was talking with a student and teacher of classical Japanese martial
arts, and the all too-common myth – that the teachers and students of
these centuries-old ryuha practice exactly as their creators taught
them in the first generation – came up. We both laughed. It’s
a compelling story, but it’s a myth – one that is dangerous for the
students, and for the arts themselves. Whether you do something
called a way ( “do” 道).
An art (“jutsu” 術),
or a style or school (“ryu” 流)、the
story is the same.
are all arts that have survived centuries of use and application. The
thought that hundreds of years ago someone discovered a principle and
created techniques for applying it that were perfectly formed and are
still perfectly suited to the world they are in credits the founders
with a level of genius that I cannot imagine. I can imagine them
realizing principles that can be applied to an ever-changing
environment, but I can’t stretch that to the founders also creating
techniques that perfectly apply that principle no matter how the
world has changed.
don’t change. That’s the nature of principles. They are
fundamental ways of understanding the world and how it operates. In
budo, sometimes principles are expressed and learned through physical
practice, such as that discovered by following the Shinto Muso Ryu
directive “maruki wo motte suigetsu wo shire “丸木を持って水月を知れ””holding
a round stick, know the solar plexus”. Others are clearly expressed
philosophical concepts, such as Kano Jigoro Shihan’s “seiryoku
translated as “maximum efficiency, minimum effort”), which is the
short form for “seiryoku saizen katsuyo” 精力最善活用
use of energy”.Jigoro Kano, Mind Over Muscle, Kodansha, 2005).
Usually shortened to “maximum efficiency minimum effort,” Kano’s
maxim refers to a broader principle than just the
physical technique. It’s about the best use and application of
energy, mental and physical. These core principles of different arts
haven’t changed since they were first expressed.
by their nature, are universal. If they can’t be applied
universally, they aren’t principles. I can apply the principle
implied by the jodo maxim maruki
wo motte shigetsu wo shire
a variety of ways and situations. I can even apply this principle
without a stick in judo randori, to pick an example outside of Shinto
Muso Ryu. Kano Jigoro was an evangelist for the idea of seiryoku
its usefulness outside the constrained world of the dojo. He wrote
extensively about the principle and why everyone should apply it,
whether they practice judo or not. These principles haven’t changed
since they were first understood.
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they are applied and expressed changes all the time however.
Not because the principles change at all, but because the environment
in which they are being applied changes. Judo is nearly 140 years
old. Shinto Muso Ryu has been around for more than 400 years. For all
of these arts, the world has changed dramatically since they were
founded. The world of combat in Japan slowly changed as weapons and
tactics evolved, and then was transformed by the introduction of
firearms in the 1500’s, followed by the enforcement of peace by the
Tokugawa Shogunate in 1603. Shinto Muso Ryu, essentially military
police tactics, was born into the first years of unsteady peace
during the Tokugawa Era. The samurai class was still on a war
footing, with the Tokugawa victory only a few years earlier. Weapons
of war and people skilled with them were everywhere.
little over 250 years later the wearing of swords in public was
banned. Clothing styles in Japan changed from traditional kimono and
hakama to European dress. The tools of combat increased in number and
power. People still study Kodokan Judo and Shinto Muso Ryu and other
koryu arts. The arts are still seen as relevant to this age that
would have been unimaginable when they were created.
people who study Kodokan Judo still practice many things that Kano
Jigoro laid down as part of his art. They do a lot of things that he
didn’t include in his pedagogy for the art. I find Kodokan Judo
principles being applied not just in competitive matches with people
wearing traditional dogi, but in no-gi matches and even professional
MMA fights. More interesting to me is the way Kodokan Judo’s
principles continue to be applied in and out of the dojo. It’s
still seen as an effective form of physical education, and the
principle of seiryoku
along with the principle of yawara
pliancy, flexibility, suppleness), is taught as having far more than
just martial applications. The whole of Kodokan Judo manages to offer
a very complete set of principles for interacting with the world
physically and intellectually nearly 140 years after its founding. It
hasn’t stopped growing and adapting. In addition to the official
kata of Kodokan Judo, many practitioners develop their own,
unofficial, kata to practice and explore the principles in situations
that are not focused on in the official curriculum.
proportion of waza practice versus randori practice versu kata
practice is something judoka never stop arguing about, and every judo
dojo has a different answer to what the proportions should be. I see
people working out new techniques based on the classical principles,
and practicing in new ways. It’s not uncommon now to see judoka
train without dogi so they can prepare for no-gi tournaments. Do they
stop doing judo because they take off their dogi and fight in
competitions that aren’t using IJF rules? If you’re applying judo
principles it’s still judo, regardless of what you’re wearing or
what you’re doing. Judo is, after all, yawara.
soft and pliant. It can change its shape to fit the situation.
Muso Ryu reaches further back for its origin, another 270 odd years
past Judo. The relevance of a stick that was intended to be used to
subdue people with swords in a world of guns and IEDs is difficult to
imagine, especially when you see the people studying it wearing
clothes that have been out of date for centuries and practicing
against people armed with swords. Relevant in the 21st century? It
looks more like Live Action Role-Playing to most people. However, the
principles haven’t changed, even if the practical applications have
had to evolve.
its history Shinto Muso Ryu’s students haven’t been afraid to add
new lessons to the art. Kata were added steadily over the centuries,
and tools were added to the practitioner’s kit. An art that started
out with just a stick and a sword now teaches students to apply the
principles to sticks of nearly any length, as well as chains (and in
some lines even bayonet length blades!). The real principles about
movement, timing, spacing and rhythm are still useful not just in
combat situations, but everywhere in life. I’ve only been doing
Shinto Muso Ryu for 28 years, but in that time I’ve watched
teachers tweak kata and change what they emphasize. Looking back
before my time, to the films that survive from the last 90 years or
so, it’s clear that people have been tweaking and playing with the
kata since long before I showed up. Considering all the recorded
changes that have been made to Shinto Muso Ryu over the centuries, no
one can seriously claim that they do Shinto Muso Ryu just like Muso
Gonosuke Katsuyoshi did it. It’s been changing and adapting
from the day he started figuring it out for himself.
sentence undercuts your argument that such a practice is even
possible] Budo practices are paths to follow, not fossils. You
have to adapt to the terrain. If you never change anything, and never
learn anything beyond where the founder began, you would be
preserving an artifact that has no relationship to the age you live
in. I fully expect the arts I practice and teach to grow and change.
The principles will still be there, but I sincerely hope my students
learn new ways to train, new ways to teach the principles, and new
ways to express the principles. Anything less than that is a
discredit to everyone who has gone before us.
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