Watching a video on tai-chi, it just crossed my mind that the easiest way to look at the Bujinkan is to think of things in terms of traditional Chinese martial arts. There have been many famous Chinese masters who taught at big schools and had thousands of students, often having hundreds of students practicing forms together at once. However, these masters recognized their true disciples as well as people who were just students. Disciples were considered the ones who the true teachings were passed down to whereas students were not. This phenomena is not uncommon in Japanese martial arts either, yet it is perhaps more obvious in Chinese arts. Part of the problem with the image of the Bujinkan is that many people don't recognize this difference and incorrectly assume that anyone claiming to be a teacher, master, shidoshi, or godan automatically makes them the equivalent of an inner disciple. Obviously, this is not the case. So how can you tell who is who? Obviously, someone who is claimed by the master to be a close disciple and has dedicated their life to learning, internalizing, and passing on the arts would be a good place to start. However, in a huge organization with hundreds or even thousands of teachers, it may seem that many can make a case for their inclusion in this category. Yet, no matter how big a school or organization, you repeatedly find that there are usually not more than a handful of people who can prove themselves to be a true disciple. First of all they have to demonstrate a certain knowledge about the art(s). This is academic, including the ability to explain the depths of the philosophy and technical aspects. Then comes the physical, the ability to demonstrate a mastery of the technical side of the art. Since even amongst deshi(inner door students), there can be a difference in technical ability and knowledge of curriculum, it takes a bit of familiarity on one's own part to really know if the teacher has this ability. Yes, a lot of it can be seen, but so much actually needs to be felt. Often, people point out that there is no one way or correct way to do techniques in the Bujinkan, yet they miss the point. There is definitely a correct way to do the kiso, kihon, and kata(all with their respective correct and known variations), and they are easily differentiated from those that are incorrect. There are also beginner, intermediate, and advanced skills that are hidden within the techniques. Once these skills are appropriated through practice, trial and error, and dedication, the person who truly has mastered the kata can demonstrate these aspects of their mastery outside the context of the kata and in any situation. Giving an example of a technique that often comes up, let's take Koku from the Gyokko Ryu. One of the meanings inherent in the technique name is the leading of the opponent's attack into nothingness. Another ability is the use of the shuto as a counterstrike to the opponents incoming attack. It can be likened to presenting a target that is the lure to a trap. Then, there is the way of avoiding a kick and counter kicking, a skill similar to the above but this time using the legs. There are particular footwork patterns learned, and the beginnings of learning how to use perception and perception of distance to your advantage. So, does your teacher have this skill? Can they show it outside of the confines of the actual kata? Can they tell you how one develops this ability(it doesn't come from just the practicing of the kata)? Of course there is much more to Koku than what was just mentioned, but it is a start. It is usually those who can't demonstrate these skills that argue for the laissez faire approach to these arts and how that is what makes it superior to other more "static" arts. They henka their way out of the fact that they don't have the correct foundation or skill to do things the right way. It is due to these kinds of misconceptions that the true art is beyond the reach of the masses and the reputation of said ryu gets sullied. So, if one is claiming to be a private student of the Grandmaster or certain other seemingly impressive credentials, one should reflect on whether or not they are just another student or are really a true inner door disciple. 9 times out of 8, they aren't and the student isn't going to get what they are truly looking for. However, the ability to perceive this comes with a certain mileage and investment in researching these arts for themselves. Many people never reach this stage in their development and are content to believe in the illusion. Knowing the difference is the first step to making one. Just food for thought, it isn't really that important unless one is trying to teach or looking for a teacher who can pass on the true arts.