Ninjutsu

Ninja History 101: Ninjutsu Training

Ninja History 101: Ninjutsu Training

It’s a testimonial to the ninja that Japan’s 1964 Olympic team seriously considered using a number of ninjutsu training methods.

Masaaki Hatsumi, one of Japan’s few remaining ninja practitioners, describes the ninja of old as the perfect all-around athletes of their day — expert in running, jumping, swimming, climbing walls, long-distance hiking, throwing, etc.

Of course, the ninja excelled in all the martial arts of their day, such as kendo, kyudo and naginata-do. They were also skilled in hand-to-hand combat, using wrestling and boxing techniques that were the forerunners of judo and karate.

If a child were born into a ninja family, his ninjutsu training would begin during childhood. The art was handed down from father to son as a trade, and a number of great ninja clans arose. The secrets of those clans were closely guarded. The members of one clan would often be in hire of one lord and thus pitted against warriors in the employ of another lord. At such times, it always paid off to have a few secrets in one’s bag of tricks that were not generally known to others.


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The ninja underwent rigid training to learn ninjutsu techniques at secret camps, usually set up in the mountains. The schools were scattered throughout central Japan, with most situated in Iga and Koga provinces. Daily ninjutsu training focused on becoming adept in the use of the sword, bow and arrow, spear and tonki. Close attention was also paid to wall climbing, river crossing and the use of special devices. They also learned how to become expert horsemen.

Physical Ninjutsu Training

The late Seiko Fujita, who claimed to be the 14th master of the Koga school of ninjutsu, said ninja could walk the 350 miles between Edo (now Tokyo) and Osaka in three days. To improve his walking speed and skill, a ninja practiced by leaning his body forward or to one side so he was forced to walk rapidly to maintain balance.

Ninjutsu training also included walking with geta (wooden sandals) on ice to achieve perfect waist balance and silent treading. A ninja’s sandals were specially cushioned with cotton cloth so he could walk and jump noiselessly. When walking around the side of a structure, a ninja pressed his back to the wall and stepped sideways to prevent detection.

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DVDs and Video Downloads

Related Books, E-Books, DVDs and Video Downloads

Advanced Samurai Swordsmanship

Ninja: The Invisible Assassins

The Complete Ninja Collection by Stephen K. Hayes


The ninja were also great second-story men. They were extremely adept at breaking into enemy castles and spent long hours practicing wall climbing. They also stressed leaping to be able to jump across rooftops and to avoid their enemies by hopping across chasms, over walls and fences, etc. Seiko Fujita claimed that ninja became such experts at leaping that many of them could jump more than 7 feet into the air — which would make them champion high jumpers even today.

Mental Ninjutsu Training

Ninja put just as much stress on the spiritual and mental aspects of ninjutsu training as they did on purely physical action. They had to have their wits about them at all times and work out complicated problems on the spot. They learned to sharpen their perception and insight, developing their instincts to a point that seemed almost superhuman.

Heishichiro Okuse — perhaps the foremost authority on ninjutsu and the author of four books — wrote his last work on the subject, Hidden Ninjutsu: The Secret Thoughts and Strategies of the Ninja. According to him, they regarded nothing as impossible and scientifically applied brain power to every problem they encountered. He regards the nonphysical aspects of ninjutsu as the key to a successful career.

One of the most interesting aspects of ninjutsu is kuji-kiri, or magical signs made with the fingers to assist them in self-control during moments of danger. Kuji, or the number nine, is said to be the most important number in Kikkyo (esoteric Buddhism) and Shugendo (mountain asceticism). In practicing kuji-kiri, there were 81 different ways the ninja could knit his fingers together. At the same time, he chanted Buddhist sutras, or maxims from the scriptures.

The practice not only restored confidence and gave the ninja inner strength in moments of danger and desperation, but it was also supposed to hypnotize the enemy into inaction or temporary paralysis. It was something like the evil eye or the casting of a hex.

Learn more in these posts:

Part One: Ninja History 101: An Introduction to Ninjutsu

Part Two: Ninja History 101: Spying and Assassination

Part Three: Ninja History 101: Ninja Gear

Part Four: Ninja History 101: Ninjutsu Weapons

Ancient Ninja Stealth Skills Serve Santa Claus Well in Modern Times

The ninja called it ongyo-jutsu, the art of escape. It gave them an unrivaled command of trickery and stealth and earned them a reputation for being superhuman. They were said to be able to disappear through walls, turn themselves into trees or rocks, and even live underwater like a fish — all of which offers undeniable proof that the martial art that enables Santa Claus to do his thing on Christmas Eve is ninjutsu.

