The Old and The New

The inspiration for Iaido is said to have come to Hayashizaki Jinsuke Shigenobu during the Nara or Heian period.  Shigenobu is also said to have been born in 1549 in Sagami, an area controlled by the Odawara Hojo but Sagami was adjacent to Kai, the home of Lord Takeda Shingen(1521-1573), a powerful daimyo set on becoming shogun even though death claimed him before he was able to succeed.  Shigenobu’s life was certainly marked by civil unrest.  After Shingen’s death, the Odawara Hojo were dissolved by Toyotomi Hideoshi after the siege of Odawara.  Sagami would subsequently come under the control of Tokugawa Ieyasu, the eventual shogun of Japan who’s family would rule Japan for over 200 years until the Meiji Restoration in 1868.  Much of what is known about Shigenobu’s life is interwoven with legend, however, he came of age during a time when control over his home changed three times.  Out of necessity for survival the inspiration for Iaido came and due to the relative peace in Japan after he was forty, Shigenobu was able to travel, test his skill, build his reputation, and acquire disciples.  Shigenobu’s time was a time of civil war in Japan and the success of a military and its daimyo(feudal lord) depended upon the ability to feed and supply the largest army, but also depended upon any technical advantage developed and the ability to maintain this advantage through secrecy.

If we come to present day, no one uses swords for combat.  State military secrets are still guarded closely using varying levels of security clearance aimed at mitigating espionage, but all Koryu, “Old Style”, have elements of secrecy that are foundational in the transmission of the art.  Explicit in Muso Shinden Ryu are Shoden, “Beginning Level/Tradition”, Chuden, “Middle Level/Tradition”, and Okuden, “Hidden Level/Tradition”.  In today’s climate, traditional koryu struggles for survival against one of its pillars of survival, secrecy.  In order for koryu to survive, it must be popularized, and once it’s popularized, it loses its secrecy and one of its elements of efficacy, surprise.

The new way is marketing, getting leads for new students, building a dojo that appeals to customers, tracking website analytics to determine how much traffic comes to the website and how long the visitors stay in the website.  The new way is totally opposite from the old where skilled teachers lived in obscurity only to be found by students who sought out the path.  The teacher scolded and refused to teach them, and only after demonstrating dedication to the art did the teacher accept the student.  Instead of a dojo in the middle of a strip mall selected for its favorable demographics with a large illuminated sign pronouncing the name to the world in neon, the dojo was down an alley with a fence and gate guarding the entrance, and the small wooden sign overgrown by bamboo and other greenery sprouting from within the garden. Instead of hundreds of students, there were only a few.  Instead of being rich, “successful”, the teacher struggled to survive barely making ends meet and put everything into the dojo and the students.  The new teacher wants to be recognized, travel across the globe and have hundreds attend seminars.  The old teacher just wants to be left alone to teach.  The new teacher sells, sells, sells; the old teacher just teaches.

The old will die unless it is passed on and infused with some new.  The old student worked to learn the art and support the teacher.  The old student brought food, cleaned sensei’s house, massaged sensei’s muscles so it was easier for sensei to teach.  The old student was devoted to the teacher.  What does a new student look like?  O negai shimasu?