The History of Teaching Methods used in the Martial Arts

Too many times it is easy to assume that the martial arts have always been taught the way they are now. But this is highly unlikely, in that it is modern conveniences and attitudes, that have caused the martial arts to metamorphosis into the forms that they are now. Modern medicine has allowed the practice of the martial arts to have a greater level of danger than they could have allowed in the past. Medicine can repair what in the past would have been fatal injuries, or at the least totally crippling, and deal with infections that would have caused the death of warriors during the Sengoku Jidai, ‘age of the country at war’. Also the emphasis on sport, that actually began in the Tokugawa era, has caused a great modification in training. Sport martial arts, with the exception of Sumo, which itself was a fighting art prior to it’s development as a Shinto ritual and sport, was almost non-existent in the more ancient, actual fighting time of Japan. When a person fought prior to the Tokugawa era, it was in deadly earnest and usually resulted in death. A fight between two warriors was called a Shinken Shobu, ‘earnest bout’ and was not a sporting event, but a fight to the death. It would probably be best to trace the methods of teaching the martial arts from the development of the martial arts themselves, as distinct from fighting arts. Since the beginning of time, there have been fighting arts. For the most part they were not very organized and could generally only benefit the person who noted the innovations in combat and used what was discovered for their own benefit. Legend has it that true martial arts starts with Bodhidharma, who took the Indian fighting arts of his Kshatriya upbringing, merged them with the compassion of his Buddhist religion, to formulate an ethical method of self defense and combat, thus establishing the martial arts. This martial art was called Chuanfa in Chinese, and later known as Kempo in Japanese. The name was coined from the Vjara Mushti, diamond fist of the Kshatriya, and the Dharma, natural law, of Buddhism. Mushti became Chuan and Ken, while Dharma became Fa and Ho in the respective Chinese and Japanese languages. Eventually this idea permeated all other forms of Chinese combat, so that all arts became based on the establishment of peace, rather than war. This was then spread by Buddhists monks, priests and missionaries, to all corners of the Oriental world. In Japan, the Buddhist’s temples became centers of martial arts development, with the rural Samurai studying with the monks and developing their own methods of combat. These two events relate the development of the first two types of martial arts teaching methods. The first procedure would of course be the Temple Method, while the second style can be called the Family Method, referring to the warrior families. There is much discussion as to the exact method of temple training. Some say that large groups of monks would be lead by a senior monk in the execution of forms. Others seem to think that a senior monk was in charge of several students and junior monks, spending time with them individually and then supervising training sessions. The opinion here is that training was not actually done en masse, but rather on an individual basis, with groups training together, but not being lead robot like through a singular form. Family training, in Japan, started when parents realized that it was necessary to make sure their sons and daughters could help protect the family landholdings and uphold their lord’s interests. These were the Jisamurai, farmer warriors, who served a rural master. Many of these Samurai had studied with monks from the local temples, and changed the methods to best suit their fighting situation. Fathers taught their wives along with the children. The wives and female children would then be responsible for protecting the actual home, while the husbands and male children went off to fight in the numerous battles of the pre-Tokugawa eras. Once again it is believed that training was done on an individual basis, with parents relating to their children what they had actually experienced in combat and learned from the monks. Eventually, as Ryu were developed, sometime between the Twelfth and Fourteenth Centuries, masters of the Ryu, sometimes called Soke or Osho both terms coming from the Buddhist religion and referring to heads of temples, began to teach not only their own children but those of their kin. If someone was recognized as having an exceptional skill, then he or she would be placed in charge of imparting their knowledge to the extended family, including all the children of brothers and supportive in-laws. Finally these masters of the martial arts were given the responsibility of teaching the standing warriors of a feudal lord. Some say that this did not actually begin to occur until sometime in the Fourteenth or Fifteenth Century, though there is no definitive proof of when it came about. One of the best examples of the family style of the past is what is known today as Daito Ryu Aikijujutsu. In the ancient past, the art itself was believed to have been founded by Yoshimitsu Minamoto and originally known as Oshikiuchi. There is great dispute as to who actually coined the name Daito Ryu, but the art itself has been around for a long time. It is known that many members of the Minamoto retinue learned the Oshikiuchi, including family members and senior Samurai. Besides Daito Ryu, it is believed that Takeda Ryu and Sanada Ryu both are derived from the teachings of Oshikiuchi. Some say that at least one of the fifty three families connected with the Koga Ryu is also derived from the Minamoto Bujutsu. The family method of training was transported to Okinawa also by the Minamoto family, when Tametomo Minamoto escaped exile and lived on Okinawa for a while training and getting ready for a return engagement against the Taira. While there he married a member of the Okinawan royalty who gave birth to Shunten, the founder of the Okinawan dynasties. It is believed that the Minamoto Bujutsu was taught to those families who supported the Minamoto while Tametomo was there, and that this Bujutsu formed the basis of the Bushi Te of Okinawa, which was always taught in the family manner, on an individual basis. Individual training was done in such a manner that a teacher, usually a mother or father, taught their children the specific move or technique, and then while all the children were training the parents supervised each one. Each person was taught individually, though the training was done in groups. Groups were usually very small and even in the time when Dojo, ‘schools’ were established, small groups were the rule, with different groups