In ancient Japan, ongyo-jutsu was divided into two categories: skills for hiding and skills for disappearing. The hiding skills made use of the art of camouflage. The ninja learned how to control their movements and hold static positions for long periods, often taking on the appearance of a small tree or bush in the moonlight. In essence, they practiced giving up their identity as human beings and becoming one with the object they were trying to imitate.

Although his work environment is different, Santa also makes use of these skills. On Christmas Eve, he must sneak into house after house, slipping past sleeping children and the occasional curious parent without being noticed. How does he manage? By blending in with the background.


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Another intriguing aspect of the ninja’s training was controlled breathing. They could reduce their respiration rate so they appeared dead during a hasty inspection. This skill also allowed them to stay underwater for long periods while breathing through reeds or bamboo shoots.

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Santa, of course, seldom has a need to play dead. For him, breath control mostly serves as a means to avoid waking sleeping dogs. Because so many houses around the world have a canine on the premises, it pays big dividends in the form of bite prevention. When controlled breathing doesn’t do the trick, Santa takes another cue from the ancient ninja, who were known to blow powder into their enemies’ eyes to create a diversion that permitted their escape. Modern technology has enabled Santa to update the chemical composition of the powder; it now harmlessly obscures one’s vision and induces a dream state for 20 to 30 seconds, which is all the time he needs to scoot back up the chimney.

The ninja skill of hiding was sometimes taken to extremes. For instance, during the war of the Imperial Restoration of 1867, a ninja hid his wife and mother from enemy troops by concealing them in a place where nobody would dream of looking: He buried them up to their noses in sunken pots full of manure, then covered them with compost straw.

Because of the nature of his occupation, Santa wisely avoids such desperate measures. He knows that the resulting odor would hamper him for the rest of the night — and probably for weeks to come when he’s back at the North Pole.

Without their complement of gadgets and devices, the ninja could not have accomplished their missions in battle. In particular, they relied on a pair of iron claws that were strapped to their palms. Although many have hypothesized that they were used for hand-to-hand combat, their real purpose is evidenced by the fact that Santa carries exactly the same implement.

That purpose? Climbing. It’s the only way an overweight man could hope to make his way up the featureless interior of a brick chimney. The realization that the long line of men who’ve worn the red suit depend so heavily on these ninja claws has prompted more than a few historians to suggest that the origin of the name “Santa Claus” might, in fact, be “Santa Claws.”

The Black Belt staff wishes you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!…

Ninjutsu Training Tips Anyone Can Use!

Ninjutsu training practitioner brandishing a katana or other Japanese sword.

Centuries ago, ninjutsu training was born into a world enveloped in war. That one fact makes it vastly different from styles like aikido and Brazilian jiu-jitsu, which were founded during peacetime. Because of its violent childhood, ninjutsu techniques focused on fighting methods that worked on the battlefield, behind enemy lines and against multiple attackers. The art grew to encompass principles for psychological self-defense that enabled its adherents to live out their lives on their own terms, free from fear.


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Those same principles are now used by military personnel around the world — even though they probably don’t know where the teachings came from. Because we all face adversity — granted, it may not be as severe as that experienced by a black-clad warrior 500 years ago or an Army Ranger today — ninja history is just as valuable in the 21st century as it ever was.

Ninjutsu Training Tip No. 1: You cannot control your environment, but you can control yourself.

At the foundation of ninjutsu lies the basic understanding that you have little to no control over your attackers. Whether they’re physical, psychological or emotional sources of stress, to waste time fretting, panicking or denying the truth of the circumstances is to invite frustration. Or failure.

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The Complete Ninja Collection by Stephen K. Hayes compiles his six best-selling ninjutsu philosophy and training books into one 900-page omnibus! Available now in our online store by clicking the above image.

The inhabitants of the ninja villages in Japan’s Iga province were attacked almost daily. Instead of wallowing in their misery, they prepped themselves to function in fearful or stressful environments. Accounts abound of training sessions in which students ran through dark forests while their partners waited for an opportunity to launch a surprise attack. By mastering their breathing, their senses and their awareness, they were able to function. What’s more, they learned how to remain relaxed under stress.

