‘The students create the teacher’: Participation in a martial art’s community of practice.

This paper uses the concept of a community of practice to explore how involvement in koryū bujutsu extends beyond formal practice time within the walls of the dōjō and into participants’ lives. There is a developing area of martial arts studies focussing on ideas of embodiment to explore individual experiences. At the other end of the scale are examinations of the role of martial arts in society, the visual arts, across cultures or as political tools. Martial arts require the participation of others (even if in the form of an imaginary opponent), and yet, this wider group is not a team. There is a lack of research which foregrounds the practices at the level of the dōjō, and in particular of the koryū bujutsu, from which, it has been claimed, many of the modern Japanese forms originate. If studies are limited to individual experiences or the wider influence of martial arts, then there is a danger of missing what could be argued is a key orientation for martial arts studies: an awareness of the community of practice which makes it possible for a system to be recreated for successive generations. This leads to questions about the nature of the curriculum, the pedagogical mechanisms whereby accrued knowledge is passed on, and the resulting network of teaching and learning relationships. Data for this paper comes from fieldwork conducted at the current head dōjō of Takenouchi-ryū Bitchūden, a system dating from 1532. The koryū are impenetrable, even for Japanese, however, a longstanding association allowed participant observation and provided unprecedented access to carry out in-depth interviews with both new and senior members of the group. Research on a particular koryū should serve as a useful example for comparison and contrast with studies of groups within other martial arts and related enterprises.

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