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  1. #1
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    Default Years to learn koryu - years to get initiation.

    In another thread, re Hakko-ryu and internal training, the question came up regarding initiation in koryu/Hakko-ryu, etc., regarding the upper levels/deeper levels of the art. Here's what I'm not opening up this thread to discuss.
    1. If Hakko-ryu has deep, inner teachings.
    2. The legitimacy or strength the respective lines of Hakko-ryu, which apparently rank to different levels at different paces.
    3. What A.J. Bryant or Mert Gambito should or should not be posting about their respective training. That's for that other thread.
    I'm simply writing here to discuss some issues on transmission in koryu and "koryu-like" systems.

    A.J. talked about rank in his branch being tied to "initiation," (which could be as simple, I would assume) as "introduction to" a set of knowledge. It was noted that he had a "high" rank with relatively few years, so some felt, in his art.

    Yet, I think he is correct regarding a lot of koryu. I was shown a text in Meiji which had a names of a number of people in three different ryu in Gumma, with their start and finish dates. The average length of time from joining to menkyo kaiden was between 5-7 years. This was a time when Japan was actively expanding on the continent - a lot of war. I think young men had to toughen up and thus, in their teens, they joined, and were papered up by the time they went into the military. And given they were on their way to war, I bet they trained really hard, too.

    The idea that it takes 20-30 years to really learn anything in koryu is a modern phenomenon, to some degree. Among other things, some folks mystify koryu far too much. Sure, tradition is special. But not so special either. There's a phenomenon in koryu that is sort of like, "My dad can beat up your dad." - in other words, "I'm not so tough, but the founder of our school, 400 years ago, he was a bad dude."

    Anyway, back to the 20-30 years to learn - truly learn a koryu. Why?
    1. Some teachers have nothing else going on in their life - they are koryu sensei, and otherwise, they work in an office, and have never accomplished anything to brag about, so in keeping things to themselves, they get to be a big fish in a small pond.
    2. For many modern students, koryu is a hobby. Hardcore people go to MMA, or kick boxing. I'm not just talking about who will accept being smacked in the head. There are some really tough guys in koryu, but proportionately, a lot less than in a typical MMA school. And a lot of MMA people will train 20-40 hours a week. In three years, some are top level competitors. Most koryu people are once-twice a week (with weeks off for vacations and family business) and little to no practice outside on their own. (For example, I think Minotauro, after three years of training, beat his senior, Mario Sperry, who had about a decade and a half, and a championship belt). If sensei were regarded more as coaches, some of the mystification would end. . . . .and how many boxers would stay with a trainer who said, "well, counter-punching is a secret. I know you've lost a couple of matches, but I'm not going to show you that, because it's a family secret."
    3. Ryu used to have a built in safety valve. When the old man honestly taught a young guy everything (or nearly everything, keeping one or two things for his own son, maybe), the young guy would go off and travel around, testing himself, OR, simply start an independent dojo somewhere else. Many ryu have eliminated this option with the soke system. And the hot-blooded strongest guys end up either quitting, or if they open their own place, everyone flutters around (in Japan too) talking about how so-and-so is not legit, he betrayed the ryu. From another perspective, the ryu betrayed him - because it gave him no outlet, no way to be a full "adult."
    So in some ways, the long years that it takes to learn a koryu is that either it takes long years for many people to put in real time (practice hours) that, dedicated, they could have gotten in far less years, or the soke teaches in a way that ensures it'll take long years.
    Ellis Amdur
    Last edited by Ellis Amdur; 08-13-2010 at 12:46.
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  2. #2
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    Excellent post!
    "Once a kata has been learned, it must be practiced repeatedly until it can be applied in an emergency, for knowledge of just the sequence of a form in Karate is useless.” –Gichin Funakoshi

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  3. #3
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    Thanks Ellis: timely post with important clarifications.

    I'd like to comment a bit regarding item #3 above, so here's a link to that comment in the other thread Ellis mentioned.

    Thanks for allowing me the above brief interlude.

    Quote Originally Posted by Ellis Amdur
    A.J. talked about rank in his branch being tied to "initiation," (which could be as simple, I would assume) as "introduction to" a set of knowledge. It was noted that he had a "high" rank with relatively few years, so some felt, in his art.

