Ninjutsu is probably one of my favorite Arts – its unique and unorthodox techniques, its higher-level, somewhat ethereal concepts, and the intriguing furtiveness captivated me from the get go. It is, truly, an Art…and as a dancer and ice skater at heart, artistry is my language.
I’ve (rather sadly) seen traditional Arts dismissed as irrelevant – many modern-day practitioners want techniques that they can apply to modern-day scenarios. Makes sense. But therein lies the deception. Being rooted in a deep and complicated history also means that there are thousands of gems lying within the teachings. Ones that have not only stood the test of time – when it was truly life and death – but ones that can also be very readily adapted and applied to “today.”
One of the most interesting facets of Ninjutsu is the whole air of “secrecy.” It sounds like an exaggeration but trust me, it isn’t. Even within the walls of an official school, we find lots of “Henka,”or variations on specific techniques – the thing is, they are not always relayed in a straight-forward fashion, and sometimes are only hinted at. For some Artists, that idea doesn’t go over (I can feel the eye rolls.)
While reading a Curriculum, for example, you might see images that don’t always jive with what the written directions are saying. It ISN’T a lost-in-translation mistake either. It’s completely deliberate.
The idea here is not that the “powers that be” of Traditional Ninpo are aiming to be unreasonably difficult, nor necessarily that they want to add some mysterious air that the Art can’t back up. It’s more about the principle that learning is very much about DOing. Your Sensei is “passing down” the traditions, so to speak, and it drives home the idea that just reading a book, going online, or cerebrally understanding concepts ISN’T enough. Martial Arts transcends any one approach – it takes grasping the fundamentals intellectually, absolutely, but the Art cannot be realized without being fully hands-on.
Taking it a step further, there are countless layers to the Art – you may learn a technique at one level, only to discover – throughout your own progression – profound jewels embedded deeply with in them…ones you neither could see, nor were capable of comprehending, in earlier training.
Ninpo embraces that we are not always ready for all of the “secrets” but that to develop our true “artistry” will take time, hard work, both finessing and breaking down the techniques until we can create our own. I suppose in a way many Martial Arts take that tact but here, some of the information is simply not shared until one has proven oneself to be ready.
The multi-faceted Ninjutsu is 1,000% NOT for everyone. It is acrobatic, intense, a little bit cryptic, unabashedly sneaky, and incredibly down-and-dirty at times. Remember, the Ninja needed to survive…not stand on the battlefield until they – or you – were terminated (a la Samurai.)
Ninjutsu focuses more on learning to keep distance, disabling, taking up an opponent’s space (including mental and spiritual) and getting away with one’s life. To me, that’s the ultimate – I never began Martial Arts to “beat someone up.” It’s an ART first and foremost for me, personally. But, should I be faced with a true threat, I want the ability (or at least the tools) to disable, disengage, and get to safety. It isn’t about “the fight,” but minimizing injury and getting away. No ego. No heroics.
Ninjutsu specifically will expose the student to everything from joint locks, small joint manipulations, grappling, takedowns, throws, sweeps, striking and weapons, to name a few. I love that we have the opportunity to have such exposure, as many Arts are much more limited in scope. That said, the journey for each practitioner is unique, and built upon vastly different goals – in my own heart, I believe all Martial Arts are worthy and beneficial, markedly different they may be.
Martial Arts isn’t for the faint of heart – Ninjutsu isn’t “gentle” by any stretch, but it does teach us skills by which we can learn to keep ourselves – and our opponents – safe. At the end of the day, however, we are taught that if we must overcome that individual, we must be prepared to do so. Fortunately in modern times we don’t have to take it quite that far (certainly not in practice!)
Sometimes techniques hurt, sometimes they baffle, and other times they’re a little difficult to track down…. But each one of them – both the clandestine and the clear – are there should we be required to use them.