What is it? What’s the difference? Where did it come from? Fact or fiction? Where are we today?
There is a lot of confusion and controversy regarding Ninjutsu and hopefully, the following information will help to clear this up.
I’m sure it will start a lot of arguments too. But there is nothing wrong with a healthy debate.
What is it?
Simply put, Ninjutsu is a traditional Bugei or martial art.
The only Ryu (school) of Ninjutsu practiced today is the Togakure Ryu, which is a collection of nine very old martial schools, including Ju Jutsu, Aikido, and Karate, all blended into one complete art.
Many martial historians believe that the majority of (Japanese) arts we see today have their origins in the Togakure system.
From my own experience, I can see where this belief comes from. But Ninjutsu does have some differences from other arts and these are due to its history and what it is all about.
Its origins lie in the Iga Mountains of Japan where it believed to have started life. Originally there were many different Ninjutsu Ryu. The most commonly known Ryu is Iga and Koga, however, the Koga Ryu died out many years ago. (I feel a debate coming on)
The scrolls denoting stewardship of the Togakure Ryu are personally held by Masaaki Hatsumi. The scrolls to the Koga Ryu are currently held in a museum. To the best of my knowledge, no one alive can genuinely claim to hold stewardship to the Koga Ryu.
What’s the difference?
This is where the arguments will start…
Martial arts and the reason for studying them have changed over the years. Originally they were practiced for true self-defense in times of great conflict, they were a way of life and a method of achieving spiritual refinement. Today we live in a more structured, safe society, and martial arts are practiced more for sport and fitness. This difference is probably best illustrated as martial arts and martial sports.
If you ask an old master what he does he will answer Martial Arts. Our normal question is what one? We try to pigeonhole or categorize the arts, is it Judo, Karate, or Aikido? But originally there were no separate arts, the student practiced everything.
If we look at some of our more well-known arts they study separate aspects of self-defense. The following examples are broad generalizations.
Karate uses punches, blocks, and kicks. Judo uses throws. Aikido utilizes locks and immobilization. Bo Jutsu uses a six-foot staff. Ken Jutsu uses a sword.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with any of these arts, but do they enable the student to truly deal with ALL forms of attack?
Does Karate really work against anything other than Karate? Likewise Judo, Aikido, and other disciplines? And is fighting for points in competition the best preparation for life and death situations?
If you want to study a fighting method that deals with grabs, punches, kicks, and weapons you will need to study several martial arts. That’s not a problem; I did this for many years.
The problem arises in moving between grappling, weapons, punches, and kicks. Different martial arts have different footwork and it’s incredibly hard, if not impossible to transition between each one.
This is the advantage Ninjutsu has. It has never been practiced as separate arts, so the footwork for punching, kicking, throwing, stick, chain, or bladed weapons remains constant. This makes it very simple to move between techniques and also very simple to practice.
Let the arguments commence…
Where did it come from?
The History of Togakure Ryu Ninjutsu.
In an era more than eight centuries ago Japan was composed of many independent feudal states. As warlords struggled to gain power, war was frequent, with many losses on all sides. One samurai, Daisuke Nishina, became disenchanted with war and the seemingly endless wasting of life. He left the fields of war and retreated into the mountains. His aim was to leave behind the death and destruction of war and to find peace for himself.
Whilst living in the mountains he met the warrior priest, Kain Doshi. With the new understanding of life and religion he learned from Doshi, he decided to spend the rest of his days living in the remote mountain area he now inhabited.
During this time Japan underwent a form of unification. Those refusing to follow this doctrine were persecuted and many fled to the hills to hide. While hidden they continued to follow their accepted beliefs and were generally left alone.
Soon word spread about those who had fled and it was decided that they represented a threat to the ruling order.
During this time Doshi and Nishina, being worldly-wise, had foreseen this event and had trained the refugees in the fighting system they had created. And so were born the Yamabushi, or mountain warriors.
Many years passed before the Yamabushi became known as Ninja. Because of their split from society, the Ninja families went underground. In order to counteract the constant harassment they endured, the Yamabushi/Ninja formed various strategies to defend themselves.
These strategies ranged from spy networks, disguise, self-defense, and assassination.
What better way of defending yourself than knowing exactly when the enemy is about to strike? If you know that the enemy is better fed, better trained, better organized, and equipped does it not make sense to strike at a time and place of your own choosing?
Would you want to meet your enemy on the battlefield knowing you were going to die?
In this instance spy networks, disguise and assassination are all key tools to your survival and ultimate victory. Cut the head off the serpent and it cannot harm you.
After a time some warlords saw the advantage of employing the Ninja rather than fighting them. The Ninja could be used to assist the warlord with his personal disputes.
Nishina had by now returned to the place of his birth, the Togakure village. To celebrate being re-born he took the name of the village as his own.
So was born the Togakure system of Ninjutsu.
