The Iaido Journal  Nov 2004
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What is a Legitimate Koryu Anyway?

copyright © 2004 ejmas, all rights reserved

by Kim Taylor

I know it's nice to have a hobby folks but I read a lot of silliness on the net about which supposed koryu group is "legit" and who's not. Seems folks tend to get fixated on these things and go searching for "fakes and frauds". I can understand it, and heaven knows my students have heard me rant on about people from time to time but remember, it may be fun for a while but it can really eat into your life. It also makes me wonder why the ranters are ranting, what's the agenda? Why would someone care what happens in an art they don't practice? Were they burned for money? Refused entry to the "fake" school? Just ticked off they aren't Japanese and can't study a koryu in the homeland?

Surely you have better things to do with your time?

I explained some aspects of "koryu" practice in and out of Japan to my students a while ago like this: Think of "koryu" as a club that practices a strange old style of Japanese budo.

There's a club president (call him a soke) and he gets to decide who's in and who's out. Nobody else gets a say except for as much of an influence on the president as they can exert in discussions over beer. If the president doesn't like you, you're out. If he's a good president he acts for the good of the club, if not, he doesn't. But nobody else gets a say. You like it, stay in the club, you don't, leave.

So, we have the Sei Do Kai and let's say for the moment that I'm the president. You apply, I like you and you're in. You tick me off and you're out.

Simple so far eh?

Now we have SDK manuals out there, and videos, and old students hanging around, some with their own clubs, and this is where it supposedly gets a bit foggy.

Let's say someone in Norway or South Africa buys the Sei Do Kai manuals and studies the kata we study. What can they say about that? They study what we study, the books and vids are good so they look pretty much like we look. They can say they study the kata. They can't say they're in Sei Do Kai because they aren't. Not so complex after all.

Do I mind that they teach what they learned? No. Should they say they're in Sei Do Kai? No but if they do it's really no particular problem for me and my club here in Guelph is it?

Now let's say they attend a seminar at Sei Do Kai. They even pay me money to be there and they study the kata with me. What can they say? They can say they've studied with me and that they practice the kata. I may even (I'm not that organized) give them a certificate that says they were at the seminar and that they did real good and that they know the kata we practiced. If they ask I'll even tell them "sure, teach what you know, I was told to teach what I know". And they go and teach what they know. Should they say they're in Sei Do Kai? Well technically no, after all they're not paying dues (not that we charge dues). Do I mind if they do? Perhaps, it depends on how good they are, and whether or not they're making me look good. Still, not much of a problem to me either way.

Let's move on to my students. They study with me for years and then move on, either of their own choice or perhaps I boot them out because they borrowed my car and dented it. In any case they go and teach in a dojo of their own. Should they say they're Sei Do Kai? Well if I like them and they want to, sure. They'll need to make it Sei Do Kai Finland though, so the students don't think it's Guelph when they're really in Helsinki. If I don't like them? Well really what can I say?

But better in all respects would be for them to just pick a different name for their dojo and if anyone asks they say "I studied in Sei Do Kai". Then nobody gets confused... students being terribly likely to confuse Tromso, Norway with Guelph, Canada after all.

To talk about lineage, at some point I'm going to retire or die and pass the Sei Do Kai over to someone else. That person will now be the president, have the keys to the front door, and get to say who's in and who's out. The other students out there already teaching who studied with me may say "I'm better than that little snot who's president now so I'm the real president" but what does that mean? They're in Belgrade and they don't have the keys to the dojo. Best they say "I'm the president of my own club" and if anyone asks say "I studied under Kim Taylor" and be done with it. And the president I appointed should simply try to avoid peeing contests with these former students if he can. After all many of them will in fact be senior to him. But he's got the keys. Again, it's that simple.

Should I spend my days hunting down all those folks world wide who claim to be teaching Sei Do Kai and try to stop them? I've got other things to do folks. Do I want people to do that for me? Personally... maybe no. I don't mind knowing about it and I don't mind people looking out for me but sometimes I may feel like I have to do something about it, and that takes time. Like the time it's taking me to write this. Time I don't really have.

There are very few instances beyond my own ego satisfaction where someone claiming to teach what I teach will make any difference to me, my students, or anyone else. If someone wants to study with me I figure they'll come study with me, not some guy in Albania who claims to be me. "But they're trading on your fame and skill to cheat their students".... well OK so what's your point? I mean really, beyond pointing out that if they aren't in Sei Do Kai they aren't in Sei Do Kai, what can I do about it? What should I do about it? Life is short, learn your lessons, some are expensive, move on. If the cheating is criminal, that's, by definition, something that can be taken care of in the country of origin, charge or sue the fellow (and please don't call me as a witness, I don't have the time).

Now at this point someone always says "well a club isn't an art". Perhaps, but a koryu is usually a club... but never mind, instead drop the Sei Do Kai above and put in "Gryphon Claws" the U. Guelph women's self defence program. It's been running for almost 20 years, and was developed by a couple of us in 1987, overseen by me for all that time, and is unique. All the points above apply.

So, down to a real case study in an art and lineage that I'm somewhat familiar with. If you want to know whether or not someone is studying Hyo Ho Niten Ichiryu than go to Soke's dojo in Japan and look on the board. The students are listed there. If you want to know if there are foreign students who are teaching with the permission of the soke, ask Soke. Well don't actually ask Imai sensei or Iwami sensei, they'll just pass your letter over to Colin Watkin (Hyakutake) sensei. Instead be efficient and go to Colin's website where he lists those folks. It's There are others who may have various letters of permission from the past but Colin is keeping the current "in and out" list online for now.

And that's it, very simple. There are those who teach in other lines, with earlier permission, from earlier soke, or completely fictitiously, but if you're talking about the Hyo Ho Niten Ichiryu headed by Imai soke judai and Iwami soke Juichidai, than you go there and look. Everyone else is somebody else's problem. Like I said, it's a club, you're in or out of the club at this moment. You may have been in, and now out, or you may never have been in, but in the final analysis of things what's the problem?

Now if you want to study Niten Ichiryu in the west, check Colin's website, he lists the seminars and some of them are in Europe and North America. We won't make you sit in the rain outside the gate for a month or ask for your first born child, I promise. Study with the soke himself and then you don't have to worry about who's legit and who's not.

And if you want to study in Japan because you figure that's the only place where you can study koryu, email Colin. Go, study, quit worrying about not being able to study, now you know how.

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TIN Nov 2004