This post is for Informational Purposes Only
If you are familiar with my perspective on ninjutsu, you know that “ninjutsu” dojos can teach only a diluted form of the dark art. The reason is rather simple. Among the sundry skills of a shinobi are activities that certainly would be considered highly illegal (i.e. arson, how to decapitate someone, how to carry the head, breaking and entering, manufacturing explosives, assassination, etc.).
For a business dojo then, to operate in compliance with the law, certain shinobi skillsets must be omitted from the publicly available curriculum. Dojo owners can’t have their students wandering around the country surveying public officials, they can’t show their students how to break into a residence, compound, or castle, and they most certainly can’t exhibit to their students proven methods of conducting psychological operations against a state or how to burn an entire village to the ground. These obscurities of ninjutsu cannot, will not, be disseminated via any contemporary training method of a dojo that operates within the confines of the law. Period.
But on the contrary, I am sure some of you might be thinking that learning the darker aspects of ninjutsu while maintaining a law-abiding dojo is achievable, if only the training is modified to respect the laws. If this is your line of thought, then prepare yourself for a reality check.
Realism Makes Good Training
Practicing skills, under realistic conditions, is about the only way to ensure that what you learn is transferable to a real-world scenario. Any lesser substitute will only prepare your confidence, which is bound to be shattered once you come face to face with an enemy that reacts, responds, and attacks in a manner nothing like what you have experienced in your dojo.
This principle is applicable to training in anything. If you want real skill with using a fire-extinguisher, you are going to have to taste the smoke and feel the lick of flames as you spray the fire down. If you want to get good at riding a bike, the training wheels have to come off. If you want to learn to parachute, at some point you are going to have to jump out of the plane.
Learning ninjutsu then, requires a similar degree of reality that cannot be found in a dojo.
But what if?
What if you had a means of training in all the sub-disciplines of ninjutsu? What would be illegal, and what might you be able to pass off as a legitimately law-abiding activity?
Legal Ramifications of Training in Ninjutsu: A Few Examples
To begin we must first delineate which aspects of ninjutsu we want to assess for their functional import to modern society. Because we do not dwell in feudal Japan, some specific traditions of ninjutsu adjuncts must be discarded as they have no modern parallel (speaking regional Japanese dialects for instance).
Using ninjutsu realistically means to apply it to our temporal context. Realistically, you will not find yourself in a situation requiring that you speak a dozen different Japanese dialects, but you may have to pick a lock or fake an illness. Peruse your texts, watch some videos, and talk to your teacher. Ask yourself what ninjutsu skills you would really like to learn and compile a list. After you have done that, you may begin assessing what you can legally learn, and what would be illegal to learn, and how you can learn it.
Today I will focus on a few of my favorite ninjutsu sub-disciplines: lockpicking, taijutsu (body movement/ techniques), shadow surveillance (following a target), and ka-jutsu (art of making fires and incendiaries).
Lockpicking: This skill can be learned legally. You must purchase or manufacture the required equipment (i.e. picks, bolt-cutters, tensioners, locks, etc.) and have a place to position the locks to simulate a real-world situation that requires you to bypass the lock. If you have a willing friend, you can opt to take turns infiltrating a room that has a door fitted with a lock. The legal line blurs once you begin picking locks that do not belong to you. I started practicing lock-picking with a pair of Smith and Wesson handcuffs and a variety of cheap padlocks. Locksmithing in general is a vast discipline that will require much research and effort on your part to gain any appreciable skill.
Taijutsu: Taijutsu can essentially mean any technique of the body executed with agility and finesse be it for defense, offense, or general movement. I like to run up walls and get onto buildings. For the most part taijutsu is legal and is going to comprise the bulk of what is encountered in modern ninjutsu dojos. To train taijutsu, attend a dojo or identify the specific techniques you want to learn. I have taught myself back-flips and wall-runs (the former is not functional but looks cool) by using trees. If you want to learn how to break someone’s neck, you will be pushing legal boundaries and safety unless you attend a dojo.
Shadow Surveillance: Following around people you don’t know on foot is called stalking and, if caught, can bring on legal consequences. Unfortunately, this is the only way to get good at foot surveillance unless you have a friend who has agreed to allow you to pursue him/her from time to time without their knowledge.
Ka-jutsu: for the most part this art is illegal to learn. In the US, the BATFE (Bureau of Alcohol Tabacco Firearms and Explosives) enforces laws against manufacturing your own explosives, fireworks, incendiaries, etc. without a proper licence. Deploying any of the above is highly illegal, therefore realistic training is not possible (why do you want to burn down a village?). However, ninjutsu manuals are replete with recipes for legitimate shinobi fire-devices and you may be able to find a few you can construct legally, though, once again, tactical use of them is likely illegal.
I hope this post gets you thinking about why so much is omitted from modern “ninjutsu” dojos.