    Yet, I think he is correct regarding a lot of koryu.
    Then in this respect, I'd have to say that mainline Hakkoryu appears to have taken a cue from those koryu, and the Dentokan is actually more in line with mainline Hakkoryu (and those koryu) than my lineage is. In the McDojo-saturated L.A. area, our dojo is much more strict/orthodox regarding doling out rank on purpose, though students are not held back from clarification (as a form of initiation), as I mentioned in the other thread, regarding what basics they need to practice that pervade the entire syllabus, vs. just working shodan-gi to nidan-gi in a compartmentalized manner up the waza board. The latter is not what the Dentokan do either, for what it's worth (objections raised in the other thread also stem from additional issues out of scope for this thread).

    Heck, my teacher's sempai are shown in a YouTube video wearing black belts when they're clearly new initiates. Based on how westerners venerate the black belt (discussed above regarding how my teacher ranks), needless to say the comments on the video have been flat-out derogatory. As things work out, following the model of inherent commitment, they stuck around and grew into their black belts and in the long run became very competent shihan.
    Last edited by Koshu; 08-13-2010 at 15:13.
    Mert

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    This was an excellent post that provided me with a new outlook. Thank you very much, and I look forward to reading some mroe of your perspectives on the psycho-social aspects of Koryu.
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    Or maybe it was the large number of casualties during the first Sino Japanese war that led ryuha with no successors to get spooked and cut corners. This happened in WWI and WWII as well.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Mekugi View Post
    Or maybe it was the large number of casualties during the first Sino Japanese war that led ryuha with no successors to get spooked and cut corners. This happened in WWI and WWII as well.
    No doubt this may very well be true in a few cases for the reasons you state, but overall the research I have done to date regarding transmission of bugei in the Edo period tends to lean more towards Ellis' views on the matter.

    For what it is worth,
    Rennis Buchner

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    Quote Originally Posted by Rennis View Post
    No doubt this may very well be true in a few cases for the reasons you state, but overall the research I have done to date regarding transmission of bugei in the Edo period tends to lean more towards Ellis' views on the matter.

    For what it is worth,
    Rennis Buchner
    Which are those?
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    Quote Originally Posted by Vagabond View Post
    This was an excellent post that provided me with a new outlook. Thank you very much, and I look forward to reading some mroe of your perspectives on the psycho-social aspects of Koryu.
    Absolutely, and since you have undoubtedly been exposed to all of the kata of Shotokan, you should contact your Sensei and your organization and ask for your promotion to 10th Dan, or at least some ridiculously high Dan rank. What Shotokan isn't Koryu? Neither is Hakko Ryu...
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  9. #9
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    As I am not one to blanket all schools as having the same set of rules, those that can be interchanged liberally and followed from school to school, so I want to start with a word of caution.

    That is :

    ***NOT ALL SCHOOLS ARE THE SAME***.

    That's a fact, jack.
    There are going to be individual differences from school to school- just as some schools are more composite than others or they have different elements being focused upon. They are going to have different names for different ranks and different requirements. For the word "menkyo" to be tossed around, it has to be given some perspective -does it mean "highest rank" or does it mean just another step in the ladder to a higher rank. If it means highest level (as it has come to mean overseas) then some consideration has to be given to those schools who do not consider it the *highest level* and it damn sure needs to be defined here to nutballs like myself. Any generalization one might make might not include all schools, their ranks, or their requirements. For example, a school that is comprised of about 12 techniques for a weapon that is regarded as a backup (such as a shaken/shuriken) will not have the same rank or requirements as a school of archery, swordsman ship, or a school that includes *all three* or more.

    This certainly does not take any historical or social issues into consideration that would likely affect a schools succession or demise.

    Anyway, here goes- keeping in mind that this just an example:

    This information comes from some documents I kicked up on the Shinsen Gumi, namely regarding one Kondo Isamu and his life. He was the Soke of a school called Tennin Rishin Ryu during the Meiji era. Isamu was born in 1834, entered into Tennin Rishin ryu in 1849 then succeed this line in 1861 as the 4th soke. This stuff was well documented, so it is readily available for a goofball like me to access.

