It is difficult to try to write about a martial art such as this one, for which there seems to be some predetermined concepts which tend to pigeon-hole it, depending on the reader's approach towards it.
It could be argued that there are at least three ways of categorising the art of NINJUTSU:
The first one is that of the layman or woman which identifies it, of course, with the image perceived through all sorts of films, which ranges from anything like mutant turtles to black clad assassins who kill people by throwing metal stars and disappear behind a smoke curtain. This childish-magical image is altered according to the age, education and imagination of the individual.
A second point of view about NINJUTSU would be that of other martial artists who have not had any direct contact with it. The distrust they show towards it, is perhaps motivated by their lack of contact with the TRADITIONAL BUDO ( martial arts which have not yet become competitive sports), rather than a real mistrust of the authenticity of NINJUTSU.
This, for instance, does not occur in Japan, the birthplace of most martial arts, where nowadays, as when they first started, the tolerance and respect among the different martial arts is one of the traits of the traditional spirit of that country. On the other hand, the most popular martial arts in the western world tend to look down on minority ones, which also have less media coverage, and which correspond to the so called "internal arts", which seek the internal development of the individual.
NINJUTSU was first introduced in our country over fifteen years ago, and fortunately nowadays it has its place among the wide range of martial arts taught in both modern gyms and traditional dojos.
There is at least another way of looking at NINJUTSU and that would be the way people who practise it regularly see it; not only as a way of keeping fit, but as a way of improving themselves as individuals and living in harmony with themselves.
In our approach to this martial art, we will develop certain interesting aspects such as:
*the origin of NINJUTSU and its place in the history of Japan.
*the spiritual side of NINJUTSU.
*its content as a martial art
*the TRADITIONAL SCHOOLS to date.
*and the relationship of this martial art with the KATANA, as a symbol of self development.
Although there are several NINJUTSU schools currently in Japan, we will refer to the one which has more relevance on an international level: the BUJINKAN DOJO-NINJUTSU BUDO TAIJUTSU.
The NINJUTSU started to take its current shape at the same time as Japan became politically stable after its unification. This took centuries to come about and was achieved at the expense of bitter confrontations. During all this period the NINJAS played a decisive role in battles, strategies and intrigues.
More often than not, the actions carried out by the ninja clans, did not find their way into the historic chronicles of the time, however we must not forget that history is written by the victors, and there does not seem to be a place for less conventional tactics, considered less honourable because it was unconventional.
In Japan you can find some references to the art of NINJUTSU in the annals of the HEIAN PERIOD (794-1192), during which the FUJIWARA regents lost the control of the court to the TAIRA, and the latter were overthrown by the MINAMOTO.
However it is between the XII and XIII centuries, corresponding to the KAMAKURA period (1192-1338), when NINJUTSU is really incorporated to the historical changes in Japan.
It is during the feudal period and under a militarist government, known as the BAKUFU, when the famous cast of the SAMURAIS or BUSHI flourishes, in this period of fights to attain power, rivalries and vengeance the martial arts rapidly develop, the SHOGUNS after being defeated by ninja clans which rebelled against the establishment, decide to incorporate their techniques and took into their service some of their former enemies.
The ninja families in the IGA, KOGA, and NEGORO regions (between KYOTO and NAGOYA), formed about 73 different schools, were employed by feudal lords due to their knowledge of strategy, infiltration and combat proficiency. These specialist warriors ,experts in guerrilla war, succeeded in combining their methods with those used by the samurai, and created an extremely effective combat system.
During the MUROMACHI period (1338-1573) and particularly in 1542, the Portuguese and Spanish merchants introduced fire arms as weapons of war. Ninjutsu adapts these new weapons, developing its own systems such as mines, grenades, fire bombs and small mortars.
During this period, the confrontation between the war lord TAKEDA SHINGEN and his adversary UESUGI KENSHIN was particularly famous. It is known that the former used ninja clans in the confrontation, which contributed to his victories, some of them consolidated on new war methods, such as new signalling methods, using flags and fire (NOROSHI JUTSU), which would become a new BUGEI, adopted by the warrior cast in Japan.