being taught during different sessions. The final method of training is the latest form, Military Method. During the Meiji Restoration and throughout the Taisho and the beginning of the Showa era, Japan researched the methods of the Western World and adopted whatever they thought would accelerate their progression into a modern world power. In particular they adopted the military methods for training the conscript army that took the place of the Samurai. In particular this meant that they developed the idea of mass training for large numbers of soldiers at the same time. This especially meant that they began using competition as a method of training and motivating the troops. While training in combat was based on traditional martial arts, the training method was completely different. In particular the training was toned down, with less emphasis on skill and strategy, and more on speed and power. Whereas traditional martial arts training was designed to teach an in-depth knowledge and spiritual growth, military training was designed to teach a few techniques and the most direct, brutal method of application. Many of the teachers, just prior to and during the Second World War, lamented that they had many potentially good students, but were not allowed to train them correctly or fully. It is believed that many of the excesses that happened during the war were caused by the harsh attitudes developed during this type of training. Those who want to be trained in the ancient manner, meaning temple or family styles, need to recognize the fact that military style is simply the newest method and was originally designed to teach soldiers for actual war, with little or no emphasis on the deeper aspects of martial arts knowledge or spiritual training. A true story of the effectiveness, and lack thereof, of military training, might open the eyes of teachers and students of the martial arts alike. During the Meiji Restoration, the leaders in Japan were trying to decide how best to train the conscript army. They wanted them to have fighting spirit and be highly aggressive. The military authorities considered the Kata training of traditional Ryu and the Shiai (contests) of Kendo. Since Kendo Shiai was simulated battle it was decided that more spirit and aggressiveness could be developed with this method. Thus they chose to use the sport of Kendo to instruct the recruits. Then during the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-5, it is said that the sword skills of the Japanese officers was so poor that they were embarrassed by those they fought in Manchuria, even though the Army itself proved extremely effective. This was reported to the military authorities in Japan, who contacted many of the great traditional swordmasters of the day, particularly those who trained at the Toyama Gakko, a special school for training Army personnel. These great masters combined their knowledge and skills, to develop a method of swordsmanship that was combat effective and taught through Kata and Tameshigiri, ‘practice cutting’. This method became known as Toyama Ryu Battojutsu. By the time of the Pacific War/World War II, the swordsmanship of the Japanese officers was once again at a fearsome level, and proved fatal for those who had to face the blade in actual combat. The main point discovered by this incident, is that sport training prepares you to do well in a sport, but no sport is ever like actual combat. True self defense/combat skills can only be developed well through the ancient, traditional forms of training, based on the family and temple methods. Excessively aggressive and competitive training is not necessary for effective skills training. Many practitioners of the Daito Ryu Aikijujutsu system actually teach that aggression and competitiveness only leads to mistakes in actual combat. Some people think, since the military method has influenced so much of the thought of the martial arts today, that brutal and rough training is necessary for good martial arts. Two stories of the not so distant past may prove how untrue that actually is in reality. First of all, there was a student who was a member of a college Karate club in Japan who was of a very gentle nature. The Karate club was a ‘hell school’, where training was physically and psychologically tough. The young man decided to quite the school and seek other training more to his liking. Several of his Sempai ‘seniors’, decided to give him one last ‘hell’ session before letting him go. The training they put him through was so extreme that he died on the mat. The two most senior Sempai black belts were sentenced to prison for what they had done. Finally there is a story in Okinawa about a man who trained in the martial arts for many years, though he had never been in a fight. The training he received from his master was challenging, but not brutal. After each workout he always felt good and energized, not wiped out or wasted. Finally one day a local bully decided to attack him and steal his groceries. With but one technique, the man defended himself, and did not harm his attacker. One of the top traditional (family) masters in Japan has said that the biggest difference between the actual ancient training and modern military training is in attitude. In the ancient manner, both temple and family, students are encouraged to laugh and totally enjoy their training. Disciple is always present, but it is the self discipline of people who are wanting to learn their art and respect their seniors who are teaching them the art they so want to learn. Students assist and aid each other out of mutual love of the art and of each other. In the military manner, discipline is that of the military, where out of fear of what the superior rank might do to you if you seem insubordinate, keeps students in line. No sound or noise is allowed or tolerated. In some classes, people are actually discouraged from smiling. To the truly traditional Ryu master, those of the Koryu, ‘ancient systems’, and the Shin Bujutsu, ‘modern martial arts’ of self defense, this is extreme and unnecessary behavior. Training in the martial arts must be on a daily basis, based on good training, and the development of a positive spirit. Students should feel strengthened and uplifted, coming from each class feeling like they have learned something, rather than just being worn out. Traditional training, which many people have for years associated with the Military Method, is actually based on the Temple Method and the Family Method and they have always been of this sort. For those who want to learn the martial arts in a truly traditional manner, they need to seek out such schools based on good technique, hard work, and positive spirit.

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