These days, sources of stress take on many forms. Daily challenges may not become real psychological or emotional threats until they start to snowball. “It’s not an expensive car repair,” you might say. “It’s just that I need the car to pick up my cousin at the airport tomorrow. It wouldn’t be a big deal, but with my reduced hours at work. …”

Just like the ninja of old, we can’t control our environment, but we can control ourselves. Remember to keep breathing, smile and never lose your 360 degrees of awareness. You’ve no doubt read countless articles that explain the concept of “tunnel vision.” Frustration, fear and anger can narrow your awareness to the origin of those emotions (your attacker). As a result, you’re exposed to the possibility of multiple assailants.

This principle applies psychologically, too. Spend your time frustrated or angry over your circumstances, and you’re liable to miss out on opportunities that are dangling just outside your peripheral vision. Opportunity is present in every stressful situation. Recall how persecution and warfare helped transform the ninja not only into survivors but also into legends.


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Ninjutsu Training Tip No.2: There’s something to be learned from everything.

The ninja referred to this principle as shikin harimitsu daikomyo, which roughly translates as “every moment holds the potential for enlightenment.” The ninja’s enemies enjoyed superiority in numbers, weapons and supplies. The ninja, however, realized there was one thing their enemies could not take away: their ability to learn something new from each encounter. This principle was embraced and eventually woven into the fabric of ninjutsu training.

The beauty of historical ninjutsu is that training and living were the same. The only thing that separated failure from lesson learned was the mindset of the person involved. They strived to take something new from each encounter and apply it during their next one. They never allowed their egos to get in the way of revisiting that vital first stage of learning.

Thomas Edison outlined this principle well: “I have not failed 700 times. I have not failed once. I have succeeded in proving that those 700 ways will not work.”

Ninjutsu Training Tip No.3: Conditioning yourself will help you succeed in stressful environments.

The third principle is one that separates martial artists from sports competitors, and it lies at the heart of ninjutsu training. Bruce Lee reminded us that the best training for the event is the event. Separating excellent training from mediocre training can be challenging because we normally can’t participate in the event we’re training for. As explained above, however, the ninja were able to combine the actual event with their training, and …

Ninjutsu Training Commentary and Video by Jack Hoban, Student of Grandmaster Masaaki Hatsumi

Jack Hoban is one of the founding fathers of American ninjutsu. He rode the wave of ninja-mania that struck during the 1980s, and he weathered the drought that moved in when the popularity of ninjutsu training plunged. Other fads have come and gone, but still Jack Hoban is there, steadfast is his belief in his art and the ninjutsu training of Masaaki Hatsumi, its 34th-generation grandmaster. In this interview excerpt from the February 2002 issue of Black Belt, Jack Hoban comments on the art and his teacher, Masaaki Hatsumi.


Black Belt: Can you briefly describe your involvement with ninjutsu training and your teacher, Masaaki Hatsumi?
Jack Hoban: I studied some karate and escrima and was a captain in the U.S. Marines. I also boxed a little. I read about Stephen K. Hayes and went to some of his training [camps], including the Ninja Festival. It was Stephen K. Hayes who was my first sempai (senior) and who introduced me to Masaaki Hatsumi in 1981 or 1982.

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BB: What was your initial impression of Masaaki Hatsumi and his style of ninjutsu training?
Jack Hoban: Well, he was warm and friendly — very different from the image of the stern Asian martial arts master. His skills were absolutely awesome, and his approach to the martial arts was apples to the oranges I had previously studied. The breadth of his knowledge was amazing, too. He talked about all kinds of things — from swordsmanship to meteorology, from esoteric Buddhism to rope tying, from exotic healing to how to kill a horse quietly. And he had this underlying hint of mystery — like a small waft of smoke that would appear at times. Kind of like a ninja, I guess. (laughs)

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BB: Has your impression of ninjutsu training master Masaaki Hatsumi changed much since then?
Jack Hoban: Only in that I see him more as a human being now. In the beginning, he was more like a character from my imagination. I can say this: In all the time I’ve known him, he has never once done anything but support and help me in an extremely straightforward manner. I have heard other people say different things, but that has been my experience.

