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A History and Style Guide of Ninjutsu

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b2ap3_thumbnail_ninjutsu.jpgSay the word ninja and certain things come to mind. Ninjutsu or ninjitsu, in more modern American circles, has always been about stealth, disguise (black suits, anyone?), weapons, and martial artssuperiority. Of course, history tells us that the majority of our knowledge of ninjutsu actually comes from cinema. Given this, do the we really know much about the art? Is it anything like what we've conjured up in our minds?

Keep reading to find out.


Ninjutsu History

Like many martial arts styles of significance, the history of ninjutsu is difficult to trace. That said, ninjutsu appears to have developed out of a need to oppose the ruling Samurai class between the 13th-16th centuries in the Iga Province and Kōka, Shiga of Japan. This was a time of constant danger, as the Japanese Civil War was going on. Therefore, ninjutsu is really the amalgamation of survivalist and fighting techniques designed to help people in a war torn time. Disguise, escape, self-defense, archery, medicine, explosives, and poison were a part of it. However, since such practices were considered very dishonorable at the time, especially in light of Bushido and the samurai ruling class, ninjas tended to operate outside of a watching society. This happened to the extent that Japanese warriors would hire these dishonorable non-humans (非人 hinin?) to perform needed tasks. Tasks they could not do because of their code.

Eventually, this collection of skills became known as ninjutsu or ninjitsu. Practitioners were called shinibi no mono before the name of choice transitioned to ninja.

As time went on, different schools or ryu of ninjutsu developed. One of the more famous older ones is the Togakure-ryu, which was developed after a defeated samurai warrior named Daisuke Togakure fled Iga and came in contact with a warrior monk called Kain Doshi. Doshi taught him a new way of thinking, which also led to training in ninjutsu.

18 Skills Or Disciplines of Ninjutsu

According to the Bujinkan Organization, the 18 disciplines of ninjutsu, sometimes called forms or skills, were first written on scrolls by the Togakure-ryu. The Togakure-ryu was founded during the Oho period (1161-1162). Later these forms were used as a curriculum of sorts by the Bunjinkan, which really is comprised of nine schools melded under the auspices of the that organization. The Ninja Juhakkei (18 disciplines) were often compared to the Bugei Juhappan (the 18 samurai fighting art skills). Though some are worded the same, the techniques are still often different.

The 18 disciplines are:

  • Seishinteki kyōyō (spiritual refinement)
  • Taijutsu (unarmed combat)
  • Kenjutsu (sword techniques)
  • Bōjutsu (stick and staff techniques)
  • Sōjutsu (spear techniques)
  • Naginatajutsu (naginata techniques)
  • Kusarigamajutsu (kusarigama techniques)
  • Shurikenjutsu (throwing weapons techniques)
  • Kayakujutsu (pyrotechnics)
  • Hensōjutsu (disguise and impersonation)
  • Shinobi-iri (stealth and entering methods)
  • Bajutsu (horsemanship) Sui-ren (water training)
  • Bōryaku (tactics) Chōhō (espionage)
  • Intonjutsu (escaping and concealment)
  • Tenmon (meteorology)
  • Chi-mon (geography)

Schools of Ninjutsu

The lineage of nearly everything in ninjutsu is controversial and opposed. Therefore, these schools are no different. Still, here are a list of schools of ninjutsu and some information on each.

  • Bunjinkan: Masaaki Hatsumi founded the Bujinkan organization in 1978. He is reportedly the lineage holder of several ryūha, the knowledge of which was transferred to him in 1958 by his teacher Takamatsu Toshitsugu. The validity of these schools, as well as the amount of time that Hatsumi trained with Toshitsugu, are topics of controversy.

    The Bujinkan organization, sometimes referred to as a school due to its assimilation of the nine ryūha or martial arts lineages, utilize teachings from the following nine schools of ninjutsu: the Togakure Ryū Ninpō Taijutsu, Gyokko Ryū Kosshijutsu, Kuki Shinden Ryū Happō Bikenjutsu, Koto Ryū Koppōjutsu, Shinden Fudo Ryū Dakentaijutsu, Takagi Yoshin Ryū Jūtaijutsu, Gikan Ryū Koppōjutsu, Gyokushin Ryū Ninpō, and Kumogakure Ryū Ninpō.

    The Bunjinkan has offered a 'call to arms' to focus on a specific theme in each year since 1988, making them unique in more ways than one amongst the schools of ninjutsu.
  • To-Shin Do: A ninjutsu style formulated by Stephen Hayes. Hayes is considered to be the first person to bring ninjutsu to the western hemisphere. He studied under Shoto Tanemura, until Tanemura eventually parted ways with Hatsumi.
  • Dux Ryu: Frank Dux started his own school of ninjutsu in 1975. Many of you may remember that his controversial exploits were the basis for the movie Bloodsport, starring Jeane Claude Van Damme .
  • Genbukan: The Genbukan Ninpo Bugei Federation is headed by Shoto Tanemura, who once trained with Masaki Hatsumi. Tanemura stopped training with Hatsumi in 1984 after a falling out with him. Eventually, he started his own school of ninjutsu as a result.
  • AKBAN: The AKBAN was founded in 1986 in Israel. It uses the Bunjinkan curriculum from a more traditional time when Doron Navon, the first foreign Bujinkan shihan, studied under Tanemura and later, Hatsumi.
  • Banke Shinobinoden: The Banke Shinobinoden group reportedly and somewhat controversially claim to teach Koga and Iga ninjutsu in Japan. Jinichi Kawakami and his top student Yasushi Kiyomoto believe they are the last practitioners of ninjutsu (not the view held by most). Kawakami reports a lineage back to Masazo Ishida, who he claims was one of the last true remaining ninjutsu practitioners alive. The Banke Shinobinoden is strictly Japanese, as there are no instructors or schools outside of Japan.
  • Jinenkan: Fumio Manaka, a former student of Masaaki Hatsumi, founded the Jinenkan organization in 1996.
  • Bansenshukai Ninjutsu: E. Scott Damron and Daniel Buckley founded the Bansenshukai Ninjutsu organization in 2006. The two have backgrounds in Bujinkan Budo Taijutsu, To-Shin Do, and American Jujitsu.
  • Modern Ninjutsu: Founded by David Field in 2006, Modern Ninjutsu (of South Africa) teaches a hybrid style based on street experiences in South Africa. It morphed from Koga Ryu ninjutsu.
  • Ninja Senshi Ryu: Kaylan Soto founded the Ninja Senshi Ryu or Ninja Warrior School in 2005.