I was at one of my favourite seminars last weekend, the Welland iaido seminar which brings together the senior instructors in the area. This year it was Ohmi sensei, Criuse sensei and me for 7dans and Dave Green and Carole Galligan for the 6dans. A lovely time and great organization, both from an administration point of view, and from the structure of the seminar where the students break into levels and the instructors rotate between groups. You get to teach three different levels in a day and it’s really quite a lot of fun. Not to mention educational for someone like me who has only small mixed classes. I seldom get the chance to teach to the level, sticking mostly with overall concepts and then individual help. It’s actually easier to say only what the group needs to hear and much more satisfying for all I think. No distractions with instruction you can’t use or don’t need, more concentrated in other words.
At the seminar I was able to give Ohmi sensei the 5 new manuals I managed to get done. He made a comment about them later that I corrected in a hurry with the following story. Back in 1987 or so Ohmi sensei was teaching me the Muso Jikiden Eishin Ryu and I would occasionally show up with a book which I had written and my mother had illustrated. His comment at that time was “I teach you a set and a week later you turn up with a book”.
Well, sure I suppose I did… probably not a week later but it didn’t take long to produce them, simply because I wasn’t really writing, Ohmi sensei was. They are nothing more or less than my notes on his teaching. (And as accurate as that sort of process is, so don’t blame him for my mistakes).
As a result, I can’t take credit, really, for the books, they aren’t mine, they are my teacher’s. Whatever is in them is a result of his learning, his research, his teaching and I’ve never thought of them otherwise.
Perhaps he would say that his knowledge is only what his teachers gave him, but it was he who gave to me so as far as I’m concerned, he’s the man. Maybe some day my students will write something and say “I got it from Kim” and maybe then I’ll feel as if it is mine, but somehow I doubt it. I may be speaking but mostly I’m “spoken through”.
That’s transmission, that’s the lineage. If you go somewhere and get a certificate or some such qualification from a teacher who is not your own, it’s really not transmission, it’s certification. It’s that teacher saying “sure, you know such and such”. He may recognize it, but he didn’t teach it so it’s not really transmission, it’s not teacher to student.
Transmission goes beyond technique. Any MJER teacher can comment on my technical knowledge of the kata in the school. Those are pretty standardized, with style differences being easily recognized as such by anyone who’s been around a couple decades. Transmission is certainly the kata, but it’s also the background, the feeling and the style, the approach to those kata. The books I gave to my teacher last weekend were not, by and large, my notes of his teaching, much of what is in there is the result of my research into the school, of teachings received from other instructors, and inevitably of influences from my other arts, but the kata were from the MJER lineage and so my understanding of them is rooted firmly in the school, and the school as transmitted to me by my teacher. In other words, even if my teacher does not know or practice some of the sets I have written about, in a very real way I learned them from him.
If someone feels that I’ve made a mistake, that’s on me of course, but I’m betting the critique will be as much about style as about fundamental problems with the mechanics. I’m betting that my basis of understanding is pretty good, it came from a pretty good source.