KORYU MARTIAL ARTS
Most people who begin training in the gendai martial arts have little or no experience with true traditional Japanese martial arts (古 流 武 術 koryu bujutsu, literally "old school martial arts"). The koryu were created to help ancient warriors develop the necessary physical, mental, and spiritual skills to effectively use a particular repertory of tools in mortal combat, whether on a battlefield during times of war or during peacetime, wherever law enforcement was absent. At the core of the term koryu, old-school, is a small character with rich meaning, ryu (流). Let's take a deeper dive into this important term.
流 RYU, FLOWING RIVER
Beginning in the Muromachi Period (14th – 16th Cent.), formal Japanese martial art traditions are termed “ryu” (school). The Japanese term ryu comes from the Chinese ideogram or character, 流, which means "to flow" or “flowing.” This character is actually created by combining three smaller symbols: (1) at the top, a horizontal line with a circular figure immediately below it, a symbol for cloud; (2) along the left side, three dots arranged vertically, a symbol for water; and (3) in the center, three vertical lines, a symbol for river. When ryu is attached to the name of a martial (or any cultural) art, it signifies a school or system of that art. So, for example, Gyokko-ryu Kosshi-Jutsu is the “Gyokko school of kosshi-jutsu.”
In a true traditional Japanese martial art, the founder of a school must have received inspiration from a mystical experience or divine revelation (i.e., “Heaven”), whether through an actual physical event or a dream. This divine inspiration helped the founder break through previous limits of his art to discover something new and revolutionary. In other words, the Japanese consider Heaven, the divine, to be the real source of a ryu’s teachings (or “den”). If we recall the character ryu, 流, we now see that the cloud symbol at the top represents Heaven, the real inspiration for a ryu’s teachings.
Water is a powerful symbol that adds a second layer of meaning to our understanding of traditional Japanese martial arts. In ryu, the symbol for water is located along the left side of the character. Just as water is produced by clouds, the ryu tradition produces special teachings, or “den” in Japanese. If we take a look at the den character we find something interesting. The kanji for den (伝) combines the symbols for man and Heaven, suggesting a human-divine collaboration. Therefore, the water symbol represents the special teachings of a martial tradition, which are the product of human and divine collaboration.
Finally, let’s take a look at the river symbol found in the center of the ryu character. A river has important properties that add rich meaning to our understanding of traditional Japanese martial arts. Rivers are dynamic, they constantly move and flow. Moreover, flowing rivers are said to have “living” water, where life is a metaphor for constant movement, like the life-giving blood that flows through our bodies. Even on a biological level, we know that moving water tends to be cleaner than standing water. If a river is ever cut off from its source, the “orphaned” water will eventually stop flowing and become stagnant, or “dead."
So, the river symbol contained in the ryu character helps us to understand that a martial tradition is dynamic, it flows like a river. The river symbol represents the process of transmission. The water (den) of a river (ryu) must flow from its source (Heaven, the divine), through a founder, to successive generations of students in an unbroken tradition.
By examining the character ryu, we now have a much better understanding of the way in which ancient warriors perceived their bujutsu. A ryu is a very special cultural tradition. It was created by a founder who, as a result of divine inspiration, was able to break through the limits of his art. This founder established a ryu (school) to transmit his new insights through den (special teachings) to successive generations of students. The ryu character emphasizes the dynamic nature of a martial tradition: a martial ryu is a living tradition because it continues to flow through history, constantly refreshed from its divine source and adapted to the needs of each generation by the current headmaster (soke).
Today, the number and variety of extant Japanese koryu is greatly reduced from ancient times. For this reason, we consider ourselves privileged to have received so many authentic Japanese koryu from our current soke, Tsunehisa "Shoto" Tanemura. Grandmaster Tanemura is the product of true classical training, with over 50 years of experience in the koryu bujutsu. Below is a partial list of koryu Soke Tanemura has mastered.
Asayama Ichiden Ryu Taijutsu
Daito Ryu Aiki-Jujutsu Yamamoto-Ha
Gikan Ryu Koppojutsu
Gyokko Ryu Kosshijutsu Tanemura-Ha
Hontai Kijin Chosui Ryu Daken-Taijutsu
Hontai Kukishin Ryu Bojutsu
Hontai Yoshin Takagi Ryu Jujutsu
Kotoh Ryu Koppojutsu Tanemura-Ha
Kukishinden Happo Biken Tanemura-Ha
Kumogakure Ryu Ninpo Tanemura-Ha
Mugen Shinto Ryu Iaijutsu
Shinden Fudo Ryu Daken-Taijutsu Tanemura-Ha
Shinden Fudo Ryu Ju-Taijutsu Tanemura-Ha
Shinden Kito Ryu Bojutsu
Shinden Tatara Ryu Taijutsu
Tenshin Hyoho Kukishin Ryu
Togakure Ryu Ninpo Tanemura-Ha
Yagyu Shingan Heiho Kacchu Yawara
Thanks to Grandmaster Tanemura, these traditional Japanese martial arts continue to flow through history like a river.
Genbukan Unryu Dojo is an official branch of the Genbukan Dojo, in Saitama, Japan, Shoto Tanemura headmaster (soke) and president (kancho). SamuraiTrainingCenter.com, KobudoClub.com, PhillySamurai.com, and PhillyNinja.com are registered domains of Genbukan Unryu Dojo.
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