About Ninjutsu (忍術)
The words „ninja” and „ninjutsu” are imbued with myths and stereotypes by the stories and action movies. Some of these stories were created by the practicioners of this art to disguide the people and have them more admired than an average person. However we don’t consider ourselves as ninjas, we practice their ability: to survive. To survive means to adapt, and do what it takes to live longer. Unlike sports or sport arts in which we have to follow some of their rules.
The meanings of „nin”: patience, peace, awareness, spy, hidden, sneaking in, never giving up and a lot more.
The term of „jutsu” means art. The „ninja” is the person, who does „Ninjutsu”, so the one who makes „nin” as an art.
This art was called „Shinobi-jutsu” in the early years, it means: sneaking, intruder”. Nowadays this is one of the 18 disciplines which the ninja practices. You can read the details below.
We also use the term „Budo Taijutsu”, where „budo” (武道) means: way of fight/war, or an umbrella term for Japanese martial arts, and „Taijutsu” is the art of the body. You can read the details about this also below.
Ninjutsu’s educational syllabus
Sanshin No Kata – Godai – The five elements
Sanshin no kata are five basic techniques found in Ninjutsu. They are used to become familiar with the proper timing, distance, and angling which is so important to the ninja. Sanshin No Kata are the first techniques beginner should learn.
The five Sanshin No Kata techniques are:
* Chi (Earth) no kata
* Sui (Water) no kata
* Ka (Fire) no kata
* Fu (Wind) no kata
* Ku (Void) no kata
The Kihon Happo is a set of eight techniques that demonstrate the various locks, throws, takedown's, and strikes used in Ninjutsu. It is from the Kihon Happo that most of the other techniques and variations found in Ninjutsu are based.
The Kihon Happo consists of
* Ichimonji no Kata
* Hicho no Kata
* Jumonji no Kata
* Omote Gyaku Dori
* Omote Gyaku Tsuki Dori
* Ura Gyaku Dori
* Muso Dori
* Ganseki Nage Dori
The first three techniques, known as the Koshi Sanpo Waza (finger striking three ways) are: Ichimonji no kata, Jumonji no kata and Hicho no kata. These three also happen to be three of the basic kamae (stances), which we use. These kata are basically made up of defensive movements in response to an opponent’s attack and then an offensive counter. The next five techniques are known as the Torite Goho (arm attacking five ways). As the name for this group of techniques implies, these movements usually attack an opponent’s arms and involve taking the attacker to the ground in ways that do not allow him to land safely. The five techniques are: Omote Gyaku dori, Ura Gyaku dori, Ganseki Nage dori, Muso dori and Omote Gyaku Tsuki Dori.
The 18 Disciplines of Ninjutsu - “Ninja Juhakkei”
The 18 disciplines were first stated in the scrolls of Togakure Ryu, describing a complete training of the warrior in various fighting arts and complementary disciplines. Ninja Juhakkei (18 Ninjutsu skills) was often compared with Bugei Juhappan (the 18 samurai fighting art skills). Though some of them are the same, the techniques of each discipline were used with different approaches by both samurai and ninja.
* Seishin teki kyoyo (spiritual refinement)
* Taijutsu (unarmed combat)
* Ninja ken (ninja sword)
* Bojutsu (stick and staff fighting)
* Shurikenjutsu (throwing blades)
* Yarijutsu (spear fighting)
* Naginatajutsu (halberd fighting)
* Kusarigama (chain and sickle weapon)
* Kayakujutsu (fire and explosives)
* Hensojutsu (disguise and impersonation)
* Shinobi iri (stealth and entering methods)
* Bajutsu (horsemanship)
* Sui ren (water training)
* Bo-ryaku (strategy)
* Cho ho (espionage)
* Intonjutsu (escape and concealment)
* Ten-mon (meteorology)
* Chi-mon (geography)
Seishin teki kyoyo
The first and the most necessary of the skills, presumes a self-knowledge level of the warrior that will be able to control the senses, motivations, and intentions, both his and opponent ones. From this point, the Ninja warriors developed a mystical discipline, with its own philosophy and mental doctrine, known as Mikkyo Ninpo.
