Is your martial art practiced in a traditional way?
Updated: Mar 25, 2020
That, my friend, depends on what you mean by traditional.
When martial artists today talk about tradition, they’re referring to the Meiji Era attitude toward traditionalism. The easiest way to explain this attitude is to give a brief, painless history lesson. In the old days of Japanese feudalism, martial arts were a family thing. A family would be trained by father, by mother, and in some cases by an uncle or a teacher under the employ of the family. The point here is that training was familial and familiar. Though a father might be stern with his children/ students, he was still dad. Even if a teacher was hired by the family, he typically lived, ate, and socialized with the household, being as much a part of the family as anyone else. This relationship facilitated a type of interaction which is far from what one sees in the so-called ‘traditional’ schools of today.
Today’s martial arts schools actually adhere to the practices developed by the Japanese government following the Meiji Restoration. For those unfamiliar with Japanese history, in the year 1868 the emperor declared that the feudal era was over. With that declaration, Japan sought to modernize itself in all ways possible, and many of the practices of the West became quite voguish. Among these practices was the notion of a conscript army. For the first time in many, many years, the Japanese military was not to be a relatively small group of highly trained samurai but an incredibly large group of drafted civilians. While certain persons among the samurai did enter the military in leadership positions, the bulk of the force were just untrained everyday citizens. Thus, the government faced a great difficulty—how does one train a large group of people quickly? The answer was the military system of martial arts training. Conscripted students were shouted at, made to follow elaborate rules of etiquette, and treated as inferiors to their teachers and higher ranked pupils. Competition between students was emphasized to a high degree, and the most aggressive students were rewarded. (While it lays beyond the immediate topic of this question, history would show that while this method did foster discipline and fighting spirit, it did not make for very good fighters.)
This is the type of dojo one sees most frequently in America. The teacher is Master, or Mr. or Sensei So-and-So. Thirteen year-old black belts are Mr. Whoever, and they must be addressed as ‘sir.’ Bowing into class can sometimes take 3-10 minutes as excessive ceremonies are made to bow to the teacher, the flag, the assistants, the picture of the founder, etc. Thus, modern schools are behaving like the schools of the Meiji Restoration. My assertion is, that while this does follow the Meiji model, it is not traditional.
If we look to the ancient days, training was for families (as described above). Everyone loved and respected everyone else and worked together in an atmosphere of mutual cooperation. There was no strife between pupils or between teacher and pupil; it was about mutual benefit and preparing for a conflict where your training partners would be fighting and dying next to you when the next battle occurred. That is traditionalism, and that is the way Kiyojute Ryu Dojo are operated. Rank is still very carefully respected, but we are a family; we train for true self defense and not for silly sports where you friend in the class is your enemy on the mat. Together we work to become the best fighters we can be, and each member benefits from the development of all the family’s members. We help each other to grow in an atmosphere of love and friendship. This is true tradition.