For over a thousand years, the word Ninja has created a dark cloud with the appearance of face-covered assassins in black, or to give them their original name, Shinobi (male) or Kunoichi (female).
Although the term Ninja was first used by Kinoshita Gishun in 1684, the use of the name depends on the period, region or skills as different eras in Japanese history attributed different names to the Ninja. Some of such names overlapped. Such names include Kansai and Kancho, Shinobi (592-710AD), Sokkan (673-686AD).
The practice of Ninjutsu (the art of the Ninja) involves the use of unconventional warfare and guerilla tactics in spying, assassinations or battle. Killing without remorse was the practice of the time. The above has raised questions on whether Ninjutsu should be classified as a martial art or not.
Feudal Japan consisted of two classes of warriors. The Samurai nobles who ruled the country in the name of the emperor, and the Ninja warriors who carried out espionage and assassinations. The earliest recorded use of Ninjutsu was in the Gren Pei war (1180-1185). Ninjutsu was later refined by groups of Samurai mainly from Koga and the Iga (present-day Mie and Shiga) provinces of Japan and Ninjas gained an unparalleled reputation for their effectiveness as scouts, spies, secrete agents and assassins that by the middle of the 11th century, the word Ninja was to be feared by all who heard it.
Like many of the modern martial art styles from Japan and Okinawa, such as Karate, Aikido and Judo, Ninjutsu had different Schools. Amongst the oldest is Tagakure Ryu which dates before the 16th century. Due to its secrecy, many of the great Ninja masters remain unknown, unlike their upper-class Samurai warriors. However, a few great warriors have been identified over the years. These include members of the Iga Clan such as Fujibayashi Nagato, Momochi Sandayu, Ishikawa Goemon and Hattori Hanzo. The group also includes the lady Ninja (Kunoichi) Mochizuki Chiyome of the Koga Clan. Chiyome was the wife of Samurai Mochizuki Nobumasa.
The 18th century witnessed a decline in the number of schools, with a few surviving schools merging in order to preserve the art. The last recorded Ninja warrior was Toshitsugu Takamatsu(1889-1972), who passed down his inherited nine schools to Masaaki Hatsumi, current Soke (family head or Headmaster) of modern-day Bujinkan Budo Taijutsu.
Unlike the vast majority of combat arts, the Ninja based his effectiveness on stealth and deception. Unless inevitable, physical conflict was to be avoided. In such instances, lethal attacks or defences (as the case demands) were used. Majority of the weapons used were the sword (Katana), Stars (Shuriken), stick (bo), Nekote (cat claws), Short knife (tanto), bow and arrow (yumi) to mention a few.
Just like others of its kind shrouded with secrecy, such as the Freemasons, Yakuza (Gokudo) etc, the Ninja, commonly called the family of brotherhood, remains a mystery to date. With the advent of the movie industry, Ninjutsu has found itself further enshrouded in controversy. New designs of outfits (special thanks to Hollywood) has further drifted away the true identity of the ninja.
Today, Ninjutsu is taught in many countries in the world, with families “clans”, sharing similar ties and beliefs. Although on record, its first existence in the west was in 1970, Ninjutsu was originally brought to the United States by Ronald Dunkan (1937-2012), an African American professor who trained in the Koga Ryu system. Ninjutsu is taught in many military forces particularly to snippers and other special arms of the armed forces. Just as early ninjas were well learned and notably the best in their various professions, ninjutsu demanded similar status from its members. Many members, go on to be doctors, pastors, priests, engineers and lots more.
There are currently numerous schools of Ninjutsu, many of which have no historical lineage or are best described as pseudo-Ninjas, all aiming at cashing out from this Hollywood publicised art. Fancy certificates are given with national flags and pictures amongst flashy decoration. This is in contrast to the certificates issued by authentic Ninja schools which simply had the bearers name and style (no flags or photos). Even when considering the above, it is still difficult to authenticate most schools as even the authentic schools, do not present all documents due to the secrecy associated with the art. Many pseudo schools use this as an excuse to justify their claims, stating their school was taught by a long passed away master who found the secret plates of their style, just like the LDS claim they found the secret plates to modern-day Christianity. One of such questionable schools includes the World Ninja Federation which has no ties to any known Japanese school or master. The above name raises eyebrows as the word Ninja does not appear on authentic certificates.
