The following abstract and slides relate to a presentation I gave for the Communities of Practice strand on EDUC70500, Social Theories of Learning in Research and Practice. More information on the course (which I can thoroughly recommend) available here.

Shoshinsha to Shihan: The Community of Practice in a Japanese martial art

There is a lack of studies of kobudo, the classical martial traditions of Japan which originated before the Meiji Restoration (1868), and in particular, of those taking ethnographic approach. Furthermore, whilst Communities of Practice theory has been used to discuss aspects of modern martial arts, it has not been used as a theoretical framework to examine the workings of a martial arts’ dojo (training hall) in detail. This paper will explore CoP theory in relation to learning and teaching in the classical martial tradition of Takeuchi-ryu Bitchuden Kobudo which has been in existence since 1532.

My thesis is that TRB is a highly evolved community of practice, exhibiting many of the characteristics outlined in Wenger’s Communities of Practice: Learning, Meaning and Identity (1998). As such I aim to explore how participant trajectories through the CoP have an impact on their lives, focussing on the idea of ‘learning as becoming’. I am particularly interested in how and why long term practitioners have succeeded in making the transition from shoshinsha (‘beginner’) to shihan (‘teacher’). A framework from CoP theory will be used as a lens through which to analyse data gained through participant observation carried out at the main dojo in Kyoto.

Concepts from CoP theory provide useful terms for examining what happens within the dojo. Legitimate peripheral participation is built in to the process of becoming a member of the group, (for example, newcomers have the task of recording names and the day’s training in the register); mutual engagement in the shared enterprise of passing on the techniques and traditions of the system is at the heart of daily practice and events in the dojo calendar; the idea of transition from periphery to core is reflected in the naming system to distinguish techniques for beginners from those for advanced practitioners (mae = front, outer; naka= middle; oku = inner); and different members display varying levels of knowledgeability and competence, but all have a role to play in how the community sustains itself.

Furthermore, I believe that opportunities which occur in the dojo’s practice for the implicit form of communication characterised as ishin denshin (literally: ‘what the mind thinks, the heart transmits) or ‘tacit understanding’ suggest this may be a useful concept for exploring those aspects of communities of practice which are often difficult to ascertain.