Although TAKEDA SHINGEN died first, UESUGI KENSHIN died under special circumstances; he died from a hemorrhage. This circumstance gave rise to all sorts of legends, in which a ninja from an enemy clan infiltrated KENSHIN´S castle, and managed to stay hidden for hours in the latrines, waiting for the lord of the castle to come and then stabbed him with a spear. This ninja agent was never found, as he spent hours hidden in the latrines breathing through a bamboo stem before escaping.
During the AZUCHI-MOMOYAMA period (1573-1603) the unification of Japan took place thanks to ODA NOBUNAGA and his son TOYOTOMI HIDEYOSHI. They had ninjas in their ranks and this enabled them to attain the necessary victories for NOBUNAGA to consolidate his power. Once and again, the infiltration tactics, information networks and contra-espionage gave him an edge at the crucial moment in battle.
The ninja were so efficient that NOBUNAGA himself feared a rebellion on the part of the ninja clans. He had suffered several attempts on his life and fear forced him to make a decision which would be sadly remembered in the ninja tradition. On November 3, 1581 he invaded the IGA province with 46,000 men and surrounded 4,000 ninja who had established in the surroundings of HAKUO castle, in the city of IGA-UENO.
The battle lasted for nearly a week, until the ninja gave in. Most of them were killed, others were tortured and boiled alive, a few managed to escape, among them the famous SANDAYU MOMOCHI, disguised as a settler. Far from eradicating the ninja problem, what NOBUNAGA achieved was to spread it all over the country, since most of the survivors joined the ranks of many DAIMYO, who required their services.
NOBUNAGA perished only a year later, at the hands of one of his rivals called MITSUDE AKEUCHI, who looking forward to ending NOBUNAGA´S great power, wanted to destroy his whole army in front of which there was a young general: TOKUGAWA IEYASU. This general, showed more understanding than his shogun and welcomed the help of the ninjas from IGA, and managed to escape the attack thanks to another famous name in Ninjutsu: HANZO HATTORI. Once TOKUGAWA was proclaimed shogun in 1603, he recognised the services rendered by the ninjas, and appointed HATTORI chief of his personal guard.
It is during this same EDO period (1603-1868) when we come across new references to the actions of the IGA ninjas. This time surrounding the Christian revolt in NAGASAKI, where they supported the TOKUGAWA clan and manage to gain access to the rebel fortresses, favouring the victory of the shogun.
During the period after the TOKUGAWA shogunate, his own successors more concerned with the reshaping of Japan under a strong authority, the ninja institution was considered a source of unrest and was declared illegal, once again concealing everything related to this art and forcing it to go underground. From then on the former ideological and political reasons which started the art of NINJUTSU became mainly economic ones, forcing the ninja to render their services to merchants, or private companies outside the law, and therefore persecuted by the government. Then came the MEIJY period (1868-1912), the Age of Enlightenment, during which a modern wind swept over Japan. This definitive opening of Japan to the western world, led to the disappearance of many of the traditional martial arts known as BUDO.
Nevertheless, the fact that traditional martial arts such as NINJUTSU have been preserved, supports the theory that these martial experts have been used during war conflicts, particularly during the war against China in 1894, Russia in 1904, or in more recent conflicts such as in 1931 in Manchuria, and the Second World War in 1941.
Nowadays Japan is a modern country but also very traditional, where everything related to its past is highly valued, particularly when foreigners take a great interest in it.
The book "Comments on NIN JUTSU" is published in 1921, which together with other books on the same subject were favourably received, although not on a practical level.
However it helped towards creating an interest for something which was apparently extinct. Some NINJUTSU schools, are still represented by certain masters who would rather keep them in the dark, masters such as: HEISHICHIRO OKUSE, NORIHIRO KAKUYUSAI, FUMIO NAWA and the most popular one in terms of his international projection : MASAAKI HATSUMI, who is keeping a several century long tradition alive.
