From the AJ Forum: “Succession in Koryu” by Nathan Scott

The following text is excerpted from a discussion in progress on the Aikido Journal Forums titled “My first experience with Kondo Sensei”:

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Daito-ryu, like all the other classical ryu-ha, have omote (surface) techniques and ura (inner techniques). Everyone is taught the omote level upon joining, but ura are sometimes reserved from students who begin to show personality/character problems; who have not become skilled enough at executing omote waza; or who have not integrated well enough with the rest of the dojo/group. This evaluation of students is NOT unique to Daito-ryu, but is in fact common to both classical and modern arts in general. That is reality number one. Paying your annual membership fee does not automatically make you a valued member in good standing.

Reality number two: koryu arts don’t teach “everything” to every student. That is also a common fact of life NOT unique to Daito-ryu. But that does not mean the other students are being cheated or taught “fake” techniques that don’t work.

The successor of an art is taught “everything”. Recipients of Menkyo Kaiden (full transmission) are taught the complete art, but sometimes are not taught a handful of things that are reserved ONLY for the next successor of the art. Below these levels, koryu arts in general tend to initiate and rank their student base based on time served, dedication to the art/teacher, skill at the art, level of initiation AND understanding of the teachings, character, etc. A teacher may promote a junior student faster than a senior student for any of the aforementioned reasons. A long term student may stagnate in an art until they correct their problem, or indefinitely if they do not correct it and do not quit on their own.

Also, many koryu have some form of gokui (inner secrets). Some have “myoden”, or “myojutsu”, or aiki-type methods by any other name. These can be viewed as enhancement methods for martial arts. They are usually reserved for only the most senior exponents of an art – but again, that doesn’t mean that what everyone else is learning is useless or fake. In the case of Daito-ryu, the aiki level is emphasized more strongly than similar types of teachings in other ryu-ha. So many seem to feel cheated if they don’t get it. But if anything, these methods are taught sooner in the curriculum and to more students than similar methods contained in other ryu-ha! How ironic is that?!? Ellis Amdur stated he felt that Daito-ryu is a stronghold of gokui (paraphrased). Perhaps Daito-ryu is a bit more selective and careful as to who they pass all this on to than in some other arts because of this? If so, that still does not mean the teachers are looking to cheat students or keep all the goods to themselves. The reality is that the teachers are actively looking for the appropriate students to teach, and it is more times than not up to the student whether or not they will receive the highest level teachings – in any art.

Membership in an art is not as simple as “member in good standing” or “fired/expelled” (hamon). There are probationary periods if warranted, and any number of issues that may cause the value of the student to be re-evaluated. Time heals many problems, but the student must still be making efforts to correct their flaws (if any). If a student does not screw up bad enough to be fired (which is typically a pretty big screw up), they may be kicked out of the dojo for a period of time, treated more as an outsider in the dojo rather than a member of the family, or yelled at (shamed) in front of the other students if necessary. Many times the student screwing up is spoken to directly about their issues, but if someone has been training for 10 or 20 years and still insists on being on their own program, then they have been around long enough to understand what is expected of them. In this case, the student may just be put on hold, indefinitely if necessary, in the best interest of the school.

Often times we hear more from the disgruntled students, who only present their side of the story, than the members in good standing. I hope others take this in to account when listening to apparent second hand gripes.


Nathan Scott

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