Taijutsu (unarmed combat)
The taijutsu comprehends all the techniques executed with the body, and includes procedures of rolling, leaping, walking, kicking, punching, grabbing, throwing, strangulations, joint locks, etc. Taijutsu includes Taihen Jutsu (rolling, leaping and evasion movements), Daken Taijutsu (punching, kicking, blocking) and Jutaijutsu (joint locks, throwing, quite similar to the samurai's ju-jutsu). Such techniques can be found today in various refined ways in the modern martial arts tech curriculum, but Ninpo includes them as they were created in the old times. One of the main aspects of the taijutsu techniques resized in the way of using body's natural weapons such as weight, balance, and moving with a natural attitude, rather than force and toughness, one being able to defeat in this way stronger or bigger adversaries. It is a system adapted to ninja's fight conditions, where the main goal was to distract and defeat any kind of adversary, no matter how trained they were, by using natural (often deceiving) moves, techniques, or weapons.
Ninja ken (ninja sword)
Actually, ninjas were using the same swords as the samurai did, even if they occasionally have adjusted their swords to accomplish several other tasks, making them smaller, hiding in the saya (scabbard) different powders, using them as digging, climbing or breaking tools. For a ninja, the sword was nothing else but a tool, it didn't had that mystical respectful meaning that the bushi warriors were considering for their swords. There is a wide range of swords that ninjas were using, from straight to curved, different shapes and sizes, less ornamentation and more practical and functional considered. The sword techniques were actually nothing else but "taijutsu plus a sword", the same body weight, balance and movement principles being applied on the weapon use. Also called ninja-to or shinobi-ken, the sword could be used in iai moves (cutting with the very first move of drawing it from the saya) or direct sword-to-sword techniques, often with unconventional and changing handle grips combined with body movements.
Bojutsu (stick and staff fighting)
The sticks and staffs were some of the most usual"tools" in the ancient Japan, thus one could easily substitute its warrior deadly weapon into a humble walking supporting tool. Of course, in their inventiveness, ninjas improved these weapons transforming them from simple wood staffs into iron-forged ones, with hidden spears, blades or attached chains. The techniques were different than those developed on Okinawa bu the peasants, and more close to the chinese forms, with wide and circular moves, sliding and very mobile grips. Combined with taijutsu, with body movements and evasion techniques, the Roku-Shaku-Bo (6 feet staff) or the Han-bo (Half of a Bo) became very efficient weapons against any other weapon, including the famous samurai katana. Most of the techniques studied in Bujinkan came from Kukishinden ryu, with various kamae (stances) and movement strikes against sword or other staff.
Shurikenjutsu (throwing blades)
Probably the most known ability of the ninja warriors, the art of throwing weapons included various forms of hira shuriken (the "stars", throwing blades with multiple points), bo shuriken (more like nails or chips) and blades/knives. Such techniques are common in the old schools, and, thought they weren't too popular, they were equally thought by ninjas and by samurais. Beside the Ninjutsu schools, today such fighting methods are still teach in other traditional schools such as Negishi ryu and Meifu Shinkage ryu. Shurikens weren't used as primary weapons, but rather as distracting, escaping, or simply tactical weapon. Ninjas were using them either to stop someone, to precede and prepare a sword or spear attack, or simply to produce confusion and create a diversion. One of the secret weapons from Togakure ryu was the senban shuriken (the 4 points blade), which could be also used as a carving, digging or good-to-everything tool.
Yarijutsu (spear fighting)
Also read as Sojutsu, it is the art of handling the spear, not for throwing it, but rather for direct fight with the opponents. The spear has the advantage of being very long, yet flexible, and allows both lateral strikes and thrusts with the point. Ninjas used a special form of Yari called kamayari (a hooked spear, a weapon probably used by pirates), which also allowed catching and hitching an opponent, especially if it was on horse.
