We’ve all seen the movies, so we know what the ninja are. Hired killers and assassins performing superhuman feats of jumping and climbing, punching their fists through walls, turning invisible and using a vast array of weapons to attack anyone or anything without a second thought or any measure of restraint. The ninja are dangerous warriors who hire themselves out as mercenaries and trained soldiers without conscience or loyalty to anyone. This is what they are, and because Hollywood has shown them in this light, who are we to question it? If it’s on TV it must be true.
Or is it?
Of course, what we‘ve seen in the movies can’t be TOO farfetched?
Actually, it is. So, you’ve decided to sit down at home and do a little studying for yourself. Hop on the Internet, go to your favorite search engine, type in “Ninja,” hit enter and wait for the information to flood in. Instantly you’re bombarded with Hollywood’s stereotype-fueled portrayal of highly trained madmen running around, jumping off of cliffs, and cutting the head off of anyone who dares look their way. “Take the test! Are you a good ninja or a bad ninja?” “Click here to order illegal ninja training videos!” “Learn how to fight like the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles!”
Heaven help us. Idiocy, all of it.
So, what is true and what isn’t? Fortunately, you have the perfect opportunity to find out. Soke Yo Sato, 10th Dan Black Belt and Grand Master of Sato Ryu Ninjutsu started teaching his family’s art right here in Tooele in late April of this year. Certainly, he would know what the truth is and what isn’t the truth, wouldn’t he? You can bet your house and more on that one.
Here’s what you’re going to do to end your quest for the truth about Ninjutsu. Hop into your car, or walk, down to the Dojo at 36 N. Main Street here in Tooele. Sit down on a chair that a student will happily provide for you and watch a class.
This is what you’ll learn:
The school of Sato Ryu Ninjutsu, as we know it in its present form, was founded in 1890. Even in that time it was an old martial art, with its roots reaching back as far as 900 A.D. But, even throughout turmoil of feudalism in medieval Japan, the art of Ninjutsu remained relatively unchanged.
Medieval Japan is where our story begins.
During this time, there weren’t any of the modern martial arts that most of us are familiar with today (Tae Kwon Do, Kendo, etc.) There were only what were referred to as “jutsu” terms in the martial arts. Kenjutsu and Yarijutsu, for example. Ninjutsu was one of these. It was, and always has been “Ninjutsu.”
Even to this day. Much like medieval Europe, the Japanese had their own feudal system.
At the top of the system you had rich landowners and noblemen.
Directly below them, you had what were the equivalent of European knights and soldiers.
These soldiers were of the “Bushi” class, also known as Samurai. Below that, you had the lower class. Commoners and peasants. This is where the practitioners of Ninjutsu fell.
After some time, the Bushi began to change some of these art forms in structure, in code, as well as in name. Kenjutsu became Kendo and Yarijutsu became Yarido, giving birth to the modern day “Do” disciplines.
These disciplines were primarily the art of the upper classes and so were not taught or made available to those of “lower” class. Those of the lower class had no honor, so when feudalism began full-swing in Japan, obviously the upper classes had their own martial arts that they studied.
The lower class held on to their traditions, so Ninjutsu was not one of the arts that changed. The Ninja, as we now know, were not of Bushi class and therefore not considered warriors, let alone honorable to some points of view. The Bushi felt that these art forms should be “refined” to a training form, rather than recognized as a Warrior/Fighting Art. From this mindset, the Samurai martial art Budo was born; riddled with behavior codes, structure and the new adherence to “honor above all else.”
The Ninja didn’t follow these newly introduced codes, nor did they feel obligated to. They had trained in their discipline for many years and didn’t see any reason to change the way that they led their lives, especially the way that they trained. This is why Ninjutsu has been able to retain its original form and structure over the centuries.
This isn’t to say that Ninjutsu itself is unstructured or undisciplined.
On the contrary. Nin, “Patience and Endurance,” is in its very essence the art of unifying yourself with your surroundings and, at the same time, making all that is around you become a part of you. It’s impossible to gain these skills without a great deal of mental, physical, and spiritual discipline and training.
Nor is it a secretive, mysterious pathway into the darker reaches of the human psyche.
Its a very rigorous, but soothing and empowering discipline. On your first day of training, much of your time is spent learning balance and meditation techniques.
Once you have shown sufficient proficiency in these simpler forms you begin to learn tumbles, rolls, simple hand and fighting stances, and more meditation techniques. You begin to discover a new confidence in yourself that wasn’t there before.
After resting for a day, your second day focuses on strength conditioning. Push ups, stretching, isometrics, stretching, abdominal workouts, stretching, pulling yourself along the floor using only your arms, stretching, flexibility exercises, and did I mention stretching? A rigorous 80 minute workout followed by an incredibly powerful 10 minute meditative cool-down where you learn how to slow your heart rate, increase your lung capacity to slow breathing, and calm the aches and pains of your newly trained muscles.
When you open your eyes, you begin to view the world in a completely new, calmer light.
That newfound confidence is increasing and you find a smile on your face that you just can’t seem to get rid of.
Now it’s your third day. Your muscles remind you that you just got done with a heavy workout 48 hours ago, but your mind is eager to learn more. Your confidence level is through the roof. You’re now ready to learn some slightly more advanced techniques. Tonight you will be focusing on wrist locks, elbow locks, shoulder locks, and some basic disarming moves. Did you pay attention to the lessons you learned the first two days? Because you’re going to need every bit of balance and strength that you’ve gained so far. Okay, watch the teacher carefully as he shows you how to perform your first wrist lock.
As it’s demonstrated, you wince in sympathetic pain as Sensei (as you now call him) twists the wrist of the person he’s working with and brings them to their knees. Surprisingly, it is a very simple move and as you practice with your partner, you discover how easy it is.
As you progress on through the third day, that smile you have keeps getting bigger in spite of all the aches and pains this new discipline you’ve discovered has given you.
The first week is over and you have an entire weekend to dwell on what you have learned. Control, balance, discipline, focus, calmness, energy, your view on Ninjutsu has completely changed in the matter of five days. But don’t stop yet, to truly attain what it is you have tasted will take dedication and loyalty, two concepts that are crucial to this art. The secrets of the Ninja are within your grasp.
Reach for them, they’re now a part of you. Because your way is Ninjutsu and you are already a Ninja.
Further information can be found at www.satoryuninjutsu. com; Geoff Turner can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.