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.

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