Archives for posts with tag: abstract

Sensei, students and the spoken word: Learning and teaching in a Japanese koryū dōjō


Nostalgia for ‘samurai’ pervades Japanese society in advertising, television and film, not least in portrayals of teaching and learning which parody the teacher-student training relationship. Such comedy sketches work because they are based on well-known stereotypes of martial arts master, student and the mysteries of the martial arts; all of which are familiar to a Japanese audience. The extent to which these characterisations reflect current learning and teaching practices remains unclear, particularly in the koryū bujutsu, which continue to play a role in contemporary society, despite being based on pre-modern foundations. Developing an awareness of the social aspects of interaction in the dōjō is key to understanding the impact of martial arts practices. This paper takes conventional representations from mainstream media as a starting point to examine current practices of learning and teaching in a koryū bujutsu, with a particular focus on the role of kuden (lit. ‘oral transmission’). The primary sources of data are participant observation and interviews carried out during fieldwork at a Japanese koryū dōjō. The research provides insights into how actual learning and teaching compares with the esoteric and archaic forms of knowledge transmission frequently portrayed in the Japanese media.


Still from Ken no shugyo comedy sketch. Click on the image for video.

Here is the abstract for a paper I presented at the Student Education Conference and Digital Festival, “Evidencing Excellence” in at the University of Leeds, 8 January 2016.

“Shut up and write!” Making academic writing social

Writing is an area with which many students (and academics!) struggle, particularly as it is inherently a solitary practice. “Shut up and Write!” (“SU&W!”) sessions make academic writing social. The format which has recently become popular with researchers (Mewburn et al, 2014) can also be a powerful tool when shared with taught students. “SU&W!” was a departure for Skills@Library with a stronger experiential emphasis than traditional workshops can allow. This session will address how and why “SU&W!” helps students tackle procrastination and lack of focus. Skills@Library first trialled “SU&W!” for taught students as a one-off experiment. Feedback was extremely positive, so in summer 2015, ten “SU&W!” were offered, targeting primarily Masters students. This session uses personal reflections on the “SU&W!” process and analysis of student comments. “SU&W!” provides structured and focussed time with clear goals, providing students with immediate feedback on their writing process. Peer pressure prevents distraction; peer support helps with motivation and encourages student-to-student exchange of strategies for becoming better writers. Sessions are relatively simple to run and can act as a catalyst for students to set up their own groups.
By the end of this session, participants will have learned how and why “SU&W!” can be a powerful tool for reducing student isolation and developing excellent writing practices; and will have the tools to set-up sessions within their own context.

Link to Evidencing Excellence theme
“Shut up and write!” develops self-awareness in managing academic writing through modelling best practices. The session will also highlight applications and digital resources which can be used to support the writing process, both face-to-face and online.

How do you evidence excellence in use of this initiative and/or technology?
“SU&W!” sessions work with undergraduates, taught postgraduate and research students. They fit well with peer support initiatives; study skills sessions taught within modules as well as central provision. Once students have experienced the format they are encouraged to run groups themselves. Similar sessions could target other study skills, such as “Shut up and Read/Revise!”.
“SU&W!” may also be particularly appropriate for supporting part-time and distance students, using Skype.

Ways in which content or technology could be used in other disciplines / services
The session will include the student voice through examples of feedback on “Shut up and write!” sessions, including how it has informed/improved their writing practices.

Here is the hand out as used in sessions with students: Shut up and write2.



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.

These are the abstract and slides for a session which I gave with my colleague Anika Easy at the University of Leeds Student Education Conference, “The Leeds Graduate – the distinctive journey”  on Friday 9 January. If you are interested in hearing more, please get in touch.

Learning to experiment – workshops and activities for key transition points

Skills@Library provides a core programme of workshops on particular topics. Last year we ran two additional weeks of workshops targeting specific groups of students to provide dedicated help at key transition points: Experimental Week and Postgraduate Week. Sessions included: lunch-time referencing drop-in clinic located in the Library foyer; using Twitter to support academic learning; active writing sessions for postgraduate students during their dissertation-writing stage; drawing for review and learning at exam and project revision stages. This meant that practical support was available and tailored to students at times and places when they needed it, showing understanding of and empathy for the transitions within their University development.

This session will give a brief overview of the activities, highlighting what helped students (and ourselves) reach those ‘A-ha!’moments, and show how the exercises can be replicated within modules or as additional sessions when required.

Transferability: The applications of these initiatives are University-wide.

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.

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

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