BB: You’ve undertaken ninjutsu training with Masaaki Hatsumi for quite a long time. How would you describe your relationship with Masaaki Hatsumi?
Jack Hoban: I think of him as a mentor and father figure. … As we both get older, I am starting to feel that I understand him better and am embarrassed at the trouble I caused him over the years by being impatient, arrogant and immature. I hope to be able to repay his kindness in future years by being more pleasant to associate with and less demanding of his time and energy — and his patience. I don’t know what he would say, but all in all, the relationship has been a wonderful one from my point of view. When I first met him, there were not so many people training, so I really got a lot of time alone with him. That is impossible now for most new members of the Bujinkan, so I was lucky. Good timing.


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BB: What is the most important aspect of martial arts training — whether ninjutsu training or otherwise?
Jack Hoban: Of course, the most important aspect of the Bujinkan and the martial arts is to “keep going.” Keep going in your quest to be a good martial artist, a good person and a person dedicated to peace.

BB: What has helped you to keep going in your ninjutsu training?
Jack Hoban: Well, a sense of curiosity is one thing. I am constantly entertained by the thought of what Masaaki Hatsumi will come up with next. He once told me that to be good at martial arts, you have to practice three times as much as a normal person, spend three times as much on your training as a normal person and be three times as stupid as a normal person. Stamina, money, mule-ishness. I have at least two of those qualities. (laughs) But seriously, the Warrior Creed keeps me going — knowing I can be one of “those people” …

Ninjutsu Training Myths: Does Ninjutsu Embody the Dark Side of Martial Arts?

Since authentic ninjutsu training was introduced to the Western world in the late 1970s, many false notions and erroneous impressions have grown up around the legendary shadow warriors known as the ninja. Many of these misconceptions have roots in fact but have developed as falsehoods over the centuries of secrecy that have surrounded the art. Many of the incorrect ideas have grown out of a lack of discrimination between truth and falsehood on the part of moviemakers and book publishers. Also, some of the negative myths are the direct work of those outside the tradition who believed they had reason to fear the authentic ninja legacy.


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Ninjutsu Training Myth or Fact? — Ninjutsu is the dark side of the martial arts … the clandestine practice of stealth, intelligence gathering and assassination.

The art of ninjutsu was born of a unique set of cultural, political, religious and economic forces that played themselves out a thousand years ago in Japanese history. History’s authentic ninja were a counterculture society forced into existence by the shifting fortunes of feudal Japanese political and military conflicts.

Contrary to common misconception, the ninja were not unsophisticated and superstitious low-class peasants. The ninja were the descendents of powerful noble warriors who, through the inevitable workings of fate, happened to be allied in support of powerful warlords who ultimately did not succeed in the collection of battles that made up the war for supremacy.

With the defeat of their side’s cause, these noble warriors were forced into lives of exile, dwelling in the mountains stretched of wilderness to the south of the Heian-Kyo (new Kyoto) capital. These original ancestors of the ninja were barred forever from the professions of state administration, trade, military command and public service to which at one time they had successfully devoted their energies.


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As exiles concerned with the rugged demands of survival in a harsh natural environment and a deadly political climate, the ninja families of south-central Japan were forced to alter their tactics and strategies to better suit their precarious status.

In truth, no one wanted to be a ninja; such status was a burden inflicted by fate. The ninja were the “underdogs,” the oppressed hounded by a well-financed and mechanically ruthless government intent on stamping out any and all possible threats to its supremacy and control. Thus, subtle and shadowed means grew to take the place of the bold and forceful ways used by those people holding power.

Because the ninja families’ numbers were so much smaller than those of the ruling powers that worked to eradicate them, intelligence gathering became a vastly more important task than troop drilling. With the very survival of the family at stake, the ninja warriors of Iga were required to devise a whole new approach to warfare, and the motivation behind that approach has been misunderstood for centuries.


About the Author:
Ninjutsu master Stephen K. Hayes was inducted into the Black Belt Hall of Fame in 1985. He has achieved the rare rank of judan (10th-degree black belt) and was formally ordained in 1991 as a teacher in the 1,200-year-old Japanese esoteric meditation tradition. In 2013, his acclaimed and best-selling series of six Ninja books is being released as a revised and expanded omnibus titled The Complete Ninja Collection by Stephen K. Hayes.
For an in-depth look at the art of ninjutsu, check out our ninjutsu books, DVDs and video downloads!…

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