    Anyway, this is the way his school is recorded regarding the ranks and years it took to reach certain levels (via documents on the Shinsen Gumi).

    0) Nyumon - Entering the school
    1) Kirigami (paper certificate) 1 1/2 year from Nyumon
    2) Mokuroku (first scroll) 1 1/2 year from the time of the Kirigami

    Tally: Three years from Nyumon ("entry")

    3) Chugokui Menkyo - ("mid-level license") 3 years 2 months from Mokuroku

    Tally: 6 years 2 months from Nyumon

    5) Menkyo ("license") 3 years, 10 months from Chogokui Menkyo

    Tally: Ten years from Nyumon

    6) Inka ("seal of permission") 5 years from Menkyo

    Tally: 15 years from Nyumon

    7) Shinan Menkyo ("teacher's license") 5 years from Inka

    Tally: 20 years.

    Another famous person by the name of Hijikata Toshizo entered this school, he is recorded up until Chugokui Menkyo. It took him the same amount of time.

    So, unless we are dealing with sweeping generalizations or an estimate of several documents that are then divided by their total number, this school does not fit the mold.

    There are a few others schools I have some information on regarding rank (which are too close to me to talk about right now) which are *about* the same give or take 3-5 years or ranks. Admittedly I am an ignorant cuss, however I do know better than to try to jam those paradigms onto other schools, like fitting a square pegs into a round holes.
    Last edited by Mekugi; 08-14-2010 at 14:27.
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    Robert - there is a link, in my mind, between the style of ranking that can occur in koryu and in modern arts. I would say that most modern arts, these days, seem to rank based on the passing of a milestone or a test, and the rank, allegedly denotes skill. (I'm putting aside rank-inflation right now). However, both koryu and modern schools often overlap a) the passing of a milestone and b) initiation, the latter being, "here's the information. You are expected to learn it."

    Of course Russ in correct that one cannot generalize between ryu - however, the generalization that I'm taking on, one that seems to be conventional wisdom, is that it takes years/decades to rank in koryu, either for administrative reasons, or because the skills are so incredibly sophisticated or arcane that less years won't do it. Are there brilliant guys doing koryu? Sure. Are there certain skills that take thousands of hours to learn? Sure. (10,000 hours to genius, per Malcolm Gladwell in Outliers.) But how many days or years does it take to get 10,000 hours? Appr. 5 years at 6 hours a day. Do people train like that even today? Sure. I think koryu is overly mystified, in terms of what one can learn and how long it takes.
    Hakko-ryu's parallel art, so to speak, aikido, is an example of how quickly a teacher can believe (rightly or wrongly) that his student deserves rank. Ueshiba gave Mochizuki a menkyo kaiden in Daito-ryu after just a few years of practice (I'm guessing that Mochizuki's years of judo training and Gyokushin-ryu jujutsu were, in a functional sense, contributory to his few years of aikido training, adding up to enough hours for Ueshiba to view him as having "gotten" it). OTOH, maybe Ueshiba was just doing rank-inflation too. That view certainly existed throughout his career.
    Two examples from my own personal experience, which are not necessarily a mark of skill in a general sense, but relevant to the discussion. I received okuden menkyo (the "highest" technical rank) in Toda-ha Buko-ryu in 1983. I joined in 1978. Nitta sensei skipped me over chuden.
    1. I put in an insane number of hours of practice (Sawada sensei makes this point in her interview in Skoss' Koryu Bujutsu - that the number of years is not a good measure of how much practice one has actually done).
    2. I continued to improve immeasurably after receiving okuden. The menkyo was a benchmark, not an "final" attainment.
    Similarly, one of my Araki-ryu students (whom some of the readers are acquainted) is powerful in judo/sambo etc.) There are 18 kata in the torite section of the ryu. I ranked him in this section in a period of six months. I showed it to him, he got it (and continues to practice it), but I have nothing more to teach him. He improves without any input, in a teaching sense, from me - in that section of the ryu at least. Why drag it out? If his, or any other students learning of the complete ryu happened equally fast, I'd make them menkyo and send them on their way. If they don't learn it, I'll never rank them.
    Taking "speed of rank" to an extreme, Kurokochi Dengoro, perhaps the strongest bugeisha in Aizu, during the late Edo, chased down a teacher of Anazawa ryu naginatajutsu. He had been forbidden to train with the man when he visited Aizu, so he went over the border into the next han and met with the man at an inn. Over a period of three days, he was taught the 36 kata of Anazawa-ryu, and given menkyo kaiden. He never saw his teacher again, and from that time forward, abandoned the naginata ryu he'd previously taught (among many other ryu) and taught Anazawa-ryu.
    Best
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    Last edited by Ellis Amdur; 08-14-2010 at 11:16.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Ellis Amdur View Post
    OTOH, maybe Ueshiba was just doing rank-inflation too.

