Harmony: The new obsession

Recently, due to various incidents, I observe a recurring phenomenon in the world of Koryū-Bujutsu: Obsession with harmony.

The quintessence of the classical japanese schools of warfare is basically contest and rivalry. This does not mean a simple sporting comparison, but an active and practical confrontation of ryūha and their teachers and students with other traditions.

Here and elsewhere, much has been written about how the traditional schools of Koryū-Bujutsu changed after the Meiji Restoration in 1868 and to a far bigger extent after World War II and Japan’s pacification. For example here Timeless and here Some thoughts on Gekiken

Such mutations of schools have in many cases been driven to the point of being completely unrecognizable, which really hurts me personally. So many multifaceted traditions fell victim to the equalization mania and much has been irretrievably lost.

It is a fact that the Japanese culture is very much harmony-oriented. However, this does not mean that in Japan competition is taboo! Quite the contrary: Competition in all its variants is a constant in Japan and already begins in kindergarten and extends through virtually all walks of life. You could argue about how much is „too much“, but that is not be the topic here. However, it is a sad reality that there is definitely too little in the schools of Koryū-Bujutsu!

The much-vaunted harmony in Japanese culture thus affects completely different areas of society and is certainly not in contrast to competition.

Now, the only involvement with other schools that seems to be valid and approved today is to hold an Enbu somewhere together. Actually quite pathetic, right?

Real, practical application of the school teachings in shiai is now frowned upon usually. To be accepted by others is for many ryūha and their representatives much more important than to consider and establish their own interests. It could be argued that these schools today have to act in such a way in order to not completely disappear. However, I consider that to be a feeble argument, after all every tradition is responsible for its own survival.

If, however, applicability is renounced so systematically, then I ask myself: what for do you practice for years such arts of war? To find your inner being? To perfect the character?

In former times, a school founder usually was not anxious to please (exceptions prove the rule, of course). He wanted to succeed with his school and develop capable Kenshi. Often, such people polarized and were criticized for example for their teaching methods or because of political reasons. These critics fell silent when said school achieved rapid success.

This may be a pretty critical view of the situation in which there are many ryūha presently. Nevertheless, I am convinced that it is important to address this issue, even if it will hurt one or the other.

The current obsession with harmony within the Koryū-Bujutsu community, which has haunted so many schools, must give way to a healthy competitiveness, which should include, of course, Taryū-jiai. That’s the way how schools can grow and get better together!

My views are certainly partly influenced by the fact that I am a member of a tradition, that made progressive steps in the art of fencing already at its formation in the early 19th century and thus drew strong criticism. Over the course of just a few years and decades, all the critics were proven wrong.


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