Ninjutsu 忍術

By Pertti Ruha

Ninjutsu (忍術) is a difficult to define form of martial art and life style that few people are aware of, but which many people have opinions, especially because of karate movies from Hollywood and Hong Kong. The term ninjutsu are also synonymous with ninpō taijutsu (忍法体術) and several other designations.

Takamatsu demonstrating Togakure-ryu Ninpo Taijutsu.
Takamatsu demonstrating Togakure-ryu Ninpo Taijutsu.

From a historical point of view, since around the 1500 century, one has been able to discern two forms of ninjutsu as a martial art; Yō-ninjutsu (Overt espionage; 陽忍術) and In-ninjutsu (covert espionage; 陰忍術). (陽) is the Japanese term for the Chinese concept of Yang and In (陰) is equal to Yin.
The purpose of yō-ninjutsu was to develop methods for specific information retrieval, ie, espionage and intelligence, often under the guise and in strategic operations conducted by contemporary intelligence organizations.
In-ninjutsu focused on active measures and special diversion operations against direct conflict and decisive goals.
The agent, what were called ninja (espionage agent; 忍者), but that also could have other names, was trained in infiltration and exfiltration techniques, night combat and melee combat, psychology, strategy, tactics, etc., and to exercise all of this, they had to possess a comprehensive body of knowledge and skill in taijutsu with the principles of “nin” applied – Ninpō taijutsu (忍法体術), now shortened to ninjutsu.
Paradoxically, there are no aggressive acts of violence in ninjutsu, as violence only begets more violence and can never lead to a happy ending.

This “nin” (忍) (or “shinobi” as it can also be pronounced) is the quintessence of the over 2300 year old book “Art of War” (Heihō; 兵法) written by Sun Tzu and its overall axiom – “All warfare is based on deception“, and that in turn is based on even older Taoist texts and ideas.
Stratagems have always been admired and feared. Many famous victories in the history of warfare is based on deception or some kind of surprise. Misdirection has, however, gained more space in the history of warfare than in reality. It is an elegant method when it succeeds, but to mislead someone, for example, a Japanese daimyō, a warlord, has have clear intelligence about the situation and that was why he used the Ninja.
Ninjutsu was included as an esoteric part of most methods of warfare (Gunpō; 軍法) and war academies (gunpo-ryu; 軍法流) that former warlords engaged in. By law, authored by the Tokugawa regime, it was the only daimyō with an annual income of over 10,000 koku that made use of ninja and ninjutsu.

A catalog of historical martial arts schools in Japan, Bugei Ryūha Daijiten, has recorded 118 ninjutsu schools, most of which have died out because it could not survive the peaceful Tokugawa period.

Description of the shinobi from Hattori Hanzo.
Description of the shinobi from Hattori Hanzo.

The unconventional way of combat in our form of ninjutsu originated from Iga region in Japan, and is based on a full understanding of kosshijutsu and koppōjutsu, which explains why there can never be beginner courses in ninjutsu. The passive intuitive ability to sense pre-incident indicators – PIN’s – such as Sakki (intent to destroy, something that every living creature exudes when attacking; 殺気), forms the platform on which ninjutsu assumes to develop the abilities kimochi (intuition; 気持), tōate (distant strike; 遠当) and Kiku no tataki (interrogating the enemy; 聞の敵[1]), ie abilities to influence the opponent psychologically over distance. As an introduction to this starts with rikujinjutsu – special techniques to focus and practice the five senses.

Ninjutsu is not a closed system of self-defense and certainly not a regulated martial arts, where a battle is only a battle and a grab just a grab.
All movements, body weapons and other techniques used in ninjutsu is conceptually the most efficient way in unison with each other. Within ninjutsu there are no fixed tactics, but for each situation and the resulting event, one creates and improvises their own unique tactics.
A strike can change to pressure the enemy off balance, only to be changed again and become a pressing against a nerve point and so on. There is no predetermined technique that is without any body mechanics that cannot be changed according to the needs and the opportunities available to control one or more opponents.
Ninjutsu is a way to deal with uncertainty in both combat and peace. It is a way to optimize the use of conventional weapons and methods in an unconventional ways. There are a variety of PIN’s around us that we can only perceive intuitively, and it is precisely this intuition that is the hallmark of ninjutsu.



[1] Kiku no tataki 聞の敵 here means the ability to acquire information through various means from the enemy, such as by sight, touch, etc., and in order to identify whether or not he is armed, skilled, etc.


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