Ninjutsu and Koryu Bujutsu

Ninjutsu and Koryu Bujutsu

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We’ve been accused of unreasonable prejudice against the popular “ninjutsu”-derived arts. To avoid having to repeatedly answer charges of bias, I’ve assembled a few other independent researchers’ thoughts on the matter. Basically, it is our opinion that modern-day ninjutsu and ninjutsu-derived arts are not koryu bujutsu. They are not based on a continuous transmission of technique and culture. Koryu.com covers koryu bujutsu. That doesn’t mean that arts we don’t cover are not worthwhile. We just don’t cover them.

Let me say this again, since it seems some people don’t understand. We do not cover ninjutsu! The art and those derived from it do not fall into our definition of the koryu bujutsu. Period. If you want to define the koryu differently, that’s fine.

Just don’t ask us to change our definition, which is based on considerable first-hand experience and decades of research in Japanese source material. Please do not trouble yourself to write us to try and convince us to change our minds. It will not work.

We have made every effort to be as low-key as possible on the issue of “Is ninjutsu koryu?” We do not stress or advertise our position. That’s because we sincerely believe that if your training is working for you then it is none of our business. However, if you come to us and ask whether we consider ninjutsu or the Bujinkan-derived arts to be koryu–well, we can only provide our honest opinion.

Please, please, please don’t waste your time or ours. We really have seen the material relating to this issue; unless you happen to be a Japanese scholar who delves into ancient makimono, you won’t turn up something we haven’t seen and considered.  onegaishimasu. I really appreciate your consideration!

Again, just because we don’t share the same opinion doesn’t mean that we are not all doing useful and good training. Yoroshiku Why don’t members of the Bujinkan and similar groups demonstrate at major Japanese classical martial arts demonstrations? Not long after E-budo was launched an insightful observer asked on one of the forums why none of the Hatsumi-derived arts ever demonstrated at the major classical martial arts demonstrations. My colleague Ron Beaubien, a martial arts researcher, resident in Japan, posted the following reply (reprinted with his permission):

Maybe I can shed a little light on the subject. I am a member of both the Nihon Kobudo Shinkokai and the Nihon Kobudo Kyokai here in Japan, although I am not speaking officially for either of the two organizations here. It is my understanding that a school must be a member of the respective organization to be able to demonstrate at their embu (although there has been a one time exception in the past for some Chinese martial arts I believe).

A person cannot join either the Nihon Kobudo Shinkokai (the oldest koryu organization) nor the Nihon Kobudo Kyokai as an individual. The entire school joins as a whole. The soke of a koryu school here in Japan wishing to join either of these organizations applies for membership must submit their school’s documents (history, lineage, and other important information usually in the form of scrolls) for verification. The documents are independently scrutinized by a panel of experts for accuracy. As a general rule, it seems that any ryuha wanting to join either of the aforementioned organizations, must be able to document their claims to at least prior to the beginning of the Meiji Period (1868). I also believe that the historical claims of the school wishing to enter are also checked as well in order to be accepted.

Now there are a few schools in the Nihon Kobudo Shinkokai and Nihon Kobudo Kyokai that do have for lack of a better word, “ninjutsu” in their respective curriculums (and thus have been verified). Katori Shinto-ryu does have some ninjutsu (can also be read shinobijutsu) teachings and Tatsumi-ryu Hyoho apparently also has some as well (although I am unsure at this time if they are classified under “monomi” in the curriculum or just not labeled at all). These techniques are reserved for high level students of the school and are not demonstrated to the public.

None of the ninjutsu organizations mentioned (Bujinkan, Genyokan, Jinenkan) are members of either organization to the best of my knowledge. However, it seems that Dr. Hatsumi of the Bujinkan did try to become a member of the Nihon Kobudo Shinkokai in the past.

Ellis Amdur, who is a well known martial arts research and has spent 13 years in Japan and is the holder of a shihan license in Toda-ha Buko-ryu Naginatajutsu and inkajo in Araki-ryu, had something to say on this topic recently on rec.martial-arts:

Dr. Hatsumi was asked many years ago to provide documentation of some of his lineage for admittance to the Kobudo Shinkokai, perhaps the most reliable of the major organizations of traditional Japanese martial arts, and according to Donn Draeger, in a conversation to me, he was not able to provide documentation which proved his lineage to their satisfaction. Thus, there are uncertain areas in Dr. Hatsumi’s lineage.

(Amdur, Ellis. “Re: KOGA NINJITSU or NINJUTSU (whichever you prefer )” rec.martial-arts. 1999/06/09). You can double check this by searching the past messages of rec.martial-arts at: deja.com.
There are also quite a few inaccuracies with the histories of many of the schools that teach “ninjutsu” as known in the West. The following is a part of a conversation between a Mr. Vlad Zotta and Dr. Karl Friday of the University of Georgia, who not only is a history professor specializing in Japan but is also a menkyo kaiden in Kashima Shin-ryu, on the subject of Dr. Hatsumi and ninjutsu:

Q: Sensei Hatsumi never synthesized espionage techniques into Ninjutsu. Sensei Hatsumi is soke in 9 Ninjutsu schools: TOGAKURE RYU NINJUTSU 34TH SOKE, GYOKKO RYU KOSSHIJUTSU 28TH SOKE, KUKISHINDEN RYU HAPPO HIKENJUTSU 26TH SOKE.

