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Guest Post: Menjo, Menkyo, Kaiden

This Guest Post is by my friend and mentor Sensei Pat Nakata. Nakata Sensei is the head of the Okinawa Shorin-Ryu Karate Association in Hawaii. He was a student of Chosin (Choshin) Chibana in Shorin-Ryu, and also studied Ryukyu Kobudo under Sensei Fumio Nagaishi. When he was a young man, he studied Wado-Ryu Karate under Sensei Walter Nishioka.

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I heard the term "Menkyo Kaiden" on my first trip to Japan. I asked Ohtsuka Hironori Shihan (Founder of Wado-ryu Karate) about the meaning of "Menkyo Kaiden". Ohtsuka Shihan explained that menkyo was originally a part of the ranking system in some of the old martial arts. Menkyo was also a certification and Menkyosho was a certificate. He further explained kaiden as a title that was given to a student that had learned all the techniques of the master and meant "equal to the master." A Menkyo Kaiden was normally a makimono (scroll) which was the transmission of the secret techniques (usually in drawings) given by the Master to the successor.

When I went to Okinawa, I was still unclear about the meaning of menkyo kaiden. I asked Chibana Sensei (Head of the Okinawa Shorin-ryu Karate-do Association) and he gave me the following explanation:

In Okinawan karate, the term menjo (diploma) was used, rather than menkyo. A "Shihan no Menjo" (expert teacher/master diploma/certificate) was awarded in place of a menkyo kaiden. A Shihan no Menjo superceded ranking in determining seniority. The transmission of techniques was through the kata. A recipient of a Shihan no Menjo would be able to demonstrate the various meaning and the corresponding applications of all the movements (techniques) of all the kata. Till today, I am not 100% clear about the difference (if any) between menjo and menkyo.

Pat Nakata