Soke is a term used to refer to:
a family line in a family, which is constituted by a lineage of eldest sons;
the head of the family line; or
such a family system.
In Japan, Iemoto (the founder or current head master) of traditional arts, such as Noh, or martial arts, are also called Soke. The term Soke originated from Kanze-ryu (a school of Noh), where the Iemoto family was called Soke as compared to the family of Tetsunojo KANZE. Soke is also called Soke-I or Soke-go. Soke is responsible for activities of management, public relations, governance, and disciple education for the school. In some schools, Soke herself or himself teaches disciples directly, and in other schools, Soke leaves the educational activities to high ranking disciples.
Martial arts and Soke
In Japanese martial arts schools, the term Soke was not used before the Meiji period, and there were no Soke-like positions, which govern disciples nationwide. At that time, when a disciple received from his or her master a license to teach, the disciple automatically received a privilege to issue his or her own license. As a result, many new schools and branch-schools were founded nationwide. In and after the Meiji period, many martial arts were organized nationwide, and masters of schools started to directly govern their disciples distributed nationwide. As a result, many martial arts schools introduced the Soke system.
Soke and Chakuke
Although a family line constituted by a lineage of eldest sons was normally called Soke, a family line that was constituted by a lineage of eldest sons but was not allowed to govern the whole family for some reason was called Chakuke. In contrast, a family line that is not constituted by a lineage of eldest sons but is allowed to govern the whole family on behalf of the family line constituted by the eldest sons was called Soke or Honke. Specifically, the family of Echizen-MATSUDAIRA is a typical example. Tadanao MATSUDAIRA, the second lord of Echizen Domain, was exiled because he tried to kill his wife, who married from the Shogun family into the MATSUDAIRA family. After this Echigo-sodo (Echigo scandal), the Soke of the Echizen-MATSUDAIRA family was succeeded by Tadamasa MATSUDAIRA, Tadanao's younger brother, and Mitsunaga, Tadanao's eldest son, was respected as Chakuke but not allowed to govern the whole family.