    James Mitose
    received an "honorary" rank in Aikido from Tohei Koichi, under direct orders from Ueshiba. Seems like he might have...just a lil'bit...or at least been fooled into doing so.
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    Just to give my perspective on this subject, through my own experience (uhoh...not a good sign) I'm going to tell a little story- let's call it sci-historical fiction Rocky and Bullwinkle style.

    Our setting is in the future, say one summer about 200 years from now. An avid young researcher looking at ancient martial arts systems comes upon Kusogaki ryu, the martial art of bratty little samurai kids. This ryu was actually never very prominent in ancient Japan, but during the Oil-age, the 20th century, it was preserved by a famous author in the Japanese language who just so happen to write about Japanese martial arts, who in this story is named Soke Butthead, .

    Truly, since the ancient tradition did not have much more than a linage, perhaps a few notes here and there on who joined the school and what rank they received and when, the 20th century was much more appealing in terms of information for Kusogaki ryu, and for martial arts in general.

    By all means Soke Butthead had the credentials for the school. He had many of the Densho, not from his lineage but still his non-the-less, and a bonafide Head of the Family System Soke Menkyo Kaiden which he received in less than a years time from a legitimate successor. Amazing! Most martial arts of 2210 took at least three years to reach the highest level! This was certainly a new perspective, and Soke Butthead really showed that it was true historically.

    Traditionally in the Oil Age there were several people who received high level ranks in under 3 years, many of whom went on to become the Head of the Family System Soke Menkyo Kaiden...all on their own! This was a fact....that's how it was done in days of old and thus, it continued on in 2210. Head of the Family System Soke Menkyo Kaiden poked their heads out of the woodwork after being exposed to a martial art's inner teachings and just a few years of egregious training at one hour per week. That was the style as done in the strict confinements of the oil age, but this new information regarding Kusogaki ryu simply blew the lid off of the lot of them.

    This information was amazing. It generated context, conjecture, assumption, reflection and most importantly...less work in the Dojang in order to get a higher rank (at a higher price of course). Then followed a wave of people becoming Head of the Family System Soke Menkyo Kaiden, creating their own school and naming themselves soke. Soon, only small children who were unable to walk but interested in the Kung Fu movies, were the only students left to be had. This was because everyone ceased to be a student as now, they were their own masters. Everyone waited with baited breath as a child took their first step as that was a new potential student, dirty diaper or not. People would crowd around and entice children with stuffed animals in order to get them into their Dojangs and the whole thing ended up a giant circus act by the next summer (when over 2,000 Head of the Family System Soke Menkyo Kaiden were named).

    Then something was revealed about Soke Butthead. It turns out that Soke Butthead wasn't all that he said he was, despite his lofty credentials. In an archive found on a magnet encoded "disk" of some funny foreign dude living in Japan, whose city and name is now long forgotten, there exists notes and record stating that Soke Butthead had only trained a few times within the course of a year, totaling about 8 hours. Furthermore, the documents revealed that Soke Butthead's teacher was on close to the end of his lifespan, and that he had no students to speak of that would carry on his tradition.

