Empires or Lineages – August 7, 2015, Kim Taylor, Renshi, CI Sei Do Kai Guelph ON, Nanadan

Something that gets a bit confused in the world of koryu within federations is the idea of “who owns you”. The koryu are pretty well understood by us westerners, your teacher is your teacher. You don’t go training with other sensei without permission or being told to go.
What a lot of folks don’t understand is that this sort of thing happens with the standard sets as well, with the “seitei”. The instruction from the top is that up to 3 dan you can pick and choose things you like from various sensei, you can take this chiburi and that noto from different sensei. But after third dan you need to go with one sensei so that your overall style becomes consistent.

For consistent read recognizable. There’s nothing like the comfort of seeing a teacher’s style in a challenger so that you know where to slot that student.
That’s the lineage stuff. What gets a bit more complicated in the west is the idea of “empire building”, of teachers from Japan accumulating students in the west beyond what other teachers may think is a good idea. This isn’t spoken of often, and it happens almost always in the seitei side of things (nobody would ever admit to having a problem with a koryu line being large, that would smack of jealousy).
You can see the problem. On the one hand teachers and students are being told to specialize, to concentrate on one teacher to one student, but on the other are being warned of being too focused on one teacher, of building empires.
Do I have a suggestion on this? Not really, most of this problem is beyond my pay grade. I know who my koryu sensei is, and who taught me my seitei. On my own side I don’t have enough students for anyone to get concerned about me building empires and I don’t worry about who my students study with as far as seitei is concerned, they are welcome to listen to anyone they wish, I’ll pass judgment on what they retain when I see them at a grading.
Koryu of course, is koryu and I’m a bit picky about what they learn, but even there I’m not all that concerned with them practicing with other sensei. They are either my student or someone else’s I don’t mind which, but they will have to choose eventually.
Over the years I’ve seen lines of practice with a single teacher lose that teacher and lose their way, that’s one of the benefits of being in a larger organization (you can pick up another teacher). This is the flipside of that benefit, with multiple teachers you get discussions of empire building and lineages. As a student of the art you need to be aware of this sort of thing so that you don’t get upset when you run into it.
The budo aren’t quite the same as school, your physics teachers don’t usually get concerned with who has how many students in their class. On the other hand, they may get a bit possessive of the good students.
Be one of those students that get fought over.
Kim Taylor
August 7, 2015

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