Foundations in Tradition

Rank Requirement Structure

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Following Tradition

The International Society of Headfounders / Headfamilies, Previously known as the World Headfounders Council (W.H.C.) became fully functional as an organization in1987.

In 1986 there was some debate among several high ranked martial artists as to the historical relevance of this type of organization and exactly how this practice was carried out in feudal times.

To solve these questions, prior to the opening of the WHC, Inc. extensive research was done as to how the Founder or legitimacy of a martial art was recognized in Japan over the centuries, but most importantly, prior to the Meiji (1867-87) era.

The ISHH now attempts to follow these traditional protocols set in pre-Meiji Japan. During the high point of the Samurai era there were literally thousands of “Ryu” or different schools of martial arts, but how to recognize a system as legitimate was based on strict protocol that had gone unchanged for centuries.


Inheritor Traditions

A martial arts system was recognized when the “Gunshi” (inheritor) of an existing traditional system with a long lineage, endorsed a new branch or division under his umbrella martial arts. That is to say, the Shogun would chose a headfamily to oversee hundreds of clans under him. Each clan would have the responsibility of perfecting or developing a portion of the total martial art system headed by the headfamily.

As an example: The Minamoto and Aizu Shogunate appointed a Gunshi to oversee the totl martial arts system for defending the Shogun’s property or interests. This total martial art would have hundreds of divisions, armed and unarmed, strategy, meteorology, advisors etc. who were from clans that specialized in those areas of warfare. These sub arts became many of todays martial arts.


Head Founder or Head Family

The Gunshi would then present the founder (head of clan) of the specialized system with credentials recognizing him as what is known as a “Shodai” or “Shodai-Soke”. The term Shodai means first generation. Soke can mean either head-fouder or head of family.

In cases where the Shodai-Soke chose to use the prefered single term Soke, then the term Gunshi (master of the small and large arts) was used to distinguish the headfamily from the headfounders under them. The ISHH (WHC) has used the single title Soke for the Shodai from it’s very beginning. The term O-Soke or Dai-Soke has not been used to distinguish the Headfamily from the Headfounders because Dr Andrew Tamper is a Si-Gung (Chinese name for Headfamily), and Dr Williams was not sponsoring the Shodai in the old WHC, so there was no confusion.

“Seeing much, suffering much, and studying much are the three pillars of learning.”

Small and Large Arts

Since Gunshi translates into master of the small and large arts, in other words the person who oversees the total fighting system. The commander in chief who oversees every branch and division of the military, and as in military forces, the Gunshi is the one who appoints the generals, admirals etc. who coordinates these branches or divisions.

The term Gunshi, when used alone, usually refers to the head of the total martial arts system. This Gunshi is the only one with the authority to grant the title of Shodai to anyone who agrees to develop a division of that parent art. There can onluy be one Shodai-Soke in each sub-division of the total martial art. The next generation becomes the Nidai (or Nidai-Soke) then a Sandai, Chidai etc.

The reason it was done this waywas because you eeded a Shogun (who would be like a President or Prime Minister) to appoint a Gunshi. Since each Shogun was like the leader, the Gunshi was his military commander who oversaw military divisions exactly like any modern military operates today. You have divisions of the military: the army, air force marines etc. each having an appointed general/admiral to manage develop and train the personnel. that is why we call them the Martial Arts.

Each Shodai-Soke was in complete control of the art he founded. He was not hindered in how it was operated, however, his loyalty was always to the Gunshi, and he kept the Gunshi informed of everything he did within the art: changes, modifications, structure, grading etc.). That is why he could freely send his students to other Shodai to study, knowing it would be disrespectful for that Shodai to steal his students and risk losing his sponsorship from the Gunshi.

In a legitimate Martial art you need a traditional Gunshiwith traceable lineage going back to pre-meijii era martial arts to be able to appoint new founders the title of Shodai-Soke. There are very few actual Japanese Headfailies outside of ASia today.

Since Dr. Tamper / Dr. Willian VanCamp is following traditional protocol, it holds that each stipulation used for japanese headfounder certification will be followed for Chinese systems. Since there is now a branch of the art of Yee Chong Mu gow that specializes in Japanese Budo, there can be Shodai-Soke sponsorship issued from the Chinese hreadfamilyas well. Gunshi Williams in turn, could sponsor Daiyong Sigung in Chinese systems, since his system has Chinese influence as well, although there is little possibility he would chose to do that.

Since the Chinese systems are sponsored by Waizufu / Siju Dr. William VanCamp, they will use comparable Chinese titles such as Daiyong-Sigung (headfounder of a branch within Dr. VanCamp’s system) and Xiadai-Sigung (modern system).