Naginatajutsu (halberd fighting)
It is the art of fighting with the Naginata, a weapon formed by a bo (staff) with a sword blade attached, resulting a very effective weapon used with its both parts, either for blocks and strikes with the bo, or for cutting and stabbing with the blade. The weapon was used especially in the battles against more opponents, or against horsemen. A specific weapon of ninjas was bisen-to, a very heavy and massive naginata, able to cut and break a samurai's armour. Today, naginata jutsu is still practiced in several other old Japanese schools, such as Katori Shinto-ryu, and its modern forms includes also competition forms.
Kusarigama (chain and sickle weapon)
Ninjas inventiveness was showed in creating both new weapons, and also new and unconventional methods of fight. Kusarigama is a traditional Japanese weapon, derived from a farmer's tool, that consists of sickle on a metal chain with a heavy iron weight at the end. Using this weapon was usually done by swinging the weighted chain in large circles over one's head, then throwing it forward to hit or immobilize the opponent's weapon, arms or legs, moment when the ninja's easily rush forward and strike with the sickle. Many historical records show that the kusarigama was extremely popular in feudal Japan, with many schools teaching it, from about the 12th to 17th Century. Togakure Ryu was using a version of it with another one straight and sharpened point, with a 2 meters rope finished by a metal ring.
Kayakujutsu (fire and explosives)
Kayakujutsu was the art of using fire and explosives, a discipline very useful for someone that sneaks into enemy territory to blow away a specific objective, either a wall, an entrance, a food reserve, etc. Of course, when the fire arms were exported in Japan, ninjas adjusted their methods and became experts in using and accurately firing with the guns. They were also using different sizes canons or launchers with gun powder, and they had very accurate knowledge of how to prepare and properly use such materials.
Hensojutsu (disguise and impersonation)
A true art of shinobi warriors, hensojutsu was developing special abilities that allowed to imitate, simulate or transpose into someone else position. Know also as the "five ways of going", hensojutsu allowed ninja to appear either as a priest, samurai, merchant, craftsman or farmer. Used either to facilitate the access in various areas, to hide themselves or even to replace someone's person in order to get access to specific protected zones, such art was completing a ninja's training transforming him into a "transforming" warrior.
Shinobi iri (stealth and entering methods)
Obviously, a discipline of vital importance in any espionage mission, shinobi iri was training the warriors in various walking, observing, sneaking or infiltrating in opponent's area. Ninja warriors were experts in using the land natural resources or the landscape's elements to dissimulate their presence, to enter or evade from a guarded place without being felt. However, it is known that some of the most redoubtable enemies of ninjas were the watching dogs, whose senses were far beyond the guardian's ones.
A "mandatory" discipline for the bushi warriors especially starting from the Edo period, bajutsu is the art of fighting while riding, being able to both lead the horse and make a proper use of the kyu (archery), naginata, yari or sword.
Sui ren (water training)
Sui-ren was the training that ninja underwent for techniques involving water, and the techniques were organized into 5 major categories, such as boats, water as a weapon, tools, stealth, and survival. Ninja used portable collapsing boats (Shinobi Bune, Tsugi Bune or Ukidaru) to follow convoys in the water or to cross rivers. While they were not designed to last long in the water, these boats kept the ninja afloat for long periods of time. Another kind of water vehicle is Ryu O Sen, a true small size submarine made by wood and leather with a sand ballast. The Togakure Ryu ninjas used various tools for interacting with water, like Mizu Zutsu, a breathing tube reed-like to stay underwater for a long period of time, often used to blow darts into opponent from the water (sometime they used even the saya of the "multi-functional" ninja-to). Ninjas also developed some special boots called Mizu Gumo, tabi surrounded by wood pieces or balloons that allowed them to walk on water, and to create in this way a powerful and fearing impression over the enemies. Often, ninja used water as a weapon, destroying bridges, dikes, or otherwise contaminating water sources, or withholding water from captives. In old Japan, it was a common practice for ninja to use water urns, wells, and rivers to hide and watch people, as part of the stealth techniques that any warrior needed to use. Also, ninja had to know how to find, purify, and transport water over distances. As a survival skill, some ninja could find water in unlikely places.
