Why the fake/embellished origins of many koryu?

Discussion in 'Koryu Bujutsu' started by hendry, Feb 9, 2008.

  1. hendry

    hendry Valued Member

    In today's world there is an attraction to martial arts with long and romantic histories. This is a selling point for many classical arts .... both real and fake. So I can understand ... but not condone .... why many teachers now claim things like 30 generations and that their school was founded by a tengu or whatever.

    But back in the Sengoku and Edo eras, why did koryu founders feel the need to embellish their lineages? What did it add? Surely back then the kind of people who studied koryu would be doing it PURELY for their effectiveness. Would the students really care about generations of lineage and mystical origins?

    I cannot imagine a samurai in the 1500s making a decision based on anything but effectiveness in battle. How will this training keep me alive? Did they really have the luxury of choosing something for its mystical and romantic history?

    So I am puzzled why Takenouchi Hisamori felt the need to invent a story about a yamabushi on Mt Atago breaking his bokuto ........ or why Izasa Choisai felt the need to spin a yarn about learning from angels ....... How would these embellishments have benefitted them?
  2. Polar Bear

    Polar Bear Moved on

    You got it in the first sentence. Romantic. Samurai much like Knights in western culture appeal to a certain kind of person. Me being one!
    History is important to people it gives them an idea of their position in the world. It's why geneology has become a massive world wide industry. This isn't specific to Koryu it's just part of human nature. You also have to remember that spirits were a real part of life in many cultures.
    The Bear.
  3. slipthejab

    slipthejab Hark, a vagrant! Supporter

    Obviously once again your questions are primarily rhetorical in nature.
    But I'll bite.

    I suspect this is pretty much what it's always been. Human nature tends to want more than the bare bones basics. That's how people are. People have this need to believe more than is really there. Both superstition and religion are prime examples of that. They've been around the entire time that man has... much like martial arts in one form or another. Cold logic and steely pragmatism is just plain boring.

    Are you really all that surprised by any of this? I think not.

    As with anything... embellishment has it benefits. If someone embellished their lineage and managed to get a good number of people towing that line... is it not obvious what the advantages could be?

    You're trying to view this in some sort of very weird ultra critical light that seems to ignore the times in which these arts were being developed. It really seems that you haven't taken into account the cultural factors affecting such decisions. People were very class conscious so surely with just that factor alone we can begin to see the reasoning for embellishing ones lineage.

    I think you're making a faulty assumption.
    I don't think that people did make the assumption as some sort of singular focus on effectiveness. People are not robots that lock onto one task and go after it to a exclusion of all others. Again... learn more about the cultures that prevailed in the time of the samurai and how class conscious people were and just how important it was to appear in the proper light to ones colleagues and superiors in that age. There are copious examples of just how much importance the samurai places on appearance. Everything from their hair to the way they held themselves to the combinations of color they wore - all tied up in denoting class. They were to a large extent class conscious peacocks - not as you're making them out to be... some sort of uber human warrior devoid of all emotion and relying only on cold logic to choose only what was most effective in battle.

    Obviously your questions are rhetorical so I'm sure you know full well the answer to your own questions. But if you're not... seriously... post less on Japanese culture and read more.

    You'll find the Japanese are probably one of the most religious/superstitious people on the planet. They have a massive pantheon of demons, gods, goblins and ghosts. They have a mythological story for just about every facet of culture. That's just it really... it's part and parcel with their culture. You seem to be feigning shock that they would be mythologizing the roots of many arts... if you know anything at all about Japanese culture from the samurai eras... and take into scope their history and culture as a people prior to that... how on earth could you not expect to them to mythologize such roots?!

    edit: haha... I just read Polar Bear's post who typing at the same time I was. It brought to mind that much of Hendry's rhetorical questions could be answered by some serious reading of the work of Joseph Campbell. :D
    Last edited: Feb 9, 2008
  4. hendry

    hendry Valued Member

    But we're not talking about you ..... or anyone else alive for that matter!

    We're talking about the samurai 500 years ago who actually USED these arts as their profession and their way of staying unkilled.

    Sure, to us koryu are romantic and appealing BECAUSE they are koryu.

