- A quick internet query of the term ninja or ninjutsu is sure to yield an abundance of results which imply the existence of a comprehensive “ninja” self-defense system.
From Stephen K. Hayes’ To-Shin Do to the Bujunkan, along with less reputable “masters” of ninjutsu who have peddled dubious “ninja” techniques, one is sure to be impressed with the notion that the ninja art of self-defense has been well-established…somewhere. Upon viewing the wares of this instructor or that, it may be concluded that the quality of these supposedly authentic ninjutsu systems varies from one to the next (my personal favorite being the fine work done by Yoshi Sheriff of Akban which exhibits an exceedingly precise finesse in movement and skill). But the allure of ninjutsu as a self-defense system operating in the realm of physical altercations (i.e. grappling, striking, etc.) is provably deceptive when viewed through the lens of history.
Did the ninja, aka shinobi, have skills with the foot and fist? Of course they did!
Is there a particular brand of hand-to-hand combat that is exclusively tied to the shinobi? This is where things get dicey.
For those of you who are unfamiliar with A. Cummins’ books on ninjutsu, or my own modest Ninjutsu: A Commoner’s Guide, I will briefly reiterate some salient points to bear in mind as we assess the nature of ninjutsu (aka shinobi-no-jutsu) as a self-defense system.
These points are:
- Shinobi-no-jutsu was an adjunct art of samurai who, prior to learning shinobi-no-jutsu skills and traditions, were often already highly trained in a variety of combat skills which included hand-to-hand styles. Logic would have it then, that a ninja’s method of fighting was predicated on samurai prelects of combatives and could therefore vary from clan to clan.
- Nowhere, in any shinobi-no-jutsu texts (such as the Bansenshukai, the Shoninki, Chikamatsu Shigenori’s scrolls, the Shinobi-hiden or Gunpo Jiyoshu) is there an inkling of hand-to-hand fighting techniques depicted, or even expatiated on.
- In speaking of ninjutsu, it is impossible to establish the credibility of a particular system without historical documentation, as the ninja are warriors of a chronological period that has been buried by the sands of time. To study history, we must rely on texts, relics, and other archaeological evidence, and cannot resort to the mere word of alleged “masters”. We now exist in the 21st century, not feudal Japan, so we must resource historians and archaeologists to verify the authenticity of a ninjutsu system.
I am not an historian by degree or profession. I am a commoner who has taken the time to study historical texts on ninjutsu in order to construct firm conclusions about this appealing but misunderstood art. That said, I will also tell you that I am a former student of To-Shin Do (3 years or so) and thereby have gleaned an insider awareness of this particular art which has fomented an unpalatable conviction that true ninjutsu is only marginally reflected in (at the least) the dojo I attended and (at the most) in all other TSD dojos.
This process of cultivating truth concerning matters of ninjutsu, has thus far taken me 8 years and has been, at times, painful as I strive to move along a path towards clarity. Ninjutsu is something close to my heart, so I will not abuse it by pretending to be without an awareness of the texts that define it by exalting “ninjutsu” dojos. The translated texts are quite clear, true ninja have long ago departed this realm, what we have of their traditions are vestigial remains.
I know the keen of you will point out that, in my not being Japanese, or speaking the language, that I am deluded to believe I can grasp a full understanding of the art. This is a fine criticism. But I have to ask, who does have a full understanding of the art? Can you point him/her out?
Also, is the art defined by particulars of language or should we not be so naïve to think principles are delimited by native tongues?
The principles of ninjutsu are the wellspring of the art’s essence. By understanding the principles, you will understand ninjutsu. By understanding these principles, you will know the value and extent of ninjutsu as a self-defense system. The texts tracked down by Antony Cummins and translated by Yoshie Minami are quite sufficient for the purpose of inferring or deducing these principles.
So, where does this leave us regarding our question of ninjutsu and self-defense? I will share some of the art’s salient principles.
- Recognize how information can make or break you. The shinobi of old were adept at spreading propaganda instrumented to twist the psychology of the masses. In this information-rich era, it is important to learn how to recognize truth so as to avoid being deceived. Rudiments of logic were indispensable to a shinobi as it was often the situation that he had to cut through the misinformation and disinformation spread by enemy ninja. On another note, you should understand that everything we do evinces information of some variety. What you drive; how you dress; your internet traffic; the content you put on social media; whether you plant flags in your yard; whether you speak with confidence or prefer not to speak, all of these offer insights into your personality and inner psychology. How do your enemies, if you have any, perceive you?
- Be prepared to endure through difficult times. The universe is unpredictable, so to go about your merry way without any thought towards cultivating a preparedness plan or a hardy mentality is inviting pain. Shinobi, for instance, were known to have extensive bush-craft skills that afforded them a measure of survivability should a difficult situation arise (this is a most basic “self-defense”). This does not mean you should go out and learn how to live off the land (though it can’t hurt), but rather this means you should assess your existential context (i.e. location, demographics, crime level, access to utilities, personal characteristics, etc.) with the intent of insulating yourself against pain should the systems you depend on break down.
- Learn to think outside the box of a pugilistic means to defense. It is easy to get dragged into the currents of self-defense sensationalism that profits peddlers of weapons, a macho mentality, or extreme strength. Seldom does one consider that the greatest warrior is the one who doesn’t have to fight. Just like the domain of medicine, wherein the superior doctor is one who prevents a disease rather than treats it, the superior warrior is preemptive in extinguishing the roots of conflict rather than violently engaging in its bloom. There is greater glory in averting danger and war than there is in prevailing through it.
“Those who have mastery of shinobi arts have no enemies in the world.” – Natori Sanjuro Masazumi
- Know what you are willing to live or die for. The shinobi sealed an allegiance with his lord that remained interminable unto death. Who are you answerable to? Your friends? Your family? In defending yourself or those you love, how far are you willing to go?
I hope some of this was informative to you.