Let me clarify that I will only be discussing the martial traditions of the Japanese. Certainly many countries throughout classical and modern history have formulated, used, and subsequently lost valid forms of martial arts. Unfortunately, the breadth of such activities escape me as a mere mortal and I must invariably only node what I know.

Koryu is the term used in the Japanese language to describe a classical tradition. This is an all-inclusive term, referring as much to the martial arts as to Noh drama, the tea ceremony (chado), and ikebana, the art of flower arrangement. Though there are a few variations and exceptions to this guideline, in the martial world, an art is classified as koryu if its origin dates from the pre-Meiji era, circa 1868. The two largest and most reputable organizations used to formally recognize koryu bugei are the Nihon Kobudo Shinkokai and the Nihon Kobudo Kyokai

As the title of this node suggests, an author should take note to node a progression from a rise to a fall rather than one or the other. This rise, by definition, happened far earlier than World War II or any American involvement.

The Rise

Most koryu bugei do not originate from earlier than the late Muromachi era, with a majority being founded during the pax Tokugawa regime. To understand their rise, we must understand their nature.

The world used to describe each school or style, in Japanese, is ryu-ha. Each ryu-ha is a tradition that is passed on from master to disciple, with lineages varying from those of family (often including adopted family), to those of maximum comprehension or strength. The character for 'ryu' itself is an indication of both this transmission and the nature of the style, as it may be alternately translated as the verb 'to flow.' Let me explain. What was being passed from generation to generation was not a collection of techniques. It was a general principle; of movement, martial theory, or of life. Principles, being such difficult things to grasp, cannot simply be handed over. Rather, it must (pay attention) flow from one to another, a progession not unlike the tides; a little here, a little there, but slowly, steadily, and certainly not all at once.

The ryu-ha phenomenon has been called, by those wiser than myself, an 'umvelt,' a German word to describe a world view or perception. One does not realize the essence of the ryu-ha through conscious thought, but rather, the ryu is the ideas on aforementioned movement or theory that tints his perception and moves him unconsciously. An individual's success or failure could more likely be seen as his inability to truly grasp this underlying view than on the validity of such a view. If one has lived long enough to understand the deepest of secrets of his ryu-ha and he has also lived to pass it on, there is an inherent validity. Budo is about living, not dying.

In many ways, it makes sense that the koryu bugei would not have formed in the manner of the ryu-ha any earlier than the late Muromachi period. Before the rise of Oda Nobunaga, Tomotomi Hideyoshi, and Tokugawa Ieyasu there was only constant warfare. There was no time for the successful and meaningful (read: slow and careful) transmission of an art from one man to another. There was only time for following orders and death. However, as peace came to be a real possibility, those who had known only struggle and a life of the sword, were left with only their knowledge of a way that would never be seen again. The rise of the classical arts as we understand them today lie as much in a forced peace as they do in the trials and tribulations of men on a battlefield. With time on their hands, the masters of old gave rise to a new tradition.

The Fall

Let it first be known that our knowledge of the koryu bugei comes from a far greater source than history; it comes from the koryu themselves. The classical arts may have fallen, but they are not quite dead. While there were once thousands to schools, there are only a few hundred extant traditions today. Not so few, however, that one cannot find tuition with one or more and come to understand what the bushi of old had come to know.

Going hand in hand with the ryu-ha's nature of direct transmission, the school is often considered the sole propriety of an individual or family. It is certainly not a democracy and often leaves only the taste of dictatorship in one's mouth. This is how it has been and this is how it will be. Modern societies, Japan included, though mostly spearheaded by the West, have a strong dislike for dictatorship. Though there have not been, in my knowledge, any witch hunts conducted only on the basis of antiquated leadership methods, the members of society as a whole have been turning their backs on institutions that can be considered unjust. In light of such situations, many organizations such as the koryu bugei have lost membership and, in some cases, ceased to be because of it.

It is also said that many of the great masters had to "steal" their current knowledge from their teacher before them. There was no discussion, no lecture followed by questions and answers. There was only the way, to be followed, not considered. This, too, has found itself as an antiquated teaching method. If the teaching methods have become modern, can the lessons still be considered classical? In some cases, yes, but other cases have again led to the fall of a once proud and very old school tradition.

Lastly, we have become a global society of people caring only about practicality and efficiency. Are the koryu bugei applicable today? Certainly. Will any of us find ourselves donning yoroi, wielding a yari, and marching on Osaka castle? Hardly. The largest factor in the fall of the koryu bugei is disinterest. Why would you learn a method of fighting that was dying at the very same time the ryu-ha was created? Why not practice a modern art, or a semi-classical art taught in a much easier, modern way? Some say tradition, others say practicality doesn't matter. Fortunately, these are the people who keep the few extant ryu-ha exactly what they are. Unfortunately, these people are as few and far between as the ryu-ha themselves. Maybe it's because the practictioners are the ryu-ha. Umvelt, world view, a flow of unconscious thought, remember?

Others just don't care.