    But what about the people using them BEFORE they were koryu ..... when they were just ryu (without the ko-)?

    Would a Sengoku samurai be looking for koryu? Or just a ryu?

    Was there even such a notion of a koryu back then? And if there was no such concept as koryu then why bother with a fake lineage?
  5. fifthchamber

    fifthchamber Valued Member

    Okay, as a member of one of the ryuha mentioned in Hendry's original post I think it would mean more to give my take on what is meant by the legend and why I don't happen to think it is entirely false.

    Hisamori was trained in martial arts before he ever lost Ichinose Castle, the current idea is that his family martial arts were those of the Minamoto family...He knew what to do with weapons although thr grappling may well have been more of a form closer to sumo (not modern sumo).

    When he went up to Atago Shrine, his purpose was Shugyo..What this means is that he went there to train and find "something", spiritual or otherwise that would allow him to develop. His method of doing that was to train each day as hard as he could, meditate during the night, and subsist on minimal amounts of food..(and quite probably sake).

    The vision came to him after several nights of hard training, his body would have been shattered...Lack of food and water on top of training is a strict enough regime to cause visions..But what he saw was based in the beliefs that he (And every other Japanese at that time) carried. The man that appeared to him was seen by him to be a tengu..What that actually means is wide...I don't believe that anyone expects the Tengu to have wings and a beak...He was human, but something about him led Hisamori (in a weakened state) to see him as a Tengu..

    This is not hard to believe. If you doubt that people have these beliefs then ask what George Bush was doing pursuing WMD in Iraq on "God's" belief that they were there...The background of the Takenouchi family was firmly Shinto/Buddhist based, and what he saw was made to fit into those beliefs. I have no doubt that he was trained or shown something by someone...That area of Okayama would most certainly lend itself to a wilder imagination, and at that time there would have been several possibilities for who taught him, ranging from priests at the shrine, to other martial artists also partaking in Shugyo..

    Either way, that does not make the story untrue, or fictional...It was what he believed that he had seen and it was based on a background of strong belief in the supernatural (Which to some degree still exists here in Japan), and the idea that Tengu roamed the country.

    This was also 500 years ago...Before the widespread understanding of science and what is possible on Earth existed...Legends and myths from that time were created to give some understanding of why these things happened...And since science was not an option it was generally assumed that the various Gods had something to do with it...It's not a large jump that a man, based in that system, starved and tired, would see what he believed to be a supernatural being teach him how to use several tools..Whether it was in his dreams that he saw it or in reality does nothing to boost the system..

    Hisamori was a genius. The system he created, and that his sons developed is standing testament to the validity of the training..And the fact that he claimed he was shown some of it by a God does not detract from the fact that even then, he created the rest of it on his own...

    Just remember, 500 years ago, America wasn't America, and the world was not as well understood as it is now...In that context it is not false to claim that a supernatural being taught you...You had to put it in context, and the context is medieval Japan, in a countryside full of strange sounds and tall trees, and a high belief in the supernatural.

    I don't see what your problem is Hendry...500 years is a long time before "The Discovery Channel" and yet people still believe that they see God talking to them...Although, rationally we can say that they are probably hallucinating, that doesn't take away their belief...And that's WITH the science to back it up..Take that away and what Hisamori and Iizasa Choisai claimed is entirely reasonable...

    And for the record, all those in the school I have spoken to about it have little doubt that the person who taught Hisamori was not a Tengu...But they recognise that he thought that, and that either way, what was shown was a system that worked wonderfully..Tengu or man...

  6. Fred29

    Fred29 New Member

    Thought I'd squeeze in two cents here.

    I agree that its easy to be skeptical today when reading the different founding stories of various ryu. And thats even without mythical creatures like Tengu.

    In the ryuha I belong to, Shinto Muso Ryu Jodo, the tradition says that 400 years ago a samurai named Muso Gonnosuke fought the (other) famous samurai Miyamoto Musashi and was defeated in a duel..later got a divine vision which led to the creation of new Jo-techniques (and a ryu) and then fight Musashi in a rematch which Gonnosuke won. The first duel is mentioned in one of the sources for Musashi and his life, the second duel is not and there are no solid reliable sources left to confirm it. The SMR tradition, as passed along, states that he did win a second duel.

