Had a great kage ryu seminar last weekend with Colin Watkin sensei in Calgary. I know it was good because my right hamstring is screaming even now a week later. To explain, you are drawing swords about five feet long by doing the longest, deepest lunge you can manage and then twisting your hips. This puts a bit of a strain on the old groin I’ll tell you, even the kids were complaining and I was thankful for the length of my arms. I would be crippled now if I hadn’t spent most of the weekend recording it.
Colin traveled from the Philippines for three days and was due the same back home again. Colin is an “old Japan hand” who started in Kendo, moved through various other sword arts and finally settled on Kage Ryu and Niten Ichiryu. He’s one of those folks who has enough paper to do a wall in his house so always worth listening to.
We have been talking syllabus and curriculum around here and the Kage Ryu is an interesting case study. We introduced the school once more into our classes in Guelph on Thursday (had done it last time I saw Watkin sensei, three years ago maybe, but it didn’t stick) and one of the students asked about a syllabus. I think he is somewhat concerned at my recent teaching method which is to come in and go at one of five or six schools at some level and expect the students to sort it all out for themselves (what other use is “sempai” anyway?) It does eventually make sense (I hope) but I can see where it would be rather frustrating and I sympathize but hey, classes are mostly all about me aren’t they? OK OK, I know I’m a bad teacher because another of my students had a word of concern that we blasted through the entire curriculum in two hours before we even figured out how to swing the swords. I dunno… we spent at least 15 minutes on suburi…
Anyway, I replied without thinking that “the syllabus is whatever Watkin sensei says it is”. What I meant is that the school is more or less down to Watkin sensei as likely the youngest and most active instructor (if not the only one) left. The school was never popular, and my impression is that it was three or four of them practicing at the best of times. I do know that Watkin sensei had some concerns about passing it along outside the prefecture where it has been for hundreds of years but you do what you have to do, teach those who will learn, if you want to get the school to the next generation. Otherwise it’s gone. (I think it helped that after that first seminar a few years ago some of the students went to visit in the Philippines which showed a willingness to carry on.)
So the syllabus of the school is whatever Colin will be able to get to the next generation. Hence a lot of video shot and notes taken during the seminar I hope, and more visits to Watkin sensei by the main students to keep learning.
Now comes the interesting part, curriculum-wise. The school has a core set of waza, a group of movements that are learned in order and form the meaning of the school. Anyone outside the school will never see these waza because they aren’t to be shown. When the school does a demonstration the students are expected to develop a kata that is accurate and faithful to the school, and show that. In other words, all anyone outside will ever see is variations, never the core.
The fun part is that it’s pretty easy to get confused about what’s core and what’s variation during these seminars, so the syllabus may be a but of a mystery even to a long time student. There isn’t anything written down at the moment that will fix the school in stone as core and variation. I enjoyed this way of learning immensely, it’s just like I do it! I suspect us old folks may wander a bit naturally and figure the youngsters will sort it out?… Personally, I plan to be watching a lot of video at the cabin next week, and making a lot of notes to sort things into a framework for myself and others who didn’t have the time to step back and watch.
So as I said, the syllabus is whatever Watkin sensei says it is, and this is as it should be.