"You want koryu? Come to Japan" Still true or not?

Discussion in 'Koryu Bujutsu' started by hendry, Jan 5, 2008.

  1. hendry

    hendry Valued Member

    I notice another thread has begun listing koryu dojo outside Japan ..... by authorizing these dojos, the headmasters of the ryuha must believe that one CAN do koryu outside of Japan.

    This seems in contrast to what several authors (all non-Japanese by the way!!!) have written!!!

    What are people's thoughts on this?

    Is the statement "You Want Koryu? Come to Japan" outdated or still vaild?

    Do these non-Japanese authors know something that the Japanese headmasters don't?
  2. fifthchamber

    fifthchamber Valued Member

    While teaching and studying a koryu is perfectly acceptable when done outside of Japan all those schools have maintained (As well as possible) a link to Japan, so although the training is conducted outside Japan the "soul" of the training is still connected to Japan..

    If you think of it like that it makes more sense to "come to Japan" to train in arts that are connected here, rather than study them in a more removed location..

    It can be done, and with work a lot of stuff can be covered, because the soul is still tied to where the arts came from, but in order to really understand that essence I would think that most of the Koryu outside of Japan advocate a trip or two to connect to the origin of the art..

    You can do it, but since the arts are still tied here it still makes far more sense to come to the 'heart' rather than study under the 'fingers' in an art abroad..

    All the major schools with branches abroad have that approach, and all that I know of stay in very close contact with Japan, to not do so would cut the art off from all that made it, and that's not such a great idea, especially in Koryu..

    So yes, of course it's possible, but given the choice, each and everytime, the best possible place to train in Koryu is the same place it has always been taught..

    Check some of D.Lowry's and perhaps some of Wayne Muromoto's writings for his ideas about "uprooting" the art from it's heritage...I agree with them mostly...
  3. zealuk

    zealuk New Member

    I first read that statement when I lived in England, and I really disagreed with it. I saw no reason why foreign people couldn't practice koryu in foreign countries and aspire to a high level of practice. In fact I still don't see why that is not possible.

    However since I moved to Japan I have come to agree with the sentiment that you need to live here for a number of years before you can get a real taste of what goes on in koryu ryuha.

    First thing to address is the level of instruction available outside of Japan. There are certainly a number of dojo teaching koryu outisde of Japan with high level instructors, but frankly these are a rarity. Many people get by in study groups often flying a hell of a long way to train with their teachers and spending a great deal of time and effort sharing their knowledge with the people they train with. In Japan, some people also travel a long way to train in koryu ryuha, this coupled with a minute amount of free time for the average worker makes life pretty difficult, even if you live in the same country as the headmaster of your style. The difference is that the instruction comes from the top as it were.

    The second problem is cultural and linguistic. Koryu ryuha often have a great deal of ties to other parts of Japanese culture. A good example of this is the buddhist and confucian terminology used to explain difficult concepts pertaining to technique or mindset. To really get a good understanding of these words and concepts you would not only need to read and speak Japanese, but might also like to investigate particular sects of buddhism or something along those lines. Certainly it's possible to read a great deal in English in books and on the internet, but does it really compare to going to a temple and discussing the matter with a priest?

    Further to this point, reading and understanding the densho passed down in your particular ryuha must certainly be a key point in understanding the philosophy behind the techniques. Of course you could argue that many Japanese people can barely read old makimono, let alone foreigners. I suppose you could also argue that principle follows technique. Nonetheless the position of your teacher and your relationship with him (or her) is vital to understanding the concepts of the ryuha that they teach.

    I think that practicing koryu bujutsu outside of Japan is entirely possible. Some people are also very good at what they do, but i think you will notice that the majority of people who hold high level grades and teaching licenses have spent a long while in Japan training.

    You can do koryu outside Japan, no question. You can't expect to gain a deep understanding of koryu without first understanding the culture (and thus language) that it's rooted in.
    Yoroi boi likes this.
  4. fifthchamber

    fifthchamber Valued Member

    While I was in the shower I realised that the best way to illustrate how important it is to make an effort to come to Japan for Koryu would be by using the example of beer....(Not such a random idea if you've ever been training with any of us here and watched us after it's all over)..

    Beer is basically pretty good, some not so good and some completely useless, let's say that Koryu is "Hoegaarden" (Simply because I like it, for pedants you can sub in "Champagne" or a good "Adnams" or hell, even Pepsi, although I am not sure if Pepsi is "localised" enough to count)..

