Niten Ichiryu is a tiny achool, there may just be more people practising in Europe than there are in Japan these days. It is of course the sword school of Miyamoto Musashi. I am half way through a weekend seminar and last evening we spent a while going through the various videos we could find on the net, comparing one line to another and even checking out variations over time in one line. You can do that now, so anyone who is posting a video these days should date it for the rest of us researchers.
As the end of my line of instruction, and with none of my teachers alive now, I suppose I could also do with the school what I wish. It’s “mine” now, in that what I have is what I have, and it’s up to me to have it as it makes sense, so if I change something to make sense, that’s entirely legitimate.
But I won’t. I don’t really own the art because I was given it. I didn’t create it any more than I created the box that holds my Grandfather’s drill, he did. Even if someone handed me papers that said I was the certified holder of the papers, I would not have my own permission to change the art. It was handed to me in good faith and I will pass it along in the same good faith. I can change anything I want, who is to say no? Who is to say that’s not what I was taught? Yet I won’t.
I’m not playing the hero here, it’s an entirely selfish attitude to be so conservative. If I change it to something that I understand I cut off my teacher. It’s only by struggling with the kata as they were given to me that I can hope to learn what my teacher was trying to give to me. If I change the kata to suit myself, my current understanding of the art, I stop growing, I stop learning because now I get it, by definition I understand it.
It’s not that I don’t like playing with my understanding of the sword, but I’ve got a place to do that, it’s in my Aikido class where I am giving a couple of dedicated and eager folks my version of aiki ken, and aiki cane and aiki jo and whatever else they want to learn that class. I love teaching them and even write up sets of kata for them, but what I’m doing there is ephemeral to me. I create a technique to make a point, I teach it, they get it to the best of their ability, and it’s gone. It teaches me nothing because it’s my creation, it simply tells me what I know now. They may have years of learning since I’m years ahead of them, but for me that new kata is just another chalkboard full of notes.
So today I will be teaching the Niten kata as I was taught. The students will turn their videos on and record my footsteps and my sword motions and then they’ll practice and I’ll make comments and in those comments, which they probably won’t be filming, they’ll hear my opinions on what I was taught. I’ll tell them things that they may never hear again because what I’m saying is geared to someone else, to my student rather than to me. Why would I remember it? What I say “offhandedly” in class is what I know, or what I figure will work for them. It’s not something I’m going to remember, but they might, and they will incorporate what I say and it may change their understanding of the art and it may change the way they do the kata and in that way maybe I’m changing the art to suit my understanding.
But change it because I can? I won’t do that.