The super secret ninja thread

memyselfi has decapitated the truth and wailed out a sweet guitar solo!

I've kinda gone through that a bit myself. Having once been a Ninjutsu student, reading and discovering how much of the art is, for lack of a better term, "FLUFF", I began to feel a bit cheated and mislead. But after continuing my research, I have come to realize that even so, the arts themselves are pretty legitimate.

Their historical claims may not be accurate, but overall, the techniques are sound.


Sorry man, but I don't follow you. Friday REJECTS the idea of peasant groups of ninja holed up in the provinces, etc.

While there may be an argument for "peasant" ninja there is just as strong a one for "peasant" samurai - at least throughout the Sengoku era (Toyotomi Hideyoshi, anyone?). A great deal of social mobility was allowed through the demonstration of effective application of military skills, be they on the field of battle, behind the lines, or anywhere in between. The roles were probably a lot more blurred than people realize - I think we have to look at individuals and specific ryu, and by and large, the ninpo iseems part and parcel of what were "samurai" ryu, not "ninja" ryu. Even the likes of Katori Shinto Ryu

Kuji were mentioned: kuji were practiced by a large number of ryu, NOT just ninjutsu schools, and certainly not just by Yamabushi. For that matter, most of the classical ryu also believed in and practiced various magical spells for use before and during battle and for healing and recovery afterword. Yes, some still teach them to practitioners today.

Poisons are also a common factor in at least several ryu I know of (Araki-ryu, Fusen-ryu have them, for two examples, I have heard of others) - they are usually encountered at the higher levels of kuden in specific traditions.

Trickery, assassination, and plenty of other very "un-samurai" like behaviors appear as CODIFIED TECHNIQUE in some ryu as well, at least Sengoku era ones, because there "were no rules" and the earlier combative traditions reflect that (jakuniku, kyoshokyu: "The weak are meat, the strong eat").

I think it is still a romanticization to believe that the bushi "preferred to meet his enemy in the field." That might be what the storybooks say, but start delving a little deeper into some of the schools these guys passed on and it was more like trying ones best to exploit ones advantage - by whatever means necessary.


Off topic-

Charlie, sent you an e-mail RE: some kendo stuff I have that needs a new home. Did you get it?

Drop me a line if you can...

Hmm, good point, TG. Looking back on the Friday material above I think I may have drawn the whole "peasant ninjas" from a different source (didn't Meik Skoss write on this, too? I'll have to hunt down a URL. Also, Draeger mentions this, too, in his slim 3-volume budo book thingie I was reading recently, but Draeger may not have had all the info). I think also I was extrapolating; historically, the best guerilla fighters have come from the ranks of indigenous, rural peoples, haven't they?

Question: Kuji = Taoist sorcery?

Here's Skoss. Why would he refer to ninja as "outcasts" if they were mainstream samurai? He also mentions Draeger wrote a book on ninjutsu.

Recently, I've taken a considerable amount of heat for my rather dismissive attitude toward ninpo, or ninjutsu, ever since this article was first published. Well enough, but I want to make this clear: I don't think ninjutsu is a "bad" art, nor do I think people who study it are "bad" people. I am less than fully impressed with the ninjacompoops, as I call them, for a number of reasons. First of all, as one aspect of the martial arts, the equivalent, more or less, of military intelligence, it is certainly a legitimate area of study. The problem is, except for a handful of koryu, where it's a part of a larger comprehensive curriculum, ninjutsu just doesn't exist anymore. Certainly not as an independent ryu-ha. What is commonly taught as ninjutsu, in Japan and elsewhere, is nothing more than a rather disparate collection of unarmed and weapons arts. This, according to the people with whom I've spoken (people who are either professors of martial studies at Tsukuba University, the International Budo University, and Chukyo University, or headmasters and senior exponents in the classical martial arts), is something that's not very clearly understood by the general public. That's not to say these arts are not technically valid or that they don't have historical provenance. What they aren't, however, is the art of ninjutsu per se. One could saddle a cow, but I doubt it would serve you well if you rode it in a steeplechase. Same thing here.

