Paul Schwartz of the UCSD dojo asks the following questions:
“I have a question for the gyo list and it is about the menkyo kaiden (spelling?). My understanding of the menkyo kaiden is that it’s a document a teacher passes down to a single student that the teacher believes is most capable of carrying on the teacher’s art. Is that correct? I have several other questions as it relates to this subject. Such as, who holds Sensei Kims menkyo kaiden (I seem to remembering hearing that it was you, but I’m not sure)? How does an instructor hand the menkyo kaiden to a student – is it a formal/ritualistic event? What are the actual responsibilities of the person that holds their instructors menkyo kaiden? Are there multiple one’s out there – meaning an instructor may have many students that will carry on teaching that instructors art – does each student create one if they didn’t receive one? If there is anything else you would like to share about this process I’d love to hear about it.”
First of all this is an advanced question. Paul Schwartz is a bushi and wants to know about a very advanced issue in martial arts. He specifically wants the gyo to hear about it, so if you are interested please read on.
The menkyo-kaiden as described by Sensei Richard Kim in his “Weaponless Warriors” (page 25) is “a certificate of full proficiency in an art, usually given to a student deemed most suited to carry on the art of his sensei. A master customarily issued only one menkyo-kaiden in his lifetime.”
The word menkyo means license, so the menkyo-kaiden is a license similar to the menkyo-gyo (trainee license), menkyo-shugyo (severe trainee license or bushi [warrior] license), menkyo-sensei (teacher license), menkyo-sozosha (artist license), and menkyo-shihan (master license).
The word kaiden means “initiation in all the mysteries and secrets of an art.” In olden days a master kept much in the way of secrets. The master would reveal the art’s secrets sparingly at best. To one individual, his son or more rarely daughter, or to the senior student or some selected student, he would reveal some or all of his secrets before he died. To prove the veracity of such a transfer of knowledge the sensei issued a menkyo-kaiden, or license proving that the secrets of the art had been passed to the named person.
Paul questions, “My understanding of the menkyo kaiden is that it’s a document a teacher passes down to a single student that the teacher believes is most capable of carrying on the teacher’s art. Is that correct?”
It is customary to pass only one menkyo-kaiden. It is also possible to pass more than one. Consider the meaning of the license; “initiation in all the mysteries and secrets of an art.” It is possible that a sensei could do this to more than one individual, however, tradition does not support multiple menkyo-kaiden. Tradition dictates that the sensei pass on only one menkyo kaiden of his own.
The person who received the menkyo-kaiden held the privilege of carrying on the art of the sensei. Other contenders for the sensei’s art were to respect the follower and holder of the menkyo-kaiden, for it was their sensei’s wish and his license. In theory, the menkyo-kaiden is a means of assuring the correct passing of information from one generation to the next; the master decided which individual would carry on his art, and that individual was given the privilege of passing the art onward to the future. In practice, however, any ego-inflated individuals seeking more fame and power have split off of their sensei’s line to start their own lineage in martial arts because they did not receive the menkyo-kaiden and so were not “top dog.” Luckily, or not, the splits often were so inferior that they fell into oblivion in a short time.
Paul asks, “who holds Sensei Kims menkyo kaiden?” I don’t know, anymore.
Paul continues, “How does an instructor hand the menkyo kaiden to a student – is it a formal/ritualistic event?” In general each master creates the menkyo-kaiden and passes it on to the student of his choosing in a manner which the master feels is best. A celebration may be in order in one dojo but not in another. It may be hand delivered to the student by yet another student. It may be rolled and handed to the student at the end of class. The student may be instructed not to open the scroll until after the death of the master. There are no rules by the time the master has reached the level of awarding a menkyo-kaiden.
Along the same line Paul wonders, “What are the actual responsibilities of the person that holds their instructors menkyo kaiden?” Wow! Responsibility is a word that frightens modern mankind. When we talk of responsibility we appear to infringe on freedom in the modern world. So let’s put it differently; if you had a jewel given to you by your father would you pass it onto your son, or would you just break it up so no one else would see it?
“Are there multiple one’s out there – meaning an instructor may have many students that will carry on teaching that instructors art”, is Paul’s next question. I have mentioned this already but I will repeat: A master customarily passes on only one menkyo-kaiden but, because of the meaning of passing on the “secrets” of the art, the master may pass on more than one. More than one is not customary, that is, it is a deviation from the intention of the menkyo-kaiden in the first place.
Another honor is passed on much more frequently. It is called the mokuroku-sensei. This honor is a certification by the master, that the student has learned all that is necessary in the curriculum of the master, and is certified as capable of representing the master’s art in just about any circumstance.
The difference is that the menkyo-kaiden is the master’s foremost hope for his art and the mokuroku-sensei, although very accomplished, may not be the master’s foremost hope for his art. If there are two foremost hopes, then there are two menkyo-kaiden. This situation is unusual.
Paul then asks, “does each student create one if they didn’t receive one?” NO! Only those students who complete the menkyo system, with all of the experience, teaching and artistic creation may create a menkyo-kaiden. The menkyo-kaiden is not a platform for self-aggrandizement, it is a humble platform of hope for the future of the art.
On the other hand, any student who completes the menkyo system must, by virtue of the system, have experienced a very large slice of life, taught a great deal to both willing and resistant students and created expressiveness in multiple media before being awarded menkyo-shihan. This person has “secrets,” his own “secrets.” This person may hope to pass the “secrets” on. If so, the next menkyo-kaiden is available, but who will learn this master’s “secrets?” The answer resounds in my mind, “only the willing.” So, who?
The master may hold the menkyo-kaiden of ten other masters. This is because the menkyo-kaiden tend to concentrate rather than disperse from one generation to another. The master customarily passes the ten plus his own to one individual who appears to be the greatest hope to carry on the tradition. On the other hand, the oriental culture being as secretive as it is often causes a master to choose to die with his “secrets” thus depriving the future generations of the glorious past. This has happened more often than I care to mention. In such cases the menkyo-kaiden stops. All of them end with the master who did not pass them onwards.
Why would a master do this? The only answer I offer is that the master does not feel that his lessons are sought with enough vigor by the students. Rather than try to teach to those who may not really want to learn the master chooses to let the student find the “secrets” themselves. He dies with his “secrets” unshared.
Paul’s inquiry ends with, “If there is anything else you would like to share about this process I’d love to hear about it.”
I’d like to share anything you’d like to know. What do you want to know?