|Beyond The Available Knowledge |
by Robert E. Haynes (02/15/1998)
The available knowledge in any subject comprises all the written and verbal information that the student has at his command. Once the student has found the sources to this information, he may begin absorbing it. If the subject of his interest comes from a source whose language is other than his own, the problems in obtaining that knowledge are manifold. First he must learn a rudimentary use of this second language. If this language is Japanese the problems inherent in mastering this source is almost insurmountable for most. This means that the sole origin of his available knowledge are translations of all the information he needs to master his subject. This problem is surmountable when the languages in translation are Western languages, but translations from Japanese are often so inaccurate that the student absorbs as much incorrect information as he does useful information. Add to this that many of the sources that are translated were incorrect in themselves, and you see what obstacles are placed in the path of the student. So to even begin ones studies you must know both the original sources in the native language and the ability of the translator. How is one to do this? If you are lucky enough to be able to speak to someone who has already gone through this before you, it will solve many of these problems. But you must have faith and trust in such a person. This person can be your guide and teacher. Even with such help and instruction you will have to make the final decision of how you approach your studies by yourself. When you have assembled your sources and checked their validity, as best you can, then the learning process can begin. How does this apply to the study of sword fittings and its related areas? Naturally the first sources you will find are translations. Try to know the ability and accuracy of the translator. Then you must have some idea of the value of the original work. Having faith in both of these will allow you to absorb your first bits of information.
I think it would help you, if I told you about what I have said, as applied to my studies during the last fifty years. In the late 1940's, when I began my studies, after my initial interest budded, I had few sources for any available information. The books I bought were in both Japanese and English. The books in Japanese were useful only for the illustrations, at first. For the books in English, I had to take their information on faith. I unfortunately had no one to guide me in the first ten years of my studies. I would say that what available knowledge I absorbed in those ten years, a student today could learn in one year. Luckily I had friends who were also at the same stage I was, and we all floundered around together. Finally we found John Yumoto, and he became that guide and mentor we needed so desperately. At this stage I absorbed new information at an alarming rate. I had no idea if this new knowledge was correct or even relevant, but I gobbled it to the last grain. To cut to the chase. I spent the next thirty years absorbing all the available knowledge I could lay my hands on in any language, and I was aided through the tutoring of both John Yumoto and Dr. Torigoye. One day, about ten years ago, I realized that with all this vast amount of available knowledge I knew very little about my subject. And what was even more important. How much of this information was accurate? I went to John Yumoto with this problem and he said: "Why don't we both start all over again together?" Unfortunately John died shortly after we began this reconfirmation of our available sources. I soon found on my own that I had to start again from scratch. Up to that time my main fount of knowledge had naturally been the translation I had done of the TSUBA GEIJUTSU KO (1960). In the main it was still accurate as far as the basic information was concerned, as based in the earlier writings of Akiyama Kyusaku (ca. 1900). But, the model for conveying this information was couched in the KANTEI method, which I felt was no longer useful in the study of sword fittings. I had never discussed this with either John or Dr. T., so I was on my own now.
First I needed to see what other basic sources for my knowledge needed reexamination. As I reviewed the most basic principle foundations of the information I had spent almost fifty years learning, I came up wanting. I wanted to know the real truth of what I had spent so many years, and so much time and effort, absorbing. Had I wasted all these years? To my shock and consternation I found the answer to be both no, and yes. No, I had not totally wasted my time and effort, but the yes part was very qualified, at best. What had all this soul searching and doubting told me? Do not absorb your sources without question. As anyone in the scientific community will tell you; check your sources, and then check them again! This was what I had to do at this stage of my studies. Since the most useful and accurate basic source of all our information on sword fittings is Akiyama Kyusaku, I thought I should go back and reread the translation that Joly had made of the early years of his articles. This led me to try to interpret his writings in light of the knowledge I had absorbed over my years of study. Akiyama, for the most part, is still the foundation for all we know in the basic study of sword fittings. In fact some of his ideas that were abandoned by later authorities, including Dr. Torigoye, need to be reintroduced into the current study of fittings. This I have been trying to do with my annotations to his writings. When all this transcribing and annotating of Akiyama is finished we will have a manuscript of about 600 pages. You may ask why I felt it was needed to do this when I could have published the translation of the TSUBA GEIJUTSU KO? This book was written almost forty years ago. Dr. Torigoye was steeped in the knowledge of Akiyama. This same knowledge that I am now annotating, so it was either to rewrite Torigoye, or go to the true source, Akiyama. I chose the latter. I think Torigoye should be left to the beginning student as a good premier organ to find the available knowledge. When the student has mastered the available knowledge, and realized that this is only the beginning, then the true student begins his studies. If that is done in isolation it makes such studies very difficult. At least though the student recognizes that questions need asking.
In my case these many questions, for the most part, came flooding in after both Dr. Torigoye and John Yumoto had died. My last hope at that time was Sasano Masayuki, but we lost him soon afterward. Where was I to turn for knowledge that I respected? Nowhere, as it has turned out! So here I am beyond the available knowledge, but with no one to talk to or confide in. Some of the vast amount of information that I need could be obtained through scholars of the day who have devoted themselves to other areas of Japanese art and history, but I have found most of these closeted pedagogues, in high academic circles, would rather stay in their ivory towers and talk only to each other. Thus I have had to disregard such idiot savants as a means to my ends. This has led me back to the students in Japan. Unfortunately, the students in Japan today do not approach the study of fittings even remotely in the same manner that I do. They will discuss a question, amongst themselves, until they have a consensus answer. Not because it is right or wrong but because the majority agree with it. This is ridiculous! I have asked students in this situation why they do it. The answer is that since they all partake of the discussion then they should all partake of the answer. It may work for them. It is ludicrous and infantile to me. Even Akiyama would put a question in print with the hope that everyone or anyone would give an answer. I must admit that most of the time he got no reply at all. But in his time there were very few students or scholars to reply. Today there are hundreds of collectors, students, and I hope some scholars, the world over, who should both ask questions and give answers to others, but they do not. Despite this vast gloom I have been picturing, there is hope. Because of the large number of new people interested in this field some have come forward as both serious students and inquisitors, and show the ability to go beyond the available knowledge. They must be encouraged, for without them this field of study will stay in the same stereotypical academic inertia it has faced for the last hundred years. We are all too aware that the students, past and present, have very certainly had enough of that!
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