    Due to Soke Butthead's reputation as an author he was granted an audience with the old man and shown the inner teachings of the ryu in order to pass it down. Although Soke Butthead was really a half-a$$ed martial artist that would get tossed around by a land-stranded jellyfish, he received a lofty rank and was in fact the curator of the school namely because he took interest. The rank is legitimate, Kusogaki ryu was a legitimate Koryu Bujutsu, yet Soke Butthead could not fight his way out of a ripped bag with a box-cutter, directions and two people helping him. His understanding of Kusogaki ryu was much worse.

    There is also something else. An audiovisual document that was recorded on something called a VHS was discovered in a geometric cube made of shredded and pulped trees. This was in a strange, primitive format that would raise laughter, that is if no one had their laughter centers in their brains ritualistically removed at birth. This audio visual document was certainly different from the Retina Generated Media <RGM> that had become the standard in AV entertainment in 2209, and really no one knew what to do. After tinkering around with garbage found in landfills and some basic Edison Electronics theory, a new player was built and converted the "video" into RGM. What everyone saw shocked them, raised question, doubt and fueled controversy. There was the old man teaching Soke butthead. Yes, that's right, it was Soke Butthead in action in front the old man's house with a straw mat, chickens squawking and all. The old man was using a giant placard with the names of the kata on it, trying desperately to remember the order and warp and woof of the techniques. He was certainly not in his prime, and it was obvious that the old man had suffered at the ravages of age mentally and physically and was probably not in the best condition to teach. However, Soke Butthead would be shown a technique once, then move on to the next. It went like this until Soke Butthead had the entire school and received his Head of the Family System Soke Menkyo Kaiden, then the visits to the old man stopped. This was in the course of a year.

    Things then simmered down in the modern world after perspective of Soke Butthead's situation was given. It was an outlook and criteria that many old texts on the subject didn't have, nor were recorded, so it put things into perspective. It was agreed that three years time in receiving Head of the Family System Soke Menkyo Kaiden was more than enough and everyone realized that until some experience was really gained, it was useless to be expected to rip out a man's throat or generate giant Goku-chi balls. That is unless one cheated with a bionic throat ripping glove or a giant chi-ball generator strapped to your wrist, (both of which caused sterility and hand cancer, although remain disturbingly popular).

    The moral of the story: don't be a Butthead.
    Last edited by Mekugi; 08-14-2010 at 16:37.
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    Russ - the relevance of most of that went past me, though I can think of more than a few people and ryu that this can refer to. But with less metaphor, it establishes what?
    1. Each ryu sets up it's own criteria. Particularly these days, the criteria are pretty sad, at times. Including the sad spectacle of elderly people handing over an outline of their art to someone who exploits them. On the other hand, was it only due to WWII and inferior students that during a long life, they never developed or designated a successor? In some cases that I am aware, there was also a miserly grasping of the knowledge and authority of their ryu, even driving out one or more talented students who were overtaking or even surpassing the group leader. A number of such schools come to mind. [In a number of cases, the teacher never get around to ranking anyone, and they die, terribly damaging the school, thereby. Kashima Shinto-ryu suffered greatly because no one received complete transmission - ironic because there are some hellaciously strong men in that school. Sure, it's the headmaster's call - and I know nothing of the reasons in that particular school, but it's a problem.]
    2. I've also seen schools who have students of thirty - forty years with no one ranked menkyo. Modern times, perhaps, with no one willing to train hard enough. But on other occasions, the teacher gets obsessed with fine niggling points, which will not make one stronger, just more obsessed in turn.
    I met some of the more honorable, finest and powerful people in my life, among some koryu teachers, during my years in Japan. Far more, both in the person of the teacher and the level of power and skill among the members of one or another ryu, were a disappointment.
    The teachers I respected most were enthusiastic about teaching their students as much and fast as possible. If all they needed was a week to do this, these guys wouldn't take 8 days. If they needed 40 years, they'd take forty years.
    Ellis Amdur
    Last edited by Ellis Amdur; 08-14-2010 at 17:30.
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    How about this:
    Just because they can doesn't mean they should. Just because they did doesn't mean they should. Eventually it will be found out.
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    Sure. That applies to everything I wrote as well.
    However, I don't see what, particularly, that has to do with the length of time in which a person is initiated at various levels of a ryu, which is the subject I started with.

