Here is the abstract for a paper I presented at the BAJS conference in September.

Kuden: The use of oral transmission in a traditional martial art

This paper will explore the role which kuden play in the learning of the classical Japanese martial art (koryū bujutsu) of Takenouchi-ryū Bitchūden (TRB). Kuden refers to the oral transmission of knowledge characteristic of other traditional arts, including tea, garden design, and calligraphy. Kuden are found in Japanese performing arts, such as kyōgen, dance and music; and the term is also used in Buddhism. Although kuden are often mentioned in relation to koryū, these (secret) teachings are reported with little explanation of how the kuden relate to the rest of the curriculum; their purpose; and how they are perceived by teachers and students.

In TRB, the kuden come in different forms, including those traditionally attached to particular kata, whether in the movement itself or the kata names; explicit precepts; or newer forms such as those the current head teacher has derived from a retelling of the TRB foundation myth and recorded in his blog. This paper will explain how the kuden are used as teaching tools and explore how contemporary practitioners relate these teachings to their life outside the koryū. The primary data source is fieldwork based at the head dōjō. The koryū are impenetrable, even for Japanese, however, a longstanding association provided unprecedented access to conduct in-depth interviews with both new and senior group members. Selected data from participant observation—including fieldnotes, photographs, and records of online discussions—will be used to document examples of kuden. The kuden associated with a core kata from the TRB curriculum will be explained in detail to show how practitioners have applied its principles in the business environment and personal relationships. Far from being esoteric and archaic forms of knowledge of only historical interest, the research shows that kuden continue to permeate the daily lives of modern practitioners.

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