August 1, 1548
The outsiders have entrenched themselves behind well-fortified walls. Though their objectives are not yet known, their presence is nonetheless to be considered a threat to regional stability. We are to not allow them to advance. Our orders are to estimate the number of men, their dispositions and constitutions, who they serve and what their orders are. Heaven has given blessing to our operation. A storm approaches. Ride the wind and conceal your heart among the thunder and rain.
I will now speak to you on the fundamentals of a shinobi’s art of intelligence. Source material for the following discussion includes the Yokan Denkai and Yokan Rigen manuals of ninjutsu written by Chikamatsu Shigenori. Also included are some of my own practices and thoughts on the art of intelligence and how it may prove useful to self-protection.
In my last video I explained why Sun Tzu’s writing on the Use of Spies was so fundamental to ninjutsu. Shinobi were first and foremost spies and therefore we should expect anyone who is attempting to recreate, discuss, or practice ninjutsu in accordance with what is verifiably true, to exhibit knowledge of the art of intelligence as it is called today.
The art of intelligence has ancient roots. Veritably the most essential element to any successful military campaign, espionage and its fruits have has been embraced by multitudes of cultures and is still essential to military affairs today. It may be surmised that even prior to the teachings of Sun Tzu, spying on the affairs of others was practiced in the preservation of power or in facilitating an attempt to wrest power away from perceived enemies.
You can imagine the activities of these proto-spies, skulking around to eavesdrop on conversations that might produce vital information, but unfortunately imagination is all we have to animate a great many spies who will never be known to human history…for they dealt in the trade of secrets. Likewise with the shinobi, it will never be known just how many of them existed, or how it is exactly that they lived.
However, it is known that spies have existed and still do exist, also it is known that in the distant past they developed their methods of gathering intelligence under the constraints of their human senses and relatively inferior technology. Unlike the spies of the 21st century, shinobi did not have cameras or satellites, and so again their modes of intelligence work were confined to creativity and the human sensorium.
A shinobi, needed to have good senses and a robust memory, for it was through these characteristics that information would be recorded and transmitted to the interested party. Fortunately, the human senses can be trained, and I imagine shinobi had their own particular methods of sharpening them. But as tempting as the digression into this avenue of inquiry is, let us stick to the essentials of spying. All that we need to know now is that espionage in the past required acute senses and a good memory for the acquisition of select information.
Now, just what kind of information did the shinobi gather? Well, anything about the enemy disposition could have proved to be valuable. The Yokan Denkai places emphasis on retrieving details of the political situation circumscribing the enemy and their system of justice having to do with rewards and punishments, as well as the strengths and weaknesses of everything, including their fortifications, military command, military behavior and customs, and how many troops are stationed in a given area. There is a wide assortment of other information that ninjutsu manuals advise a shinobi to target, too many to list at this time.
Let me stop here and point out another component to good intelligence gathering. Implicit to the practice of gaining information on the enemy is secrecy, obviously. If a spy is not familiar with deceiving the enemy as to his presence, then he will not live long once he has been found out. This is where human creativity kicks in. The sundry details of ninjutsu dealing with Yonin disguises and In-nin infiltration techniques, as well as listening devices, lockpicking techniques, creeping around on rooftops, and moving beneath the still waters of a moat revolve around this fundamental intelligence principle, to be secret and to deceive.
In understanding this, we can see now that ninjutsu itself has at its core the principle of secrecy in gathering intelligence, and it is around this principle that ninjutsu seems to have developed.
The same principles intrinsic to ninjutsu are found within the details of modern intelligence modalities, and due to the timeless nature of these principles, we can still apply them to our lives today with a bit of creativity.
Why should we incorporate the art of intelligence into our own system of self-protection or preparedness skillset? Because according to Sun Tzu, we may be sure to defeat our enemy only with the fulfillment of two conditions: knowing ourselves and knowing the enemy. Introspection and self-assessment in relation to the abilities of others can help us fulfill the first condition. The second condition can only be fulfilled if we understand and apply the art of intelligence.
One caveat here. Do not fall into the tendency to see your enemy through your eyes alone. It is just as important to your strategy that you see yourself from the enemy’s point of view- through the enemy’s eyes, for he may be studying you without your knowledge. In this respect, one can see how every bit of information you publicly divulge about yourself can be used against you if your enemy has the know-how. Social engineers offer prime examples of this and if you do not know what a social engineer is, I advise you look up the term.
Anyway, applying the principles of ninjutsu to a modern context requires creativity and common sense of the times. It would not be wise, for instance to emulate the dress of a shinobi in Yo-nin get-up while trying to gain entrance to some place of informational interest. As entertaining as this sight would be, it offers no value to your self-protection.
Now that we have covered the theoretical, I will now give you the practical content. These are not authentic ninjutsu exercises. They are exercises that you can use to develop your senses.