    By definition, it's at the sole perogative of the teacher. My sole point is that teachers damage their students and their ryu, not only by "too rapid" promotion, but by eking things out over decades.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Ellis Amdur View Post
    Sure. That applies to everything I wrote as well.
    However, I don't see what, particularly, that has to do with the length of time in which a person is initiated at various levels of a ryu, which is the subject I started with.

    By definition, it's at the sole perogative of the teacher. My sole point is that teachers damage their students and their ryu, not only by "too rapid" promotion, but by eking things out over decades.
    I'm truly sorry you don't see the humor in my posts (not just here, but previously). I am not as serious these days as I am certainly having too much fun in my off-line time, making this a rather cute distraction that kills a couple minutes typing on my phone while I am waiting in line (or waiting for everyone to get up in the morning).

    I guess then it then all boils down to this:

    Which is worse-too slow or too fast?

    Too slow will hardly turn a head in terms of legitimacy unless the teacher is unscrupulous, didactic, apathetic or the teacher uses their art to impart some type of mental abuse on their students. More than likely the teacher is going to lose their students to boredom and frustration well before the authenticity of a rank is questioned and perhaps they should. Sure, that hurts the school and it's cultural conveyance to the next breed but it's in a different way, of course.

    Then there is too fast. Many times this type of problem will convey an underhanded type of fraud in the most spurious of ways. It will raise questions of legitimacy, competence and skill. As you know, this is well illustrated and the source of many arguments in these latter days, as I am sure it sparked feuds in days of yore. To me that would do more to hurt the reputation of the school. In terms of lineage, however, a poorly taught and recklessly learned school may continue on where others schools would die off as they seem to attract the "charismatic salesman" type, for lack of a better term. If that is the case, I've found that a personality cults to revolve around arts handed down like this more than anything else (matter of fact, i think you mentioned this in Dueling with O'sensei, if memory serves). This isn't to say the opposite does not exist, but it appears that the speedy delivery of a school usually goes hand-in-hand to someone who has high charisma, looking for a "con" and is not willing to wait. In my opinion it's like looking for mushrooms. Where the substrate for the fungus exists, there grows the fungus.

    There are pros and cons to both, however I would not question the rank of the first as much as I would the second. To me, in the second case there is no safety net, while there is in the first.
    Last edited by Mekugi; 08-16-2010 at 12:25.
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  17. #17
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    Very interesting discussion everyone, so here's my take on things.

    In the absence of legitimate paper, the Ryu dies. In the absence of skill, the art dies. Hopefully you have both, but if I had a choice of who to train with, I'd take the skilled person over the one with the fancy paperwork every time. If the goal is only the preservation of the line, then by all means, expose them and shove the documentation in their little hands. Then you have a paper dragon who does not have the necessary skills to perpetuate the art, only award more empty paper. If the person has the necessary physical and combative skills, but not the paper to show for it, at least the art itself is in less danger of dying out and that issue with the paper issue can always be remedied by other means if necessary. However, no measure of effort is going to resurrect the physical skills once they are lost to the ages.
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    Robert - absolutely agree. And - back in the day, when koryu not "koryu" (preservation societies), and the ordinary student was training to get, as you put it, "necessary physical and combative skills," a lot of records show that people got "paper" much quicker. Me, I can see this going 'round in circles from this point, because you've hit the heart of the issue. Beyond all the cultural treasure aspect of things, and the tradition passed down generation after generation, it isn't "living history" unless there is a core focus on training for effectiveness (even if within a circumscribed context, such as using weapons like sword and spear that are no longer day-to-day implements).
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    Slighly off point but to do with this thread. I see a larger number of out of shape types doing the "no randori" too deadly to practice type stuff too, many koryu included. There is not one guy in my gym of 70 or so that doesn't have a decent baseline. Granted there is exceptions but those who are out of shape either get in shape or don't last.

    I see a lot of koryu guys (keeping in mind that I am both a gendai and koryu guy,) that are breathing hard after kata.

    General condition counts....

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  20. #20
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    I think I see what you are saying Aaron, could you be a little more specific with your thoughts? If you're "doing kata right" IMHO one should be breathing hard.
    Last edited by Mekugi; 08-16-2010 at 12:28.
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