The future of NIN JUTSU seems assured, on the basis of the development of NIN JUTSU on an international level achieved by MASAAKI HATSUMI through the setting up of his dojo, called: BUJINKAN ( the temple of the divine warrior ), in any case the horizon of NIN JUTSU would have to be found in the writings of one of the last NINJA : TAKAMATSU SENSEI, who said:
" When opening his eyes and spirit, the ninja can follow the subtle changes of the seasons and the heavenly laws, only changing what it needs to be changed, forever adapting, in such a manner that eventually nothing can take him aback".
So far this is what history tells us about NIN JUTSU, but, what is its origin, its motivations and the spirit which has kept it alive for centuries?
Firstly let us try to understand this martial art through the Japanese ideogram which represents it. The Kanji character: NIN ( which can also be read as SHINOBI) could be translated as: "resistance, patience, tenacity or endurance", but it can also be interpreted as: "secretive, hidden, furtive". If we break its ideogram down into its elements, we will find on the one hand, a "sword", and on the other hand a "heart".
By means of this little analysis, we may find the true nature of NIN JUTSU, the resistance, tenacity and endurance necessary for surviving, not only on a material level, but also on a spiritual one, that is, our will. On the other hand there is the alchemy between the sword, as a symbol of struggle, and the heart as a symbol of spirituality. In other words the control exercised by our soul over our body .
All this leads to two very interesting concepts which bear direct relation upon the origins and further development of NINJUTSU. Firstly: "the need to survive" and secondly: "the necessity to improve their physical and spiritual abilities". As it derives from this short anthropological study, the raison d´etre of this martial art has run along these lines.
There are a lot of theories about the origin of NINJUTSU. These cannot be verified, and in most cases they rely on the archives or the oral tradition of the different schools or RYU, as they are known in Japan. We can even presume that the original fighting techniques, rudimentary and poorly codified, gave rise gradually to what would finally be called NIN JUTSU as such.
It seems plausible that the first individuals who practised the "art of the invisibility " came from China, as many other aspects of the Japanese culture, this theory is re-enforced by the fact that a similar martial art ,called "SHIN-BOP", which came from China, has been found in Korea, whose adepts, the counterparts of the ninja, received the name of "SULSA". This influence, however, would have been greater in Japan, a country which has been a melting pot of technical and spiritual currents from India, Tibet, China and the whole of southern Asia.
On the other hand, the names of Taoist Sages such as: GAMON, GARYU, and Chinese generals such as: CHO GYOKKO, IKAI, CHO BUSHO... appear in so many documents of the Japanese Ninja tradition, that their influence seems evident.
Knowledge about the nature of man, religious and philosophical studies, combat and survival techniques, were wisely synthesised, and gave birth to one of the most effective martial arts known to man, and furthermore: a way of life. Therefore, it is not unusual to find the influence of Chinese strategist in Japan. A well known example is the famous SUN TZU, author of "the art of war", who lived in the VI century BC, and whose teachings was later completed by: SE-MA, in the IV century, and by OU-TZU, in the III century. Here one finds tips on how to harass, confuse or infiltrate the enemy, all these concepts are compiled and optimised in the famous Ninja "GOTOMPO" techniques.
The first reference to the "Shinobi" ideogram, appears during the reign of Prince SHOTOKU (593-622), a symbol of the Chinese culture and defender of the introduction of Buddhism in Japan, the struggles which took place for this reason, placed the monarch in a delicate position, and in many cases he was helped by OMOTO-NO-SAJIN, the famous strategist, to whom he gratefully awarded the title of "shinobi" .As we have mentioned before this ideogram can also be read as: "nin". However, the real origin of NIN JUTSU as a social movement and combat art, has always been linked at least to two main sources:
· On the one hand to the famous YAMABUSHI, warrior-monks who lived in the mountains, and who had esoteric knowledge and practised combat systems inspired by mythological beings called TENGU.
· On the other hand to the also well known RONIN, samurais without a lord, wanderers, or in exile, which went to live in the countryside and which in the long run became farmers.
Both of them were persecuted by the central power, the former for religious reasons, and the latter for political and economic ones. Anyhow, separately or as an alternative culture born out of the need to survive, they rebelled against the establishment of the higher casts: SAMURAI, DAIMYO AND SHOGUN, creating some of the most effective combat systems known to man, which once they were compiled and systematised became known as NIN JUTSU.
