Kawakami: A Ninjutsu Master?


This curious video exhibits ‘Master Kawakami’, an ostensibly real ninjutsu master who showcased his skills for the Smithsonian channel. Is his title of “master” well-founded? Or is he misguided in referring to himself as such?

While Kawakami’s knowledge of shinobi-no-jutsu does jive with historical documentation on the shinobi, one must be weary of his alleged “mastery” of the art. No one is a master of ninjutsu, for those who actually used and refined ninjutsu during the Sengoku period are now dead, and the manuals they left behind lament at the predicted dilution of their skills.

This does not mean that one cannot train in ninjutsu, because the authors of these manuals purposed the writings as a preserver of their knowledge and skills. To learn the art one merely needs to have a willingness to learn and a creative capacity to apply the principles written about within the ninjutsu texts.

But no practitioner should consider him/herself a master of shinobi-no-jutsu. There just aren’t any, and if there were, you wouldn’t know it.


Ninjutsu Masters and “Ninjutsu” Masters

Those who are still eager to find a ninjutsu instructor to train under might ask, “What are the qualities of a master shinobi? Is the title given for his/her skill in applications of physical techniques i.e. strikes, grappling, and joint locks? Is mastery of ninjutsu conferred in accord with one’s rank or accomplishments during times of conflict? Does a master shinobi own a dojo? What really defines a ninjutsu master?”

Holding to the content of manuals on the art, those who ask these kinds of questions will be disappointed to find that a “shinobi” who is skilled, and known for his skill, would be considered by Fujibayashi Yasutake’s standards as a very mediocre ninja if a ninja at all. And so, one cannot expect to access the more recondite knowledge of ninjutsu through these sorts of people if indeed they teach any piece of the art.

The supreme quality that defines a master shinobi is to be spoken of in terms of absolute anonymity respecting profession, accomplishments, and skill. A master shinobi is thought to have been so secretive concerning his affiliation with ninjutsu that his family members and close friends had no idea he even had the skills (this anonymity beckons relation to intelligence operations of an ancient and modern context).

Indeed, the Bansenshukai gives the admonition that the aspiring shinobi should never reveal the extent of his skills even to his closest relations, for the vicissitudes of the turbulent times were such that an ally could spontaneously flip relations and become an enemy. And so according to Fujibayashi, one cannot tell a master shinobi apart from a regular citizen or an average warrior.

If one happened to come across a true master of ninjutsu, he would seem average, “stupid”, and have nothing to display that would offer the presupposition that he is indeed a ninjutsu adept. This shinobi will not seek recognition for his skill. He will not boast or even casually speak of his accomplishments, and furthermore there will be nothing at all which would allude to his capabilities within the realm of ninjutsu. If his capabilities are called to action against his enemies, they will produce effects that are completely indistinguishable from (one might even say camouflaged by) the cycles of nature.

Consequently, a master shinobi will not make monetary solicitations in exchange for knowledge of his skills. A master shinobi will not publicly open a ninjutsu dojo for the common citizen. A master shinobi will not refer to himself as a master. And a master shinobi will not enter into a competitive match while stylizing his physical techniques as “ninjutsu”.

What Fujibayashi claims has major implications for the “ninjutsu” dojo industry. By his words, any acclaimed “master” of ninjutsu is automatically disqualified from the title.


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