Physical Training Sept 2009
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Why is Seitei so Changeable

copyright 2009 Kim Taylor, all rights reserved

At a seminar recently I overheard such comments as "hey it's back to where we orginally did it" and "they're not going to like this at..." and "do it the new way for grading but we'll do it this way here".

I've said it myself I must admit, but I don't any more. In fact I have sometimes argued that seitei doesn't change much at all since it's written down and only changes when the written manual is changed in some way. That doesn't happen very often. But we all know that it does change, every new sensei we meet has some different way of doing the kata so let's take the changes for granted and go from there.

Specifically I'm talking about the Zen Nihon Kendo Renmei iaido set in this article but this applies to any art that has a similar seitei gata, a set of representative forms which are supposed to be taught in a consistent way to everyone.

I've come to believe that seitei is a conversation. It's a discussion between many very highly skilled swordsmen who all have their own ideas but come together to examine their art. At the very top is the chairman of the iaido committee who will have a big influence on the art, but who is not usually at the top for very long as he retires and is replaced in a few years with someone else. Below him, we have a set of folks who, as I said, are highly experienced and they will agree with the current practice in certain ways, and disagree in others. This is the continuing conversation, and you need to pay attention to keep up.

What? You figure there's only one right way to do an iaido kata? If that were true there would only be one school and no need for a seitei set at all.

The conversation is the same one that goes on in any society about any topic, and in the same way you can be current or not, participate or not. It won't make a great deal of difference unless you are many years out of date and can't understand what everyone else is talking about at all.

Some folks will be closer to the seitei discussion, some will live further away. Some will have time to devote to the topic, others may not. In some cases folks will stop listening, or they won't have the time, or they will be happy with things the way they are / have always been.

It's all good, but out of the conversation you will get "changes" to seitei, and out of those changes, if you pay attention, you will learn many things and your own practice will become richer and deeper.

So, seitei is a conversation, a big party full of interesting people discussing something you love. In that case, what's koryu? In the west we usually call it a family. An extended family with a strong matriarch I suppose, it can be peaceful or disfunctional, usually depending on the personality of grannie. Members may not get a lot of say in what goes on unless grannie is interested in their views, and grannie may be around for a very long time. In other words, koryu may not be much of a discussion at all compared to seitei.

Does that mean that koryu don't change? Of course not, in fact koryu can change extremely fast, with a single decision by the headmaster, and no other opinions need be sought. Koryu can also change when the headmaster dies and the new headmaster takes over with a determination to put his or her stamp on the school.

In this way you might get changes in koryu that are a lot more dramatic than the discussion that is seitei can produce.

So, the discussion and the matriarchy, two ways that you can think about seitei and koryu and how each of them can produce changes in the arts they represent.

I have written two articles which deal with changes in seitei and in koryu and you will find them at: Riai and Technique: The Story and the Performance and Changes in Koryu: A Case Study from Hyoho Niten Ichiryu

In the first, I discuss how a change in a single action by the imaginary opponent has changed the way one of the seitei iaido kata is performed. In the second, I give my view that a koryu has changed in many ways due to a decision by the headmaster to train his students in a different way.

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