Archives for posts with tag: research

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.

My work uses ethnographic methods to research the traditional Japanese martial art of Takeuchi-ryu Bitchuden, exploring it as a form of education and character development. What practitioners learn from their experiences in the dojo; the impact it has on their lives, their conceptions of self, issues of gender and group and individual identity; and how the classical martial traditions relate to contemporary life and education in Japan are the proposed research areas.  The study aims to contribute to research on the martial arts; the anthropology of Japanese cultural and leisure pursuits; and pedagogical approaches to self-development. Situating this study of a particular dojo within existing research, my initial aims are to explore:

  • What a koryu offers participants in comparison to modern martial arts and other leisure activities; how this is reflected in martial arts’ role in contemporary Japanese culture;
  • How ethnographic approaches to researching koryu can contribute to discourses on selfhood, identity and masculinity;
  • How the pedagogy in TRB relates to that of other educational contexts, both formal and outside academic institutions.

I’m one month into my PhD, though only feel to have really begun in the last week or so. I’m hoping to blog about the experience as well as about my research (about which I’ll add some basic information later). Here’s a list of what I’ve done so far:


  • Registered! And have an ID card, student card, student railcard…
  • Attended Faculty induction
  • Found the Graduate Studies cluster and rooms in the maze that is the School of Languages, Linguistics and Cultures
  • Set up personal webpage holding page:
  • Started this blog (or rather repurposed it – I’ll still blog about teaching and learning issues)

Literature, current awareness


Classes and workshops

Study Skills
  • Worked part way through the tutorial on Scrivener, I think it’s going to be an excellent alternative to Word (which I detest with a vengeance for writing!)
  • Have planned how to organise .pdfs and record my notes using Evernote and Mendeley


  • Written initial notes on koryu and some sketchy notes on a few other areas

I was planning on writing some reflections on all the above this evening, but we’ve had a massive power cut, so they will have to remain in my head for now. I hope this blog can: be a place where anyone interested in what I’m doing can keep up to date with ‘progress so far’; provide a record of how the work and my development as a researcher changes over time; and serve as a repository for ‘first thoughts’ about my research.