A number of the original schools have also amalgamated forming one body in order to preserve their lineage. Notable amongst this is the Bujinkan, originating from the Iga Province and made up of nine different Ryus (schools), namely, Togakure Ryu Ninpo, Gyokko Ryu Kosshijutsu, Shinden Fudo Ryu Dakentaijutsu, Kukishinden Ryu Happo Hikenjutsu, Gyokushin Ryu Ninpo, Koto Ryu Koppojutsu, Takagi Yoshin Ryu Jutaijutsu, Gikan Ryu Koppojutsu, Kumogakure Ryu Ninpo. Three of these schools were originally Ninjutsu schools while the other 6 were Samurai Jujitsu schools. It thus follows that a Bujinkan master, is a Ninja and can also claim to be a Samurai.
Other authentic schools include the Genbukan founded byTanemura Tsunehisa Shoto, another renowned Soke and student of Toshitsugu Takamatsu, same teacher of Masaaku Hatsumi. The school, Jinenkan, was founded by Fumio Unsui Manaka, also a former student of Masaaki Hatsumi.
Many of the original ryus have been passed down to Japanese. However, Tomo-ryu school of Shinobijutsu was passed down to Soke Anshu Christa Jacobson ( 21st Soke) by Ichiro Kobayashi. In 2004 she established the Budo Ryu Kai (meaning School of the Warrior Way), which is dedicated to authentic Ninjutsu and classical samurai Bujutsu, thus teaching directly from the scrolls to preserve the correct history and tradition of the ninja, as well maintains the time-honoured tradition of Kuden (verbal transmission), which are the secrets of the tradition that’s only passed down privately in person, from teacher to student.
Ninjutsu was first introduced in Nigeria in the 90’s by Gerald Dempsey, an Irish Catholic SMA priest and a student of Shihan Brian Mcarthy, a former student of Masaaki Hatsumi and founder of the Bujinkan Brian Dojo in the United Kingdom. Although Reverend Father Dempsey assembled a formidable group of trainees, He did not grade anyone to the level of black belt. The group later lost contact with him when he left Nigeria.
In 2010, Jovi Otite (currently ranked the third-highest Bujinkan black belt in Africa and the first and only Nigerian accredited Bujinkan black belt) brought the Bujinkan from Japan through Germany’s Dai Shihan Axel Franke, of the Shugendo BujinkanDojo, Berlin, with the guidance of renown Taekwondo Grandmaster Emmanuel Ikpeme. The School of the Black Eagle Shugendo Bujinkan Dojo is in existence to date and growing under its co-leader, Kennedy Nwoke.
In other parts of the world, Ninjutsu appears to be gaining grounds with several dojos emerging to the limelight of what used to be one of the world’s most secretive and mysterious arts. Not all Sokes are pro succession. A few have decided their lineage will end with their reign. Jinichi Kawakami, an engineer and 21st head of the Ban clan is one of such examples. Jinichi claims that the Ninja cannot fit into today’s life citing the fact that poisons and other weapons can no longer be used in today’s world. This, many have begged to differ. Who knows? With the mysterious exits of global political figures.
Traditional weapons are still taught in all Ninjutsu school. However, today’s ninjas, though fewer in numbers are most probably less physical but better learned and more effective as modern-day weapons such as the use of firearms, computers and more have been introduced by current Sokes, enabling the Ninja to fit into modern times. The use of deception and poisons and antidotes are still highly treasured by all schools.
The above has led to Ninjutsu as the ultimate art for security and protection. Ninjas like their counterparts centuries ago have served as bodyguards, security advisers to many global figures. One of such is Anshu Stephen Hayes who served as a bodyguard to the Dalai Lama. The Ninja is here to stay. However, their secrecy will remain unsolved and the little we hear might be all we ever get to know.
Kennedy Nwoke has studied the martial arts for over 30 years and is currently a Ninjutsu scholar with 10 years of training experience. He also holds a 5th Degree Blackbelt in Taekwondo
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