It was in the IGA and KOGA regions, where most of these "knights errant" and fugitives settled down, sometimes whole families or clans belonged to this group. Living in close contact with nature, and out of necessity, a symbiosis between the monks (YAMABUSHI), the wizard or sorcerers (UBASOKU, SENNIN) and the famous warriors RONIN, took place.
They all exchanged experience and knowledge, practising their religious ideas in close contact with nature. Slowly, a new way of life started to emerge in this mountainous region, far from the red tape of the court and its political intrigues. This gave rise to hostility from the central power, which was jealous of that small state, which had declared a particular form of independence, more religious than political. All through the centuries these people were under attack, but they were never evicted from those natural surroundings with which they were completely identified.
All this was conducive to the reinforcing of the communities in the form of clans, whose ninjutsu defined the way of life of "free men", since alliances still did not exist , economic or political pacts which turned them into mercenaries. This is the image, which in our opinion, must prevail as the real origin of the ninja, any diversion from it will distort the real values of this martial art.
THE SPIRITUAL ROOTS OF NINJUTSU
The spiritual legacy of the Japanese Ninja came about as a result of the religious forces at hand in feudal Japan, SHINTO the worshipping of sacred places and ancestors; the Buddhists teachings which focused on inner awareness and the Taoists concepts which came from China exerted a great influence on what became known as: "SEISHIN TEKI KYOHO", that is to say: the spiritual refinement of the warrior.
Writing about this art, disregarding the spiritual and religious influences which helped to shape it, would mean ignoring the basis on which the "SHINOBI" phenomenon was built on, nevertheless, these doctrines were developed on a practical basis, for which the synthesising ability of their followers played an important part. Consequently, many rites of the so called official doctrines were overlooked owing to their complexity.
First of all, as it seems obvious that it was SHINTO, the native religion of Japan, the one that walked side by side with NINJUTSU along the centuries. "SHINTO" could be translated as the way of the gods (called KAMI), and it would be the way in which the visible and divine forces of nature, which affect human beings, are expressed and experienced.
SHINTO is the assertion of life; it is represented by a number of rituals, which attempt to put man in contact with a certain deity. The SHINTO ceremonies depicted in the "NIHON SHOKI" (chronicles of Japan) VIII century, already existed in the year 700, however this religion does not have any kind of holy scriptures attached to its cult.
The worshipping of the : "UJI GAMI" (the guardian deities of each ninja clan) were of great importance to the inhabitants of the IGA and KOGA regions.
Secondly, we come across the Taoist doctrines of "LAO-TSE", which, as a philosophy, influenced the spiritual content of Ninjutsu. These two polarities, which rather than being opposed, complemented each other, gave the ninja a new perspective, whereby Man and Deity blend with nature.
Knowledge is attained through direct experience, based on the subjective and profound perception of everyday events. Through this process the YIN-YANG (IN and YO, in Japanese) concepts are transcended, thereby gaining the necessary objectivity to be able to contemplate the natural phenomena as a single cosmic process.
An essential concept in Ninjutsu lore is that of the "TEN-CHI-JIN", in which the role of man (JIN) is manifested as a catalyst between the heavenly (TEN) and earthly (CHI) forces.
We can still find a third basic element which makes up the spiritual foundation of the ninja: Buddhism. The teachings of the Buddha SHAKYAMUNI encouraged people to become aware of their thoughts and actions on their way to spiritual growth. It was the most developed branches of esoteric Buddhism, "SHINGON and TENDAI", which influenced Nin Jutsu advanced techniques or "NIMPO MIKKYO". Practices such as the so called: "SAN MITSU", make up the basis for the well known: ninja "KUJI KIRI". The focusing of one´s intention as a means to attain different levels of awareness, is divided up into three stages:
1 MUDRA: Energy channelling hand posturing.
2 MANTRA: Charged words of power(sounds).
3 MANDALA: Symbolic representations for the directing of concentration.
These practices gradually develop skills such as: premonition, telepathy, telekinesis..., although they are not a goal in themselves, they constitute an intermediate stage on the way to spiritual awareness.