The ninja strategy was very simple and flexible, unconventional and continuously changeable, both as direct fighting abilities and as manipulating people for a specific goal. Though ninja's training included the study of the military strategic techniques, they were able to combine this ability with psychological methods such as spreading rumors, infiltrating hidden teams, politically hindering enemies' plans, everything that lead in the end to the accomplishment of their goals.
Cho ho (espionage)
The art of spying the enemy, infiltrating agents to any decision level, collect vital information or provide wrong one, or simply to watch over the other's actions. This discipline was connected most of the times with escape and concealment (Intonjutsu) and strategy (Bo-ryaku).
Intonjutsu (escape and concealment)
Intonjutsu is the Ninja art of "disappearing" and comprises various walking and stealth techniques such as Gotonpo (hiding knowing, using the five elements concepts), and Shinobi-Aruki (silent movement steps and leaps). Ninjas were experts in adapting and improvising in any situation the natural environment advantages, such as water flows, trees branches, or any natural obstacle. Combined with the attention-distracting techniques, with disguise or even taijutsu, and based on a deep understanding of all the 5 nature basic elements, such techniques assured Ninjas all the "ingredients" to conceal or escape from difficult situations.
A very useful knowledge for a ninja that allowed him to prevent and to foresee weather changes, and to use them in his advantage. By knowing the nature's changes, animals behaviors, or atmosphere signs, one could use a rainy weather or a hot sunny time as strategic elements to weaken and defeat the enemy.
Chi-mon wasn't actually the ability to encyclopedically knew geographical places, but rather to know, inspect, and use the land's characteristics on strategic considerations. Knowing where the sun goes out, winds movement, find the best places for ambushes and use of natural resources such as relief, plants or animals, provided ninja warriors with the right attributes to defeat and win any battle, no matter of land type, territory surface, weather or human forces involved.
Ninjutsu’s short history – Ninjutsu in a nutshell
Ninjutsu's long history doesn't exactly lend itself to a one page synopsis, but for those encountering the art for the first time this outline may prove helpful.
In the main Ninjutsu was the inevitable reaction to the attempts of Japan's nobility to create a working national government. This led to some very nasty wars among the nobility over who lead the emerging government and what today would be considered "police actions" against those content with the status quo. This has happened in most countries at one time or another but in Japan events took the road less traveled, creating a unique history that starts in the Koga and Iga regions of central Japan.
Thinly populated, mountainous (which favors the defense) and distant from the major cultural centers the Iga and Koga regions were populated by clans of relatively independent peasants, mystics seeking enlightenment, and various soldiers, (some from as far away from China) who were on the wrong side of the last war.
Not exactly the kind of people to welcome an increase in outside supervision. During the 13th-17th centuries a segment of the local population, Drawing from the talents of its diverse population including the training techniques of mountain ascetics, evolved into guerrilla warriors. Teaching each other the skills needed to stay alive these guerrillas developed a system of small unit tactics and self defense emphasizing audacity, stealth, and ambush. Centuries of constant combat purged this system of failed training and doctrine while winnowing the remaining elements down to their most basic truths.
This hard won wisdom is the basis of Ninjutsu and its students are called the Ninja. In tandem to the martial arts the Ninja developed strict cultural, ethical, and moral standards, rule of engagement, that established the Ninja as a secret but fully formed society. Within this world with in a world clans emerged, specializing in different tactics and techniques, which were taught in schools called Ryu. Of the several dozen Ryu formed only nine are known to have survived to the present day. Six of these were adapted from the martial arts practiced by the Samurai. Three were wholly developed by the Ninja.
Life as a Ninja was normally very harsh and very short. Nobody liked you. The government forces looked on you with a loathing undisguised. You were a thief, a forger, an assassin, an insurgent, fit only to be killed when convenient. The Peasantry hated the special government attention you brought to the region and would turn you over to the government in order to be left alone. Even the Clans and Ryu often worked independently of one another.
