Author: Bret Gordon
After a rather long hiatus, I am happy to announce the return of the USAMA blog as a source of information relating to news, history, traditions and training methods of the martial arts. In this article, I'd like to address the very misunderstood customs surrounding titles, specifically those used in Japanese martial arts.
The first title I'd like to address is that of Soke... There is a lot of misinformation about the title of Soke 宗家 in the martial arts. First and foremost, it does not mean the founder of the style so let's just get that out of the way...But more recently there has been the misunderstanding that Soke is not a martial arts title at all, that it's purely a legal position connected to one's koseki (family registry). While this is one use of the title, there is documented usage of it in the martial arts among both Koryu (pre-1868) and Gendai (modern) systems to designate the lineage holder of the art. Just off the top of my head, Japanese arts that specifically use the title of Soke (or Soke Dairi if there is no current headmaster) are:
Mugai Ryu, Hokushin Itto Ryu, Toda-Ha Buko Ryu, Daito Ryu, Hakko Ryu, Koden Enshin Ryu, Hyoho Niten Ichi Ryu, Yagyu Shingan Ryu, Shidare Yanagi Ryu, Tendo Ryu, Kurama Ryu....
I could go on but I believe I've made my point. There is enough precedent in the Japanese martial arts community to warrant the use of Soke to designate the inheriting headmaster of a system. We can further argue as to whether or not is it appropriate for arts outside of Japan to use the title, but still the historical precedent is set. To quote an article on Koryu.com from William Bodiford: