What is Ninjutsu - Part 2

Following on from my article on what is Ninjutsu, I would like to address some of the negative and misguided criticism that is sometimes directed at people training in the Bujinkan and the “combat effectivness” of the arts embodied in what we practice. I would first like to emphasize that in anything there is good and bad, good teachers, bad teachers, students and so on. In most cases I find that the people who criticize have never been to a class and only seen it from a distance, or have had an experience with someone who is in the Bujinkan in the likes of a “sparring” session or similar.

I have tried to define in previous articles the various levels or layers within the Bujinkan system and without being too controversial, have broken these levels into three categories; Budo, Ninjutsu and Ninpo. Consequently, these also relate to the three levels of hierarchy in a Ninja organisation, Genin (Foot Soldiers), Chunin (Commissioned officers) and Jonin (Commanders). In fact when training in Japan, there are even classes that you can attend that satisfy each of these different levels of training. It is even obvious in how people dress in a class, if one knows what to look for.

I believe that one can define the point where Budo becomes Ninjutsu quite easily and for me it became blatantly clear during a recent training session. I was getting the students to perform a technique where they had to defend against a Bo strike. At first, it was a mater of just trying to evade the weapon and then counter, based solely on using the distance between them to define how quickly they had to move in order to be safe. The Uke was involved in the attack, in such a manner that all they were doing was providing a strike that needed to be dealt with. In the Ukes frame of mind, there was only the “point scoring - sports martial arts” type attack. I would like to define this frame of mind as “extrospective” or in layman’s terms - examining what is outside yourself, whereby the attack was purely “physical”(Budo). So with a “Budo” attack, the ONLY response can be a “Budo” defence! Why you ask? Because that is all that the Uke can understand! They are looking to score a point and minimizing the situation to loose a point (get hit). You may say that is a bit of a “harsh” judgement, but wait there is more. I once met a high ranking TKD person from Vietnam. He had been through the killing fields and escaped his country in a boat to a refugee camp in Malyasia and been attacked by pirates etc. on the way. I quickly made friends with him and we got along very well, despite the language difficulties. One day he saw me training and asked me if I would like to spar with him. Naturally I said yes, expecting to spar in normal way I was accustomed to-trading blows for points. Immediately, he attacked with such intent that all I could do was to try to protect myself, I had only experienced such intensity like that, when being involved in fights on the street and with his use of Martial Arts techniques, I must admit I was totally overwhelmed. After we finished the bout, I commented on how intense that was and his response was ‘when I fight you-you are my enemy”! This was a real eye opener to me and really made me re-think my training. Later on, he was called to go for a grading and as one of the senior Black Belts, I was directed to spar with him. Knowing his mindset when it came to sparring, I took my distance and when I saw the opportunity I struck him hard, sending him backwards on several occasions. After the grading was over, he confronted me and asked “Stuart, why did you hit me so hard”? my response to this was “When I spar, you are my enemy”. My point here is that the frame of mind is different to that of “point scoring” and therefore requires a different response. I suppose the point is also that living in relatively peaceful New Zealand, we don’t have many enemies and further to that, most people try to go through life avoiding them and making amends to people who could be potential ones. Whereas in Vietnam or other war spots of the world, people who don’t even know you will treat you as their enemies, such as the Viet Kong, Taliban or Al Qaeda. This is where I like to start with my defining Ninjutsu and class such an attack as “Introspective” based. Another words, the attack comes from an internal attitude or response and manifests into a strong urge to do you “serious” damage and harm.


So going back to the training, when the frame of mind changes to something like you are the enemy or target and the intention is to do serious harm, so must the response. In fact response is not always the best word, as sometime responding may be too late and suggest the requirement of an initial physical attack, whereas in some situations, the best form of defense is attack – or “pre-emptive” striking. However in the context of responding, even a pre-emptive attack, is in most cases triggered by some sign or notice of intention of attack or danger. It is easy to forget that Martial Arts came from the need to survive and most of the modern martial arts are more focused on competition, rather than survival. So when the Uke’s frame of mind is one of doing damage there are obvious psychological and even physiological changes that come into play. The mind becomes a lot more focused and the body prepares for “fight or flight”. However there is still an obvious difference between a true attack and a pretend attack in a Dojo from a fellow student. This is where it is important to be able to detach yourself from the “sterile” environment of a dojo and immerse yourself in the frame of mind of a true attacker-this training is referred to as “Shinken” – real training. Where as much as you may like and respect the person you are training with, it is best for them to receive as honest and real attack as you can give them. Now this doesn’t mean always attacking at full speed and wanting to kill them, but with the intent of hitting them if they don’t get out of the way. When you attack with this frame of mind, then one of the psychological aspects of the attack sequence will be, when the Uke reaches and passes a point I like to refer to as “the point of commitment”. This I define as where the Uke firmly believes that their attack will be successful and is also defined as “the point of no return” – physically, but more importantly mentally. When referring to this in the aspect of Ninjutsu, this is where “Distance and timing” come into play. Specifically in the aspect of “timing” one can manipulate or “transcend” time, when one understands distance and how to move accordingly. As an aside, I define “Ninpo” as being able to “control the space”, where the point of commitment can be manipulated and moved within space, to control the Uke and make them believe they can win-but that’s another article.


Once you understand the point of commitment, you can then control the perception of your Uke – this is Kyojutsu(exchanging reality for falsehood-creating illusion). Because if they believe that you will not move in time and they will be successful in striking you, their perception is focused on the impact of the strike and its ramifications. If someone has the intent to attack, then if they believe the attack “is” successful, they will be focused on the outcome of this. To explain it in real life terms-imagine you apply for a job that you really want and then believe that have got it, what do you do and how do you feel. In your mind you start thinking about and making changes before you have even started-you change focus. This is the same on a smaller scale with your Uke. By the way, I should point out here with this example, that - NINJUTSU IS NOT ABOUT FIGHTING! In the case of understanding how peoples minds work and applying this to a situation, is also an aspect of Ninpo as far as I am concerned. I can explain the point of commitment also in the context of training and also highlight that there are instinctual aspects to this as well. In one of Noguchi Sensei’s classes, he was demonstrating a technique where when you punched he would draw you in and the draw your punch away from him by drawing his hand back and downwards. Each time he did this and although I knew (by the 3rd time) what he was going to do, he always caught me and managed to take my balance without touching my hand. In fact I increased the intensity to try to hit him and ended up nearly flying out the Hombu Dojo door as he responded. The point was that after the point of commitment, I had no conscious control of my mind. To me this is like being blinded and also relates to the principle of Metsubushi (clouding ones sight/mind). So the stronger the intent, the more you can control your Uke. This is why it is hard for most Martial Artists these days to make sense of what is going on, when they look (extrospectivly) at our training and then make judgement. This is also why Ninjutsu is sometimes referred to as “Esoteric”, because this is only known to those who understand these principles.

 Being able to move safely after the point of commitment and control your Uke, is only really appreciated after you have been training in Budo (Fighting) for some time and have experienced this for yourself. Also being hit on numerous occasions for not moving fast enough helps. Our Taijutsu and Kamae are perfect tools to guide, why shouldn’t they be, they have evolved over thousands of years. I believe that Soke moves at the Ninpo level and anyone watching has no idea of the effect he has on his Uke's mind and how his is totally in control.

So in summary, Ninjutsu is not about fighting, but provides a means to enter and escape a situation safely and undetected. As mentioned in the previous article, it is also about Kyojutsu, in the sense of concealing your weapon or true intentions. Soke says it is also about "escaping and hiding". This can have many interpretations and one rather than just literally, I also understand this as "escaping the attack and hiding the counter attack". 

Once you can put yourself in that space, then not only can you control the situation, but you become invisible to your Uke-I'll leave you with that thought.

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