Despite the animosity the Ninja flourished for a longer period of time that separates modern America from the Pilgrims and the first thanksgiving. The Ninja survived by being useful to the people who most wanted them dead. Princes and generals often called on the Ninja to neutralize social, and political rivals. Fresh blood flowed into the Ninja from the lower parts of the nobility. More than one Samurai, Japan's knights in shining armor, defected to the Ninja rather than undergo the ritual suicide demanded in the event of failure.
But in the end the isolation and disunity condemned them to defeat. By the 17th century an increasingly united Japan allowed an increasingly unified nobility to act decisively. The Princes declared the knowing of Ninjutsu, or knowing anyone trained in Ninjutsu a capital offense. Bureaucrats opined there could be no pardon or quarter was given. Better innocent deaths than a live Ninja. By the early 18th century the hunt was in full force. Whole villages were destroyed as clans and Ryu were hunted into extinction. By end of the 18th century Ninjutsu was broken as a political and cultural force.
At this moment of victory Japan's leaders stopped the persecution of the Ninja. After initially shutting out the west, Japan's elites chose to embrace modernization. Industrializing the nation became job one. As the social and cultural fabric of Japan morphed from feudal to modern Ninjutsu and it practitioners began appearing as quaint relics of an earlier era. Since they no longer mattered they were no longer hunted. Some even questioned if they had ever existed at all.
It was a cold, bitter peace for the Ninja. To small to replenish their numbers from with in and unable to openly seek new members the remaining clans and Ryus withered. As the 19th century closed all that was left were old men, memories, and a little boy named Toshitsugu Takamatsu (1877-1972). The boy became a man, who by his conduct and longevity set the stage for Ninjutsu's revival.
Born to a family long associated with the Ninja, Takamatsu spent his childhood surrounded by old men who just happened to be the last grandmasters of their respective Ryu. He got get an unorthodox education, learning the whole of Ninjutsu by the time he was a teenager. It made for an interesting life. At the age of 13 Takamatsu single handedly put down a riot. As a young man he stared down the local mafia and sought his fortune in China. He found ample opportunity and was dubbed the Mongolian Tiger. His reputation for ferocity in battle and personal integrity was absolute and he was asked to return to Japan to oversee the training of the Emperor's bodyguard. A far cry from the reception he would have gotten a few generations earlier.
Having re-habilitated Ninjutsu's reputation by his conduct and courage Takamatsu retired to his village and lived out latter years. The question of how Ninjutsu would survive his passing being unanswered. In time he was paid a visit by Masaaki Hatsumi, who had mastered the martial arts as child before going on to obtain degrees both in theater arts and osteopathic medicine. He eventually earned a Ph.D. in the arts. Never losing his interest in the martial arts Dr. Hatsumi made a point of searching Japan for new instructors and methods. After finding Toshitsugu Takamatsu he began training as Takamatsu's only student and after 15 years was recognized by Takamatsu as the only other individual on earth fully trained in the art of Ninjutsu.
It became Dr. Hatsumi's responsibility to walk Ninjutsu back from grave. He devoted himself to openly teaching Ninjutsu full time and doing what he could to spread information about the art through the then new mediums of motion pictures, radio, and television. He also made the decision to open Ninjutsu training to non-Japanese. At the time these were bold moves, considering the conservative tendencies of Japanese culture, but ones that were well worth the trouble.
As the 21st century opens Ninjutsu has emerged as a global phenomena. Due to Dr. Hatsumi's unflagging efforts Dojo's run by his senior students exist in most of the word's urban centers and have provided over 100,000 people world wide with some degree of training in the art. A decisive, and almost unimaginable, reversal of fortune.
Faced with extinction a half century ago Ninjutsu is now known through out the world and is the subject of multiple, yearly, national seminars called Tai Kai. Nearing the age of 70, Dr. Hatsumi is still actively teaching and aggressively using the latest technology to get his message out. His dojo's website is at http://Bujinkan.org.
Special thanks to Papasan a.k.a. Ed Martin who let this text on our page and to have it translated to the Hungarian version. The original link is http://www.pabujinkanbarndojo.com/Ninjutsu/History.asp.