One of the greatest misunderstandings that a Westerner is subject to – and many Japanese – is that Soke and Shihan mean the same thing.
Those that think like this, are completely mistaken.
Soke: Constituted by the ideograms “head” and “family”, they are individuals, practitioners or not, who were nominated by their antecessors, school representatives of the school they belong to. Blood related or not to the school founder, they act as “president”, representing the school to society in general.
Shihan: requires that the individual has surpassed all other students technically, for he will be in charge of classes and the future of the school in question. He must have a Menkyo Kaiden or Menkyo certificate. He can issue Menkyo Kaiden and Menkyo certificates to others, attesting masterfulness so that the individual may be recognized as Shihan.
Putting it simply: The Master.
To the practitioner, it’s important to know, as long as he seeks true knowledge without distortion through time, if his Shihan has a legitimate Menkyo or Menkyo Kaiden certificate. If I say legitimate, it’s because illegitimate certificate exists.
Otherwise, it can be said that they are practicing a fake or incorrect technique.
Answering the questions that were directed to me, below are the explanations:
Line Of Menkyo Kaiden
In Hyoho Niten Ichi Ryu, starting with the 10th Soke Imai Massayuki, various doubts where raised related to the trifurcation in the succession line. Below, a detailed explanation about this can be found.
DETAILED SUCCESSION LINE
Up until the 9th successor of Musashi Sensei, Kiyonaga Tadanao, Soke and Shihan where the same person.
But this master, 9th Soke and Menkyo Kaiden, Kiyonaga Tadanao, passed away suddenly, and the Niten Ichi Ryu community expected that his son Kiyonaga Fumiya would take over the Soke position.
Japan was at the time in the so called Economic Miracle, and everyone was trying to secure his place under the sun, stimulated by USA in order to contain Chinese influence, this was very intense with the youth. As other young people, Fumiya wasn`t in condition to be Soke, for he was still a university student could not take on such responsibility.
For Niten Ichi Ryu this was a period with very few practitioners, and so it was that Imai Massayuki was asked, at the time with over 60 years of age and a freshmen in the ryu, but the only one that had the financial stability to take on the Soke title, until Kiyonaga Fumiya was ready to take over. This was done, with the condition that Imai had to return the Soke title to the son of the deceased Soke Kiyonaga, as soon as he was ready. Due to his age, Imai had no condition of assimilating all the techniques of a unique style such as Niten Ichi Ryu and receive a Menkyo Kaiden.
It was asked then, that Shihan Gosho Motoharu, sole Menkyo Kaiden reminiscent at the time, and as such the only one able to issue a Menkyo Kaiden, to teach the techniques to freshmen Imai.
Soon after beginning his training, Imai, holder of the Soke title, slowly pushed away Shihan Gosho from practices, presentations and official events of the style, even before receiving the Menkyo Kaiden* certificate, which he never received.
*Menkyo Kaiden = topmost degree of the style and which authorizes to be a Master
Decades went by, and still no indication of passing the title to Sensei Kiyonaga Fumiya, now 50 years old. Other schools of Kobudo (ancient styles) started to notice the delay of this process and Niten Ichi Ryu’s own community began to feel uncomfortable.
Imai postponed the succession up until his last days and pressured by the situation decided to pass on the title at around age 90. But, surprisingly and to everyone’s dismay, and opposing the school’s tradition, decreed something unprecedented: there would be no more Sokes starting from his generation.
The reason for this change in tradition was that during the whole time in which he was Soke, Imai always preferred his own student Iwami Toshio.
With the situation at hand, and not able to pass the Soke title to Iwami, he created the “representatives” title, or ”Dai”.
The following where nominated ”11th Dai”, or “representatives”, extinguishing a 500 year old tradition:
-Ching (Taiwanese who trained under 8th Soke Aoki Kikuo during the time he lived in Taiwan. Ching was who returned Miyamoto Musashi`s bokuto to the school, which was in his possession after the return of Aoki Kikuo to Japan after the war)
Such measure left the whole Kobudo (and even Oita`s Kendo Federation) disgusted.
But there was nothing that could be done.
A few months later, Kiyonaga Fumiya suddenly passed away.
This fatality left Niten Ichi`s community and all of Kobudo in Japan saddened.
Soon after, Niten Ichi community was woken up with two more sudden news: Imai passes away and Iwami Toshio proclaims himself Soke.
Rumor has it that just a few days before Imai passed away, “Iwami went to get the certificate that would name him Soke – there would be no more contestants, besides from Ching, from Taiwan, who was far away”.
Searching for answers, students of the style reached out to Nihon Kobudo Kyokai, entity which functions as a notary of the ancient styles.
NKK secretary-general at the time, Mr. Takahashi, confirmed that it was received from Iwami a “simple paper sheet” in which Imai confers upon Iwami the title of Soke. But there was something that caught the eye: this “simple paper sheet” was not written with fude (Japanese brush and ink), which is traditional and in alignment with tradition in Japanese arts.
This one was written with a ballpoint pen.
According to Mr. Takahashi, this was accepted because it had Imai`s seal, leaving no room for questioning.
During 10th Soke Imai time, without the supervision of Shihan Gosho Motoharu, the original techniques got distorted, as is with all arts that do not have the supervision of a Menkyo Kaiden master. This situation got the attention of Niten Ichi Ryu community, because if measures were not taken, soon the original techniques would be lost.
With this in mind, Gosho Shihan was asked upon again. Gosho Shihan accepted the calling, and started training to rescue the true techniques of Niten Ichi Ryu.
From his hands, the following people received Menkyo Kaiden: Yoshimoti Kiyoshi (Japan), Ishii Toyozumi (Japan) and Kishikawa Jorge (Americas).
After this period, Kiyonaga`s family conferred upon Shihan Yoshimoti Kiyoshi the title of 12th Soke, succeeding the late Kiyonaga Tadanao 9th Soke, and Kiyonaga Fumiya 11th Soke posthumous, father and son respectively.
With that said, for those that wish to learn and understand Miyamoto Musashi`s techniques, the way is simple:
1st: Make sure that your school is part of the succession line, because there are self-titled “Niten Ichi Ryu” schools or similar names that have nothing to do with the succession lines and the original techniques.
2nd: Make sure that in the succession line, from whom your teacher received Menkyo Kaiden, after making sure your teacher has Menkyo Kaiden.