Dr. Friday: These are just 3 out of 9. Problem is that if he is the 34th soke it means logically that there where 33 more sokes before him. If this school were a modern one it means they’d have to switch every almost three years which didn’t happen.
That might be persuasive logic if there were any documentation to substantiate Hatsumi’s claim to 33 predecessors. But there is none–as I noted earlier, no document for the Togakure-ryu that predates the Meiji period (or rather, none that survived the scrutiny of independent experts). Moreover, the genealogies claimed by Hatsumi (and by his teacher Takamatsu Toshitsugu) are highly suspect.
The Katori-Shinto-ryu and the Kashima-Shinryu, two of the oldest classical bugei schools in Japan, are currently in their 20th and 19th generations. The Owari branch of the Yagyu Shinkage-ryu is in its 21st. The Jikishin-kageryu is in its 18th. All of these schools date back to the late 15th or mid 16th century, the very dawn of the organized bugei ryuha phenomenon. How is it that the Togakure-ryu has passed through 34 generations. And why has the Kumogakure-ryu passed though only 14?
The Takamatsu-Hatsumi genealogy for the Shinden Fudo-ryu traces things back 25 generations to the mid 11th century, which is at least 400 years earlier than any historian accepts the existence of any bugei ryuha–and at least two centuries before the scale and organization of warfare in Japan would make espionage activity valuable enough for anyone to seriously consider developing methods for carrying it out.
Hatsumi’s titles to most of the ryuha he claims to be soke for come from Takamatsu Toshitsugu, who in turn claimed to have inherited them from Toda Masamitsu. It’s worth noting, in this context, that in the third edition of the Bugei ryuha daijiten Watatani Kiyoshi stated that Takamatsu (who was, BTW, a personal friend of his) had created his “ninpo” ryuha and teachings from “ninja-gokko” (“childhood ninja games”)…”

(Friday, Karl Dr. “Re: Ninja and Ninjato” on the Japanese Sword Art Mailing List. May 19th, 1999.). You can search the archives of the Japan Sword Art Mailing List at: http://testinfo.uoguelph.ca/cgi-bin/wa?S1=iaido-l for more information on the subject. This exchange also appeared in the June-July-Aug 1999 Journal of Japanese Sword Arts.
So to answer the question, no. None of the ninjutsu organizations you mentioned are recognized by the Nihon Kobudo Shinkokai nor the Nihon Kobudo Kyokai to my knowledge.

Although the histories of many of the schools claiming to teach ninjutsu are apparently less than accurate, it does not mean that what these people do is without merit. Dr. Hatsumi may be a wonderful teacher and the Bujinkan’s techniques may be very applicable as well. The same goes for the other ninjutsu organizations. For some people these points may be more important to them than their school’s historical claims. ~ Ron Beaubien

Ninjutsu History?: And in another “Question & Answer” excerpt by Dr. Karl Friday (Professor of History at the University of Georgia and author of Hired Swords and Legacies of the Sword) from the June-July-Aug 1999 Journal of Japanese Sword Arts (reproduced with permission of the author) we have a bit on “Ninjutsu History.”

Q: I was told once that there never really was “ninja”–in fact the story I got was that an American invented the whole ninja “thing” and sold it to the Japanese who loved the idea and made a lot of B movies about ninja and their secret ways. Any comments?

A: The lack of reliable documents to work with makes ninja and ninjutsu a very difficult subject to research, and the ninja movie and novel phenomenon gives the whole topic a cartoonish aura that further dissuades academic historians from looking into it. Thus, there isn’t much out there to read, other than what has been written by modern teachers of “ninjutsu,” none of whom have any credentials as historians. In English, you’re simply SOL; in Japanese there are a few decent books and articles around, but for the most part information on ninja has to be culled in bits and snippets from studies on other topics.

The most reliable reconstructions of “ninja” history suggest that “ninja” denotes a function, not a special kind of warrior–ninja WERE samurai (a term, with BTW, didn’t designate a class until the Tokugawa period–AFTER the warfare of the late medieval period had ended–before that it designated only an occupation) performing “ninja” work.

The idea that distinctive, specialized ninjutsu ryuha existed prior to modern times is highly suspect. Specialization–focusing on one art, such as the use of sword or spear–was a phenomenon of the Tokugawa period, when Japan was at peace and bugei training was undertaken more for reasons of traditionalism or self-development than for practical use. Prior to that no warrior could afford to specialize–any more than today’s infantrymen can afford to learn only one weapon.

Given the pomposity of tone that developed in samurai philosophy during this period, arts of concealment and espionage strike me as exceedingly odd choice for samurai seeking spiritual development or contact with past glories. It IS possible, or course, that a few small specialist traditions developed during this period (possibly to serve the interests of would-be spies or thieves) but this would have been a very small market and a difficult one for teachers to reach and sustain. In any event, there is NO extant documentation for ninjutsu ryuha (including the documents that Hatsumi Masaaki claims to possess) that independent experts (historians or authorities on diplomatics) have been able to authenticate as dating from prior to the late 19th century.

On the other hand, even the movie-style ninja have a much longer history than the movies. Ninja shows, ninja houses (sort of like American “haunted houses” at carnivals), and ninja novels and stories were popular by the middle of the Tokugawa period. The “ninja” performers may have created the genre completely out of whole cloth, or they may have built on genuine lore derived from old spymasters. Either way, however, it’s clear that much of the lore underlying both modern ninja movies and modern ninja schools has both a long history AND little basis in reality outside the theatre. ~ Karl Friday

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