Menkyo Kaiden (Full Transmission)


At the time when the various traditions had, of necessity, a practical “raison d'être”(i.e. application in real combative situations), it is obvious that the practitioner fulfilled his duty as a warrior either by winning and staying alive, by sacrificing his life to win, or, simply, by defeat. The choices were not very varied as far as his combative effectiveness was concerned.

The concept of a system of ranking strictly based on an evaluation of combative capacities would have been illogical--it can, more or less, be said that one was either 100% effective and living or less-than-100%-effective and dead. On the contrary, however, each school in need of a system for recognizing the capacities and technical proficiency of the practitioner as a teacher or "transmitter" of the technical, philosophical and ethical structures, etc. of a given school. Thus the Menkyo-Kaiden system was instituted.

This concept, I repeat, was absolutely not based uniquely on the personal combat prowess of the individual but included, rather, the idea of a certification, guaranteeing that the individual has achieved a certain level of study within the ryu and that he could retransmit (according to the rules of the ryu) that part of the ryu’s curriculum that he had mastered and that he was authorized to teach. Today, a confused outlook exists due to the belief that a practitioner, possessing a certificate as a high-level teacher of a school, is inevitably extremely effective combatively speaking--he should be this but it would be, nonetheless, of secondary importance to his capacity as a teacher. This distinction is fundamental if one wants to understand the problem of ranking--both historically and at the present time.

The certificate of Menkyo-Kaiden signifies Mastery and its holder is fully qualified to transmit all aspects of the teaching of the ryu curriculum. Mastery implies a certain responsibility of action. The menkyo-kaiden is the Head of the Ryu’s foremost hope for his art.

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--Tradition dictates that the sensei pass on only one menkyo kaiden of his own.

The person who receives the menkyo-kaiden has the privilege of carrying on the art of the sensei. Other contenders for the sensei’s art are to respect the follower and holder of the menkyo-kaiden, for it is 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 the art, and that individual was given the privilege of passing the art onward to the future.

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