Somebody says “I want to learn koryu” someone else says “lots of people want to learn koryu” and yet another chimes in with “you have to go to Japan because that’s where the real teachers are”. You can’t learn it at a seminar and if you do then you’re “seminar taught”.
And I say “there’s an easy way to try it, where you can attend without jumping through hoops, you can go to a seminar and see if you like koryu since you haven’t practiced it before, there’s no excuse for you not to go check it out”… and very few people come.
In fact, there isn’t that much of a desire for koryu, just a few folks with a lot of time on their hands at work chatting on the net.
Now if you want to start breaking down koryu into those who come in through secret passageways in the backwoods of Japan and those who come in through the front door, by all means have at it, but it’s not much of an argument because it doesn’t fall into neat and tidy groups like that.
I fell into koryu iaido at an Aikido seminar in 1983, I later stumbled over my iaido teacher “locally” (2 hours away) and then did things like travel to the UK for seminars until we had enough people gathered up around here to have seminars so that we could raise our level of practice. Through instructors I met in Iaido I started practicing Niten Ichiryu and then Jodo, and continue to bring instructors from Japan and elsewhere for seminars. I don’t travel much any more, I prefer to spend that same money bringing an instructor here to teach 40 or 140 students. Me alone getting taught or 100 people getting taught… it’s not much of a decision. My students tell me I should go travel and get taught so I can improve and be awarded more rank and get more respect and… I tell them to go themselves, I’ll do what I’ve always done, practice in my own dojo, sleep in my own bed, take seminar instructors to see Niagara Falls. Some of my students have been in Japan for decades, learning the “proper way”, maybe one day they’ll come back and teach me.
That’s how I did it, starting 30 years ago and how I still do it. I honestly don’t care how anyone else does it. My point is pretty simple, if you are young and are thinking of organizing your life around “koryu” I strongly advise knowing what it is you’re doing. Go check it out… WHEREVER… and see if it’s worth it.
In 30 years I’ve seen an awful lot of keeners study the arts for a couple weeks and then wander off to do other things. In general, the ones with the strongest conviction when they arrive tend to be the ones that wander off soonest (they have preconceptions I’m guessing). The ones who stay are the ones who are right next door and find it easy to drop in at class time.
In 20 years I haven’t seen anything to suggest to me that as a general rule it’s a good thing to try and learn long-distance… even if I seem to have done that. I began by doing Aikido three times a week at the dojo next door.
I recommend that anyone thinking about koryu practice do aikido, judo, kendo or karate at the dojo next door for a few years. If you’re still interested in koryu keep your eyes open, it will show up.
I promise you won’t be crippled by all your “bad habits” acquired from years of dedicated practice of one of the stodgy old boring standbys.
On the other hand, there’s a weekend seminar in koryu iaido being hosted in Peterborough very shortly… drop me a line and I’ll give you the contact information… if you pass the entry test of course.