Sensory Training: Attire Identifiers
This exercise is all about developing short-term memory as it is applied to retaining a picture of what a person is wearing. Find a place to people watch. Enter the area and begin observing the people around you. Be sure not to make it obvious that you are watching them. You can opt to wear sunglasses or a rimmed hat to conceal the fixation of your eyes if you wish. When you are ready, select a random person and briefly scan over their manner of dress. After a few seconds, look away and try to hold the image in your mind as long as possible. You will notice that the image becomes more and more distorted in your minds eye as time goes by. With practice, you will accustom your mind to holding the image for longer periods until you are ultimately capable of scanning a person and remembering hours later exactly what they are wearing. How detailed can you get? Is the person wearing a watch, or necklace? How is the hair styled? What is the person doing? You can increase the difficulty of this exercise by entering an area, selecting three or more people, briefly scanning them over, and then leaving. Afterwards write down everything you remember.
Sensory Training: Candle Meditation
Get a candle and place it a few feet from where you intend to sit. Light the candle, dim the lights, and assume a comfortable meditation posture of your choice. Focus your concentration on the flame. Notice its size, colors, and movements. Relax your breathing. At varying intervals, take a mental snapshot of the candle and hold it in your mind’s eye as long as possible before returning to the stare. Continue as long as you like.
August 1, 1548
I, the lonesome watchman, know of the shadows. Out there, in the dark, their secrets are at work. Ever patient in comportment and steady in resolve, for them it is no hardship to wait in silence.
Waiting for me to hear the voice of a damp wind…
Waiting for me to feel the cold rain descend from above…
Waiting for the heavens to open up with thunder and lightning, that I may be blinded by my senses and defeated by my own habits.
The torchlight flickers. A storm approaches. I fear what shadows this night may conceal.
August 2, 1548
A great fire has consumed our gun-powder stores and decimated our supply of food. Despite the heavy rain, the fire managed to spread about our fortification as well. As the eager took to tending the flames, the rest of us gathered up our courage and held tight to our weapons.
Strange…a raid did not follow the fire.
We suspect a shadow, but not a man can speak of seeing it. There are rumors that these shadows are imbued with the powers of demons. Is this true? I do not know what to think of this.
A messenger has been dispatched to request supplies and report on our situation. We must hold this post for our lord.
August 3, 1548
Did not sleep well. The night watch was doubled and these men have been up all night positing the possibility of a raid. We have begun to cut rations and estimate that the rice that is left will last us a week if we are prudent.
I pray for the protection of our messenger.
We will hold this post for our lord.
August 4, 1548
Awoke in the middle of the night to the shouts of the watch. Booming noises have been issuing from the outlying forest to the North. Some men have investigated the area to find no trace of a human culprit.
We wait for our messenger.
August 5, 1548
Another conflagration has visited us, but this time it consumed a portion of the outlying forest to the North. Thankfully our fortification was not touched by the flames. A few men will be dispatched to investigate once the heat subsides.
A most eldritch milieu overtook the day when one came upon feathers, crow-like and strewn about the epicenter of the charred earth. “Karasatengu” This is the word making its rounds among the men. It has been said in the distant past that these creatures have been known to start forest fires and eat the flesh of men.
Demon or not, we will hold this post for our lord.
Transcript: As promised in my last video, this present piece will revolve around the 13th chapter of Sun Tzu’s Art of War and its relation to ninjutsu. To begin, I first want to advise anyone out there who has been actively training in so called “ninjutsu” dojos and/or those who have a genuine interest in the deeper secrets of the art you must know that the study of Sun Tzu’s 13th chapter, if not the whole of the text, is indispensable to your understanding of what a shinobi agent was all about. But don’t take my word for it, consult the historical figure of Chikamatsu Shigenori who studied ninjutsu (then called shinobi-no-jutsu) with masters of both Iga and Koka lineages during the 18th century. What does Shigenori say of the centrality Sun tzu’s 13th chapter holds in relation to ninjutsu? He says in the preface to the Yokan Denkai that Master Kimura of Iga with whom he studied, considered the 13th chapter to be source material for the highly recondite aspects of ninjutsu. Master Yorihide of Iga with whom Shigenori had also trained likewise regarded this chapter of Sun Tu’s text to be of greatest import to the art of the shinobi. In fact, these masters assert more or less that skills such as the creation of Yo-nin disguises, deception, secret means of scaling walls, and navigating rivers are actually very shallow derivatives of ninjutsu and even go so far as to claim the only text one must thoroughly understand to retain the fundamentals of deep ninjutsu is the Art of War. So, when we have two lineal masters of ninjutsu coming forward to regard Sun Tzu’s text with such high acclaim, going so far as to say its contents are the predication of deep ninjutsu, we must ask ourselves, what does this chapter contain? The title of the chapter is “the use of spies”. The title alone presages much about the profession of a ninja. At this time I am not going to be covering the full content of the 13th chapter as this video is intended as an introductory “lesson” for those interested in the deeper secrets of ninjutsu but do not know how to go about instructing yourselves. I advise that you get a copy of Sun Tzu’s Art of War and begin studying it.
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