The following article was written by Glen Henry, Menkyo Kaiden Shinto Muso Ryu Jojutsu.
In the practice of Koryu Budo / Bujutsu, one of, if not the most important aspect, is to know your linage, and at the fore of that is to be able to answer without hesitation when asked, who is your teacher?
In many cases this is typically the person who runs the dojo where you started your training and if one is fortunate to join a dojo with a legitimately and highly qualified practitioner one may be able to call that person their teacher for the life of that person.
For a beginner however, it is not always apparent if the person “in charge” is suitably qualified, in all aspects of the Ryu / Style, spiritually, morally and technically. Over time the student will, with experience assess if they have made the right choice, or if they should search further for someone more in line with those qualities.
Another issue today is the mobility of people either by choice or necessity, which makes it impractical to continue training at one dojo. In this situation, one must make very careful choices on whether to abandon their teacher completely or maintain the relationship albeit at a distance, with occasional meetings but regular communications. The underlying point is that at some time a personal commitment to one teacher will become necessary to progress fully into a KORYU, and in so doing a new world of obligations arise.
Giri – Obligation & Duty
In a school practicing the Japanese Koryu (traditional styles) we enter a realm of customs and expectations that are far different from the western concept of club membership, which in many instances is a more social or casual affair.
The membership of a Koryu is from the outset probationary and the period of probation is not fixed, it depends on each individual, the authority held by the head of the Dojo, and the advice and support of senior members of the dojo.
The student though admitted to training, will only progress provided they begin to show the character of a good student, and the dedication to training and support of the dojo and their fellow students. This in some ways may appear to be discriminating, or elitist, yet the character of a Koryu though similar to that of a family, can choose its members based on standards that will strengthen, not weaken it, by ensuring each member is the right “fit” in personal qualities and moral goodness. A natural family sometimes cannot control the quality of its members. It is therefore at the discretion of the Dojo Cho in allowing a student to remain.
In time the relationship and commitment by both parties may lead to the formalization of such by the offer of teacher to student the Oku Iri – official entry certificate, and what is ostensibly a contract between teacher and student for the continued instruction in the Ryu.
This is only the right of a legitimately recognised person, usually holder of Menkyo Kaiden, and as such the recipient becomes a personal student. From that time on the student can then answer unequivocally when asked, who is your teacher?
At this point the student is ever more aware of the concept of Giri (dedication to their teacher and dojo and duty to support it) is an essential development in Budo, and closely relates to “Ninjo “, a feeling of conflict between what we want to do and what we should do. It requires a commitment to the dojo and the teacher equally.
The teacher’s commitment has been putting in the years of hard training to acquire skills and qualities that are being passed on, and for affording links to the Ryu that reach far back into history, in providing the Dojo as a place of focus by the membership. These are not things which come cheaply, or without great effort and dedication on behalf of the teacher/ dojo owner.
Giri is displayed in many small ways, which indicate to the teacher, the level of commitment, acceptance and understanding of the traditions of Koryu. The evidence of this can be seen firstly in the regularity of training, and the attitude toward the practice, the teachings and the interaction with members especially in difficult circumstances. From these interactions, a teacher will be able to deliberate on the advancement of a person to higher status signified by the issuance of Mokuroku, scrolls of transmission and teaching licences, and ultimately complete transmission, Menkyo Kaiden.
As earlier noted, the mobility of people and their ability to maintain a relationship with a single teacher throughout their years of practice is sometimes difficult or unavoidable. If the issue is merely the tyranny of distance, as long as regular communication can be maintained, the relationship can continue, as is the case of many practitioners who spent time in Japan and then after returning to their home country, remained a student of their Japanese teacher.
There are times of course when the relationship becomes impractical, such as there is no branch school in the new location, or in the instance that the teacher passes away, and a new teacher must be chosen from within the Ryu, or if a new Ryu is to be sought the whole process starts over. In these cases, and out of respect, a student should inform their teacher of the situation and reconcile the matter between them.
Another situation which also occurs when an individual is looking for fast promotion and therefore goes “Teacher Shopping” in an attempt to find someone who will promote them quickly, often when the aspirations of that person are more driven by Ego, than by humility.
Unfortunately, there are some schools who take advantage of this situation and provide qualifications for a fee, and ultimately devalue the legitimacy of the original Ryu or their own. Genuinely dedicated students will see this and quickly lose respect in their choice of teacher and will be more likely to leave.
In the case of the teacher passing away and a teacher from within the Ryu is sought it is not necessary to make an immediate choice, and other teachers within the Ryu are not obligated to accept. Each case is considered on the merits of the circumstance, and reasons in such a choice.
The person seeking a new teacher has to approach any new prospective teacher with the same spirit they had with their original teacher, and that the choice is made from a perspective of respect for the qualities of that teacher, not for any future advancements, but from a genuine desire to become that person’s student and to accept their teachings, even if there are some differences in what they previously were taught. This is a point of commitment and acceptance by both parties and again it should be seen as a potential lifetime relationship. Any other reason for such a relationship may therefore be insincere, and not in keeping with the true spirit of Sensei and Deshi. The new teacher will now doubt observe differences between his teachings and the style of the newly accepted student, and there will be points of difference that will require delicate advice to bring those differences around. This is an important issue as it will affect all students in the group, if there is dissent or conflict between the two.
The process of Shu Ha Ri is at the core of this new relationship, even when the two have trained in the same Ryu but not necessarily together previously, or for some time in the past. There will always be the want to stay loyal to the past teacher, and this can sometimes lead to negative feelings, and why it is sometimes better to wait for a “mourning” period before making the request of the new teacher. Of course, once the choice is made there should be no looking back and once again be able to answer that question, who is your teacher?