|Tendo Ryu. Photo copyright Peter Boylan 2019|
Most people don’t know it, but there is a Budo Law of Conservation of Movement. Budo is conservative at its heart. We want to conserve movement, conserve energy, conserve time. The Budo Law of Conservation of Movement is:
One movement to do a hundred things, not a hundred movements that accomplish the same thing.
Why learn a hundred ways to do something when one will do the job? There are a number of different ways to cut with a sword, but I don’t know any classical art that teaches more than one of them. The same with sticks. There are lots of ways to swing a stick, but I don’t know of any martial art that teaches more than one (to the Shinto Muso Ryu people who are raising your hands to object, all those different strikes utilize the same body mechanics. There’s really only one strike and one thrust in Shinto Muso Ryu).
Each koryu has its own way of doing things, and a real student of the ryuha imprints that way into their mind, their muscles and their bones. This is true whether you’re doing Shinto Muso Ryu, Katori Shinto Ryu, Kashima Shinryu, Sekiguchi Ryu, or any other koryu. You won’t find classical systems with an overabundance of techniques or principles to master. Each ryuha takes a few basic concepts and teaches you to apply them to a variety of situations. Again, look at Shinto Muso Ryu. It’s commonly taught that there are four strikes in SMR, but all of them are variations on the same strike. That’s it. One strike. Add one way to thrust and one trap and you have it.
Each ryuha has one way of doing things. Shinto Muso Ryu and its fuzoku ryu incorporate jo, tachi, kodachi, jutte, tanjo, and kusarigama. That’s a wide variety of weapons, yet the principles and movement are the same. The student isn’t learning six discrete weapons. She is learning to apply one set of principles to a variety of weapons. Once the principles of movement, spacing and timing are internalized, it doesn’t matter what she picks up. She’ll apply the principles she learned on the jo the first time she picks up a tachi. Working with the tachi deepens the understanding developed while training with the jo. By the time she picks up a tanjo or a jutte, the teacher doesn’t have to teach her how to hold the weapons or how to swing them. She already knows the principles. She just needs a little practice to get used to the specific spacing and timing required by the new weapon, along with the specific patterns of movement that make up the kata. By the time she’s practiced with all of the weapons, she can pick up just about anything and intuitively understand how to use it applying the principles of Shinto Muso Ryu.
At that point the techniques just happen. The student has soaked herself in the principles of the arts. There isn’t any thought. To move in a manner other than that of Shinto Muso Ryu would require concentration because by that point the Shinto Muso Ryu principles have been absorbed so deeply that they have become part of her natural movements and responses.
The same thing can be found in any effective koryu. There will only be a few active principles that have to be mastered to apply to every scenario imagined by the founders and their successors. A friend of mine does a sogo budo with a strong jujutsu element. They use a different technique for cutting with a sword; a tighter motion done closer to the body than I’m accustomed to. My first thought when I saw it was that they were giving up some of the potential range of the blade-- a reasonable comment on their sword work. They don’t take advantage of every centimeter of reach that the blade has to offer, but this isn’t necessarily a weakness.
Cutting while using a tighter motion may not be considered a weakness because the sogo budo group doesn’t just do sword work, or even just weapons work. They also do a lot of jujutsu. In their jujutsu they use the same principle for throwing and joint locking that they use for cutting with a sword. They are conserving the number of motions and principles they have to learn. They have just one movement that is applied in their weapons work and their empty hand techniques. No time wasted learning different principles for weapons and another for jujutsu. One and done.
Training time is precious, even for people who are training full time. Their training time is valuable, and they need to get the most out of it. The highest return in training is to have a few principles you apply to everything, instead of many different discrete techniques that can be applied to the same thing. It takes thousands of hours of training to master any budo. Where is the good sense and efficiency in increasing the time it takes to master your training by having different principles for different activities and multiplying required training time as you add discrete principles and skills?
It makes no sense for a ryuha to have different principles for different activities or weapons. It would be a tremendous waste of time, and few people have the time to develop more than one body. If you have not absorbed the set of principles so deeply that they’ve stained your bones you’ll never express those principles under pressure. You’ll always do what has stained your bones.
Koryu training, real koryu, is about absorbing the principles of the art into your body and mind so that they color the core of your being. A key to how koryu do this is by reducing the essence of the art to a few powerful principles that can be applied to any situation. No unnecessary movements or ideas.
One movement to do a hundred things.
Special thanks to Deborah Klens-Bigman Ph.D. for her editorial support and contributions.