The Iaido Journal  Mar 2006
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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 "is").

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 World Championships.

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.

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TIN Mar 2006