You need to understand what you are getting into when joining a koryu. First, you are not automatically entitled to join, anymore than applying for a job implies that you will automatically be accepted. Moreover, although you will be paying money for instruction this is not primarily a financial venture. Most koryu groups are small, and the nature of the teaching method requires that you integrate well into the group and develop a constructive personal relationship with the teacher. When the teacher takes on a student, it is a tremendous commitment in terms of time and energy, as well as being a great responsibility.
Preferably you will be introduced by someone who can vouch for your character. Then you may be invited to observe. (In Japan, candidates wishing to join Tatsumi ryu or Buko ryu are required to come three consecutive times to observe the regular two hour class before they are interviewed). While you are observing, you yourself will be observed. If there is anything in your attitude or behaviour to cause concern, you will not be invited to proceed to the next stage. After that, if I feel you are suitable material, you may be invited to come to training on probation. After a probationary period, you may be told to leave, or invited to join the ryu as a full member.
The koryu are inherently conservative organizations that require a commitment to an honourable and disciplined way of life.
We expect that you will not boast or gossip about your training, will not frequent disreputable places, will not engage in anti-social or irresponsible behaviour, that you train regularly by yourself, continually strive to progress, and that you conduct regular self-examination, both technical and ethical.
In a way, joining a koryu is like joining the army. As a soldier, you voluntarily resign certain rights you have as a civilian in the interests of the greater society. As a member of a ryu, you are expected to comport yourself as an ambassador of the ryu, and to accept discipline. For example, you do not have the right to speak on behalf of the ryu without permission. If you cannot accept this kind of discipline, then perhaps the koryu are not for you.
Different koryu have different flavours or perhaps attitudes, and members very often tend to have the same kind of worldview. There is an interaction that takes place between the person doing the ryu and the ryu itself that will form certain characteristics, or bring out certain traits in the diligent student. Ryu are often largely made up of very specific psychological types. Just as regiments in the British Army have their own traditions, so do the various ryu-ha. I am looking for a specific psychological profile for each ryu-ha I teach. Even if you are the toughest guy on your block, even if you think you are what I am looking for, you may not be invited to join.
The word samurai means “one who serves”. In our case, we no longer serve a particular lord, but try to be socially responsible members of our surrounding community. The koryu are not primarily there for the individual per se; they are there to educate the individual to be a socially responsible and useful member of the community.
Nowadays we don’t seriously expect to take our place on a battlefield as a group, but there are attitudes in the koryu which are survivals from the days when you would expect to stand shoulder to shoulder in line of battle with the same people you trained with in the dojo. In this respect your attitude towards the people you train with is rather different to that in present day budo, where fellow students are often regarded as being rivals or competitors.
Before deciding on a student’s acceptability, I also want to know what other martial arts the student has done, or is currently doing. If I do not get the information I require, I feel no obligation to proceed any further, and if I find I have been deceived or lied to after the student has already started training, they will be told to leave immediately.