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Koryu Bujutsu: Classic Martial Arts Schools of Japan – Part II

Photography by Leiv Harstad

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Intensive in both time and energy, this type of training is not conducive to large group instruction. The classical koryu must maintain a quality standard that precludes quantity. Furthermore, the conservation and perpetuation of the school’s integrity demands a dedication from its members that is, quite simply, not for everyone. A member is a personal student of the headmaster. He is the conduit through which the techniques, values, and traditions are passed on to each generation. This mentoring is the

way the teacher teaches; it was the way he and his teacher were taught. This process of learning is the basis of koryu bujutsu. To achieve a useful level of understanding and physical skill, it was absolutely necessary for partner training to be conducted by the teacher in a manner that was stressful and filled not only with a simulation of danger, but with the actual danger of severe injury and the potential for death. While the learning and practicing of techniques in the dojo can prepare us for the physical action, the only way to prepare for the use of combative techniques in the stress of combat is to face that stress while training.

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The student must be realistically prepared for the consequences of engaging in actual combat in order to be psychologically prepared for the rigors of it. Without this frighteningly aggressive partner training, permeated with the threat of danger, the true spirit, the true purpose of the koryu system is lost, and the system itself becomes an impotent relic. For the observer, the two person kata can seem to be quite the antithesis of what was actually a necessary training regiment for the medieval fighting man. But make no mistake, practicing koryu bujutsu is extremely dangerous. It is physically, psychologically, and emotionally demanding, and quite completely frustrating. At no time is koryu bujutsu training easy, comfortable, or convenient. It is not for everyone.

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Today there are more than 80 schools of koryu bujutsu in Japan. Each have their own history, lineage, techniques, strategies, philosophies, essence, and flavor. From their very founding each system, and its practitioners, took different paths up the same mountain. Except for a few schools, most are singular entities. No branch schools, or practice groups: One dojo, one sensei, and his or her students. This is the way the systems have maintained their essence and their quality since their progenitors. Hopefully, with the sweat, blood, and tears of dedicated men and women these systems will survive far into the future.

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