    One of the cornerstones of Musashis reputation is the statement that he was never defeated in 60+ duels (or whichever figure it was). So one must ask oneself, in relation to Shinto Muso Ryu, if the end-doctrine is a result of Gonnosuke's (or his followers) historical revisionism in order to build a very high-status foundation for a ryu, "The ryu that defeated the undefeatable Musashi (etc)", or if it is the result of Musashi (or his followers) historical revision to preserve the latters "The undefeated swordsman of Japan" reputation. Perhaps it's neither

    Of course this is all just idle speculation all in good fun and we will most likeley never get the truth, but it is interesting nonetheless and I'm personally tempted to view some of the other ryufoundation-stories with the same point of view.
  7. Bronze Statue

    Bronze Statue Valued Member

    Fred29 also brings up a good point; it might not even be the ryu itself which creates the legend. Oftentimes, with the use of Musashi's name being a good example, legends were cooked up by other people in order to create fame; think of the way a small town in the old USA might have sought to increase its profile by publishing an invented story claiming that Jim Bowie performed some of his exploits there.

    Incidentally, no word currently exists on whether, say, 26th century practitioners of Tang Soo Do will tell comparable fictional legends of Chuck Norris, although the groundwork for that is certainly being set with the "Chuck Norris Facts".
  8. Kogusoku

    Kogusoku 髭また伸びた! Supporter

    Hang on, I thought Chuck's tears really could cure cancer! :eek: ;)

    Another theory I have heard related to tengu was just before I left Japan to move back to the UK;

    It related to the fact that the Japanese psyche could not adjust or accept that an overly foreign influence (As opposed to geographically closer foreign countries like China & Korea) would not be acceptable. Some depictions of tengu have been of a tall body with a crow's head, and others have been of tall men, with pale skin, large noses and large amounts of facial hair.

    Sounds like a unflattering description of a caucasian, doesn't it?

    There were lots of laughs around the dojo when that theory was repeated in the dojo, but at the same time, why have such a strange, almost metaphorical image?
    Last edited: Feb 10, 2008
  9. Ellis Amdur

    Ellis Amdur Valued Member

    Oh, it goes further than that, Steve! There are claims among some Japanese that the the yamabushi - the hairy, big-nosed mountain ascetics with the funny pill-box hats were originally Jews who traveled the Silk Road to Japan in the Nara period. (It is known that Nestorian Christian traders reached Japan and there are Persian artifacts among the Nara treasury, the Shosoin).
    On another matter, the tengu were originally part of Chinese cosmology, symbolizing the random forces in the universe. Taoist astrology, adopted by Buddhism, studied the stars for prediction of the future, military tactics, etc., believing that the ordered patterns of the cosmos were mirrored in the patterns of life on earth. The tengu (I cannot remember the name or the characters right now) where comets and meteors - the jokers in the cosmos, appearing and disappearing seemingly at random. I believe that they were also associated with "lion-dogs," which we see "tamed" at the gates of temples. The earliest tengu in Japan were, I believe, karasu-tengu - crows - the ultimate trickster - who, particularly in shamanistic religions, also symbolize energy or force that is beyond order (or good-evil). This idea was retained in shugendo, the syncretic religion that mixed mountain cults, Buddhism and Taoism.
    There are specific rituals to call up tengu in Shingon mikkyo Buddhism - which were adopted by a number of ryu. They are considered profoundly psychologically dangerous and require a tremendous amount of mind control, particularly as they are done after periods of profound privation.
    Ellis Amdur
  10. Toby Threadgill

    Toby Threadgill Valued Member


    Take a pill. Tengu are real. Didn't you know that? My teacher regularly hung around with these rather peculiar winged gents on his frequent forays up Kurama-san!

    Foreigners. Such closed minded barbarians! ....LOL

    Toby Threadgill / TSYR
  11. hendry

    hendry Valued Member

    Ok .... enough with the tengu stuff!

