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Can Okinawan Martial Systems be Classified as "Koryu?"

Koryu [古流] 

The characters/ideograms mean "old school (of art); old style; old manners." The first character means, "old," the second character means, "current; a sink; flow; forfeit." 

Koryu relates to the ancient traditional or classical martial arts. The old/classic dojo is to study the arts of classic combat, including the use of weaponry and was a primary goal of samurai training. It is an old tradition that is carried on in its original form, i.e. as close to the original as humanly possible.

My post today regards the use of the term "koryu." Can it be used to symbolize the art of karate from Okinawa? Can the current systems and styles be classified under this term? Is the referenced traditional system of karate called "Ti" or "Toudi" of old Okinawan be classified as a koryu of Okinawa? Is this term exclusive to the ancient arts of Japanese martial systems? 

First, the term koryu as to the sources I use for terms, characters and ideograms says that it means "old school; old style; old manners." If I were to go with this stand alone definition per those sources then I would say that as long as one used the term in conjunction with the words "Okinawa or Old Okinawan or Ancient Okinawa" then it would apply especially since Okinawa was and is a territory of Japan. 

I am not saying that everyone could or should use the term. I am saying "it could be applied just like the terms traditional and classical." It seems logical and yet I suspect that those who actually practice and teach Japanese Koryu systems would disagree. 

I would also provide for consideration the following from the site "koryu.com" as to what koryu literally means, i.e. "Koryu literally means "old flow" and is used in Japanese to refer to old styles, schools, or traditions (not necessarily only in the martial arts)."

If I used this exclusively toward my theory of Okinawan martial systems then I would say that they are considered "Okinawan Koryu." What I noticed on the koryu.com site is the inclusion of the word "bujutsu" as in "koryu bujutsu." This is how that particular site classifies "Japanese Classical Martial Arts."

The site does postulate that koryu bujutsu are those arts that actually came into existence when actually used on the battlefield. When they speak of classical traditions the tell us that they were developed by and for bushi, the warriors of Japan. They also have a "sort of lineage" that runs back through each head master to the founder of the system or tradition. Apparently it is important to establish the "stream" of the tradition, a single flow from one head master through its practitioners and to the next generation. In addition the waza or techniques of a koryu system must keep its battlefield essence, context or characteristics and that the design of the original remain intact for battlefield use. 

Then the question remains, if this is a true definition, meaning and context of koryu the does the Okinawan system actually meet those standards to be considered a koryu system, i.e. traditional/classical combative systems? 

Or are we to assume that since Okinawans seldom fought on the battlefield, i.e. I am not sure we can count the battles fought on ships transporting goods from various Asian countries through and to Okinawa while fighting off pirates, etc. Even the so called battles against the incursion of the Japanese in the early 1600's. 

Then there is the social structure that seems to be part and parcel to koryu systems. The site states, "In the true traditions, culture and technique are part of a cohesive whole that includes the head master, traditional licenses, and a unique code of behavior." Do Okinawan traditions of Ti or Toudi have these three traditions? 

I can only speak from my limited perspective, knowledge and understanding. Okinawan karate as it stand today in the West would not meet these and other standards, none of them regardless of what is professed by the leaders of those systems. On Okinawa there are a few Ti traditions that could possibly meet these standards so I would possibly assume they could be considered Okinawan Koryu. 

Finally for this exercise we come to the student-teacher relationship that seems to be unique to the Japanese Koryu systems. You need to have had direct contact, through your sensei possibly, with the head master or other fully licensed instructor. The social structure of student and teacher is considered the core of the systems social structure and technical transmission. The practitioners are actually taught on an individual basis geared toward that unique individual so the training and teaching will thus be different as from practitioner to practitioner. There are no "dan" or "dan'i" systems and when a practitioner is ready the license is grated by that systems head master.

In this part I feel none of the Okinawan systems including the Ti or Toudi systems are to be considered "koryu or Okinawan Koryu." None of the Okinawan martial systems have a licensing system, they all use a dan-i or dan grade system. That system of dan grades is not all encompassing of any system or style but from dojo to dojo and sensei to sensei is more of a personal system of grading. 

Then in most if not all systems I perceive work on a class structure of many practitioners working together similar to school systems where the individualized teachings may be there in a more simplistic form and the class teaching environment dominates so this would exclude those systems form Okinawa Koryu type status. It is just the loss of the stream or connection to the original founders that seems to be missing. There are claims of those who trained with said founders but without the stream of licenses, students and teachers all the way back to the founder it is just a personal unsubstantiated claim. Okinawan's, especially due to WWII, lost any and all of their historical documents, what there was of it in the first place, due to the devastation of the war on Okinawa. 

My personal conclusion after this short, terse, discussion or posting tells me that no one who practices an Okinawan martial system can make use of the term koryu even with the designation of Okinawan. The necessary criteria can not be met. We will have to remain with the some what convoluted and disjointed term of modern, traditional and classical martial systems. 

Truly, the definition that is given at the koryu.com site by those best known as Western Koryu practitioners, teachers and knowledgable of koryu is the one that defines it completely and wholeheartedly. Even tho the definitions provided by translation sources provide the more terse definitions that would lead some to think it applies to Okinawan karate or martial systems, it does not appy as the additional accepted definitions that go back to the origins are the true meaning of koryu. 

Please take a moment to visit the koryu site, i.e. "A Koryu Primer" by Diane Skoss, and get the full picture. The definitions provided are pretty exacting and other sources I have researched support this one fully and completely.

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