Monday, October 14, 2013

Koryu snobbery

I would estimate that only a small percentage of any country's population study martial arts. Then of that group only a small number may study koryu arts. This may make them elitist or exclusive. Due to this there has been a feeling out there among some people that the koryu practitioners look down at other Japanese martial artists. Perhaps even see them as inferior.

I have been reading a very interesting forum about this topic. Here is one response:

"Let me suggest that the koryu are "elusive" rather than "elitist" or "exclusive". I think this terms suits both the koryu schools and perhaps their teachers/exponents.

Are the Koryu dying? Well, one might think so. Much like European fencing or Viking axework, there is not much call for these skills in the modern era, and therefore not much interest in learning them.

As a result, the arts themselves are somewhat elusive because instruction of any kind, much less quality instruction, is so very difficult to find. Once found, legitimate koryu teachers/exponents are generally very particular about who they bring into the fold.

In my experience (primarily with Shinto Muso-ryu Jo), koryu exponents view their study and practice as stewardship of a great cultural asset which happens to be a martial art. As a result they take their practice and the choice of potential students/training partners/successors very seriously. This doesn't mean they are snooty or demeaning.

Again in my experience, seasoned koryu practitioners are very approachable and accessible to folks who respect their arts and take them seriously. Do they have strong opinions about people who without benefit of genuine experience, prattle on about koryu ... when perhaps these people should just keep their mouths closed? Sure, wouldn't you if people were belittling something you treasured?

To put it another way ... what if, instead of martial artists, we were discussing the rare folks who carry on traditions like the indigo-dyeing of Japan, the dulcimer music of Appalachia or the batik painting of India? If one were to seek these folks out and ask to learn their craft, they would almost certainly be met with the reserved caution we often see in koryu exponents and mistake for elitism. The only difference is, I doubt we'd consider them elitist.

Instead, we probably consider them artisans, committed to perfecting their craft and finding the right people to whom they might pass on the cultural asset with which they were entrusted."


I like what this person states. I certainly uphold to the idea of learning about and passing on a cultural asset, even if it is not my own culture. What are other people's thoughts on this matter? Do those of us who practice koryu really act elitist around others?

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