What is Ninjutsu?
Ninjutsu is a Japanese martial art that does not have a sporting or competitive character, as it is a set of combat techniques used in the past in military confrontation.
The majority of techniques in this martial art are quick and deadly. They were made for guerilla warfare, which is why ninjutsu has a representation of being a “dark art.”
The History of Ninjutsu
Ninjutsu is a martial art that emerged in feudal Japan, when spies, or rather, ninjas, were used to enter enemy territory. It was developed by samurai during the Namboku-cho period.
The samurai responsible for developing the martial art mainly hailed from the Koka and Iga Provinces.
Soldiers that practiced ninjutsu were known as “Shinobi.” The Shinobi were ninja spies that worked for Japanese daimyo(lords).
Just like the samurai, early ninjutsu practitioners were taught within their families. Children from these clans were taught the family trade from an early age.
These soldiers were masters of stealth, who did many tasks. Everything from assassinations, poisonings, and theft.
The primary goal of the ninja was to complete their goal without conflict. But if met with conflict, they must eliminate their enemy by any means necessary.
Although the tactics of ninjas were deemed “unhonorable,” the techniques were effective.
Throughout time different Japanese “ryus” or martial arts schools taught various forms of what they called ninjutsu.
As time went on, many of these schools faded, but the techniques were passed on.
Famous Ninjutsu Ninja Masters
Japanese history is filled with famous ninjas, who were ninjutsu masters. Here are five of the greatest ninjutsu ninja masters in history.
Hattori Hanzo is arguably the most famous ninjutsu master ninja of all time. Hanzo was from the Iga province during the Sengoku Period.
He was the leader of the Iga ninjas, who famously smuggled Tokugawa Ieyasu to safety. Hattori has been portrayed in many films, shows, anime, and manga.
Fujibayashi Nagato was the leader of the Iga ninjas during the 16th century when Nobunaga invaded Iga. Nagato was responsible for ensuring that the clan’s ninjutsu teachings would continue on.
His descendant, Fujibayashi Yasutake compiled those teachings and principles into the Bansenshukai(The Ninja Encyclopedia).
Momochi Sandayu was the Iga leader, who died during Nobunaga’s invasion during the 16th century.
Legend has it that Momochi actually didn’t die that day. Instead, he actually escaped to the Kii province to live as a farmer.
Sandayu also famously said that ninjutsu should only be used as a last resort.
Ishikawa Goemon is the Robin Hood ninja in Japanese history. Goemon served the Miyoshi clan in the Iga province.
After the invasion of Iga by Nobunaga, Goemon spent the next 15 years. He was executed by being boiled alive after a failed assassination attempt to allegedly avenge his wife.
Mochizuki Chiyome was one of the original female ninjas, who became one after the death of her husband. At the request of her husband’s uncle, Takeda Shingen, Chiyome created a band of female ninja operatives.
At the height of Mochizuk’s group, it totaled between 200-300 female assassins under her command.
The Techniques & Training of Ninjutsu
The Japanese art of ninjutsu is made up of various techniques. Shinobi had to be prepared for anything, so they practiced various types of self defense skills.
In ninjutsu, students are taught to move without making a sound. They’re goal is to move without being seen or heard.
When taught to infiltrate homes, ninjas were taught to hug the walls and make light steps. This was done to limit news and their shadows not to give away their position.
There are numerous weapons that are used within ninjutsu. Each of the weapons are used for specific circumstances that a ninja might run into.
In ninjutsu, all of these types of weapons are practiced by students.
- Ninja Stars
- Grappling Hooks
- Bo Staffs
Much of the techniques used in ninjutsu are used within a close distance. This made ninjutsu practitioners learn different grappling techniques to prepare for missions.
In all of the books on ninjas and ninjutsu, there are no written depictions of physical training. However, that does not mean early practitioners of this martial art didn’t do physical training.
To climb large walls and run long distances, it takes immense physical training. There isn’t written physical training regiments in any of the ninjutsu manuals, but that doesn’t mean they weren’t practiced.
The Ninjutsu Ranking System
In ninjutsu, rank is represented by the patch and star system. Some schools might use belts, but star patches are the most common ranking system used.
A different pattern of patches and stars are used to represent the ranks in ninjutsu.
- 10th Kyu: Mukyu(White Belt)
- 9th Kyu: Kyuukyuu(Green Belt)
- 8th Kyu: Hachikyu 1 White Star
- 7th Kyu: Shichikyu 2 White Stars
- 6th Kyu: Rokukyu 3 White Stars
- 5th Kyu: Gokyu 4 White Stars
- 4th Kyu: Yonkya 1 Gold Star
- 3rd Kyu: Sankyu 2 Gold Stars
- 2nd Kyu: Nikyu 3 Gold Stars
- 1st Kyu: Ikkyu 4 Gold Stars
After the Kyu ranks, ninjutsu students then go through the 15 Dan ranks. All also have different stars and patches to represent each rank, which takes a lifetime to achieve.
Ninjutsu in Pop Culture
The art of ninjutsu has been interpreted countless times in the history of pop culture. Thousands of movies and TV shows have included depictions of ninjas using ninjutsu.
Two of the most popular depictions of the martial art are Naruto and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. These shows have made millions of kids start practicing their own ninjutsu moves.
Fake Ninjutsu Practitioners
For some reason, ninjutsu attracts many liars, who claim they’re master ninjas. Two of the most famous frauds are Frank Dux and Ashida Kim.
Ashida Kim is a long-time fake ninjutsu master, who has been conning people for decades. Kim has released several books and instructional videos that have all been laughed at.
Frank Dux is the famous liar, whose fake life was depicted in the movie BloodSport. Dux has made many false claims over the years such as being a ninjutsu master, who goes on secret missions.
The State of Modern Ninjutsu
The art of ninjutsu has sadly not caught up with the popularity of its interpretations in pop culture. There are only a few authentic ninjutsu schools in operation today.
Today, Jinichi Kawakami is the last authentic heir of ninjutsu. Kawakami is the 22st Head of the Koga Ban family, who is an honorary director of the Ninja Museum of Igaryu.
In 2012, Jinichi decided to end his family’s ninjutsu lineage. Citing that the martial art had no place in the modern age.
However, despite its decrease in popularity, ninjutsu is still practiced in small patches around the world.