These are the abstract and slides from a presentation I gave at this one day workshop in London. It was a fantastic opportunity to gain feedback and to meet other postgraduate researchers in Japanese Studies from all over the country. Highly recommended.

Teaching and Learning in a Koryu Bujutsu

My research takes an ethnographic approach to researching Japan’s classical martial tradition of Takeuchi-ryu Bitchuden (TRB), exploring it as a form of education and character development.  Students spend years practicing this intensely mentally demanding and potentially dangerous physical combative art, which has been passed down from teacher to student since 1532.  What they learn from their experiences; the impact it has on their lives, their conceptions of self, issues of gender and group and individual identity; and how the koryu bujutsu[1] relate to contemporary life and education in Japan are the focus of my work.

This presentation will focus on approaches to teaching and learning in TRB at the head dojo of the tradition, based on data gained through participant observation and consisting of field notes, photographs, audio recordings, copies of internal documents and records of online discussions where members exchange ideas about training and their experiences.

TRB offers an example of a rich learning environment outside mainstream education. Teaching methods include demonstration, oral instruction and some use of written materials. However, although the head instructor plays a central role, this is not the only way that learning takes place. The learning is highly experiential with most work taking the form of paired practice where a senior student works with a junior.  Formal practice begins with kihon, basic moves which are practiced many times, even by more advanced students. This is followed by kata, or ‘forms’ where practitioners alternate between taking a ‘winning’ or ‘losing’ role. Kata are central to the process of passing on the techniques as they codify the knowledge in a form which can be both practiced and remembered. They have names which may range from a simple description of movement to the esoteric. The combination of the sequence of a kata, its name and when and how it is taught all have a significance which may not be apparent to the novice, but which is revealed as the student progresses.

Koryu rarely include sparring or free form practice in their training methods, so performing kata in formal situations (embu) is one way in which participants ability to perform under pressure can be tested and this is therefore a core element of the training.

There are also aspects of the philosophy of the tradition which are learnt outside of the formal training, in the informal discussions after practice, through shared participation in events and the sharing of stories. For example, the preparation of tea is the job of the most recent recruits, as they learn how to do this they become legitimate peripheral participants in the dojo community through interacting with more senior students.

The presentation will explore how these formal and informal methods create a community where individuals through shared practice can develop their character and identity.

 

[1] Koryu bujutsu = ‘old’ style pre-Meiji martial traditions

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