Tuesday, September 30, 2008

The Way of The Sword Saint

Since ancient times the sword has been intimately associated with the warrior.  In Japan, the sword was so identified with the Samurai that it was thought to embody his soul.  It has long been regarded as a weapon of honor and holds a mystical place in the combat arts of the world. This emphasis on the sword exists in Ninjutsu as well.  In fact, Soke has stated that to properly understand budo one must master both the sword and the bo.  Historically, the sword was a development and refinement of the bo and can be seen to share many of its characteristics. In ancient times, the sword was made of wood, metallic swords only being available to the most privileged.  It is not merely a tool for cutting; it has a far more subtle character.  It has been identified with the warrior for millennia and has been imbued with the notions of warriorship.  The key to wielding the sword is to enter into combat with the feeling of Muto Dori.  As it should be, the focus is on the taijutsu.  The body and sword move as one.

Combat is always kyojutsu, truth and falsehood; therefore, the true sword is that of the mind and spirit.  Ultimately, the Word of God is the secret sword, cutting not merely bone and marrow but soul and spirit.

"Succeeding in this [muto dori], the mysteries of the secret sword (hiken) will be revealed, and no matter what weapon you hold, your heart and your taijutsu will dance skillfully in the void (koku)." Masaaki Hatsumi, Japanese Sword Fighting  

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Hiding In The Mist

The ninja of legend were said to appear and disappear at will, performing supernatural acts by occult power.  The ninja were masters of kyojutsu, masters of truth and falsehood: the interplay of the apparent and the actual.  There is a fog of war, it exists on the macro battlefield as well as in the micro battlefield that exists between two combatants.  The subtlety of ninpo arises when this mist of battle is exploited, when combat is reduced to the manipulation of the gaps in the mind.  The ninja must move in the cloudy mists of the mind where illusion becomes the true sword. The genesis of intention is felt stirring in the opponent, then the focused intention of the ninja pierces through to strike the heart of the opponent.  In this mist, victory may be obtained apart from battle and here the ultimate expression of ninpo is found.  In these moments, the form of the ninja disappears within grey, cold clouds of confusion.  Perception becomes reality as the heart is led astray.   

Thursday, September 18, 2008


When I train, I often find myself performing at a level far below what I feel to be acceptable.  I experience a great deal of frustration and self loathing when I fail to perform technique perfectly. However, this response does not accord with the principals we see operating in nature.  From the entropy present in all natural systems, to the disastrous forces of unleashed nature, to the beauty of the asymmetrical, there is a Divine harmony in the imperfect.  The harmony present in natural imperfection speaks to the existence of Divine grace operating in a corrupted universe.

Budo has long recognized the virtue of imperfection in the development and operation of technique.  Imperfection is, in fact, desirable not to mention an ever present reality--we are not gods.  Indeed, the imperfect execution of technique allows for the creativity of "henka" and infuses budo with life.  In particular, taijutsu finds its strength and power in the freedom to apply the imperfect to the interplay of space and timing, producing martial art.  In the dojo, I observe as the young budoka struggle with the illusion of their own imperfection, while those mature in budo taijutsu move in natural unity with imperfection and, thereby, become living examples of martial art: the budo of elegance.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Ninjutsu: Warrior Art, Not Sport

Currently, UFC and MMA sport fighting represent the pinnacle of the fighting arts to popular culture. The introduction of various sport martial arts into a refereed fighting match gives the impression of actual combat.  The danger here is in the misapplication of techniques and strategies developed for a sport match.  Such misapplications can easily result in defeat or death in real world combat.  Ground fighting techniques have become extremely popular, not only among the misinformed public but also within law enforcement circles.  Ground fighting, though properly a part of a complete fighting art, is not viable as a primary mode of combat.  The modern ground fighting techniques, designed for the sterile environment of sport, do not account for real world variables such as flogging about on asphalt or on rocky surfaces.  Additionally, and most critically, ground fighting techniques completely ignore the possibility of facing more than one opponent while engaging in the techniques of man-hugging.  Also, ground fighting systems do not address situations involving weapons.  More often than not, UFC and MMA matches deteriorate rapidly into common bar room brawls in which victory is decided by "luck" or stamina.  As sport, the UFC and MMA are great entertainment but as examples of the fighting arts they have little validity.

Ninjutsu embodies  the ancient and traditional budo arts of japan.  Incorporating systems from China, Ninjutsu developed into and remains a complete martial art, utilizing every component of human combat potential.  Recently in my training, I was confronted with the question, "what is the most important aspect of Ninpo?"  During that training session, I observed what, to me, is the most important aspect of Ninpo.  I watched as two Ninjutsu students attacked a senior student.  The senior student seemed to be taking the worst of the attack, having been forced to the matt with one attacker on his back.  At this moment of seeming defeat, where the attackers relaxed in an apparent victory, the senior student manipulated the space resulting in a throw and making his escape.  Though defeat seemed assured, he persevered with the heart of the Ninja and found his victory at the very instant of seeming loss.  Here is the heart of Ninpo.  There are no limits, no rules, no carefully meted out rounds of engagement.  Ninjutsu, quite simply, is the real deal.  Would I relish the opportunity to meet a Chuck Liddell in the ring? No, at least not without a weapon.  But that is the way of the ninja, it is real combat.  Takamatsu sensei once said that if he wished to split a helmet, he'd use an ax.    

