I currently work with a small group in Seattle on aspects of Kashima-shinden Jiki Shinkage-ryu and related arts, in a manner that I feel is compatible with my broader study of traditional internal martial arts.
Jiki Shinkage-ryu heiho serves as a foundational practice and frame of reference from which we can begin to understand the core principles of swordsmanship, and develop our skill. It is a rich practice that can provide challenge and meaning over many years. That being said, it is also the case that Jiki Shinkage-ryu has had its curriculum pared down over time, especially in lines (such as our own) that descend from the famous Sakakibara Kenkichi, bodyguard to the last Tokugawa Shogun in the late 19th century. As such, we find it helpful to explore specific approaches from related traditions as an adjunct to our core practice. So, in our group, once skill is developed in the core kata of Jiki Shinkage ryu, we refine our understanding of a broad range of tactics through the exploration of related lines of Shinkage-ryu. We examine adjunct tactics in relation to the foundational practice of Jiki Shinkage-ryu in order to have a broad set of possibilities in our free practice.
The advantages provided by Jiki Shinkage-ryu in the development of posture, distance, timing, body alignment, awareness of angle and centerline, balance, root (stance), power generation, and resolve (spirit) provided by a study of Jiki Shinkage-ryu then serve to amplify the other approaches. Sometimes, we find, beyond what is even possible in the related arts. This is one reason why practitioners of Jiki Shinkage-ryu will regard their art as the "true" or "correct" Shinkage-ryu, and will sometimes simply refer to their practice only as Shinkage-ryu.
Regardless of opinions about priority within the family of arts stemming from Kamizumi Ise no Kami Nobutsuna, having developed a foundation and then explored variation, we are then in a good position to begin a free practice of sparring called tameshi ai, where students can test themselves in order to bring out the spontaneous and intuitive mindset necessary for developing higher levels of skill. Jiki Shinkage-ryu was famous for its strength in shiai, and I aim to preserve that aspect of the tradition.
Ultimately, our practice is a form of austerity (shugyo) that develops the body, mind, and spirit. Because Jiki Shinkage-ryu is organized around Taoist principles but winds up being a very hard practice at times, I find utility in and embrace the idea of balancing its practice with elements drawn from the classical internal martial arts (Bagua, Xingyi, and Taiji). This is in keeping with advice my teacher was given when he was learning the art, and the fact that Jiki Shinkage-ryu's fourth headmaster spent an extended period of time in China in the early 17th century, which had a profound impact on Jiki Shinkage-ryu compared to other surviving Shinkage-ryu traditions.
While our practice of Jiki Shinkage-ryu is quite orthodox (we have not changed its kata), our goals are broader than simple historical preservation, as hard as that may be in of itself. I do not believe myself to simply be a caretaker of an art for some future generation. Others have that responsibility, when they inherit an art. Instead, I simply strive to maintain my practice, and eventually surpass the skill of those who have come before me. I believe each art lives or dies in a single generation and we must all work to keep our practice alive in each moment, never taking our knowledge for granted, no matter where we train.
I have chosen to use the name Gassankan Heiho (月山館 兵法) when describing my Japanese swordsmanship practice as a whole. Because I do not have full transmission or mastery of what I practice, I am not in a position to issue ranks or licenses in the arts I have learned. In addition, strictly speaking, our practice is a superset of Jiki Shinkage-ryu, due to the related teachings we examine, and the influence that Chinese internal martial arts have had on my practice over time. I do want to recognize progress within the curriculum of my school, and when I do so, it will be in terms of what I am calling Gassankan Heiho.
I acknowledge and embrace my status as leading a small independent training activity, not part of a larger organization inside or outside of Japan. I want to put my practice in proper context within the larger martial arts community, while providing proper recognition to those who are authorized to continue arts in a lineal fashion. Koryu are social organizations designed to transmit martial teachings, and not simply a collection of forms.
Being independent has both advantages and limitations, beyond the issue of license or rank. I am, on the one hand, more free to explore and see the connections between different arts and discern underlying patterns or truths that might drive one (I am hopeful) to a higher level of skill. But, almost by definition, my knowledge of any one art I have learned is incomplete. However, it is often the case that in traditional schools, even with full transmission of an art, teachers do not test themselves internally or against other groups, for fear of losing social status were they to struggle or be defeated. That rigid hierarchy can sometimes prevent the fullest expression of an art's potential, even among senior practitioners. It is my intent to do my best to avoid that affliction.