What I have observed in modern ‘ninjutsu’ dojos typically constitutes a colorful reanimation of Japanese history (albeit quite dilute in many instances). This claim is not informed by an academic acumen steeped in the real history of Japan, but more a reason which perceives all history and historical imitations as dubious on some level.
There were no photographs, videos, audio recordings back then which could provide we of the modern world an exact representation of what life was like during the period of the ninja. We may recover their tools, clothing, and other artifacts, but are invariably left with scant instruction on how they may have been used (how could they possibly record every stratagem, tool, and its respective use?). We may read their texts, but no translation of an Eastern text can ever reflect the exact consciousness of the writer and language is a limited conduit to reality. We may yield to experts on history and glean some insight as to the nature of ninjutsu, but they did not ‘live’ during those times and are therefore ensnared in the same game of inferring history rather than deducing history.
Can we have correct knowledge on ninjutsu? Yes, to some degree. We can make reasonable assertions, informed by texts and other historical references, that a ninja was, did, such and such. But we must remain skeptical. This said, I will divulge to you that respecting ninjutsu, I am a pragmatist. I do not wish to adopt anything from ‘correct knowledge’ of ninjutsu that I cannot apply to my world. I live in the 21st century, with internet, thugs that tote hand-cannons and rapine about with combustion-engines, and an exceedingly different legal framework which dictates what I can or cannot do in effecting violence against an assailant. I cannot hack people down with a sword, run a clandestine intelligence network (though that would be interesting), or carry IED’s on my person to be used in the service of my province. I am not Japanese, nor do I live in Japan. What then, if anything can I derive from ninjutsu that is useful?
Principles give rise to specifics. From principles, real techniques may be devised for specific circumstances, regardless of time and locality. Principles offer the user flexibility to create his/her own responses to the basic and surreal threats of human existence that the shinobi was bound to encounter (i.e. death at the hands of another, flagrant war, covert operations to deceive the public as well as the enemy, etc.). For example, with the knowledge that shinobi were adept at exploiting structural and human flaws in order to bypass security, we may advance our own security awareness of contemporary flaws of the human sentinel and physical security. Take for instance RFID card readers. There are now devices that are capable of ‘cloning’ an employee ID badge in order to trick the RFID reader, permitting unauthorized access to secure areas. A shinobi living today would not hesitate to learn of things such as this, for it was his job to know how to infiltrate.
Now, I do not claim to practice or teach real ninjutsu (in my text, in person, nor on my website). I claim a right to be informed by the nature of ninjutsu, insomuch that its principles are made evident. Here are a few things I am relatively certain about when it comes to ninjutsu:
- Ninjutsu was cerebral. It was not so much about how well you wielded a weapon, but rather, it was more about how well you could think on your feet.
- Referencing the Bansenshukai, the essence of ninjutsu may be found in ‘Seishin’, or the correctness of mind advised by Fujibayashi himself to be the only thing that distinguishes a ninja from a criminal.
- The above noted correctness of mind evinces the existence within the shinobi of an indomitable will. The will to persevere through ghastly trials, while adhering to this correctness of mind, is an attribute of the shinobi to be considered worthy of admiration.
In my life I do not wear a gi and move about in a dojo as if I am a retainer of some 15th century knowledge. I recognize my disparate relation to the historical past and therefore only emulate, adopt, and use those precepts and principles of ninjutsu that are still applicable to this world. Does this make me a ninja? That depends on who you ask.
What if Fujibayashi, Shigenori, or Natori Masazumi were alive today? How might they judge the character of an individual and deem it reflective of a shinobi? Perhaps this is the question of significance.
Undoubtedly the shinobi would do the following:
Hierarchy: Learn who holds power over what. He would likely scrutinize big business, the national government, and civil administration down to the local level. Why? Because a shinobi allied himself with the lord (or power magnate) who may have best served his ideals, community, and family as opposed to those that would pollute and denigrate all. Mind you Confucianism was big during the medieval period in China as well as Japan. Collectivist mindsets, such as what “benefits the masses” drove the shinobi in his affairs. He was loyal to those who promised order in the land, and he may even be thought of as one who cherished justice.
Martial Skills: Familiarize himself with modern combat, weaponry, and tactics. He would likely immerse himself in the new “teppo” characterized by machine guns, and long distance snipers. The shinobi may even delve into the art of intelligence as accorded by three letter agencies like the CIA, FBI, and NSA. But even those acting as basic information agents (also shinobi) would not hesitate to familiarize themselves with the internet and other document repositories that might yield valuable secrets. The battles during the Sengoku period were often fought with warriors bearing the significant weight of their armor, thus certain hand-to-hand techniques were necessarily conformed to this context. The shinobi in the 21st century would likely develop or practice a hand-to-hand system centered on modern attire and realities (i.e. he may study MMA, PPCT ‘Pressure Point Control Tactics’, or some other system of physical defense).
Law: Retain an understanding of codes and statutes. The shinobi are recorded to have participated in the apprehension of criminals (see the Bansenshukai). He acted as a bounty hunter and de facto law enforcement officer who was familiar with tactics for dealing with criminals holed up in a structure and even various methods for restraining (binding) the wanted (see the Bansenshukai). A shinobi, then, may have had at least a rudimentary understanding of the law.
Cultural Surveillance: Observe and emulate the culture. Reference after reference we can read how the shinobi was advised to study the province he would be operating in. Not only would he be compelled to learn the local dialect and colloquialisms, but his manners, subjects of conversation, and attire would match (or differ depending on the circumstances) those dwelling in the area. He knew how to remain anonymous by blending in.
Territorial Surveillance: Know the advantages and disadvantages afforded to operations by a given territory. A shinobi functioned in wartime (and peacetime) as a scout. He would typically know the ins and outs of any area he was operating in (see Shinobi Michi Fumiyo no Koto).
General Surveillance: Learn conventional tailing, and video surveillance methods. Some of the most intriguing motifs respecting the ninja include black clad figures who silently stalk their targets. The historical references are clear, a shinobi of the past knew how to tail someone on foot without arousing suspicion, be the setting in broad daylight or at night. A shinobi in the 21st century then, would feel compelled to learn how to use a vehicle for tailing his targets and video assisted surveillance for record keeping.
There is so much more but my fingers are getting tired.
I may add to this in the future, especially if some of you found it worthwhile.
All said, I will leave you with this. There is one particular principle of ninjutsu that is most important for the shinobi of the past as well as those dwelling in the 21st century:
Never give up. Persevere through the fire. No matter what your trials in life are, teach yourself to hold on and be patient through the storm.