There is still another source of spiritual influence, as a logical synthesis of the others, which is: the "SHUGENDO". This doctrine is a Chamanic cult to the powers of nature. It was founded by an ascetic monk: NO-GYOJA in the year 600 A.D This practice consists of an experimental and individual process of integration with the forces of nature, which will enable the student to master them.
During these exercises, the student tries to overcome the natural elements, eventually identifying himself with them.. Examples of these exercises are: walking barefooted over fire, meditating under icy water waterfalls and such like exercises.
SHUGENDO has close ties with a ninjutsu practise called: "GOTOMPO" or the system to assimilate the five laws in nature, that is: the five elements: earth, water, fire, wood and metal.
THE TRADITIONAL SCHOOLS
So far I have tried to describe the historical and spiritual context of Nin jutsu, let us now see how it reached us through the centuries.
In traditional Japan, knowledge has been passed on through generations directly from head to head of ninja families or clans. Nevertheless, the passing on of knowledge and tradition from master to student, was also a common practise in this martial art, this explains why in the lineage of this martial art, you can find heirs with different surnames. The traditional schools (called: "RYU" in Japanese) are named after the name of their founder, some examples of this are:
FUMA RYU of FUMA KOTARO SENSEI
TAKEDA RYU of TAKEDA SHINGEN SENSEI
HATTORI RYU of HANZO HATTORI SENSEI
or the one we are dealing with here: TOGAKURE RYU of DAISUKE TOGAKURE SENSEI
The way this knowledge was passed on could be either through written documents (scrolls: TORIMAKI) or orally (called: KUDEN).
;Anyhow, even in written documents there were information gaps , big enough so that the document would not be easily understood except by the rightful heir to the school, known as the "SOKE".
At times one person would be the sole heir to several schools, as is the case with HATSUMI SENSEI. Usually on these occasions, the different schools would have undergone a parallel development for a long time, consequently their knowledge would be shared, eventually enriching their legacy.
The tradition to which HATSUMI SENSEI is heir, is the basis of what is known today as the <<BUJINKAN DOJO>>, and is made up of nine schools each specialising in certain techniques, as for instance:
GYOKKO RYU : Founded by TOZAWA HAKKUNSAI in the XII century. This school specialises in applying pressure and stabbing strikes against organ and muscle.
KOTTO RYU : founded by SAKAGAMI TARO KUNISHIGE in the XVI century. This school specialises in bone and joint striking and breaking techniques.
TAKAGI YOSHIN RYU : founded by TAKAGI ORIEMON in the XVII century. This school specialises in throwing and, grappling techniques and locks.
SHINDEN FUDO RYU : founded by IZUMO KANJA YOSHITERU in the XII century. This school specialises in fast drawing techniques and foot and hand strikes.
KUKISHINDEN RYU : founded by IZUMO KANJA YOSHITERU in the XII century. This school specialises in combat while wearing an armour (YOROI), it also specialises in stick and chain techniques.
GIKAN RYU : founded by URYU HANGAN GIKAMBO in the XVI century. This school specialises in foot and hand striking techniques to the joints.
TOGAKURE RYU : founded by DAISUKE TOGAKURE in the XII century. This is a typical nin jutsu school, it specialises in combat skills; strategy and tactics. This is the most emblematic school in the Bujinkan Dojo.
KUMOGAKURE RYU : founded by IENAGA in the XVI century. This is also a typical nin jutsu school.
GYOKUSHIN RYU : founded by SASAKI GOEMAN, undated. Apart from nin jutsu skills, it specialises in throwing techniques.
All these schools made up the basis for the training corpus, put forward by HATSUMI SENSEI in his teachings.
In ancient Japan this training corpus formed the so called:
"BUGEI JU HAPPAN" that is to say: " the eighteen systems for the training of the warrior", which included special chapters for each combat skill. We can quickly summarise them as follows:
1.- SEISHIN TEKI KYOYO: the spiritual refinement of the warrior, as described above.
