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THE INEVITABILITY OF CHANGE IN THE JAPANESE SWORD ARTS 
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by Diane Mirro

A Brief opinion
Dr. Diane Mirro is bringing with this important article a challenging approach enriched by her lively intelligence to the Japanese Sword Arts Community. 
Being professionally trained as a
Chiropractic Physician, her knowledge of biology have undoubtedly contributed to her enlightened thoughts expended in this work.
In a very enlightened and down to earth approach, Dr. Mirro's article most certainly dissects all the different views and aspects, removing from the Koryu the more exotic and folkloric aspects that may lead many students to think they are samurai. Instead, Diane even dismisses these aspects by brilliantly daring to put in equation the relevance of tradition as well as of present day evolution.
I am honored that Dr. Diane Mirro has accepted my invitation to write an article that revealed itself a fundamental piece of thought for the understanding of the Sword Arts in general for the third millennium.
António Conceição Júnior 
BLADESIGN


A frequent topic of discussion--and quite often-impassioned argument--is whether the sword arts, as we practice them today, are truly representative of what were practiced hundreds of years ago. 
Certainly, everyone agrees that we have made some adaptations, such as in the uniforms and equipment we use, the cultural characteristics of the practitioners and 
some of the techniques themselves. But the battle cry, "This Ryu is a Traditional martial art!" is insistently voiced by many martial artists.
What I wish to show here is that the sword arts, as well as every aspect of every world culture, are undergoing a process of change that is natural and appropriate for our times. To illustrate this, I will draw upon my own experiences in the martial arts and in my scientific studies, as well as those of the many artists with whom I have interacted over the years.
In our lifetimes, we have seen the rise of satellite communications, the World Wide Web, drastic improvements in transportation, and other changes that have turned the world into a global community. 
I think nothing of chatting with a friend in Tokyo, hopping on a plane to Scotland, or receiving a package in the mail from Bangkok. There is no way this kind of interaction can occur without the permanent exchange of ideas, attitudes, material goods and all other aspects that make up a culture. It is a fact that this improved efficiency of cultural exchange is directly responsible for the increase in the number of practitioners of the Japanese martial arts worldwide.
Previously, one would have had to make the long journey to Japan, or seek out a GI who had studied martial arts over there in order to receive instruction. 
Now, all one has to do is check on the Internet, look in the Yellow Pages or run down to the local martial arts store to be inundated with hundreds of references to schools and instructors. Martial arts have become a huge source of income for many enterprising individuals. We are now witness to a wide spectrum in terms of what is practiced: from those studying the Koryu arts much as they have always been transmitted from teacher to student, to the individuals who have founded their own 
styles--often with little or no instruction from others. And, generally, people at different points along the spectrum have serious issues with the legitimacy of one another's practice. 
The traditionalists feel that what the innovators are doing should no longer be called a Japanese martial art. The innovators say that the traditionalists are practicing techniques that have become useless and outdated. And then there are the rest of us, practicing traditionally derived arts with some definite innovations.
For a moment, let's step away from the martial arts and look at ourselves in terms of biology. We are biological organisms, subject to the same needs and drive as any other organism on Earth. As with all successful organisms, we must be in a constant state of adaptation in order to survive. Due to our intelligence, we are constantly seeking ways to survive more efficiently. Yes, there are
exceptions--individuals and societies which prefer not to embrace all of the technology available to them, and groups which are not yet able to do so due to financial or geographic constraints. 
But these groups and individuals are able to do so because the rest of us, moral and enlightened beings that we are, allow them this option. (Or not--take Tibet, for example.) 
Of course, we have no way of predicting what will be the ultimately successful survival mechanism--witness all the Apocalyptic novels in which the technocrats  die of starvation or descend into savagery, while the "primitives" manage just fine, thank you. 
The same scenario occurs regularly in nature--a small population of mutations may survive a catastrophic change that decimates the majority. The fact that we have such a range of lifestyles gives me some hope that the human race would not be totally wiped out should there be a worldwide catastrophe. Of course, only time will tell. 
This could be said of the martial arts as well. However, there is one area of awkwardness that needs to be addressed--that is the "why?" of practicing a sword art today.
The sword arts were developed in Japan as a matter of survival. The sword itself evolved over the years--again, as smiths and warriors sought a more efficient weapon for the ultimate goal of survival. 
The introduction of firearms was a rude awakening, but the warrior class adapted to their use.
In our generation, we no longer rely upon the sword for our physical survival. 
Like the horse, the sword has been supplanted by other far more efficient means of accomplishing the original task. Yet many people still choose to devote years of study to the sword--and the horse. Because survival is no longer a factor, I think it is safe to say that our reasons for studying the sword have changed appreciably.
Some people seek to preserve a unique aspect of Japanese culture. Some do sword work for self-improvement--authenticity and efficacy of technique are not ignored, but they take a back seat to stress relief and exercise. Some wish to practice a system of self-defense incorporating the sword and all of its abilities. Some are captivated by the beauty of the sword and want to learn how to handle one 
properly. Most of us do sword work for all these reasons--just in differing proportions.

