28D. Other Menkyo Systems

Susan Rutherford asked yet another question in this paragraph. I wish to attempt an answer.

“The Menkyo system seems to me a very important, core part of the martial arts system. Without a way to continue our training out of the physical world, there would be only fighting for the Olympics or for exercise. Why do you feel that so few instructors have continued to use this system out of the thousands who could and are there other similar systems, ways to learn in which they are teaching?”

The question I will approach here is, “are there other similar systems, ways to learn in which they are teaching?”

Menkyo means license. At Aoinagi Karate we issue five licenses. They are gyo, shugyo, sensei, sozosha, shihan. Not all martial arts offer such a series of licenses, most offer less, some offer more.

One License:

Some martial arts issue only one license. These martial arts generally issue a teaching license. When a person has demonstrated sufficient maturity in the art he receives a teaching license. The recipient of the license may then open a dojo and teach the martial art.

Two Licenses:

Some martial arts schools issue two licenses. The first license is generally as a gyo or trainee. When a person receives this license he is has become a bone fide member of the dojo community. This license is sometimes a bit difficult to obtain. Many students go thru a period of probation having to perform duties like cleaning the dojo, mowing lawns, picking up leaves, washing uniforms for others, serving dinners, etc. In judo prior to 1964 the probation was a few months learning to fall (ukemi). Once the student had learned to fall he was considered a trainee (gyo) and was licensed to train in the dojo. (At Aoinagi Karate the gyo license is generally easy to obtain. A student walks in to train and the Sensei bows to him, thus issuing the license to train at the dojo.)

The second license issued at the two-license schools is the teacher license.

It is about the same as described in the one-license schools above.

Three Licenses:

There are a number of three-license martial arts schools. These schools issue the gyo license, the sensei license, and the shihan license. The first two are as described above. The shihan license is a recognition that the person has mastered the martial art to the expectations of his teacher.

There are a few martial arts schools, most of them closely derived from Chinese systems of martial arts, which have a different set of three. These schools are based upon a Chinese proverb which is; “There are three ways of learning. The first is imitation; it is the easiest. The second is experience; it is the bitterest. The third is meditation; it is the noblest.”

These schools generally issue the gyo, shugyo and sensei licenses without issuing a sozosha or shihan license.

Four Licenses:

Rarely martial arts schools issue four licenses. These schools generally have, in addition to the gyo, sensei and shihan, a severe training license without having a sozosha license. When a student enters the shugyo phase he is introduced to the practice of his art outside the dojo. It is considered a strategic practice license and is based on experience.

Five Licenses:

There are many Japanese martial arts schools based on five phases. We, like most of them, base the five phases on Miyamoto Musashi’s book the “Go Rin No Sho.” The five phases are generally gyo, shugyo, sensei, sozosha, shihan.

Six and Seven Licenses:

There are a few martial arts schools which offer six and seven licenses. There may be a few who offer even more than seven, but I have never heard of them. In addition to the five phases mentioned above the licenses in these schools include a license to contract and a license to invoke.

The license to contract is the license to hire out one’s services as a warrior. This was used more, at least to my knowledge, in ancient times when a sensei would certify that the student was trained sufficiently in martial arts to be of value as a retainer. With the sensei’s signature on the document anyone who trusted the sensei would trust his licensee. It was issued after sufficient experience was gained in shugyo.

The license to invoke is a license much like a pastor is in a church in the United States. With the license to invoke the student was certified as having sufficient religious spiritual knowledge to perform marriages and other sacred ceremonies. I believe that this license is the one which gave the westerners the view that karate was a religion. Certainly this license has to do with a religion. Aoinagi Karate is not a religion, but some martial arts schools are religious (Do Shin So’s Shorin-ji Kempo).

Many martial arts ryu originated in temples and thus were religious organizations. Katori Shinto Ryu originated in the Katori temple north of Tokyo. Shaolin (Shorinji ryu) is said to have originated in the Shaolin temple of Honan Province, China. Some of these ryu still offer licenses to invoke.

For those of you who may be concerned about this religious issue, please understand that Aoinagi Karate is not a religion, and offers no license to invoke. Personally I am a Christian although I will train a person of any religious belief including those who believe they have no belief.

So, the menkyo or licensing system of the martial arts includes everything from a simple one-license ryu to a complex seven-or-more-license ryu. We at Aoinagi Karate use the five-license system; gyo, shugyo, sensei, sozosha, shihan. We do not issue a license to contract nor do we issue a license to invoke.

We encourage a menkyo-kaiden. This is a license which I mentioned in an earlier essay. It is a license stating that the holder has learned all the “secrets” of the ryu. There are other special type licenses as well that are rarely heard of and more rarely awarded. They are generally not considered part of the menkyo system of the ryu but as adjuncts to the menkyo system of the ryu.