    Hoegaarden is always a pretty good beer, drunk from the bottle or from tap, sold all over the world and lovely pretty much anywhere it is drunken, but the taste of the beer, the version sold in say, Japan is different from that sold in England, even if only slightly, some ingredients may be missing or changed, some subtle flavours may have been added or subbed and something changes for the locality of the area it is sold in. It's still good, solid beer, and easily enough to make you drunk happily, but the flavour is subtly different.

    Imagine koryu to be Hoegaardens base in Belgium..The factory that originally made the stuff..If you drink a beer in Japan, it's good stuff, but if you go to Belgium, and find Hoegaarden, and ask them to pour you a draught of the stuff they have just made it comes with a "soul" added to it, it tastes different, not necessarily better, but comes with more "veracity" perhaps..

    Then you happen to meet the family that created the beer originally, and the grandfather mentions that he has several "speciality" beers that have been created for him and his friends and family to enjoy alone..These beers are the best of the best, or at least, the best hidden and the original family happen to know what beer you like (Since you came to Belgium to try it) and trust you to appreciate "real Belgian beer"..So they let you try it..Sure, you could just settle for a beer from a bottle at home, with a video on, and your girlfriend pouring for you, but it's not the same experience, and if you love beer you'd understand why you needed to go to Hoegaarden..

    The family then decide to show you some of the older documents and photos they have kept around to remember what went before, the lists of ingredients, some still used, and some not and they let you know why those were changed and when. The photos also raise questions so you ask and they supply the answers because they are more than happy to talk about the family tradition with someone who wants to understand..

    You go for a walk and see the land where the original family used to grow the grains used and where the modern family has the same fields used to create the same beer, and you are told that the reason the colour was so pale was because the grain was in direct sunlight all day and when roasted turns white, not black (Not true by the way..Just saying)..

    The family connect the beer back to where it came from, and the beer tastes amazing because it has tradition and knowledge and a solid base of support that has come from making the same beer for centuries..In Koryu it is precisely the same, culture, tradition and history are all a vital part of both Koryu and the Hoegaarden beer factory..

    Beer and Koryu are not so wide that you can't see the link...Pale ale is great stuff and well worth the try, and some "paler" forms of Budo are equally good to use and train in, but if you love beer, and Koryu, the best place to be is the place that created it, and ideally in the living room of the family that had the honour to do so way back when..They are the soul, and without that link it becomes just another beer, or martial art..

    See what I'm trying to say?

    It's mostly good stuff, but for those who want something different, it takes a trip or two to find the places that work best...(Hell, even just saying "come to Japan" is pretty far off the mark, I'd suggest "come to the location of the family that maintains the tradition" but it rolls off the tongue less eloquently)...

    Anyway, it's all the same, if you value what you do with Koryu, it makes more sense to do it here than to do it anywhere else, unless there is no other option...(For many there isn't...And it's a good thing to have so many branch Dojo opening up mostly!)...Same with beer, get in your car and drive somewhere they really know how to make it for you...

    Like Hoegaarden, and koryu...Taste it at the source if you can.
    Last edited: Jan 5, 2008
  5. Kogusoku

    Kogusoku 髭また伸びた! Supporter

    Keiko and beer after keiko. Award winning combination. :)

    Agreed, it's very hard to learn a koryu properly outside of Japan unless correct standards are kept. You just can't learn all the nuances of the ryuha or the art if you or your teacher (That's if you're studying with a shibu-dojo or a kenkyukai.) have not been to Japan at length to train and get some proper insight.

    I still go to Japan twice a year to train and research into my chosen koryu. I lived in Japan for almost a decade and still don't feel that it is sufficient. I go so that when I officially bring one of the koryu I study to the UK, I will not be leading my students up the garden path.
    Last edited: Feb 22, 2008
  6. raitei

    raitei Valued Member

    Quite honestly, I think that we have all missed the boat; residing in Japan to bathe in [insert name of favorite koryu art here] is irrelevant. All this good stuff died in the 1800's and it isn’t coming back no matter how many times we watch a Kurosawa flick. Koryu may have even died before that time. Our best approximations are most likely very far from the real thing. That considered, a radical approach would be not to practice these arts at all out of respect for the arts as well as for ourselves.

    It takes a strong koryu, kobudo, or whatever other fancy label you want to use for a Japanese classical martial arts practitioner to get over the fact that modern Japanese society is highly allergic to koryu arts. The various soke who were chosen to keep the ishi soden ball rolling are educated guessers AT BEST.

