Anna Seabourne 2016

Sensei, students and the spoken word: Learning and teaching in a Japanese koryū dōjō.


Nostalgia for ‘samurai’ pervades Japanese society in advertising, television and film, not least in portrayals of teaching and learning which parody the teacher-student training relationship. Such comedy sketches work because they are based on well-known stereotypes of martial arts master, student and the mysteries of the martial arts; all of which are familiar to a Japanese audience. The extent to which these characterizations reflect current learning and teaching practices remains unclear, particularly in the koryū bujutsu, which continue to play a role in contemporary society, despite being based on pre-modern foundations. Developing an awareness of the social aspects of interaction in the dōjō is key to understanding the impact of martial arts practices. This paper takes conventional representations from mainstream media as a starting point to examine current practices of learning and teaching in a koryū bujutsu, with a particular focus on the role of kuden (lit. ‘oral transmission’). The primary sources of data are participant observation and interviews carried out during fieldwork at a Japanese koryū dōjō. The research provides insights into how actual learning and teaching compares with the esoteric and archaic forms of knowledge transmission frequently portrayed in the Japanese media.



Anna Seabourne

Anna Seabourne’s PhD in Japanese Studies at the University of Manchester uses an ethnographic approach to explore learning and teaching in a koryū bujutsu (Japanese: ‘old flow’ pre-Meiji martial systems) with a particular focus on Takenouchi-ryū Bitchūden. She taught in Kyoto from 1995-2007, including at Ritsumeikan University’s Inter-faculty Institute for Intercultural Studies, and currently works part time at the University of Leeds. She moderates the MARTS Jiscmail list and is an active member of the Martial Arts Studies Research Network. She has practiced martial arts since 1987.

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