I know we’re all going to live forever, but sometimes accidents happen to even the most immortal of us. If that happens, what happens to our lineage?
You haven’t thought about it? You’re young yet then, but eventually this needs to be addressed or the art won’t continue. This isn’t the latest exercise fad, it’s not something you spent four hours and $400 to get certified in. If it was then it wouldn’t be budo. This isn’t something you made up last week. You may have made up an entire new set of kata which you are teaching to your students but budo is not the techniques. Even if your line says things like “our practice is only for killing, and now we only practice it as a cultural memory with none of that spiritual BS”, you may just be passing along budo with that technical stuff without realizing it.
Budo is not the techniques, it is the method of teaching, or perhaps I should say that budo is a michi, a -do, a way. We pass that way along to the next generation, maybe not even realizing that we’re doing it. This is why the arts aren’t exclusive to Japan and the Japanese. If it was just a bit of culture it wouldn’t make any more sense to teach it to a bunch of gaijin than teaching Newfoundland clog dancing to the Japanese. I mean you can do it but what would be the point beyond maybe the entertainment value to both sides. The Japanese aren’t going to understand outport culture by clog-dancing any more than I’m going to understand Japanese culture, modern, Edo or Sengoku Jidai, by doing Niten Ichiryu. Not the point, not the purpose.
A big part of budo is the lineage of teaching and teachers. That’s because we need some assurance that what we’re teaching and what we’ve taught is correct, that what we’re teaching is what worked in the past. That’s why we don’t make up kata and try to pass them along as “new and improved”. We may create new exercises for reasons of specific technical instruction but we don’t bother to pretend they’re the core of the curriculum. The curriculum we receive is enough to teach the way, and the way is the important bit.
Here we are then, teaching our budo to students. If we appreciate the lineage we ought to be thinking about how to get this art to the next generation. How do we do that? Most of the time we just assume that our top student will take over, having learned all they need to learn about teaching by being taught. It’s not a bad thought, it’s probably worked for centuries since there usually isn’t a “teaching the teachers” curriculum within the arts. What there is of that is usually a few words in the ear or written down on the final certification paper. Often it’s a story about the founder and how he discovered that there’s more to this stuff than just the slicing of the heads.
A couple weeks ago I gave a bit of a speach about the underlying method in a seminar. After class one of my friends told me he appreciated my comments because I had not mentioned any such thing in the 20 years or so that he’s known me. I suppose I don’t say much about it because the method is in the practice, not something we read in a book, or something that we are convinced of by argument or dictate from above.
But will our successor know this? And is our successor someone who can guide his own students through the same way? Again, we usually don’t worry about this and I suspect that’s just fine. Our students wouldn’t stick around for decades if they weren’t getting something beyond the techniques, how long does it take to learn a few dozen short movement patterns? How much longer do you need to learn how to apply those patterns in a fight? Not tens of years that’s for sure. You can become a brain surgeon in less time than you spend on your budo education, mostly because your budo is not a technique, it’s a method. If you get that, you stick around in class, so anyone who has been with you for 30 years is likely someone who “gets it”.
The idea of teaching the teachers is one that is concerned with passing along facts and figures or techniques in as short a time as possible. Budo and the other ways are about something else. In some cases these ways may actually be anti-efficient in their teaching as we try to keep students around long enough to be “hooked on the method”. Do you remember the day you realized you are in this for life?
So pass it along and don’t worry so much about who is going to take over when you slip off the cliff.
Sept 4, 2015