    The "living in Japan" thing is usually just a method many foreigners use to make them look larger than life in the martial arts world. In the end, no one really cares.

    Until someone invents a time machine, it is advisable not to take your arts or performance within them very seriously. Keep it real people.

    Thomas Curran

    Tokyo, Japan
  7. tellner

    tellner Valued Member

    Offhand I can think of four legitimate, authentic koryu groups in my city. One teaches Shinden Muso Ryu Jo-Jutsu. One teaches Araki Ryu. One teaches another comprehensive koryu tradition with an emphasis on naginata. One teaches an old Ju Jutsu.

    I do not live in Japan.
  8. raitei

    raitei Valued Member

    No doubt. The people on Koryu.com have dojos in the US. My point is that the whole Japan thing may work for some based on the power of suggestion (being on Japanese soil, ability to see Japanese faces daily, temples, shrines, etc.). Even Monthy Python can't beat the sight of a gaijin (non-Japanese) ninjer doing cartwheels in front of a 500 year old temple!

    However, these superficial trappings merely serve as psychological crutches which relieve the mind from the main issue at hand which is whether or not we can say that the "legit" koryu are delivering us the orange juice concentrate as served long, long ago. Given all the variables, I believe that they aren't.

    People just don't get the fact that the party is over. It's done.

    Thomas Curran

    Tokyo, Japan
  9. Banpen Fugyo

    Banpen Fugyo 10000 Changes No Surprise

    Im gonna have to agree with Mr. Curran.

    It might be better psychologically to be in Japan and feel like a samurai (Ive never been so take this with a grain of salt) but technically speaking, there are PLENTY of non-Japanese who are fully authorized to teach MA anywhere they want.

    People try and take the mystical-like route and say that only the TRUE way can be found in Japan. Maybe. I tend to lead more towards the assumption that REAL MA arent exactly around anymore anyways, and even Japanese are practicing a watered-down version of the originals... relatively speaking.

    I think Hatsumi sensei once commented about something like this. Someone was asking him about meditating under a cold waterfall or something of that nature. He said that a cold shower in a bathroom works too.

    You could argue, of course, that being "one with nature" is only attainable from actually being in nature and blah blah. Understandable. But this is the "mystical" stuff that I was talking about. Cold water is cold water, ne?
  10. pgsmith

    pgsmith Valued dismemberer

    If you aren't currently studying a koryu art, you are most likely to take the attitude that Mr. Curran displays with such admirable abrasiveness. The vast majority of westerners see martial arts as "self defense". The koryu DO teach martial arts, but that is only as an aside, a part of the whole if you will. The koryu schools began, and indeed still are in a way, as political entities. The ryu had its own outlook and policies, its own way of doing things. They had, and still have, their own philosophies and ways of thinking.

    I don't know what variables you're talking about, or where you get your vast experience in the koryu arts and Japanese history to be able to issue a blanket statement like that. You're entitled to express your opinions but, without some sort of supporting evidence, or indeed any indication that you understand what you're talking about, others will feel free to ignore your opinions.

    I personally agree that properly learning a koryu art requires significant time spent in Japan. Not so that you seem like a big shot back home, or so you can wander around playing samurai. All of the koryu that I've had any contact with are beyond childish games such as that. No, you need time in Japan in order to be able to understand the society that the koryu arose from. I feel that it requires intimate contact with the language and history in order to figure out the underlying principles and ideals of a particular koryu.

    The movements of the martial arts that they are teaching can be learned from any competent instructor outside of Japan. However, it's the philosophical underpinnings that can't be properly absorbed, and so your understanding of the ryu will necessarily fall short of what it should be. If you want to learn how to defend yourself, there are plenty of martial arts to teach you that. If you want to learn how to swing a sword around, there are quite a number of martial arts that will teach that also. If you want to learn a koryu art, then you just have to face the fact that there is much more to it than simply the techniques, and you can't learn it all without going to the source.
  11. tellner

    tellner Valued Member

    Mmm, mebbe. But you have to remember that the culture the koryu grew up in is dead and gone. It would make just as much sense to say you had to go to England to learn boxing or France to learn fencing because you needed to understand seventeenth century French or eighteenth century English culture.
  12. pgsmith

    pgsmith Valued dismemberer

    No, it's a different thing. boxing and fencing are simply sports. They are physical movements and training only. It's more like saying that you can learn to be a trappist monk without having to go spend time in a monastary. You could read all about them, learn chants, even learn to make beer correctly, but there's more to it than that. Or maybe it's more like saying you wish to learn to be an Inuit elder without going north to learn about the Inuit. You could learn the proper techniques for hunting whale out of a kayak, and all the different names for types of snow, but that's not all that's involved in being an Inuit elder.
  13. fifthchamber

    fifthchamber Valued Member

    It should be painfully clear that I agree with Paul on this issue. My previous posts indicate as much.

