Before the death of his teacher in 1972, Dr. Masaaki Hatsumi, Soke of the Bujinkan Dojo, inherited nine martial lineages, dating back thousands of years. These schools constitute a vast array of information, much of it esoteric even to those with years of martial arts experience. In the days of feudal Japan, these very techniques and strategies were only understandable to those with inside or “secret” knowledge of their underlying principles. This granted them the proper training and perspective to explore an inexhaustible database that served them not only in times of war, but could also strengthen the spirit to endure adversity.
To anyone else who may have seen or even stolen the scrolls of a particular style, the information contained could only be viewed superficially, providing at best insignificant examples of the flavor of the school, at worst, a deadly invitation to attempt techniques in life-or-death combat without the proper training.
Today, students are not expected to master all the techniques of each school. This would be a vain attempt to answer real-life threats in a stylized manner. In fact, the philosophy of the Bujinkan dictates just the opposite, training the “knack” of each school creates an all-encompassing art of universal truths for which each practitioner provides ownership, allowing them to eventually direct and shape their own personal approach. From the beginning, Bujinkan training emphasizes relaxation in moments of high-stress, allowing the circumstances of the situation to dictate proper and distinctive responses.
Individually, each school is prized for its idiosyncratic approach and breadth of knowledge, which is why Hatsumi sensei focuses training on a particular school or concept each year. In just the past several years training has focused upon, Juppo Sessho no jutsu, the “Ten Ways of Living and Killing,” Roppo Kuji no Biken, the “Six Methods of the Divine Secret Sword,” and Sanjigen, or movement in the “third-dimension.” Each of these concepts may sound exotic, but are in fact steadfast ideals and examples of the enigmatic method with which ancient warriors coded their language and writing so as to be deciphered only by those formerly initiated.
These first three schools represent some of the oldest teachings in the Bujinkan as well as some of the most sophisticated. The school’s strategies are based on Kosshi and Koppo, nerve and bone-breaking attacks, respectively. Much more than simply striking pressure points or hitting hard enough to break bones, these two concepts represent separate combat strategies yet share a distinctive yin and yang reciprocal synergy.
In Japanese, one of the meanings of the “ko” of Koppo is “bone” and “po,” method. This “method of bone” teaches how to align one’s own skeleton and misalign your opponent’s, similar to destroying the supports of a building, allowing gravity to pull the structure down.
Kosshi can be described as “spirit point,” and works in the opposite manner by attacking from a single point and spreading throughout the body’s “lifeforce” or “spirit” – the blood, nerves, and tissue – like a virus, much the way fire engulfs a building.
These two ancient methods were both inherited from Chinese Kenpo, a form of martial boxing, and perfected by feudal-age ninja not simply as a means of attack and defense, but as powerful tactics in both warfare, espionage, and spiritual guidance.
These schools of samurai decent contain the teachings of Dakentaijutsu, a form of striking, Jutaijutsu, ancestor of modern Jujutsu, weapons usage, as well as fighting in armor.
Shinden Fudo Ryu, an iaijutsu, or method of sword drawing, bases its strategy on the natural use of the body to deliver dynamic techniques to pin opponents thus granting more time to utilize a sword or one of the school’s oversized weapons including war axes, battle hammers, and naginata, or halberd.
Takagi Yoshin Ryu, known as a school of bodyguarding, concentrates on capturing or covering several points on an opponent’s body and moving in as little space as possible to apply its techniques.
Much of the Bujinkan’s knowledge of weapons comes from the Kukishinden Ryu. A branch of the historic Kukishin Ryu, it concentrates on Rokushaku bojutsu, long staff, sword, sojutsu, spear, jutte, truncheon, and hanbo, or three-foot staff.
These final schools represent what are generally recognized as the only surviving schools of Ninpo, the art of the oft-misunderstood ninja. “Nin” of Ninpo, ninja, and Ninjutsu, can be translated several ways such as patience, perseverance, or even concealment. Thus ninja could be translated as a “patient person,” or someone who “perseveres under adversity.” The Japanese ideogram for “nin” is made up of the characters for “heart” and “blade,” which in advanced levels of study is viewed as channeling the heart for the effectiveness of the blade.
Ancient schools of Ninjutsu were generally founded by families or village elders and were composed of personal combat techniques, spycraft, and guerrilla warfare tactics, necessitated by the harsh reality of feudal Japan, a time of near constant war. Some of these schools were more complete than others and often contained distinct areas of study. The Togakure Ryu has 18 of these areas such as fighting techniques, horsemanship, and disguise. The Kumogakure Ryu focused part of their training upon weather prediction and the Gyokushin Ryu was very adept at using the nagenawa, or lasso.
Schools were often renowned for inventing unique technology as solutions to problems faced on the battlefield or in tradecraft. For example, the Kumogakure Ryu is credited with developing the kamayari, a spear with two protruding hooks off the tip that could be used not only in combat, but also to aid climbing.
