Wednesday, January 08, 2014

Generations in budo

Coming up through the ranks, we used to talk about our relationships using a family analogy.  All of our cohort of students were like budo-brothers and budo-sisters.  The teachers of our teachers were like grandparents.  Some of the folks that studied when our teacher was coming up through the ranks - those folks were like aunts and uncles to us.
Thinking about that reminded me of a tidbit that they taught us in grad school - this was in a class on physiology of aging and gerontology.  The instructor said that once a person reaches about age 30, "Nature is done with them" because they'd had time to grow to maturity, have kids, and raise the kids to maturity.  In an evolutionary sense, there is no reason for nature to put any genetic energy into developing and maintaining the individual, so they begin an inexorable decline around age 30.  Sure, there is a lot of plasticity in this phenomenon.  Some folks are able to devote enough energy and willpower into self-maintenance to remain strong and healthy long after 30, but it's still a pretty good rule of thumb (age-related decline often begins around 30) and a fairly reasonable explanation.
Thirty years is also close to the length of a generation (25 years) as described in Howe & Straus' really interesting book, Generations: The History of America's Future, 1584 to 2069.
That made me wonder - how long is a generation in our budo analogy?  The first thing that pops into my mind is the average time it takes to get to yondan (teaching rank - roughly 10 years) and then raise a student to yondan (another 10 years or so).  You could probably add 5 years to that because of the attrition rate in martial arts - it'll take a while to find a student capable and willing to get to yondan.  That would be about 25-year generations - four generations per century - just like Howe&Straus' Generations.
What does it matter?  Well part of the Generations book discusses why each generation tends to rebel against the values of the prior generation but embrace the values of the generation before that (2 generations ago.)
Does that phenomenon perhaps hold with respect to budo?  Does that suggest that the Shu-Ha-Ri (keep-break-leave) cycle only describes individuals within one generation but doesn't describe the life-cycle of a school of budo - that is, we eventually break with our teachers but then tend to embrace our teachers' teachers?  Does that have some implications for a move from modern budo back toward Koryu?

[photo courtesy of Wikipedia - Yonsei]

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Patrick Parker

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