So I confess, I am a ninjutsu fanatic. I think, read, and even dream about ninjutsu so much that it can readily be dubbed the “perceptual filter” through which I view the world.
But before you fans of Naruto, members of Bujinkan, or adepts of some other “ninjutsu” discipline begin following me around to discuss “ninjutsu” I want you to know that I am a fanatic of ninjutsu….not “ninjutsu”.
Ninjutsu is Misunderstood
Nowadays, ninjutsu gets a bad reputation. Not because the “art” is accurately perceived as empty and unrealistic, but precisely because (true ninjutsu) is so misunderstood…I mean, how could we ever understand an art which had secrecy and deception as its primary mode of operation?; an art that thrived on expunging its record from history?: an art that redacted its own texts with kuden? How can anyone hope to have a crystal clear perception of what ninjutsu circumscribes if its expert practitioners, as Fujibayashi sensei says, “never left their names for us to give fame to”?
‘Shallow water makes noise, whereas deep water is silent’ as the ancient saying goes. The true Jo-Nin of ninjutsu never betrayed their secrets…and they are long gone. With this reason alone, it is easy to surmise that we will never know the full story of ninjutsu. All that remains are historical records, the interpretations of historians, and the ever imaginative public “vanguard” of the martial arts industry.
Popular press and media have a way of convincing us that ninjutsu is not only extant in the world for anyone to learn, but that the skilled repertoire of the shinobi can be packaged for public consumption (Just visit your local dojo! :D)…This is an outrageous notion.
It used to be widely spoken that “ninjutsu” was this exceptional and recondite style of traditional Japanese combat, distilled down through centuries of savage warfare between peasant rebels and their samurai counterparts (an idea now thoroughly clarified and disproven)…and somehow it ended up in modern dojos for the public to feast upon. We were told that this guy named Maasaki Hatsumi of Noda, Japan was the last ‘grandmaster’ of the mystical art, an art said to be capable of defeating any enemy through cunning and skill, and people came from around the world in droves to learn from this man. But Hatsumi? An authentic representative of historical ninjutsu? No.
I bought into the “ninjutsu” lie back in 2012. I started attending this small dojo known ran by a 4th dan of Stephen K. Hayes’ martial art To-Shin-Do. At first, I was eager to learn and oh so willing to be tossed about on the mats in demonstration of how compliant this-or-that technique could render a man. I took pride in my uniform and said the spiritual oaths of the dojo each class period. Eventually, I had read all of Mr. Hayes books and I thereby inculcated myself with an idea that Stephen K. Hayes was indeed a ninjutsu master…
Well, it is easy to dupe someone if they have a knowledge deficit.
I underwent a crisis of cognitive dissonance after the publication of the Bansenshukai, in English, by Antony Cummins and Yoshie Minami. Prior to the existence of this work, the Bansenshukai was not accessible to the public. This is an important point because the book is an authority concerning the nature of ninjutsu which bolstered Hayes and Hatsumi’s industry. Hayes wrote about the Bansenshukai as if he had read it. How was I to question him? Due to my own inability to read Japanese, I had to rely on the “authority” of modern “ninjutsu” masters.
The Bansenshukai shattered my conceptions of ninjutsu (thank you). It evinced the way of the ninja through 22 volumes of content that made shinobi look less like battle-hardened warriors and more like CIA spooks.
An epiphany welled up in my head – ninjutsu could never be suitable for public consumption.
The Dark Side of Ninjutsu
Shinobi carried out operations which included many malicious elements that we of the modern world would revile. They burned down entire villages; tortured innocents and potential spies; seduced women who would come to be used as disposable agents; and slaughtered man’s-best-friend for power rituals and magical talismans (i.e. carrying dog eyes around in their pockets to stay “invisible”).
With these historical truths in mind it is an absolutely fucking insane idea to ascribe the ninja solely with attributes of sweetness, love and compassion for their fellow human (HAHA! Thanks Hatsumi…sorry can’t help myself). While some of these attributes are discussed in the texts, they are overshadowed by the macabre nature of shinobi operations.
Still, the ideology that the ninja is some kind of hero figure is presented over and over again in these modern dojos….and these people just don’t get it. To befriend a real ninja would be like befriending a trained CIA spook. You wouldn’t know it, but your friend likely spied, tortured, maimed, and killed for his state…and even if you came across documentation that gave you this knowledge, the particulars would be redacted.