Fact or fiction?
Does Ninjutsu really exist?
Unfortunately, the Hollywood Ninja boom of the early 1980s led many to believe that Ninjutsu was a made-up art and never really existed. It was just a collection of stunts and special effects.
However, scratching the surface will reveal that many of the seemingly superhuman feats have a basis in fact.
Firstly look at the recorded history, a family tree dating back to the birth of Nishina Daisuke during the Oho era (1161 – 1162).
From this point, there is a recorded history of every Togakure Ryu Soke.
Togakure Daisuke (Also known as Nishina), Shima Kosanta, Minamoto no Kanesada, Togakure Goro, Togakure Kosanta, Koga Kisanta, Kaneko Tomoharu, Togakure Ryuho, Togakure Gakuun, Kido Koseki, Iga TenRyu, Ueno Rihei, Ueno Senri, Ueno Manjiri, Iizuka Saburo, Sawada Goro, Ozaru Ippei, Kimata Hachiro, Kataoka Heizaemon, Mori Ugenta, Toda Gogei, Kobe Seiun, Momochi Kobei, Tobari Tenzen, Toda SeiRyu Nobutsuna, Toda Fudo Nobuchika, Toda Kangoro Nobuyasu, Toda Eisaburo Nobumasa, Toda Shinbei Masachika, Toda Shingoro Masayoshi, Toda Daigoro Chikahide, Toda Daisaburo Chikashige, Toda ShinRyuken Masamitsu, Takamatsu Toshitsugu, Hatsumi Masaaki.
How many other martial arts can claim this?
The current Soke of the Togakure Ryu, Masaaki Hatsumi, is regarded in Japan as a living treasure. This honor would not have been awarded to a fraud.
We also need to take into account the bad press recorded in the history books. Remember, Ninjutsu was a secret art, so little factual information would have been recorded. Plus although the practitioners of Ninjutsu may have won a few battles, ultimately they lost the war. And as we all know, history is written by the winners.
For many years little was known about Ninjutsu, in fact, most people thought it had died out.
The author Andrew Adams brought Ninjutsu to a wider audience with his book, Ninja, the Invisible Assassins. It was this book that led to Hollywood’s glamorization of the Ninja and ultimately the many misconceptions regarding the true study of Ninjutsu.
As more and more people become interested in true art and its origins more are discovered. This can be likened to the discovery of Tutankhamen’s tomb. This discovery led to an entirely new set of knowledge and understanding.
It’s strange but true, the more you know, the more you know.
Where are we today?
The study of Ninjutsu continues through many groups and associations throughout almost every country in the world.
However, if were not for Toshitsugu Takamatsu none of us would be here today.
It’s not possible to mention Ninjutsu and not to tell Takamatsu’s story.
Toshitsugu Takamatsu, whose birth name was Jutaro and real name Hisatsugu, later changed his name to Toshitsugu. He was commonly known as the Mouko no Tora (Mongolian Tiger), and took the names: Yokuou, Chosui, Kikaku, Shojuken, Garakuta Bujn, Kozan, and Kyosha.
He was born on March 10, 1889 in Hyogo prefecture as the first son of Takamatsu Gishin (Daiajari of Shingon Buddhism, leader of Gishin religious organization, owner of a match factory and politician), and passed away at the age of 85 on April 2, 1972 at his house in front of Kashihara shrine in Kashikara city, Nara prefecture. His posthumous name is Junshokakuju Zenjomon.
Takamatsu Sensei took the path of the martial way at the age of 9, and practiced under Ishitani Matsutaro, Toda Shinryuken Masamitsu, and Mizuta Yoshitaro Tadafusa. He acquired the inner secrets of Hontai Yoshin Takagi Ryu Ju Jutsu, Kukishin Ryu Bojutsu, Tenshin Hyoho Kukishinden Bujutsu, Gikan Ryu koppo-jutsu, Shinden Fudo Ryu Ju Taijutsu, Daken Taijutsu, Shinden Tatara Ryu Taijutsu, Gyokko Ryu kosshi-jutsu, Koto Ryu koppo-jutsu, Togakure Ryu Ninpo and others, thus receiving complete transmission as the next generation.
Since the summer of 1910, at the age of 21, Toshitsugu entered the Maya mountain in Kobe to continue his rigorous practice dwelling in the mountains by the Kame no Taki waterfall. He acquired spiritual transmission together with various inner secrets from the outstanding ascetic Tamaoki. This strengthened his mind and body.
Soon after leaving the mountain, Toshitsugu moved to Tien Qing in Quing Guo (China) and encountered life and death situations in true fighting when he walked from Manzhou to Beizhi. He won a match with Zhang Zi Long who was a Shaolin specialist. Later they became friends and maintained a good relationship. Toshitsugu also won a tournament for the purpose of selecting a chairman for the newly established Nippon Minkoku Seinen Butou-kai (Japanese Martial Arts Federation in China). After the tournament, Toshitsugu, as a chairman, taught the martial arts of Jujutsu to several thousand people.
