The Secretiveness of Jigen-ryū Swordsmanship

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Translated by Andreas Quast

 

As has been introduced the other day, the following was written in connection with the written vow for being allowed to enter the school by Matsukata Masayoshi (1835-1924) and adressed to Tōgō Shigetaka, Sōke of the Jigen-ryū:

  • Other than within this [Tōgō] family, I will not show or tell anything to other persons about the superb techniques handed down

The phrase that you do "not show to or tell to others" also often appears in the written vows (kishōmon 起請文)  of other schools. The same thing is written in the written vow of Nodachi (Yakumaru) Jigen-ryū, which derived from Jigen-ryū, but it is even more strict:

  • The techniques, the handling of the body, etc. of Jigen-ryū as handed down within this [Yakumaru] family, and as regards the contents I’am taught, I will not reveal these to others, even not to my own parents, brothers, or children
  • As regards the oral teachings, I will not write them down.

This was submitted by Suzuki Yūemon and adressed to Yakumaru Hanzaemon (Kaneyoshi) and [his younger brother] Yakumaru Shinzō (Kaneshige). The quotes were cited from the following book:

 

 

I did not understand the meaning of the expression "躰持" well, but I translated it as "handling of the body." Its meaning is most probably that of how to use your body and maintain your posture.

 

In Nodachi Jigen-ryū, entering the school begins with a written vow that the techniques learned are kept secret even from one's own parents, siblings and children, and that oral teachings will not be written down.

 

When modern persons read such a strict content there may be people who think lightly that "It is at best a formal written pledge on a document", but I do not think so.

 

Satsuma was a place where secretiveism was so thorough that it was said that spies of the shogunate may be dispatched and entered the domain, but could not return alive.

 

In addition, in the famous Gojū Kyōiku (the education method for young members of the warrior class of the Satsuma feudal domain), the feudal domain was divided into districts called hōgiri (district), and in each district, based on a close human relationship, the elders educated the youngsters and taught them to never betray a comrade (member of the same group).

 

With such a local character, if someone would infringe the contents of the written vow and leak secrets, one can easily imagine that the person would be ostracized from the village community, and would probably suffer more sanctions.

 

Well, in case a Ryukyuan Shizoku member officially studying Jigen-ryū (including its branches or factions), of course the person should have submitted a written vow as described above. If Matsumura Sōkon Sensei attained the secret techniques (Okugi) of the Jigen-ryū, he would have submitted a written vow, too.

 

Naturally, such secretiveism also reached Ryūkyū. Motobu Chōki’s personal disciple Marukawa Kenji recalled that, "Having studied under the master for ten years, it was only after the last year that I finally learned the secret techniques". This teaching method was continued among the Karateka who respected the old-fashioned methods even in the Shōwa era (1926-1989).

 

Motobu Udundī was only handed down to the eldest son, while the second and third son could not even see it. Some people ridicule this as “This is such a stupid thing”. But if you read the written vow from the Nodachi Jigen-ryū shown above, that “I will not reveal these [techniques etc.] to others, even not to my own parents, brothers, or children“, you will understand that it is by no means a strange thing.

 

As I wrote in a previous article, in case of the Kata of Kassin-dī that Uehara Seikichi Sensei created, he made three kinds of them and changed the behaviors little by little depending on whether he taught general pupils, instructors class, or the Sōke successor, respectivley.

 

It might have been an extreme secretiveness in the case of the Motobu-ryū, but as it is commonly formulated by the expression "Teach the Kata, but don’ t teach the Ti", such secretiveism appears to have been common in Okinawa until a certain period of time. 

According to Sweden's Ulf Karlson Shihan, whom I met in Osaka last month, Kishimoto Sokō Sensei of the Kishimoto-dī also said "Teach the Kata, but don’ t teach the Ti".

 

I think that, probably since the time when Karate became publicly taught at the 1st Middle School and the Normal School of Okinawa, a divergence occurred in the method of instruction. Naturally those who learned Karate at school thought "there can be no such things as secrets". On the other hand, those who were taught the old-fashioned way, which was disconnected from the mainstream, knew that secrets existed.

 

And so it seems that each side came to a distinct perception of the matter.

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