Very strongly, folks who feel they know something about the art defend their point of view. They are entitled to this, of course, within the scope of artistic criticisms. For the study of Kenjutsu we see this quite strongly, even though the reality of the number of folks training within Koryu systems is in fact miniscule. My point being that there are more people are reading about the sword arts on line than there are folks actively training in one of these arts. It is also true as a result of this, that there are more folks negatively commenting on those perusing these arts, even though they are without direct experience.
This brings me to the thing I ask that you consider. What becomes of all of the information, put out by the headmasters of the Koryu, about their art? The open floodgate of books and videos that detail the concepts and the techniques of nearly every old sword art in Japan are readily available at your fingertips at this very moment. If one takes this information and trains, what happens? Are they any less of a martial artist if they pursue purely what they can with the resources they have?
I for one think not.
And what of the myth of the unbroken line and unchanged technical storehouse that is purported to be the way of the Koryu. Consider this. Historically, if someone had some insight and no good connection with a teacher, then the Ryu was said to be founded, based on teachings of the Tengu. Or perhaps divinely inspired by sleeping overnight in a cave by the Kashima shrine- no one during the times when these schools were founded would dare raise a word against religion. So it was easy, I have had a falling out with my Sensei or I have had some insight as a direct result of my training or maybe I just wanted a fresh start- all of these things happened in Edo period Japan, most of the time the main branches and their creation were marked by some mythical event.
So, if we believe the dogma that Koryu are unchanged, we would draw the conclusion, easily, that there would only be one school of kenjutsu, and it would be very dysfunctional due to perfectly replicated errors in technique and concept from one generation to the next. That’s the tough thing about being human, we are all imperfect.
To circle back, what is to become of the information at your fingertips today, of all of the schools that were once so secretive? Inevitably not very well thought out styles will emerge and pass away. But, so will well grounded methods develop. It is this aspect that I ask the critics for tolerance for. Well executed kenjutsu is easy to identify if you stop looking at things from only your point of view- whether it is Iaido, Kendo, Batto or something else. There is no “One, Ultimate” way. There is only the Way.
As Americans, we have a cultural freedom that Japan is just starting to discover. We know its pitfalls and rewards. Edo period Japan was a much striated, constrained society. The sword arts of Japanese origin will forever be moving away from this. So, for those of us that seek to know, keeping the main thing, The Main Thing is the key. Stripping away the cultural ornament and the mysticism may be sad, but it does allow you to approach the art with an open mind, and an open spirit, and become boundless in the Way.