    I will add as an analogy to Paul's point about sports being rather different, that I would agree that something like Judo, or Kendo, can be learnt entirely well enough in one's own country...There is no real reason to come to Japan to learn these, although it would be a good vacation to do so perhaps.

    But Koryu aren't like that, and unless you take the time to stay here, and read what your teachers have read, and passed on, in the original language you miss a large part of what they are trying to teach you.

    Movements alone can be learnt anywhere in the world, with just as much applicability as those taught here in Japan, but that is not all that Koryu has to offer, and to delude oneself into thinking that it is is missing a large part of the picture.

    Mr. Curran, with all due respect, is wrong as far as my own experience goes, although he is of course, entitled to his own opinion in as far as it stretches.

  14. Banpen Fugyo

    Banpen Fugyo 10000 Changes No Surprise

    Strangely, I also agree with you.

    Im kinda torn. On one hand, I feel like menkyo kaiden is menkyo kaiden... regardless of country.

    But on the other hand, there is more to koryu ma than techniques.

    But then again.. I know Japanese and I have never been to Japan. I know alot about the culture and Ive never been to Japan. I understand alot of the religion/philosophy from Japan, and Ive never been. So I feel with the right teacher here in the US, I would be just fine training in some swamp as I would in the mountains of Iga.
  15. fifthchamber

    fifthchamber Valued Member

    Yeah, I can't comment on the Bujinkan, as it doesn't fall neatly into either the "koryu" box or the "sports budo" box...But I'd think perhaps it leans closer to the first..

    That being the case, your above statement stands fine, although I'd ask if you felt you could find a "right" teacher who had never come to Japan?And do you think he could teach you everything you would need to know in order to gain Menkyo Kaiden in any one of the arts you guys learn?

    I have a suspicion that your immediate answer would be "yes", that it's fine to have a teacher who has never come (Due, in part to the worldwide aspect of the Bujinkan in particular, unequalled by any Koryu save perhaps Muso Shinden Ryu and the associated schools?). But after some thought, I feel that you'd agree that without coming to Japan and staying a fair amount of time, it would be impossible to gain the depth you needed to attain a Menkyo in one of the schools...

    That's my initial hunch, and one that I believe should stand...The Bujinkan however, is not what I would call Koryu, nor is it particularly taught in the same way, even in Japan..So would fall under a special category outside of the above mentioned ones...I think..

    (I'm not sure if you're Bujinkan or Genbukan....But it should hold for both, despite Tanemura's teaching of some schools outside Japan...I'm not sure what to think about that..).
  16. Banpen Fugyo

    Banpen Fugyo 10000 Changes No Surprise

    Well technically Im not a member of either right now, but my latest is Genbukan ;)

    Having said that, yes I feel like my teacher should have trained in Japan. But thats just because every head of the ryu has been Japanese thus far. Right now Im pretty sure the highest level instructor in the Genbukan is from the western world. So another generation goes by, and lets assume for sake of argument, he becomes the new Head Pooba. Now does Japan matter anymore?

    TBH I dont know the answer
  17. raitei

    raitei Valued Member

    Let's try to keep all this as civil as possible and see how the thread develops.

    I am currently studying nine kobudo ryuha. I am also well aware of the fact that there are various parties out there who doubt the legitimacy of these ryuha. Although I personally have no proof that the ryu are legit, no one so far has proven to me that they are not. Because of this, I try my best not to cling to either side of the argument. So far, I have trusted my teacher and even that could possibly change at any time. One thing that I have learned from budo: 何も決まってない (nothing is fixed).

    Even an extremely talented Soke with the best of intentions cannot replicate the feeling that existed in Japanese society hundreds of years ago. Within ishi soden, each generation of soke augment the ryu in some way. This is of course a double-edged sword. The koryu group prides itself on the "Pre-Meiji Thang" boasting that their ryuha are authentic. The obsession with “authenticism” is exactly what will pervert the ryuha.

