This article is from the Martial Arts FAQ, by Matthew Weigel email@example.com with numerous contributions by others.
(Contributor: Joachim Hoss - firstname.lastname@example.org, Adam James McColl -
Lit. Translation: "Nin" Perseverance/Endurance "jutsu" Techniques
(of). Surrounded by much controversy, today's "ninjutsu" is derived
from the traditional fighting arts associated with the Iga/Koga region
of Japan. These arts include both "bujutsu" ryuha (martial technique
systems) and "ninjutsu" ryuha, which involve a broad base of training
designed to prepare the practitioner for all possible situations.
The history of ninjutsu is clouded by the very nature of the art
itself. There is little documented history, much of what is known was
handed down as part of an oral tradition (much like the native
american indian) and documented by later generations. This has led to
a lot of debate regarding the authenticity of the lineages claimed by
the arts instructors.
Historical records state that certain individuals/families from the
Iga/Koga (modern Mie/Omi) region were noted for possessing specific
skills and were employed (by samurai) to apply those and other skills.
These records, which were kept by people both within the region and
outside of the region, refer to the individuals/families as "Iga/Koga
no Mono" (Men of Iga/Koga) and "Iga/Koga no Bushi" (Warriors of
Iga/Koga). Due to this regions terrain, it was largely unexplored and
the people living within lived a relatively isolated existence. This
enabled them to develop perspectives which differed from the
"mainstream" society of the time, which was under the direct influence
of the upper ruling classes. When necessary, they successfully used
the superstitions of the masses as a tool/weapon and became feared and
slightly mythologized because of this.
In the mid/late 1500's their difference in perspective led to conflict
with the upper ruling classes and the eventual invasion/destruction of
the villages and communities within the Iga/Koga region. The term
"ninja" was not in use at this time, but was later introduced in the
dramatic literature of the Tokugawa period (1605-1867). During this
period, ancestral fears became contempt and the stereotypical image
("clans of assassins and mercenaries who used stealth, assassination,
disguises, and other tricks to do their work") was formed which, to
this day, is still very much the majority opinion.
Over 70 different "ninjutsu ryu" have been catalogued/identified,
however, the majority of them have died out. Most were developed
around a series of specific skills and techniques and when the skills
of a particular ryu were no longer in demand, the ryu would (usually)
fade from existence. The three remaining ninjutsu ryu (Togakure ryu,
Gyokushin ryu, and Kumogakure ryu) are encompassed in Dr. Masaaki
Hatsumi's Bujinkan Budo Taijutsu system. These ryu, along with six
other "bujutsu ryu" (Gyokko Ryu, Koto Ryu, Takagi Yoshin Ryu, Shinden
Fudo Ryu, Gikan Ryu and Kukishinden Ryu), are taught as a collective
body of knowledge (see Sub-Styles for other info).
During the "Ninja-boom" of the 80's, instructors of "Ninjutsu" were
popping out of the woodwork - it was fashionable to wear black. Now
that the boom is over there are not as many people trying cash in on
the popularity of this art. However, as with all martial arts, it
would be wise to be very careful about people claiming to be "masters
personally taught by the Grandmaster in Japan".
How do you verify the authenticity of an instructor? In the case of a
Bujinkan Budo Taijutsu instructor there a few points which one can
First: all recognized "instructors" of the Bujinkan Dojo will, in
addition to their Dan grade (black belt), have either a Shidoshi-ho
(assistant teacher - first to fourth Dan) or Shidoshi (teacher - fifth
to ninth Dan) certificate/ licence from Dr Hatsumi. Only people with
these certificates are considered to be qualified to teach his system
(a Dan grade alone DOES NOT make one a teacher).
Second: in addition to these certificates/licences, all recognized
"instructors" of the Bujinkan Dojo will possess a valid Bujinkan Hombu
Dojo Shidoshi-kai (Bujinkan Headquarters Dojo Teachers Association)
for the current year. These cards are issued each year from Dr Hatsumi
to those recognized as "instructors".
These points will help you if you are looking at training with someone
from the Bujinkan Dojo. Beyond that, it's a case of "buyer beware".
Terms like "soft/hard", "internal/external", linear/circular" have
been used to describe ninjutsu by many people. Depending upon the
perspective of the person, it could appear to be any one, all or even
none of the above. It is important to remember that the term
"ninjutsu" does not refer to a specific style, but more to a group of
arts, each with a different point of view expressed by the different
ryu. The physical dynamics from one ryu to another varies - one ryu
may focus on redirection and avoidance while another may charge in and
To provide some kind of brief description, ninjutsu includes the study
of both unarmed and armed combative techniques, strategy, philosophy,
and history. In many Dojos the area of study is quite comprehensive.
The idea being to become adept at many things, rather than
specializing in only one.
The main principles in combat are posture, distance, rythm and flow.
The practitioner responds to attacks in such a way that they place
themselves in an advantageous position from which an effective
response can be employed. They are taught to use the entire body for
every movement/technique, to provide the most power and leverage. They
will use the openings created by the opponents movement to implement
techniques, often causing the opponent to "run in/on to" body weapons.
As was noted above, the areas of study in ninjutsu are diverse.
However, the new student is not taught everything at once.
Training progresses through skills in Taihenjutsu (Body changing
skills), which include falling, rolling, leaping, posture, and
avoidance; Dakentaijutsu (Striking weapons body techniques) using the
entire body as a striking tool/ weapon - how to apply and how to
receive; and Jutaijutsu (Supple body techniques) locks, throws,
chokes, holds - how to apply and how to escape.
In the early stages, weapons training is usually limited to practicing
how to avoid attacks - overcoming any fear of the object and
understanding the dynamics of its use from the perspective of
"defending against" (while unarmed). In the mid and later stages, once
a grounding in Taijutsu body dynamics is in place, practitioners begin
studying from the perspective of "defending with" the various
In the early stages of training, kata are provided as examples of
"what can be done here" and "how to move the body to achieve this
result". However, as the practitioner progresses they are encouraged
to explore the openings which naturally appear in peoples movements
and apply spontaneous techniques based upon the principles contained
within the kata. This free flowing style is one of the most important
aspects of ninjutsu training. Adaptability is one of the main lessons
of all of these ryu.
Due to the combative nature of the techniques studied, there are no
tournaments or competitions in Ninjutsu. As tournament fighting has
set rules which compel the competitor to study the techniques allowed
within that framework, this limits not only the kinds of techniques
that they study, but also the way in which they will apply those
techniques. The way that you train is the way that you fight. Ninjutsu
requires that its practitioners be open to any situation and to be
able to adapt their technique to ensure survival.
There are a number of people claiming to teach "ninjutsu".
Dr. Masaaki Hatsumi has been the recpient of numerous cultural awards
in recognition of his extra-ordinary knowledge of Japanese martial
culture. He is considered by many to be the only source for authentic
"ninjutsu". However, as was noted above, the teachings of the three
ninjutsu ryu which are part of his Bujinkan system, are not taught
individually. Rather, they are taught as part of the collective body
of knowledge which forms the foundation of his Bujinkan Budo Taijutsu
Shoto Tanemura, formerly of the Bujinkan Dojo, formed his own
organization (Genbukan Dojo) and claimed to be the Grandmaster
of/teaching both Iga and Koga Ryu Ninjutsu. He has since formed a
number of other organizations and is becoming more widely known for
his "Samurai Jujutsu" tapes (Panther Productions).
The list of names of people claiming to teach "Koga Ryu Nijutsu" is
quite long. The last person to be recognized as part of the Koga Ryu
lineage in Japan was Seiko Fujita. His knowledge of "ninjutsu" died
with him - he left no successor.