Ha Ha Ha – July 3, 2014, Kim Taylor, Renshi, CI Sei Do Kai Guelph ON, Nanadan

I see a lot of schools around these days that are so and so ha where once they might have simply had a new name. This might reflect a move away from the “new is better” idea to the more traditional “more traditional is better”.

I suppose it made sense once for an instructor of X to let a student open X-ha when travel between prefectures was restricted and schools were not allowed to have branches but it makes no sense today. Why would an instructor not simply say “call it X” if a student wants to open a dojo. There’s no problem these days with having branches anywhere and lots of koryu have had international “empires” for years.

Often it’s assumed that a “ha” is different than the original (rather than just being a name change for political/legal reasons which is the only reason I can think of for a student to ask about using the name). If a student is different enough from the instructor to rate a name change, he’s a poor student and shouldn’t be teaching, or he’s deliberately changing the art, in which case he’s probably either left or been booted. In either of those cases he’s more likely to call it some other name since X-ha is rather subservient. Maybe call it X-batto-jutsu-iai or some such instead of X-do.

So what happens when someone starts up a ha without permission? Not a lot really. Let’s take for an example the Muso Jikiden Eishin Ryu, a major school of iai. If someone starts up a MJER-ha or more likely Fred-ha MJER and someone else objects, there is no overall licensing body to appeal to. MJER is far from being a single entity, I’ve practiced with at least 3 self or student-proclaimed soke, none of which have THE papers, but it goes to show that MJER is not A (single) koryu, it’s a bunch of lines, some of which make a big deal about lineage and have a soke, some of which do not.

If it’s a new dojo teaching MJER, why not just call it MJER? But what about a change, how do we police that? The only person/organization that would actually have something to say about mixing MJER with, say, German longsword in Australia would/might be the fellow’s instructor or dojo. And even then it’s not all that definite that anything would be said. If he does straight MJER in his dojo in Japan who cares what he does in another country in his own dojo.

This might change if students or other instructors brought stories and complaints back home of course. Then sensei might have to do something, whether or not he wanted to. And that does happen, often students will jibber-jabber and this will force sensei to take some sort of action. This is something that sensei usually does not thank the student for. A good rule to keep in mind is that dirty laundry should stay indoors, and certain family realities should remain with mom and pop until the kids are old enough to be told about them.

Objections or complaints about Fred-ha from anyone but Fred’s sensei begin from the presumption that the koryu system is well-defined and monolithic but it’s not. The two koryu arts that I do under the ZNKR are simply not interested in papers and sokes and whatnot, they’re too big within the International Kendo Federation (multiple lines) and they’re very clear and easy to sort out in the individual lines (I know my grandpa and his father before him). Being multiple lines in the same organization means not yammering on about who’s legit and who’s not (the question is simple “who’s your people” or “who’s your granddad”, from that you know all you need to know). It also means not overstepping bounds and being respectful of other teacher’s students. You practice seitei and if you teach koryu, you do it in the context of “your line does this, and mine does this”. And believe me, at the top levels the instructors can all do each other’s “styles”.

The third koryu line I do is “old school” to the extreme. One dojo, one soke, maybe 20 people actually “in” the school and a bunch of folks around the periphery allowed to practice but certainly not “in” the school. There will not be any “ha” in that art any time soon, at least not sanctioned and that’s more or less what we’ve been talking about. If you see Fred-ha MJER around you can be pretty sure it’s not something that was sanctioned by anyone, it is, in fact, a good sign of a split in the lineage.

Is that a big problem? Of course it depends. If Fred was booted out because sensei didn’t like his taste in shirts, well it might not be a problem at all. If Fred left because he thought sensei was a puffed up egomaniac? If Fred left because he figured that he had learned all there was to learn after two years of practice?

So how does one know if Fred-ha is legitimate or not? You usually can’t know that, but you can know, by some polite googling, if Fred is teaching the art straight, and if he’s a good fit for what you want to learn.

Going to his teacher or to some other organizational source? Fred may or may not have told his sensei about his experiments and changes, and if he did not, his sensei may or may not know about them anyway. But if sensei has said nothing, and nobody else brings the subject up, than sensei can simply ignore the whole thing, which happens far more often than people suspect.

That’s what I meant about students bringing things to official attention that should likely be left alone. Letters and whatnot often demand a response that does nothing but create problems where none existed before, and this often makes the powers that be less than happy. Honestly, I’m constantly mystified at how stupid students think their instructors are. Of course they know what’s going on, and they may have reasons for not doing something, reasons that go far beyond what the students know… perhaps even stretching back to before the students were born. My advice for my own students in situations like this is always “don’t help us unless we ask you to help, and even then, check with us again when we’re sober”.

Most of my biggest headaches in the budo world have been caused by students “helping out” and thereby forcing things to be noticed officially. Not so much my direct students any more, I make sure to tell them that I’m not in need of that sort of official help and I’ll ask if I do want it. No it’s usually the student equivalent of teenagers who figure “dad” is stupid. If I had my d’ruthers there would be a lot more student-ha out there but those guys are not mine to boot… errr suggest it’s time to start their own dojo with maybe a small name change to reflect their brilliant take on the art.

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