The following is an abstract for a short presentation I will be making on February 22nd about my research. I’ve chosen to focus on this topic as it’s something I will need to write about anyway and the audience will include people whose main focus is China as well as students of Japanese studies.

What is a koryu and what makes koryu interesting phenomena for research?

The term koryu (古流) literally translates as ‘old style’ or ‘old school’ and is used to refer to the classical martial traditions of Japan.  Over 700 koryu have been identified (Friday, 1997) of which the Japan Kobudo Association lists 78 extant member koryu (Nippon Budokan, n. d.). However, despite the prevalence of martial arts in popular culture, film and television, most (if not all) of these are unfamiliar to people outside the koryu world, even in Japan. This presentation will offer an initial introduction to what a koryu is and through comparison with modern martial arts attempt to establish what makes the koryu distinctive.

The koryu are an example of aspects of Japanese culture, such as tea ceremony, calligraphy and arts and crafts, which have been successfully transmitted from teacher to student over centuries.  However, at first glance, they may appear to have little relevance to the modern world. They are not studied as part of formal education; it could be argued that their techniques are archaic; and they are  potentially only of historical interest. Why then, do members of a koryu spend years practicing these intensely mentally demanding and potentially dangerous physical combative arts?

Studying a koryu can have a profound effect on its practitioners. A pilot study taking a grounded theory approach to interviews of two members of different koryu yielded initial results which suggest that researching the koryu may provide insights into why generations of Japanese have found them be a positive influence on their lives.

Friday, K. F. (1997). Legacies of the sword: The Kashima-Shinryū and Samurai martial culture, with Seki Humitake (p. 248). Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press.

Nippon Budokan. (n.d.). Nippon Kobudo Kyokai: Kamei Ryuha (Japan Kobudo Association: Member Schools). Retrieved March 11, 2011, from