    How about the other issue, which is claiming the ryu to be a lot older than it really is? Why did some ryu feel the need to claim many generations that didn't really exist?

    I can understand why people would want a koryu to have many generations .... that's the definition of koryu after all! ...... but why would a samurai care about whether he was doing a koryu or just a ryu?
  12. Fred29

    Fred29 New Member

    If I had to take a guess I would say a samurai was very concious of his status and reputation in the eyes of others. That lone might drive him into a old and prestigious ryu.

    Though there are exceptions. The Itto-ryu was chosen to be an official Tokugawa ryu of kenjutsu, and that ryu wasn't very old when Tokugawa became Shogun. Obviously the Shogunate was very pragmatical in that decision since they could have found and chosen one of the older more established ryu in the land as a way to add to the prestige of the Shogunate yet the chose the younger one.
  13. fifthchamber

    fifthchamber Valued Member

    I could think of about 5 or so ryuha that seem to have rather "extended" lineages..I would be pushing it to guess on more, although perhaps 20 or so would be reasonable?

    Out of a reasonable estimate of 700 or so ryuha, what leads you to believe it was prevalent enough to bother with a thread here?

    That said, I would presume that the lineages seem to be falsified from a modern perspective, the chances are that 300 years ago the man who created the "official" line was starting with a legend told to him by the man who taught him about the man who taught him, and the man who taught him, who happened to have been taught by the man who studied Takeda Ryu (An example..Leading to nothing at all..)...It would have been taken as legend, but used in the lineage to show that this was the claim..We can research it now fully, and use a lot more science in that investigation, as well as looking into other lines that connect and split, and using those lines we can make a rather more even judgement on the origins....But that was impossible 300 years ago..Impossible until very recently..

    I would hazard a guess that that is a major reason why some (like I guess, 10 perhaps? A ridiculously small percentage of the whole) ryuha claimed what they did..

    The rest just went with the guy who created it....Itto Ryu was Fred's example...But there are hundreds of others..

    As an aside, even 200 years ago there were "koryu"..Higo Koryu to be more precise..Go read Mr. Amdur's book for more on that...Not quite what you were searching for..But it fits with what you wrote..

    All the best..
  14. Toby Threadgill

    Toby Threadgill Valued Member


    The rhetorical questions continue....

    So....Why does the British press exhaustively research the family tree of any commoner who gets romantically involved with a member of the royal family, finally finding some obscure familial link to a famous person like Cromwell, Churchill or Charlemagne?

    Marketing and PR wasn't exactly created in New York in the 1950's.

    And....I agree with Ben. I'm not sure this was as widespread a conspiracy as you allude to. You seem to have some weird ax to grind here exacerbated by a dash of unfamiliarity surrounding koryu. Presenting questions more associated with hype than history, as it were.

    Toby Threadgill / TSYR
    Last edited: Feb 19, 2008
  15. Toby Threadgill

    Toby Threadgill Valued Member


    Back to the Tengu thing........

    Or an accurate description of Ellis in a beard! There will probably be new reports of Tengu showing up in Japan this summer...


    Toby Threadgill
  16. ScottUK

    ScottUK More human than human...

    ...which brings up a related question:

    How many koryu have been heavily influenced by the West?

    (other than hojutsu of course)
  17. hendry

    hendry Valued Member

    By calling itself "koryu", did that imply it was outdated even 200 years ago?
  18. Kurtka Jerker

    Kurtka Jerker Valued Member

    I think you're confusing old with outdated, hendry. A school that started in the 1300s would likely be considered an "old" style by the end of the warring states period. That does not neccesarily mean it'd be outdated.
  19. fifthchamber

    fifthchamber Valued Member

    Koryu has never meant or implied "outdated"...It doesn't today...It didn't then...It meant "old school"...


    Go read Mr. Amdur's book for more on that.....Really, you want to know?It's all there in an excellent article.

  20. Kogusoku

    Kogusoku 髭また伸びた! Supporter


    Well as of next month, there'll be sightings of tanuki that can shapeshift into the form of a bearded Irishman! :)

    And again in Summer.
    Last edited: Feb 20, 2008

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