My Disassociation From the Koryū Shugen Honshū

For more than a year, I've been working with Koshikidake Shokai, the Soke of the Koryū Shugen Honshū order of shugendō. I first met Koshikidake-san in mid-2013, and after a little discussion, I agreed to take on a couple of efforts to assist in expanding the group's outreach beyond Japan: developing and putting up an English-language web site and ghost-writing a proposal for a book on shugendō to submit to American publishers. I put in many, many hours of work — all on a volunteer basis — to accomplish these goals.

The "official" web site went up in the first two weeks of February 2014. I had proposed to Koshikidake-san that the name "Koryū Shugendō" be used in referring to the group, for the sake of greater familiarity. Koshikidake-san provided pictures and some very rough notes on the material he wished to have posted. I registered the domains "koryu-shugen.org" and "koryu-shugen.us", I did all of the design, writing, theming, etc. I also provided the hosting at no cost to the group.

All of the content was online, with the exception of information about the 2014 Mountain Training, by 10 February. A few months later, Koshikidake-san constituted a Board to oversee the order's outreach efforts, consisting of himself, Stephen Ip (a shugendō priest in Toronto, and the highest-ranking member of the order outside of Japan), myself, and Stephen Hayes, an American teacher of "ninjutsu". Mr. Hayes was given the entirely honorary title of "Daisendatsu" in the order, which did not authorize him to either teach or ordain in the Koryū Shugen Honshū tradition.

I had some trepidations about Mr. Hayes' involvement, largely based on the level of skepticism picked up during my time in Japan over the notion of "ninjas", but I felt this was Koshikidake-san's decision to make. Things proceeded fairly smoothly for several months. Koshikidake-san wanted very badly to set up an online store to sell order-related materials and "spiritual implements" — jūzū, tokko, shakujō, etc. — and while I was also interested, the cost of setting up such a shop, requiring things like SSL certificates, payment gateways, etc., were prohibitive for me to be paying out of my own pocket.

While this discussion was going on, I became aware of a couple of things:

  • Mr. Hayes created — without either consulting or informing the other Board members — a "Koryu Shugendo USA" group on Facebook. I was a little dismayed to discover this, and more dismayed when it became apparent that the group was entirely about Mr. Hayes himself — portraying himself as an authorized teacher of shugendō — and his own commercial web site. There was no mention of the official web site to be found.
  • Further, in response to questions from members of this Facebook group as to what prospective shugenja should be studying, Mr. Hayes recommended several of his own books, which had apparently been "repurposed" to appear to be official materials of the Koryū Shugen Honshū.

    One book I found particularly problematical was Action Meditation, which was now described as including "all the self-discovery exercises required to qualify for first 2 initiations in the Kasumi-An branch of Koryu Shugendo spiritual tradition" — there is no "Kasumi-an branch of the Koryu Shugendo spiritual tradition", nor is Mr. Hayes authorized to initiate anyone to be anything as far as the Koryū Shugen Honshū is concerned.

    Additionally, Mr. Hayes' slim volume, the Gyoja Recitation Handbook, claims to be "the practices used in An-shu's" — i.e. Mr. Hayes' — "monthly full moon meditation sessions and outdoor path-walking yamabushi training days, and are explored in preparation for initiation into the formal ranks of Koryu Shugendo as taught by Kasumi-An To-Shin Do". Again, Mr. Hayes is both unqualified and unauthorized to conduct "yamabushi training days", and there are no "formal ranks of Koryu Shugendo as taught by Kasumi-An To-Shin Do", other than in, perhaps, Mr. Hayes' imagination.

I immediately brought these matters up with Koshikidake-san and Stephen Ip, as I felt that Mr. Hayes had abrogated the trust which the order had extended to him with these actions. I pointed out that Mr. Hayes was undermining my own efforts here. Both Koshikidake-san and Stephen Ip agreed with me, but Koshikidake-san felt that Mr. Hayes could be a great help in promoting the Koryū Shugen Honshū order, and said that he would speak to him in October when Mr. Hayes was to travel to Japan for some actual training. He asked that I be patient in the meantime for the sake of the greater effort, and I hesitantly agreed. Both Stephen Ip and I were extremely concerned by these developments, however.

It was only a couple of days later — and this takes up to last week, as I am writing this — that I accidentally discovered something that disturbed me even more. I was typing in a comment relating to the web site on the Board's private Facebook group, and I accidentally typed in the URL as http://koryu-shugendo.org rather than http://koryu-shugen.org. I was amazed to find the preview for the incorrect URL to be a redirect to another of Mr. Hayes' purely commercial web sites, the "Blue Lotus Assembly".

I was outraged at this, as it not only represented an unfair and untrue appropriation of what amounted to a trademark of the order for his own personal profit, it was also tantamount to directly stealing views and search results from the "official" web site, which seemed to be becoming less and less official with every passing day. I confronted Mr. Hayes about this.

He made a number of claims. First, he claimed that he'd come into possession of the domain when his web developer had proactively decided that it would be a good idea to buy up "yamabushi-related domains" so they couldn't be used negatively after the "defection" of a European member of the order, that his web developer has simply "parked" the domain on Mr. Hayes' site for lack of any better place to put it — they were "waiting for the official Koryu Shugen site to come up" — and that it was simply a sort of "homage", an "independent appreciation", and to be expected.

There were several problems with this story, however: the European student who "defected" did so in May, at this year's Mountain Training. Since the official web site had been up since February, there was no "lack of a better place" to direct this domain toward. Nor does this explain Mr. Hayes' complete failure to mention his domain-buying efforts to the other members of the Board.

The most damning problem is the domain itself. A quick inspection of the WHOIS information for that domain reveals that the domain was registered on February 14, 2014, many months before the incidents which Mr. Hayes claimed were the cause of his decision to claim that domain name, and a week after the "official" web site came fully online.

So, Mr. Hayes has lied to me about this, and he's lying to the world about his association with Koryū Shugen Honshū. I put the matter to Koshikidake-san: I would not be associated with this sort of nonsense, and either Mr. Hayes would have to go, or I would. After two days of thought, Koshikidake-san attempted a smoothing-troubled-waters sort of a response which did nothing to address my concerns.

At that point I resigned from the Board and updated the "no longer official" web site. I intend to keep the domains associated with it registered in my name to keep them out of the hands of Mr. Hayes, whom I personally believe to be an unscrupulous conman; at a minimum he's an exceedingly incompetent and stupid sort of a liar.

I expect that in time, he will decide he's learned enough to "teach shugendo" just as he teaches "ninjutsu" — and with as much foundation, I suppose — cut loose the actual Koryū Shugen Honshū order and "go into business for himself" as "Soke" of "the Kasumi-An branch of Koryu Shugendo as taught by Kasumi-An To-Shin Do", and the Koryū Shugen Honshū will find itself competing with its own, dishonest, Board member for students. There may be a need for these domains in the future.

In the meantime, I would very strongly discourage prospective shugenja from undertaking any involvement with Mr. Hayes. If you're interested in instruction, I would recommend that you get into contact with Stephen Ip in Toronto, who runs the "Shugendo Canada" Facebook group, and who is both actually trained, and actually honest.