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

A Winning Insect

From ancient times the Ninja have had a close association with nature.  The Ninja opened their eyes and understanding to what nature had to teach.  With single minded purpose they studied the seasons, stars, plants, animals, and insects.  Takamatsu sensei once observed that the dragonfly is a winning insect and should be the subject of close study.

The dragonfly has long been admired in japanese culture.  The samurai took the motif of the dragonfly as a reminder to be busy about their lord's service just as the dragonfly ceaselessly flutters it's wings, busy about nature's business.  For me, this elegant creature, reminds me to ceaselessly pursue ninpo training.  However, more can be learned from the habits of this jeweled insect.  Interestingly, other insects instinctively dive downward when threatened by predators.  The dragonfly attacks it's prey from underneath.  It's strategy turns the prey's technique against itself and maximizes the dragonfly's efficiency of motion.  

The lesson here is clear.  We must patiently wait with an unmovable spirit (fudo) until the enemy, moved by his instinct and our intention, sacrifices himself.  The enemy must take the path of his own destruction, we must merely be there at the right time to receive it, to shape the space to our advantage.  The essence of this is to take what the opponent gives and make it your own through freedom of martial expression.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Chance, Chaos, and Luck

Modern scientific theory teaches that the universe functions in a mode of randomness and chaos. Specifically, quantum theory posits that order and logic are only imposed on an object at the time it is observed as it flows through the flux of chaos.  The empirical sciences promulgate theories as fact, rejecting anything not reducible to physical examination and testing. 

In ninpo, the spiritual is recognized as an aspect of reality.  Indeed, ninpo relies on the understanding of spiritual principals to interpret natural phenomena.  Apart from a relationship with the Divine there can be no true ninpo and apart from a biblical world view there can be no true understanding of the nature of reality.  

"Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The flacon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world..."
William Butler Yeats, The Second Coming

The actions of the Omnicient and Eternal must of necessity appear, at certain points, to the finite and mortal as random.  The events of eternity may seem to arise out of chaos but this is only because our point of reference is infinitely small; this is the great failing of empiricism.  The Ninja knew that reality is not reducible to the observable and that chance and chaos are only illusions.  "The lot is cast into the lap; but the whole disposing thereof is of the Lord." Proverbs 16:33  There is no particle of reality that is outside God' s sphere of Sovereignty.  To argue otherwise is to postulate the absurd.  To understand the principal of Divine Sovereignty is to gain the key to correctly interpreting the nature of the universe.      

Thursday, September 4, 2008


I have recently been challenged with the question, "why train in ninpo taijutsu?"  If the question is posed to ten different people, you will be presented with ten different answers.  For me, training in the ancient and authentic budo is motivated by several purposes.  I wish to be capable of defending those close and precious to me.  I wish to serve my country by defending her against enemies both foreign and domestic.  Historically, it was expected that a man be adept in the fighting arts, to our shame, this is no longer the case.  

"Combat is an unusual experience for most of us, but then emergencies of any kind always are.  However, combat does occur, and any fully educated person knows this and prepares for it."   Jeff Cooper, To Ride, Shoot Straight, And Speak The Truth  

I will not be guilty of empowering the wicked in the violent pursuit of their misdeeds by failing to act.  If God so designs, my sword will cut clean and true, giving living expression to the "life-giving sword."  

Tuesday, September 2, 2008


In long ago ages, a samurai would depart from family and from the protection and tutelage of his ryu to wander the world.  He would test his mettle and his skill in duels and acts of noble chivalry.  On the solitary path of "musha-shugyo" the samurai would travel, through sweltering heat or bitter cold, through driving rain and biting snow.  He would endure the onslaught of nature, brute creature, the corruption of man, and perhaps the supernatural.  In the end, the warrior would know the breadth and depth of his spiritual and physical capability. 

In this age, the warrior class is an endangered species.  The rough and ready men of the past are not likely to be seen in modern urban centers, where soft half-men are in abundance, richly festooned in effeminate costume.  But, the modern samurai must, nonetheless, undertake his "musha-shugyo" as his forbearers did and test his spirit in a lonesome waste inhabited by the elitist fop and effete.  The warrior presses onward though solitary paths, in a self imposed pilgrimage of discipline and honor.  As in ancient times, the way is uncertain and fraught with difficulty and conflict.  But, in the end, when the spirit is tested and shown to be pure, and when battle is enjoined and quitted with honor, the modern warrior will know, as his ancient brethren knew, that to endure is the essence of victory.