Ninjutsu: art of the Ninjas (shinobi). History of ninjutsu art, 9 ninjutsu schools, Bujinkan-learning ninja art these days. Japanese martial arts.

Ninjutsu: The Art of the Ninjas

In Japanese history, the role played by the ninjas cannot be underestimated. Originally known as the shinobi, these warriors lived and fought during times of great turmoil using tactics and strategies that others would called dishonorable. However, for the shinobi, these tactics helped them survive and execute the work that they were trained to do. Espionage and guerrilla tactics may be deemed to be dishonorable strategies but they were, and still are, a part of war. That was the work of the shinobi for which they had to train in the arts and techniques of ninjutsu.

What is Ninjutsu?

Ninjutsu is the tactics, strategies and art used by the shinobi warriors of feudal Japan. These strategies deal mainly with guerilla warfare, unconventional warfare and espionage tactics. However, it is also a martial art. As such, it focuses on the mental, the physical and the spiritual development of the student.

The techniques taught in ninjutsu do not only cover fighting but also subjects such as geography, meteorology and horsemanship. A variety of covert techniques such as espionage, impersonation, escaping and stealth are also a part of it. As for the fighting techniques, ninjutsu trains the student in a variety of weapons and styles such as swords, throwing weapons and unarmed combat.

A Short History of Ninjutsu

In Japan, the use of espionage in warfare dates back centuries to the age of Prince Shōtoku who lived between 572 and 622 AD. However, the first real usage of the ninjutsu techniques took place in the Genpai War which took place between 1180 and 1185. Later, the use of shinobi and ninjutsu techniques increased during the Kenmu era between 1333 and 1336.

It wasn’t until the Muromachi period that formal training for ninjutsu began to take off.  The ninja clans of Iga and Koga became the most famous and the best centers for this martial art. They helped the development of ninjutsu greatly. In fact, modern ninjutsu is believed to be descended from the techniques and training used by the Koga ninja clan.

The 9 Ryu of Ninjutsu

As the ninjas began to fade from history, their techniques, training and schools also began to be lost. The Iga-ryu or the School of Iga was lost completely when Oda Nobunaga attacked their village. In fact, Oda Nobunaga destroyed many such schools.

Be that as it may, ninjutsu has begun to become popular among martial arts once again thanks to the efforts of many grandmasters and teachers. Among them, Masaaki Hatsumi is considered to be the most influential. He is currently the sōke or the headmaster of the 9 ryū of ninjutsu. According to some, Hatsumi is considered to be the student of the authentic ninjutsu. The 9 ryū of ninjutsu that are currently recognized are given below.

Togakure Ryu: This school was originally founded by Daisuke Togakure. According to legend, he was a samurai who lost his wealth and status. Instead of committing seppuku, he escaped and wandered among the mountains and wilderness. In this state, he came across Kain Doshi, the Chinese warrior monk. The monk taught him new concepts of fighting and warfare. Not being bound by samurai conventions, Togakure was able to refine those concepts and develop his own ninjutsu techniques. These techniques were later formalized by Togakure’s descendants resulting in the formation of the Togakure Ryū. In this school, there are two special weapons of note. The first was the shuko and the other was senban shuriken. The shuko is a spiked band meant to be worn in hand so that the person could climb more easily. The senban shuriken is a throwing star with four points.

Gyokko Ryu Koshujutsu: This is believed to be the most ancient fighting system still in use. Gyokko Ryū itself is believed to have been a development on an even older fighting system from China. As per legends, Yo Gyokko used koshijutsu to defeat a large number of warrior monks. Gyokko would go on to establish a school known as Gyokko Ryū.

Kumogakure Ryu Ninjutsu: This school teaches a variety of leaping techniques. The use of the kamayari, a type of hooked spear, is another specialty of this school. It is believed that pirates operating in the Japanese inland sea used techniques of this school. Espionage and field craft are the specialties of this school.

Shinden Fudo Ryu Dakentaijutsu: This school was established by Shinryuken Masamitsu Toda. It specializes in the techniques of kicking and striking. Students are taught the art of defeating stronger people with the help of feints.

Koto Ryu Koppojutsu: According to orally transmitted history, a monk named Chan Busho came to Japan bringing with him the technique of koppojutsu. This martial art specializes in breaking bones through the use of weak points.

Kuki Shinden Ryu Happo Hiken: The methods taught in this school are believed to have been developed and refined by the shugenja warrior monks in the mountains of Kumano. A variety of weapon techniques are taught in this school including the spear, long staff, stick, shuriken and blades. Students are also taught unarmed combat and covert techniques among others.

Gikan Ryu Koppojutsu: This martial art school was established by Uryu Hangan Gikanbo based on Cho Gyoko, a Chinese fighting style, in 1558. The school’s teachings specialize in various throws, kicks and punches.

Gyokijshin Ryu Ninpo: A variety of ninjutsu techniques, strategies and philosophies are taught in this school.

Takagi Yoshin Ryu Jutaijutsu: It is believed that this school was established by a monk called Un-Ryu. According to legend, a contest took place between Kuki Shinden Ryū and Takagi Yoshin Ryū. As per the results of that contest, the former excelled in the stick fighting techniques while the latter had better unarmed combat techniques.

The Bujinkan-Learning Ninjutsu in the Modern Age

The Bujinkan was founded by Masaaki Hatsumi. Based in Japan, it is an international martial arts organization. The nine schools mentioned above all fall under the combat system taught by the Bujinkan. This organization runs dojo or training centers all over the world. People who want to learn the authentic teachings and martial art of ninjutsu should enroll themselves