For someone who has not already studied another Koryu, let’s start there, with the Koryu itself. Because SMR is a Koryu Bujutsu, it came into being when the Samurai ruled a feudal society in Japan, before the Meiji Restoration in 1868. In the case of SMR, it was developed, tested, and refined by the Military Police of the Kuroda-han, in Fukuoka, Kyushu, from about 1605 to 1868 (Edo period). What this also says is that a ‘ryu’ (school) was typically a military association with a specific domain/han (ie Kuroda-han). And it existed to support ‘the group’. Not individuals.
Teaching of this type of martial art is very one-on-one, direct from teacher to student (shihan/deshi). The lineage of transmission of SMR is clear, from the beginning times to present. The strict Japanese feudal society shaped many of the behaviors and protocols of formality (reishiki) found in training, then and now. The training curriculum of SMR is comprehensive and consistent, in its use of the sword, staff, and other weapons. SMR is amazingly integrated in the way the different groups of Kata seek to teach/guide a student in both physical and mental dimensions. The bedrock of training is through Kata (there is more about ‘Kata’ in this FAQ).
With the Koryu, there is a sense of being part of a long existing martial tradition, and striving to come to know yourself, your opponent, and these weapons by following in the footsteps of those teachers who came before us. This may sound rigid to some, but in reality there is much flexibility in the process. There is a spiritual component, not in a religious sense, but in the shared goals of the teachers and students working together to understand this martial art, and support each other in that journey. Each person is different in body/mind/spirit. Each person works within that existing path as a guide for their own development.
With this start, a comparison to SMR can be further divided into two areas, with your experience in a martial art that is predominately:
1. A partnered practice, like: Judo, Aikido, Kendo. While some of the partnered-focused training in SMR will be familiar to you, where SMR differs is in the overall focus of training. There is really no ‘sporting feel’ to the training, at all. The goals are to improve yourself with the weapons you are using, doing this always with a combative mindset of ‘shinken shobu’. ‘live/die’, not ‘win/lose’.
2. A solo practice, like: Iaido, Karate-do, Kyudo. SMR is 99.9% partnered training. You constantly have an external force, your training-partner/opponent, pressing, challenging, stressing you. This provides a very dynamic learning process. If you have not participated in this type of training it can be challenging AND very eye-opening. The training between opponents is designed to ‘lift up’ each person. Not ‘beat down’.