For a moment, picture a Japanese warrior in, say, the 1700's. Would not a successful warrior constantly seek to hone and refine his skills, trying new techniques, discarding less efficient ones, all in the interest of survival--his own, his clan's his leader's? If hewere the first to be given instruction in the use of firearms, would he not eagerly embrace yet another method of insuring survival? 
Innovation, like mutation or change, is a necessary part of survival.
Of course, there is the flip side: many innovations fail. Many mutations die. But in Nature, changes continue within every population of organisms.
So, when the innovators in sword work experiment with nontraditional materials and methods, they are actually behaving in a very natural way. Ironically, it is the preservationists who are doing something unusual--they are trying to freeze the techniques at one particular time period for that style. Their job is quite a bit more difficult, because to do so they must also recreate a mindset and a culture that no longer exists today.
Until recently, most of the sword arts have been passed down from teacher to student by direct physical instruction. Similar to the oral tradition of folktales, variations would inevitably creep in despite attempts to preserve the original teachings. Or, an accepted leader might institute a "legal" change, to the grief and consternation of the rest. How many times has that led to a splintering of the lineages? 
The Koryu as practiced today have one major advantage for those seeking to preserve the techniques--the availability of documentation. Videos, photos, books and other media can be utilized to create an impressive record to supplement the continued direct transmission of technique. To many of us, it appears that Morihiro Saito Sensei of Aikido does techniques exactly the way the founder, Morihei Ueshiba, performed them decades ago. How do we know? 
Because we have a photographic record. Ueshiba himself did not remain static in his teachings--he perfectly illustrates my point of an artist evolving to suit the times. Many of his students did not change with him. Instead, like Saito Sensei, they worked hard to preserve the teachings he bestowed at the particular time of their instruction. 
Some, however, continued to evolve, and these innovators are also regarded askance by many of Aikido's traditionalists.
The traditionalists' job is also made more difficult because they have to decide what aspects of change they can accept, and what they cannot. Certainly, there can be no change in technique now, since the atmosphere of "adaptation for survival" has been removed. 
When I pointed out to some people that such things as Textron hakama, composite tsuka, fluorescent lighting and gaigin practitioners were not the standard several hundred years ago, I was told that it is the techniques themselves which are being preserved--all the rest are just trappings. But are they? Where can you draw the line? Can you really just suspend the techniques in limbo while everything around them changes? And, if not, do the practitioners of the Koryu accept the fact that even they are no longer doing a completely traditional martial art?
A final point on Koryu: we cannot know how much today's practice differs from what was done several hundred years ago. 
This is similar to classical music--we have no recordings of Beethoven or Mozart to play for musicians who study the works of these composers today. Even if you equip the orchestra with period instruments and original manuscripts, they can only attempt to recreate what it may have sounded like when those composers were alive. Yet classical music is played and enjoyed today because musicians through the years sought to preserve what they could of the work of the masters. The same could be said of the Koryu arts. 
Kendo is one of the few sword arts that have evolved with the times yet preserves its philosophy of technique. It started out as a way for warriors to practice their skills on one another without the dangers inherent in using a live blade. When such skills were no longer necessary for survival, Kendo evolved into an exercise for self-improvement drawing heavily on the original sword techniques. 
The governing body of Kendo in Japan continues to institute changes, as it deems necessary--witness the recent inclusion of two new kata (adaptations of Koryu) in the Kendo Federation's set of Iai kata. 
Yes, Kendo as practiced today is a far cry for the days of "one cut, one life" and the use of indigo dye in clothing for its antiseptic qualities. 
But I dare say the mindset of the kendoka facing an armored opponent is closer to that of a 17 th century warrior than that of a student of Iai who has never experienced partner practice.
Where does this leave us? Look at the history and future of mankind in terms of millennia, not decades. Sword work will continue to die out, in the same way that horsemanship has declined substantially since the advent of the automobile. 
There was a time in history when there were no swords, and there may be such a time in the future as well. But right now, we have the ability to make a conscious choice to preserve those aspects of swordsmanship, which are important to us.
I sincerely hope there will always be people who have the time (and the means) to learn the forms from earlier eras, and that they will continue to do so by utilizing the traditional method of teacher-student instruction. 
But I am also curious to see how the innovators continue to adapt in these times where the mouse is mightier than the sword, and survival is no longer the motivating factor for improving technique. I am sure we would all love to know what swordsmanship will be like 500 years from now. Perhaps our descendants will benefit from our record keeping so that fewer techniques will be lost through the 
ages. 
As for me, I plan to continue on my path of self-improvement as a nontraditional student practicing traditionally derived techniques--because it is what I enjoy.


Dr. Mirro is a Myofacial Chiropractic Physician, as well as 
The founder and group leader of the River City Iaido & Kendo Kyokai in San Antonio, Texas.

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