Koryu 古流, gendai budō 現代武道

In the Japanese martial arts a distinction can be made between koryū 古流 (classical schools) and gendai budō 现代武道 (modern martial arts). Most modern martial arts come from old ryūha (schools / storm applications) that were practiced by the samurai in feudal Japan.

Three of the founders of modern budō (karate, aikidō , jūdō)
Three of the founders of modern budō (karate, aikidō , jūdō)

The reasons for the creation modern budō disciplines vary. In some instances it was to create a sports variant of an ancient martial art, to standardize and unify a discipline from different schools or to actualize political / social / religious beliefs through a new martial arts form etc.

A number of well known gendai budō are:

  • Aikido 1920 Morihei Ueshiba from Daito ryū
  • Jūdō 1982 Kano Jigoro from Tenshin Shinyo ryū and Kito ryū
  • Shotokan Karate beginning of the 20th century Gichin Funakoshi from Shorei ryū and Shorin ryū,.
  • Kendō 1920 Dai Nippon Butoku kai from the older tradition of competiting in bogu
  • Seitei iaidō 1969 Zen Nippon kendō renmei from Muso Shinden ryū, Muso Jikiden Eishin ryū and Hoki ryū
  • Jodo 1968 Zen Nippon kendō renmei from Muso Shintō ryū
  • Naginata th 1950 Zen Nippon kendō renmei of Tendo ryū and Jiki Shinkage ryū
  • Kyūdō 1949 Zen Nippon Kyūdō renmei from Heki ryū, Honda ryū and Yamato ryū and Ogasawara ryū
  • Shorinji Kenpo 1947 So Doshin from the Chinese Shaolin Tradition

So what differentiates the classical schools and their modern variants:

The main difference between koryū and gendai budō is that in koryū the line of succession (from master to master) dates back to before 1868. This year was the start of the Meiji period, certain rights were abolished, for instance kirisute gomen 切舍御免 (samurai were allowed to kill lower-ranked people in case they had caused him loss of face) and certain laws were established. From 1873 laws came in effect no longer permitting samurai to wear swords in public.

Within koryū, a distinction is sometimes made between schools that were established before the Tokugawa shogunate (from 1600) and the schools were established within the Tokugawa period.

Jutsu and dō
Although there are many exceptions, the disciplines of koryū are often called jutsu 術 (technique) and modern schools do 道 (the “Way”). This is partly because the difference in intent of classical schools with respect to modern martial arts. Old schools were intended to prepare a practitioner for an actual fight. Modern martial arts practitioners have less need for their art to be used in actual combat, so there is room for personal development of the practitioner, through the martial techniques.

Weapon arts
Because samurai always carried weapons (especially the sword in the Tokugawa period) the weapon arts were more prominently represented. Even “jujutsu or taijutsu” arts of the time, often made ​​use of short weapons or at least assumed that the opponent was carrying a weapon. Today there are many martial artist in modern schools who focus solely on unarmed arts.

Unlike modern martial arts, old schools often have a secret part of the curriculum. Modern schools (in some cases) base their teachings on modern pedagogy, in which openness and sharing of knowledge is at odds with the idea of secret techniques.

Dan or Menkyō
The use of dan-degrees is a modern practice. Nowadays there are koryū that also make use of kyu/dan-degree system, sometimes in addition to an existing menkyo system, sometimes instead of a menkyō system. However, there are few modern martial arts (non that I know of) that have applied an traditional menkyō-system.

School or art
In modern martial arts, the emphasis is often on the (standardized) art. There is a form in which the martial art is exercised. There is only one kind of jūdō and kendō*. With traditional schools, there is no standardized form. Kenjutsu by itself is not syaing much, without knowing in which school this martial art is practiced.

*This is not 100% correct (eg there is Kosen jūdō 高专柔道 and Kodokan jūdō 讲道馆), but going into the subject too much for this article.

Classical schools often have an origin in a particular province and period. Knowledge of the cultural, topographical and historical background of ones own school (and other schools) contributes to the understanding of the practice. Modern schools are easier to practiced separate from their origins. For example, a jūdōka do not need to know who the founder is to play well in matches.

What is important to remember is that the practice of a classic or a modern school, has nothing to do with the quality. Some koryū practitioners can develop to notion that koryū is the best way to learn an art. In Japan, I have seen examples of excelente budoka of modern schools and groups koryū practitioners where (unfortunately) the opposite was true. Koryū and gendai budō are two methods to practice martial arts there is no ‘good’ or ‘better’ way.

This article is part of a serie of theory classes. The purpose of these articles is to provide background information for the budo students of Kochōkai. Because of the introducing character of these articles, unfortunately there is not enough room to go in to these subjects more deeply.