What is "Koryu" and "Gendai" Budo?

by Peter Boylan

Simply put, Koryu Budo are those schools of budo that predate the Meiji Restoration of 1868. Anything created after that is Gendai Budo, meaning that it was founded after the end of the Tokugawa Shogunate in 1868 and founding of Japan's first modern government. So most Iaido styles, Katori Shinto Ryu, Kashima Shin Ryu and such are Koryu. Judo, Daito Ryu, Aikido, and all Karate styles are Gendai. The Gendai styles got picked up and used by the Japanese government to inculcate a twisted version of the values of the traditional samurai class to the peasants. In reality what they did was use budo to train people to be good soldiers. After WW2, most Gendai budo teachers were men who had received all of the budo experience in the military sponsored budo classes of the pre-war and wartime education system. That's where all the military style dojo behavior (including all the Osu-ing the Yoshinkan and Yoshokai guys go on with.) comes from. The military in Japan wanted people to graduate from school ready to be good soldiers, so they trained them that way in school. A good example of this is my MJER teacher. Kiyama Sensei did kendo, judo and jukendo from junior high on because it was part of the required curriculum for boys (the girls had to do naginata, from whence comes the modern myth that the naginata is strictly a women's weapon).

Koryu budo have always been very small groups, so they weren't affected much by the military's manipulation, since they weren't big enough to be useful in national re-education campaigns. So the Koryu have maintained a consistent tradition. This is not to say that they are identical to what they were when they were founded, but rather that their change has been more gradual. Some hallmarks of Koryu training is that all partner practice is done with the senior receiving the technique of the junior. It is the senior's responsibility to look after and protect the junior. Koryu budo dojos also generally have a very high ratio of seniors to juniors. Often the senior students will outnumber the junior students (this makes practice wonderfully intense for those of us who are juniors). Koryu dojos are also much less formal that Gendai dojos. Since they never picked up any of the military style etiquette, there isn't a lot of formal behavior in the dojo. In some dojos I belong to, there isn't even a formal group bow-in. You simply come in, get dressed, and perform the bow-in by yourself when you are ready. There are no symbols of rank (Omori Sensei, a 8dan Hanshi, wears a white belt). Belt color means nothing. When we bow out, in Kusatsu everyone just spreads out around the dojo. In Matsuda Sensei's dojo, we do line up at the end, but there isn't much worry about who sits in what order.

All Gendai budo have their origins in Koryu budo, but their histories in the last hundred years have been remarkably different, and have lead to very different dojo cultures.