryu? Is there more to this word than just the idea that a ryu is a school? Does the word not really translate the way people seem to assume it does.

    I seem to be having more questions than answers lately, and I am finding that I much prefer it that way.
     
    Last edited: Jan 26, 2011
  6. pgsmith

    pgsmith Master Black Belt

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    In one sense, it doesn't take anything really since there is no governing body for these sorts of things. On the other hand, to those that have some training in the traditional Japanese arts, a ryu is a fairly specific entity, owing to the actual meaning of the Japanese kanji. The kanji definition for ryu is listed in most Japanese/English dictionaries as a manner of, or school of (thought). The actual kanji itself means current, or drift (as in a river). What most with a traditional background will think of when you say 'ryu' is a tradition encompassing an underlying idea regarding movement, attack, and defense. Everything in a ryu is tied together at a fundamental level. If someone has not trained long enough to figure out the underlying fundamentals of an art (and it takes quite a while), then how could they possibly create their own school with its own underlying principles? Many people do start their own schools with their own ideas. Most of them assign these schools a Japanese name like Hokydoky ryu, as it sounds cool and goes over much better than 'Bob's school of made up stuff'. :) The problem is that those that have been training long enough to understand enough to make their own school are usually content to continue practicing what they've been learning. The vast majority of 'new schools' are created by people with very little training, and only a superficial understanding of the martial arts. It's usually very simple to see that they don't know what they're doing from the Youtube videos that they invariably put up of their 'art'.
     
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  7. Chris Parker

    Chris Parker Grandmaster

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    Hi Himura,

    The articles Ken linked are great, in terms of books the first stop really should be the ones put out by Koryu Books (Sword and Spirit, Koryu Bujutsu, Keiko Shokon), followed by more general books based around specific Ryu-ha (Prof. Karl Friday's Legacies of the Sword [Kashima Shinryu], Otake Risuke's Katori Shinto Ryu), as well as the older books by Donn Draeger (Classical Bujutsu, Classical Budo etc).

    As for what makes something a Ryu, I couldn't really add much to Paul's description there (I'd translate Ryu as "flow", but that's all.... it's the same character as "nagashi/nagare", so you know), he really has covered the important things (a solid, definable base). So yeah, what he said!
     
  8. pgsmith

    pgsmith Master Black Belt

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    Thanks Chris, flow is a much better word. :)
     
  9. Aiki Lee

    Aiki Lee Master of Arts

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    Thanks to everyone for their comments and links. I checked out all those links provided and they seem to help answer some of my questions. I also bought that book on Fujita Seiko recommended by Bruno. I'm waiting for delivery I should have it in about a week.

    I read a book by Karl Friday for a Japanese history class. I think it was called "Swords for Hire" and about the rise of the samurai. You're telling me he writes books on old martial arts too?
     
    Last edited: Jan 27, 2011
  10. Ken Morgan

    Ken Morgan Senior Master

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    Karl Friday is a great source for Budo/Japanese history, one of the few everyone respects. EJMAS has some of his articles posted up.

    I'm personally not fond of many of the koryu.com items.

    Its a long journey, sometimes you'll take the wrong fork, and have to backtrack a bit, and go the other way, but you'll figure it all out in time.

    There is a great deal of garbage out there, so when you read books and listen to people, always question what you just learned.
     
  11. Aiki Lee

    Aiki Lee Master of Arts

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    Yes, I question everything to find what I feel is truthful and really like when people show some kind of verifiable evidence. I minored in Japanese for my undergraduate but I would consider myself to be barely a beginner on the subject. So as a person with little knowledge on koryu or ancient Japanese culture and budo in general Karl Friday would then be a good source to go to for a legitimate understanding?
     
  12. pgsmith

    pgsmith Master Black Belt

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    Karl Friday is professor of Asian history at University of Georgia, as well as a menkyo Kaiden and shihan in the Kashima Shin ryu. He is extremely knowledgeable about Japanese history and the koryu. I've enjoyed all of his books, although they tend to go a bit more on the academic side.
     
  13. Aiki Lee

    Aiki Lee Master of Arts

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    Yes I remember the one book of his I had to be dry but still informative. I had no idea he had such advanced training!
     
  14. Chris Parker

    Chris Parker Grandmaster

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    The Koryu books are a great start into this area, especially the first two (Koryu Bujutsu, and Sword and Spirit) as they give a good idea of the variety that Koryu has to offer, and are in that incredibly good introductions, hence my recommendation. Karl Friday's work I absolutely love, but then again I love the academic approach. But they are far more accessible when some base understanding of what Koryu can mean is established.
     
  15. pgsmith

    pgsmith Master Black Belt

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    I agree wholeheartedly with Chris' assessment. I also recommend Ellis Amdur's Old School for a good introduction to the koryu.
     
  16. Chris Parker

    Chris Parker Grandmaster

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    Seconded. Motion carried.

    Oh, and while I'm here, there are some to avoid as well (this gets contentious, as personal biases come into it, probably more than in recommendations!). Personally, I'd avoid most stuff by Stephen Turnbull, especially anything he has to say on "ninja", he tends to look at everything with very Western eyes, and it colours his interpretation of everything, leading to some rather inaccurate accounts and theories. Serge Mol has a few books out (Classical Fighting Arts of Japan, Classical Weaponry of Japan, Classical Swordsmanship of Japan) that are very interesting, but flawed in a few ways. So they would be recommended later, when you know what you're looking at a bit more. Oh, and things like Samurai Fighting Arts by Tanaka Fumon, again interesting, but not really a recommendation for a number of reasons. Pretty pictures, though!

    For another good one, in the late 70's there was a documentary series on the BBC called Way of the Warrior. It covered a whole range of arts, from a number of different countries, and included Katori Shinto Ryu when looking at Japanese Swordsmanship (it also covered Karate, Aikido, Naginatado, and lots more [non-Japanese] arts as well). If you can find the documentary itself (I think it's in pieces on you-tube), that is great, there's also a book companion to it which is still in print.
     
  17. Supra Vijai

    Supra Vijai Black Belt

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    Umm if it's the same series I'm thinking of it had a total of 8 episodes and aired on the BBC in 1983. Did they have one of the same name in the 70's?
     
  18. Chris Parker

    Chris Parker Grandmaster

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    Just checked the publication of the book, 1983 is right. I'm probably getting mixed up with Budo: The Art of Killing! (gotta love that title!). Still a big recommendation, though!
     
  19. Supra Vijai

    Supra Vijai Black Belt

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    Thanks, lots of interesting books to hunt down and read in this thread. Makes the train rides so much more fun to and from work :)

    Just a quick note on the series though, Episode 8 was "The way of the Warrior: Samurai" and that's the one that featured Katori (Otake version) and included scenes of training in the Otake dojo if I'm not mistaken. If the OP is particularly interested in Kenjutsu that'd be the way to go :)
     
  20. Chris Parker

    Chris Parker Grandmaster

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    The chapter in the book is quite interesting as well... most of the information is in both (including Otake Sensei going through some Kuji aspects, and a number of old stories, which I like), but the book also contains some of the very few pictures of Katori Shinto Ryu Shurikenjutsu as well.
     

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