In 1919, Toshitsugu returned to Japan and became a head-monk at a mountain temple of esoteric Buddhism in the Yamato district. Utilizing the power of esoteric Buddhism, he helped people who then respected him as a saint. Also, Toshitsugu took care of his foster mother Nao, without the help of others. Later, after she passed away, he cleansed her body.
Since 1921, Toshitsugu showed great respect to and established a strong friendship with the 21st generation family-head Kuki Takaharu. It was similar to his father Gishin who maintained good relationships with the Kuki family. Toshitsugu was permitted to read and copy the inner secrets of Kuki Nakatomi. His devotion to copying and understanding of the inner secrets helped the research of Izumo hiki (another secret Tatara scrolls).
On February 11, 1921, viscount Kuki Takaharu established the Kodosenyokai. In October of 1929, he also built a dojo at the foot of Takamikura mountain. He called this dojo Kuki Shobukyoko and devoted his time to teaching and further developing Kuki Shinpo, Kukishin Ryu Bojutsu, and Kukishin Ryu jujutsu. Takamatsu Toshitsugu especially adjusted Kukishin-Ryu Bojutsu and jujutsu from Tenshin Tatara Kangi-den Bojutsu, Kusshoragi-den Daken Taijutsu, Hontai Takagi Yoshin Ryu, and others. Toshitsugu, as a daihanshi and a Hossi, focused on spreading, developing, and teaching successors of Kukishin-Ryu.
As a result of the air raids in 1945, most of the Kuki family documents were burned and lost. Thus Takamatsu Toshitsugu recopied the inner secrets from his own copy added explanations and dedicated it to the Kuki family on April 3, 1949.
In May of 1950, Toshitsugu Takamatsu established Kashihara Shobukai in Nara prefecture. In the post-War era, Takamatsu spent his time developing successors to his martial tradition. At the same time, he often sponsored Magokuro-kai-musubi tsudoi meetings and lectures about Amatsu Tatara, especially Izumo Shinpo, and reared many martial artists and religious leaders.
Among his disciples were Masaji Kimura, Fumio Akimoto, Kimbei Sato, Takashi Ueno, Yoshiaki Hatsumi (Ueno’s personal student), and others.
- 1908- Received Menkyo Kaiden for Shinden Fudo Ryu, Koto Ryu, and Togakure Ryu from Toda Shinryuken
- 1909- Toda dies
- 1910- Ishitani dies
- 1914- Establishes Japanese martial arts federation in China
- 1919- Returns from China
- 1919- Kimura becomes a student of Takamatsu
- 1919- Becomes Tendai priest
- 1920- Takamatsu Sensei copies Kuki clan scrolls
- 1938- Takamatsu Sensei grants Kimura menkyo kaiden for Kukishin Ryu Bojutsu and Jujutsu
- 1945- Kuki clan scrolls destroyed during WW 2
- 1949- Presented new scrolls to the Kuki family
- 1952- Takamatsu Sensei grants Sato Kimbei menkyo kaiden for Takagi Yoshin Ryu and Kukishin Ryu
- 1962- Akimoto dies
- 1963- Takamatsu Sensei grants Sato Kimbei menkyo kaiden for Gikan Ryu
- 1972- Takamatsu Sensei dies
Ninjutsu associations are generally split into three camps, The Bujinkan under Masaaki Hatsumi, The Genbukan under Shoto Tanemura, and The Quest Association under Stephen Hayes.
However, regardless of which group the student decides to follow there is one thing that remains constant, you will study Togakure Ryu Ninjutsu.
Each has something to offer the student; each has their own way or style of teaching.
None are teaching the true way, none are teaching a false way. The most important thing is, they are all teaching Ninjutsu and each has something to offer the student.
Don’t be put off by politics or threats. If you study with the Bujinkan and get the opportunity to train with the Genbukan or Quest take the opportunity, or vice versa. In my experience, as long as you attend with a willingness to listen and learn, each will make you very welcome.
You never know, you might just learn something you didn’t know.
I can only speak from experience, but I have only ever encountered barriers from the underlings. Who knows why, I can only make an educated guess.
Remember this, THE MIND IS LIKE A PARACHUTE, IT ONLY WORKS WHEN IT IS OPEN.
Where to find a Dojo?
- Shinobi Kai Dojo can be found at www.ninjutsu.uk.com
- Bujinkan Dojo can be found at www.bujinkan.org
- Genbukan Dojo can be found at www.genbukan.org
- Quest Dojo can be found at www.skhquest.com
Written by Toshitsugu Takamatsu, Masaaki Hatsumi, Shoto Tanemura, Stephen K Hayes