    Although many koryu could be defined as highly independent, they were not functioning within bubbles. In many ways, modern Japanese society represents the exact opposite of our beloved attributes of koryu. I doubt that the samurai would have hung small Hello Kitty or Doraemon trinkets from their tsubas even if they were offered the chance to do so.

    You speak of "philosophies" and "ways of thinking". Nice thoughts. Just how do you intend learning about them? How long have you spent living in Japan? The Japanese people are wired up in a totally different fashion. Even if a koryu soke from 300 years ago suddenly appeared and taught a technique, by the time it gets processed through a modern Japanese or foreign brain, it will most likely resemble something similar to a movement from a local McDojo. Think of it like a Japanese person singing a Stevie Wonder song at the karaoke bar. You simply cannot take yourself out of the equation!

    Again, a term like "vast experience" is simply used to elevate a select bunch. I have been involved with "traditional martial arts" since I was six years old. That gives me 31 years of experience in Okinawan Karate and Kobudo. Forgive me if I am wrong, but I find a bit of animosity in some of your statements. Hopefully you will be able to overcome that through better training. I am attacking concepts; not an individual's ability to understand their own thoughts. I have arrived at various conclusions based on my time in Japan.

    The operative phrase here is: So close but yet so far. Please distinguish between the "way we want things to be" and "the way things really are".

    LOL! You make it sound so glamorous. If I didn't live here, you would have me hooked!

    A tip: Never tell a Japanese person that you study koryu (or any martial art seriously) because they will think you have lost your mind. That is just the way it is over here. If you want to come over here and tell 130,000,000 Japanese that they are wrong about that, please do so.

    Thomas Curran

    Tokyo, Japan
  18. fifthchamber

    fifthchamber Valued Member

    Hehe..Actually..The vast majority of those whom I have told about my training in Koryu have been impressed and wanted to know a lot more about the things that they don't know..That includes all types, from salarymen, teachers, office ladies, and workmen..The general understanding of most Japanese about Koryu is very limited..But that's the reason they have a great interest in why I want to do it..

    Of course, if I mentioned that I was studying Ninjutsu, perhaps I'd appreciate that the reaction you get is one closer to mirth..But for me this hasn't been the case... :)

    And yeah, that was a slight poke at the "kobudo-ness" of the Bujinkan...For the record, I reckon the Bujinkan isn't anywhere close to being Koryu..In spirit, teaching, or fact, but that doesn't change the fact that for a well rounded education in Koryu, it would be most advisable to come and stay here for a term or two..

    Yeah, I don't know what would happen when the new generation emerges, but I would suspect that they would carry on with the idea because they would have done just that to get where they are...The art doesn't change, and if the new head is a westerner (James is Scottish?) he should identify the roots and the art as being what it is (A Japanese tradition) and not change it to something else unless it is clear what else it becomes..(American Kenpo being a case in point perhaps?)...

    I'd still think Japan is important, since the art came from there, grew there, was, and is taught there, and carried that blood...But perhaps 4-5 generations down the line I can see it changing...Perhaps..(Again, who the hell knows what will happen!)..

    I personally believe that anyone taught by Tanemura would understand that the art needs to be linked to this country...But perhaps a few generations on that will change..


    (And Thomas, I'm really not trying to wind you up..But I think you should be a little more prudent in your use of the terms you chose...The Bujinkan is not nine Koryu schools, it's one big conglomeration of arts based around something that may or may not have more or less koryu influence, but it's not Koryu...Although, that's just my angle..And you're entitled to your viewpoint..).
  19. Banpen Fugyo

    Banpen Fugyo 10000 Changes No Surprise

    I think you might have misinterpreted what I was saying just a bit.

    I dont mean that the Genbukan or any other koryu should be turned into "American Koryu". Thats just stupid. Its a Japanese art and tradition and should remain that way.

    What I meant was that the actual PHYSICAL aspect of going to Japan to train with a Japanese person wouldnt be relevant anymore.
  20. ScottUK

    ScottUK More human than human...

    My experience with people in northern Kyushu has been pretty much opposite to this. I appreciate the Japanese concept of 建前 and that I might be getting false feedback, but every single person who I have interacted with in JP has reacted the same - maybe it's a big-city-Tokyo thing? ;)

    I guess if the average Joe in the UK spoke to some foreign bod who travelled to England to learn a WMA, they'd be surprised - and then probably more than a little impressed. However, if said foreign bod said they wanted to learn to become a knight, they'd be laughed out of the pub. Maybe Westerners who aspire to ninja-ness and samurai-ness get the same reaction in Japan?

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