What History Says About the Ninja and their training
Hollywood and Japanese pop culture have propelled the exploits of the ninja around the world. While this is a good thing, they are also responsible many misconceptions about ninjas and their training.
So, what exactly do historical sources that can be traced back to the time of the ninja, say?
A statue of the famed Samurai in Japan.
Who were the ninja? Samurai spies?
The shinobi were feudal warriors in Japan whose jobs involved espionage and subterfuge.
They were not the enemies of the samurai. In fact, ninja were mostly from the samurai class. The difference between a shinobi and a regular samurai was what their job involved. Think of them as the soldiers who specialized in military intelligence and special forces training.
Since history is a lot more complicated, take the the above as a general understanding, with room for exceptions.
Shinobi Training: Ninjutsu vs Martial Arts
Contrary to popular belief, ninjutsu is not a combat system. It is a system of feudal Japanese espionage and subterfuge that does not include martial arts, equivalent to modern-day spycraft.
Shinobi Martial Arts
Since the shinobi were mostly samurai, they were already trained in both hand-to-hand and weapon combat (jujutsu, kenjutsu and more). There is no evidence in the three widely-accepted historical ninja manuals - Shoninki, Mansen Shukai and Shinobi Hiden - to suggest that the shinobi trained in a unique system of martial arts.
However, it is plausible that some form of ninja mindset could have influenced their martial arts foundation; to avoid fighting and be unpredictable when forced to. As to whether this would become a unique martial art - that has yet to be proven.
An example of a hand-to-hand combat move found in Aikido, commonly used in samurai-derived arts.
The fact that shinobi were involved in espionage, capture, ambush, sabotage and infiltration suggests that they were at their physical peak. Of course, not all ninja were involved in the physically-demanding aspects of ninjutsu (e.g. infiltration and ambush). Kunoichi, for instance, were believed to be solely involved in gathering intelligence through disguises and psychological manipulation.
This sets three components for ninja training - ninjutsu, martial arts and physical conditioning.
What are you looking for?
Because shinobi trained in the components of ninjutsu, martial arts and physical conditioning, your search begins with these components.
Also, since the ninja were a uniquely Japanese phenomenon, you may wish to restrict your options to training that can be traced to but not necessarily currently taking place in Japan.
Lastly, since ninja were the feudal equivalents of intelligence operatives and special forces, you should even be open to modern-military ninja-inspired training.
Challenges found in training in ninja arts today
Historical lineage is the ultimate standard for authenticity. Unfortunately, none of today’s ninjutsu dojos and organizations can trace their lineage all the way back to the time when ninja existed (Sengoku and Edo period - 1467 to 1868). Independent researchers of Japanese history and classical martial arts cannot find reliable evidence to confirm any lineages.
One reason may be because ninja arts and techniques were passed down orally, often devoid of documents.
So, trying to find training that has traceable roots to centuries ago (that stand up to independent scrutiny) is impossible. Do you give up then? How do you find your ninja training experience?
There are other standards of authenticity and legitimacy you can look to.
Here are some ways you can experience training like a ninja...
Experience Training Like A Ninja
1. Uniquely Ninja Training.
There are four reputable organizations with roots in Japan that you can consider for a uniquely ninja training experience, three of which are related and descended from the same instructor.
Banke Shinobi Training Center
Banke Shinobinoden is a modern ninjutsu school headed by Jinichi Kawakami who is an honorary director of Iga Ninja Museum and ninjutsu researcher at Mie University.
The syllabus has ninjutsu, unarmed and weapon martial arts and physical conditioning. The reason why the training is uniform is because there are fewer dojos.
Bujinkan, Genbukan and Jinenkan
The Bujinkan, Genbukan and Jinenkan (x-kans) are organisations that teach martial arts and ninjutsu transmitted by Toshitsugu Takamatsu.
The Bujinkan, oldest of the three, was founded by Masaaki Hatsumi who has been featured on Black Belt magazine many times and served as the martial arts advisor of a James Bond movie. He trained directly with Takamatsu sensei. The Genbukan was headed by Tanemura Shoto who trained with both Takamatsu sensei and Hatsumi sensei. And the Jinenkan was headed by Manaka Unsui who trained with Hatsumi sensei and holds mastery certifications in several martial arts
The syllabus of the x-kans differ depending on dojo and organization, but generally focus on martial arts. Their martial arts training are done with the ninpo (ninja art) mindset. Depending on the dojo, there may be a little ninjutsu (espionage techniques).Likewise, emphasis on physical conditioning differs among dojos.
2. Samurai and Ninja Regular Martial Arts.
As mentioned, the martial arts of the ninja were very likely regular samurai martial arts. There are Japanese old classical (Koryu) and modern martial arts that you can train in, related to the samurai warriors.
Koryu Martial Arts
Koryu martial arts are combat systems that originated before the Meiji restoration (and have documents to prove it). The system of ranking is completely different from modern traditional martial arts like Judo. These are also the martial arts that samurai and shinobi generally trained in, except for those that has its origins in Okinawa.
However, koryu martial arts schools are unlikely to accommodate people who seek one-time overseas training experiences. You need to be inducted into the school as a student and there is a strict code of conduct to adhere to. Moreover, it is harder to find koryu martial arts outside of Japan.
The oldest known koryu martial art, Tenshin Shōden Katori Shintō-ryū, is one of the few that has ninjutsu in its advanced syllabus. The techniques, however, are said to be defensive against espionage as opposed to regular shinobi-no-jutsu.
This is why it was not included to in the assessment as a ninjutsu school; it is actually a samurai swordsmanship school.
Modern Japanese Traditional Martial Arts
Modern traditional martial arts that are derived from samurai arts, include Judo, Aikido, Kendo and more. It is more likely for these dojos to accept one-time visits.
Judo moves in practice.
3. Cultural Japanese Historical Experiences.
There are places in Japan that let you experience ninja training. These experiences often include shuriken throwing and other interesting “training” that are based on both history and Japanese pop-culture. A must-go if you love Japanese culture.
Japan is home to the grand & picturesque Mount Fuji.
4. Ninja-inspired Training Camps.
Since ninja physically likely conditioned themselves for infiltration and other espionage activities, you can consider ninja-inspired or even military-inspired camps that teach survival skills, obstacle training and martial arts.
If you’re interested in getting started in ninja arts in these training camps, be sure to check out the ninja camps options that BookMartialArts.com has on offer!