Iaido Journal Mar 2006
How Big is an Art
copyright © 2006 Kim Taylor, all rights reserved
How big were the old martial arts (koryu) in Japan? It's a question
I've seen several times and of course the answer relies on just which
art you're talking about, and at what time in history.
Well how about Shindo Muso Ryu Jodo?
Nagatomi Koshiro Hisatomo (1717-1772), the seventh headmaster of one of
the three lines extant at that time had 300 students
During the Bakumatsu, or the mid-nineteenth century, the three lines of
Muso-ryu were very active. There were eighteen menkyo holders in the
Haruyoshi line, fifteen in the Jigyo and nine in the "true path" for a
total of 42 menkyo kaiden wandering around in an area with a population
of 1.3 million in 1896. That's a lot of menkyo kaiden.
Shiraishi Hanjiro (1842-1927) was one of six people eventually awarded
a joint densho. Shiraishi was originally a student of Hirano Kichizo
and Sada Teisuke of Haruyoshi. He later received mokuroku from Okuma
Shinpachi of the Jigyo line. His training before receiving the joint
menkyo was from Yoshimura Hanjiro. Shiriashi was the sole instructor of
Shindo Muso Ryu Jodo by the end of the Meiji (1912). In 1920 Fukuoka
had a population of 2.2 million.
Shimizu Takaji began training with Shiriashi in 1913, at the age of 17.
In 1918, at age 23, he received his mokuroku (scrolls of transmission)
and two years after that his menkyo certificate. In 1939 during the
Pacific War Shimizu went to Manchuria to teach jo and one author states
that he eventually taught jo to 1,500,000 people.
So the answer would be... it varies with the political situation (Jodo
was big in Fukuoka where it originated, until the Han system was
disbanded, and then the numbers collapsed), war and peace (the imperial
army studied Jodo so all the recruits were "students" of koryu), the
instructor (popular instructor in a big city with good connections and
publicity means lots of students), the organization (Shimizu joined
jodo to the ZNKR which brought in a lot of students) and the definition
of "koryu" (if ZNKR jodo is disallowed, jodo is a lot smaller than it
Oh, and it also depends on whether or not you count "lineages" other
than the "legitimate lineage" as part of the koryu. There isn't a
mainline jodo soke any more, nobody claimed that after Shimizu's death.
I've trained with 6 or 7 Menkyo holders from both so-called "lines"
(Tokyo and Fukuoka), who all accept that anyone doing jodo is doing
jodo, so the lineage thing isn't a problem there.
I have met and trained with 2 or 3 of the 5 or 6 claimants (self or
otherwise) to being the soke of MJER iaido. If you add all of the lines
it's pretty big, if you include only the line with the papers, and
declare that anyone not directly under the current papered soke is not
MJER, than it's smaller. HOWEVER there IS NOT any claim that I know of
by any of the big MJER line heads that they're the only legitimate MJER
bunch, so it remains at the larger numbers of students.
Talking about split lineages is really only opening up a can of worms
and to go back to the Jodo example I started with, there was a time
when one of the 3 lines was broken, and one of the heads of the other
two lines transferred the techniques and teachings of the broken line
to a student who then re-established it. For large arts, "legitimate vs
otherwise" arguments tend to come from novice students who see the
world in simple black and white, us and them terms, and not from the
top folks who all know each other and usually just leave each other
alone to do their thing. For smaller arts, it can be a different story.
Any organization, koryu, modern, fraternal or what have you, tends to
fragment once it gets to a certain size. It's the natural way of
things, only an extremely good leader can keep things together for long
after a critical mass has been reached.
The other way fragmention is resisted is through an external
(extra-lineage?) force, such as you see in the IKF/ZNKR, which can (and
has) actually put national Kendo groups back together after a split.
The "glue"? ... if you're "out" from the IKF you don't send competitors
to the world kendo championships. There are other kendo organizations
but they are dwarfed by the IKF simply because of the mechanics of the
Few such forces exist in the koryu outside of "legitimacy" which is why
it's so tediously argued about. Papers, signifying objects that are
passed along, grading systems, or just plain old publicity can all be
used in the arguments of legitimacy. One "external force" this
legitimacy may be predicated upon, is the existance of an outside
sanctioning or pseudo-sanctioning body which may declare one group or
another "legitmate". Barring membership in these organizations, the
groups are left to rely on such things as.... say.... the internet to
argue their legitimacy.
So in the end, the question of how large the old koryu schools were in
Japan comes down to "it depends". As always, it's best to study the
history of your own particular school and count your blessings that
you've got one instructor and one student (you) in the same region at
the same time.