Modern Systems

To add to the confusion, we have had countless people break away from a traditional system and start a hybrid martial art. They usually use the term “Soke” or “Siju” award themselves high rank and end up sponsoring others as grandmasters or headfounders.

These people are no longer a part of a traditional system. They often fool their students into thinking they have the right to lay claim to the traditional system. A prime examle is Uyeshiba founder of Aikido. Uyeshiba was a student of  Sogaku Takeda, one of the tree people to inherit parts of the Daito-Ryu system (Yamate-Ryu) from the Gunshi Tanomo Saigo.

Sogaku Takeda was a Gunshi because he had been appointed by a traditional Gunshito oversee a portion of a traditional pre-meijii era Samurai art. Upon his death he passed that system to his son. Tokimune Takeda became the legitimate Gunshi of Daitu-Ryu or Yamate-Ryu.

Uyeshiba was a senior student of Sogaku Takeda – he did not inherit the art or any part of it – he simply broke away to create a modified version of the art. He first called his iteration Uyeshiba-Ryu then Aikido. He was a Kindai-Soke, a modern day headfounder. His system was not a Youshiki Ryu (western style), it was a Kindai Nippon-Ryu (modern day Japanese style). In effect, Uyeshiba was the very same as anyone today who creates a modern martial arts systemwhich gains acceptance among the martial arts community.

The old WHC did not sponsor anyone to head a branch of the headfamilies system. Instead, all those who were sponsored as a headfounder were Youshiki Soke or Xiadai-Sigung (western style headfounder). In our investigations, we did not find anyone who was sponsored as Shodai Soke or Daiyong-Sigung outside Asia.


In the last several years it has become commonplace for Youshiki Soke to recognize other martial artists as Youshiki Soke as well. This is not a valid method based on what was standard practice in Japan in pre-meijii times.

Some other organizations have formed boards or commitees of martial artists who are not certified or recognized Youshiki Soke or Shodai Soke to recognized founders of new systems. This is surely not a valid method of recognition for a new founder of a system.

The term Shodai was used in error by these founders of modern western styles who should have used the term Youshiki Soke or Xiadai-Sigung. This has a lot to do with the gross misunderstanding about the sponsorship process.

A misunderstanding as to what a Founder is may be responsible for this practice. Although the first generation founder of a new style or system of martial arts is a very respectable position, this persons new school or system cannot be considered fully developed and accepted until the founder passes away. If the new system survives the passing of its Founder, it is considered a fully established system by the overseeing Gunshi.

Outside of Asia today, all the so-called Soke boards are headed by a true Youshiki-Soke or just other black belts. Some of these people might be extremely accomplished masters in their own right. Never the less, they are unqualified to offer first generation foundership to anyone.

In the mid 1970’s a legitimate Gunshi by the name of Albert Church, decided to sponsor several Americans as new headfounders. He failed to tell them that they were now his students, or actually that they werer given permission to develop a sub division of his traditional style. Unfortunately, they assumed they were now free to sponsor others themselves, and that they did not need to be part of the Gunshi’s system after he sponsored them.

These Shodai went on to sponsor dozens of others like them, who in turn sponsored even more, and a trednd was started that continues today. Much of it is based on unfounded beliefs that once a headfamily recognizes you, you are on his level, and can go out to recognize others.

The fact is that the practice of one Youshiki or Shodai recognizing someone else as the Founder of his system is not a valid method of recognition under any condition. The only correct way of recognizing a new system is by sponsorship by an existing Gunshi / Waizufu Headfamily or board made up of one or more such Gunshi / Waizufu with direct lineage going back to the pre-meijii era of Japanese history.

For the WHC to be legitimate, it needed one or more headfamilies to sponsor it. The person who created the original WHC, Dr. John J. Williams, who was a legitimate Gunshi with traceable pre-meijii japanese  lineage going back to 850AD, sought out Dr. Andrew Tamper, a Chinese martial arts Headfamily, recognized by the Chinese government, to act as it’;s official sponsor for all new Youshiki Soke / Xiadai-Sigung who would be registered or sponsored by the WHC. Today ISHH still has Dr. Andrew Tamper, throughhis successor Waizufu Sijo Dr. William VanCamp as one of it’s official sponsoring headfamilies.

Although Dr. John Williams could have sponsored all the Shodai Soke / Daiyong Sigung and Youshiki Soke / Xiadai-Sigung in the original WHC himself, being he is a legitimate head of a traditional headfamily, it was decided that it would be more creditable and respectful to allow Dr. Andrew Tamper to assume that position due to his seniority (age and experience). Dr. Williams decided that he would act as the credentials and background investigator for new Youshiki-Soke / Xiadai-Sigung candidates.

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