The internet knows that koryu are small secret fighting arts that are headed by a soke and should be preserved for their inherent value. Well perhaps that is true for some arts and for some students of the arts, but I’ve never been too sure.
One head per art? As far as I know one fellow’s got the papers and whatnot for my iai koryu (Muso Jikiden Eishin Ryu). Do I follow him? No. Have I ever practiced that style of MJER? Yes. Do I practice it now? No. Is this a problem for me? No. MJER is big and even small arts don’t stick together forever. I’ve got an iai lineage back to Oe Masamichi but it’s not the same line as back through the current soke.
How about the art itself, should it be carefully preserved intact as it has been for the last 400 years? Let’s talk about Tachi Uchi no Kurai, one of the partner sets of MJER, should it be preserved? Umm, which version? I have, in the course of my training, learned 3 separate and distinct versions of the 10 kata. Could probably find my original notes lying around somewhere I’m sure. So what do I teach if asked? The ones in Mitani’s book of course, it’s big and on my shelf and so I don’t have to go tear the house apart looking for my notes. Since it was published in a very nice book with pictures, it’s also the version that a lot of people standardized on for the same reason I’m sure, it’s handy. I’m not too fussed if the other versions disappear into history, although I do teach them to my own students because I find the variations useful to teach specific concepts in a graduated order, (as a result my personal Tachi Uchi no Kurai is a set of 17 kata and often some variations thrown in).
I’m not too worried that “martial arts get lost” since they get lost all the time. What’s the inherent value of a martial art? The true value lies in the practice not the existance of the techniques in someone’s notebook.
Want to help perpetuate small and rare martial arts? By all means, go for it, find them and learn them and teach them. Unfortunately, I’m not too confident that they will be found and preserved by us Western folks. We used to run a koryu seminar that featured many different arts that are actually being taught here in the west, some of them quite small but instruction is available. I think the best we ever did was 40 students which actually is pretty good but not something to crow about when you consider the population of North America is what, 5x that of Japan? If the small arts are to be preserved it’s likely going to happen in Japan… actually it more or less has to. Is there ever going to be a case where an art dissappears from Japan, gets preserved in the West and then returned to Japan?
Yeah. No reason it shouldn’t but it’s not likely, we in the West are not going to preserve any Japanese cultural treasures for the Japanese. We may absorb them, we may inherit them and continue them for a few generations, but they aren’t likely going back once they’re lost over there.
This stuff exists as long as someone practices it. When nobody does, it disappears and nobody notices (because nobody is practicing). The world keeps spinning regardless.