Trolling through Google Scholar yesterday I came across a course outline on the martial arts that aimed at disabusing students of the idea that martial arts are an ancient cultural repository of traditional wisdom. Tru-dat. (I hope that means what I assume it means).
Instead, they are things that are used, even today. I use them. I have always used them for what I can get from them on my own terms, and those never included a desire to learn 3000 year old Korean culture (from TKD) or even 500 year old Japanese culture (from the koryu).
I came across another paper which was in Japanese but had an English abstract which seemed to indicate that the Meiji police forces included martial arts for a different reason than I’d been told a couple weeks earlier in a popular bit of writing… to whit, that the Police learned sword because their main enemy, the Yakuza used swords as their preferred weapon. Which was weird because a Ninja master told me about 30 years ago all about being chased through the streets of Tokyo by gun-wielding Yakuza, but never mind.
My attention got caught by the Police budo paper because I have finished yet another manual (in proofs with my students), this one on Keshi ryu iai (the Meiji police iai set) and what is now called “Hosoda ryu”. The two sets I learned from Takeshi Mitsuzuka sensei a hundred years ago. I always liked the two schools because I was taught Hosoda as Shindo Munen, and that art was taught in a Tokyo dojo where the young Edo-era bravos from the countryside used to go to “study the sword”. They went to plot and plan the overthrow of the government of course, so the budo at that time was a way to collect rebels. I doubt anyone really worried about accurately transmitting the culture of the samurai of 300 years earlier. What training was done was likely concerned with that new shinai-geiko stuff… but the Shindo Munen dojo and others like it did help, however incidentally, to keep the arts going during that period.
After the Meiji restoration it was the turn of the police sword practice to help keep the old sword arts alive, and hence my delight in putting those two sets of practice into one book.
Which brings me back to the paper I found that, according to the abstract, argues the Police had another reason for getting involved in budo than fitness (undoubtedly part of it) and practicality (they were armed with swords for a short time at least, before they decided a jo or a gun was more efficient), and that was to drain the best sword teachers away from those very anti-government type gangs that helped topple the previous government.
An excellent and ancient tactic as proven by dozens of samurai movies I’ve seen. Co-opt the best fighers from the other side, buy them or argue them onto your side. Rebels aren’t usually that well off unless they are backed by a government somewhere, so they aren’t likely paying their sword teachers very well. Get those teachers on the police payroll and set up the most prestigious tournament system and you’ve drained a lot of momentum from the rebel groups. Get rid of the extra-government tournaments and you get rid of a system of meeting places where rebel leaders can talk about anti-establishment stuff. Now you’ve got your own place to talk about pro-establishment stuff to young men of that dangerous dissenting age.
Then a few years later you get into the whole state shinto, bushido for the peasants thing but I’m not so interested in that bit of cultural tradition even if it is a big undercurrent to the present-day ancient arts.
For my purposes, the budo being culturally detached from my own culture is a very good thing. They come with no baggage that I don’t see plainly and trying to attach them to things Western isn’t going to happen any time soon (although folks try). The gun is a much better symbol of all things Government and Anti-government in the West. Like the sword in Japan, the gun in the West can be snuck into the modern conscience as a symbol of things that never were because it’s part of the sub-liminal awareness developed from years of cowboy movies. Western cowboys and Eastern samurai. Charles Bronson and Toshiro Mifune. Rugged individualists and loyal servants, all symbols that might just be serving something else.