Secondly, when I used the term "sub-human" in a previous version of this article in referring to people doing ninjutsu, I did so in light of the historical Japanese attitude toward the group of people who comprised the "ninja." The word used to refer them was hinin (outcast or criminal, with a strong implication of "sub-human"). The ninja were not viewed as esoteric Robin Hoods who righted the wrongs of the rich and protected the poor. They were viewed as little more than opportunistic scum who couldn't be trusted as far as you could throw them. The common opinion ("the only good ninja is a dead ninja") was a bit strong for our modern sensibilities, maybe, but that was the way bushi felt about it. I don't think modern exponents are sub-human. Silly, perhaps. Sub-human, no.

What I object to is the huge amount of misinformation and the misconceptions pushed by people in the popular media. Some of this is merely over-romanticism, but some of it is pure and simple hucksterism, intended to increase sales. Maybe it can't be helped. But all of the outright distortion that I have seen and heard is bothersome.


Kit, if I haven't seen the e-mail yet I will soon. Regardless, I will drop you a line today.

With due respect to Donn Draeger (who did make some mistakes and overstatements in his pioneering work - example - he lists the wrong man as founder of Araki-ryu) and Meik Skoss, I would defer to Dr. Friday, a trained historian specializing in feudal Japan, on the subject.

Chat with ya soon!

References for kuji/Taoist Sorcery/Shamanism/Spells within the Japanese martial tradition:

Marishiten: Buddhism and the Warrior Goddess by David Hall

Unpublished Doctoral dissertation, 1990. (Try UMI Dissertation Services )

This is the work that Dr. Hall's chapter in the first Koryu Books comes from. Hall is a koryu practitioner of several decades in Japan, and a doctor in Buddhist studies. HEAVY reading as he draws from sources in Japanese, Chinese, and Sanskrit. But fascinating reading toward the understanding of the "mindset" of the medieval warrior.

The Catalpa Bow: A Study of Shamanistic Practices in Japan. Carmen Blacker 1975/1999. The Japan Library.

(Hard to find) Not directly related to bujutsu but illustrates the background information that many of the martial traditions psycho-spiritual practices are based in.

Chinese Magical Medicine by Michel Strickmann Stanford University Press 2002.

Again background information on Buddho-Taoist magical traditions. Not directly bujutsu related, but the parallels will be obvious.

Prepare for some very heady reading.... (heh heh heh)

Hissho: left message for you at other forum. E-mail me at

I have misplaced yer e-mail address, dammit!

As I said in the other thread, there probably were a seperate class of ninja, and they were peasants, and they did train samurai, so there were also samurai with ninja skillsI think there are a couple of arguments against the existence of a peasant class of Ninjas. 1) Rice farming was very labor intensive. It's not like the peasants had a whole lot of time to be studying and practicing martial arts and freelancing as assassins and spies...2) There is the whole class structure. Samurai being trained by peasants? Think about that one...3) If you were at a Daimyo, how would you feel about a group of deadly assassins living in your han? That's a threat to the Daimyo's authority that they would want to put a stop to. I think "playboy millionaire Bruce Wayne by day, Batman by night" is more believable than "peasant by day, Ninja by night"...

Sorry T.G., I should have qualified that. The specific Kuji that are used today in "Ninjutsu" are believed to come from the Mikkyo sect, which was kind of an outcast sect from which I understand.


Not at all. In fact much of the religion and most koryu from the Warring States period is permeated with Mikkyo beliefs and teachings - much of the magic I mentioned above, and covered in the references I noted is also based in Mikkyo "esoteric Buddhist" beliefs.

Cool I will have to check those out, I do not do ninjutsu, but I think all the esoteric stuff is cool=)

Good points, Timbo. As I said I'm basing a lot of this on a little Draeger and Skoss, but I think TG and you are probably more correct.

Friday's position really makes to most sense. The
vehemence toward ninja by bushi is not really all that
dissimilar to how special forces operatives would be
treated if caught by the enemy. Nobody ever likes