2.- TAIJUTSU: hand to hand combat. These included hand and foot strikes, throws, locks and chokes.
3.- BO JUTSU: the use of the staff as both a defensive and offensive weapon.
4.- SHINOBI GATANA: the method of using the sword (Katana) for cutting as well as fast drawing techniques.
5.- KUSARI DOGU: chain and rope weapons, combined with blades and striking elements.
6.- SHURIKEN: the method for throwing blades and plates of different shapes and designs, these are probably the best known weapons of the ninja.
7.- SO JUTSU: the method of using the combat spear.
8.- NAGINATA JUTSU: the method of using the halberd.
9.- KAYAKU JUTSU: explosive and incendiary devices.
10.- HENSO JUTSU: the art of disguise and impersonation to infiltrate the territory of the enemy.
11.- SHINOBI ARUKI: stealth and walking techniques.
12.- BA JUTSU: horsemanship and combat skills.
13.- SUI REN: stealth movement through water, combat and hiding skills.
14.- BO RYAKU: battle strategy and tactics.
15.- CHO HO: espionage techniques to gather information about the enemy´s intentions.
16.- IN TON: infiltration and escape techniques.
17.- TEN MON: practical knowledge of the so called "sky techniques", that is to say: meteorology, astrology and divination.
18.- CHI MON: or "earth techniques", in other words; geography and terrain.
As you can see, the comprehensive study and assimilation of all these techniques, gave rise to a prototype of warrior, whose preparation and efficiency made it very difficult to match.
Having said that, it would be the right time to talk about the so called "modern martial arts", which have been systematically turned to competitive sports, and to identify where along the line they became paralysed, therefore, losing the bird´s eye view which the traditional martial arts will always provide, not only as combat skills but also as cultural recipients which deserve to be kept alive.
I would not like to end this brief commentary on nin jutsu, without making reference to an element common to every combat system through history: the SWORD.
The KATANA or "NINJA-TO" as it is known in nin jutsu, represents the core around which a large number of martial systems flourished in Japan. The sword is the element which has best embodied the deepest ideals, the most transcendental concerns, and which paradoxically, nowadays, when its usefulness is in question, the value of the sword as a purifying element, capable of cutting the most ambitious illusions of our ego, is still applicable.
Now, as it was then, the material self, is searching for the spirit which seems to be escaping from within, and clings to a different weapon with which it will only severe those ties which prevent it from rising to its true universal perfection.
In Japan and as part of the traditional schools of swordsmanship, there is a technique called: "IAI DO", or fast drawing and cutting techniques, nevertheless, if we look at its kanji ideogram we will be able to understand that it symbolises a very particular kind of fight, against spiritual enemies rather than material ones.
The "I" kanji means "self or soul", whereas "AI" represents "unity or harmony", both together would portray the idea of "the unity of the self", that is to say, the ability to live in the "here and now", through the aforementioned "SANMITSU": the union of word, thought and action in an instant.
This esoteric view of the art of the sword, IAI-DO or IAI-NIMPO, has influenced both eastern and western societies, where the mystique of the search for the "Holy Grail" involved both the Knight and his sword.
Nin-jutsu, which together with other combat systems ,is exemplified by the sword, brings this brief approach on a martial art to an end: NIN JUTSU, which in these technological, senseless violent and fiercely competitive times, is shown to us shrouded in the mist of the past.
Who knows, perhaps the true survival of the human race lies in our ability to bring back the ancient spiritual traditions, such as that of NIN-JUTSU, from oblivion
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Jose Manuel Collado
He has practiced different martial arts such as: JUDO, KARATE, AIKIDO, etc... Ninjutsu-Budo Tai jutsu international instructor (SHIHAN), licensed in Japan.
He has studied nin-jutsu with HATSUMI SENSEI, who is the heir to one of the oldest ninja traditions in Japan. He is a member of the BUJINKAN SHIDOSHI KAI JAPAN,(International Instructor Association).
Third level Instructor by the Spanish Association of Self Defence.
Currently he teaches Ninjutsu-Budo Taijutsu in Valladolid. He also teaches IAIDO and MIKKYO (esoteric Budhism).