The history of ninja is a turbulent one. As practitioners of political, religious, and military ideologies that sometimes contradicted the ruling samurai elite, Ninpo eventually developed into an illegal counter-culture. This was no more true than in 1581, when then shogun Oda Nobunaga invaded the province of Iga, a bastion of ninja activity, with more than 70,000 troops and a simple strategy – complete and utter annihilation. But even outnumbering ninja nearly 20 to 1 was not enough to eradicate them completely and they later reemerged as guardians of the Tokugawa shogunate of Japan’s last shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu, whose ascendancy ushered in nearly two and a half centuries of peace until Japan’s modern era.
The ninja’s arts advanced their ideology through war and the body politic, so they might protect their way of life and survive the ever-spreading chaos that hundreds of years of war had wrought to their country. As history marched on and Ninpo’s physical methods became more refined, so too did its ability of divination and spiritual refinement, guiding the thoughts and actions of practitioners along the path of sincerity, justice, and righteousness, eventually advancing an embattled Japan toward peace.
The essence of all Martial Arts and military strategies is self protection and the prevention of danger. Ninjutsu epitomizes the fullest concept of self-protection through martial training in that the Ninja art deals with the protection of not only the physical body, but the mind and spirit as well. The way of the Ninja is the way of enduring, surviving, and prevailing over all that would destroy one. More than merely delivering strikes and slashes, and deeper in significance than the simple out-witting of an enemy; Ninjutsu is the way of attaining that which we need while making the world a better place.
The skill of the Ninja is the art of winning. In the beginning study of any combative art, proper motivation is crucial.Without the proper frame of mind, continuous exposure to fighting techniques can lead to ruin instead of self-development. But this fact is not different from any other beneficial practice in life carried to extremes.
Medical science is dedicated to the betterment of health and the relief of suffering, and yet the misuse of drugs and the exultation of the physician’s skills can lead people to a state where an individual’s health is no longer within his or her personal control. A nutritious well-balanced diet works to keep a person alive, vital, and healthy,but grossly over-eating, over-drinking, or taking in too many chemicals is a sure way to poison the body.
Governments are established to oversee the harmonious inter-working of all parts of society, but when the rulers become greedy, hungry for power, or lacking in wisdom, the country is subjected to needless wars, disorder or civil and economic chaos.
A religion, when based on faith developed through experience, a broad and questing mind,and unflagging pursuit of universal understanding, is of inspiration and comfort to people. Once a religion loses its original focus, however, it becomes a deadly thing with which to deceive, control and tax the people through the manipulation of their beliefs and fears.
It is the same with the martial arts. The skills of self- protection, which should provide a feeling of inner peace and security for the martial artist, so often develop without a balance in the personality and lead the lesser martial artist into warped realms of unceasing conflict and competition which eventually consume him.
If an expert in the fighting arts sincerely pursues the essence of Ninjutsu, devoid of the influence of the ego’s desires, the student will progressively come to realize the ultimate secret for becoming invincible – the attainment of the “mind and eyes of god”. The combatant who would win must be in harmony with the scheme of totality, and must be guided by an intuitive knowledge of the playing out of fate.
In tune with the providence of heaven and the impartial justice of nature, and following a clear and pure heart full of trust in the inevitable, the Ninja captures the insight that will guide him successfully into battle when he must conquer and conceal himself protectively from hostility when he must acquiesce.
The vast universe, beautiful in its coldly impersonal totality, contains all that we call good or bad, all the answers for all the paradoxes we see around us. By opening his eyes and his mind, the Ninja can responsively follow the subtle seasons and reasons of heaven, changing just as change is necessary, adapting always, so that in the end there is no such thing as a surprise for the Ninja.
I believe that Ninpo, the highest order of Ninjutsu, should be offered to the world as a guiding influence for all martial artists. The physical and spiritual survival methods eventually immortalized by Japan’s ninja were in fact one of the sources of Japanese martial arts. Without complete and total training in all aspects of the combative arts, today’s martial artist cannot hope to progress any further than mere proficiency in the limited set of muscular skills that make up his or her training system. Personal enlightenment can only come about through total immersion in the martial tradition as a way of living. By experiencing the confrontation of danger, the transcendence of fear of injury or death, and a working knowledge of individual personal powers and limitations, the practitioner of Ninjutsu can gain the strength and invincibility that permit enjoyment of the flowers moving in the wind, appreciation of the love of others, and contentment with the presence of peace in society.
The attainment of this enlightenment is characterized by the development of the jihi no kokoro, or “benevolent heart.” Stronger than love itself, the benevolent heart is capable of encompassing all that constitutes universal justice and all that finds expression in the unfolding of the universal scheme. Born of the insight attained from repeated exposure to the very brink between life and death, the benevolent heart of Ninpo is the key to finding harmony and understanding in the realms of the spiritual and natural material worlds.
After so many generations of obscurity in the shadowy recesses of history, the life philosophy of the ninja is now once again emerging, because once again, it is the time in human destiny in which Ninpo is needed. May peace prevail so mankind may continue to grow and evolve into the next great plateau.