Ninjutsu Miscellania

Discussion in 'Ninjutsu' started by Botta Dritta, May 26, 2021.

  1. Botta Dritta

    Botta Dritta Valued Member

    After a lot of work I've finally found a copy of Seaweed for breakfast : a picture of Japanese life today by Nina Consuelo Epton (published in 1963)

    Nina Epton - Wikipedia

    Nina was a Travel Writer and broadcaster in the 1950's and 60's who wrote a tonne of books and worked for the BBC. In the above book there was a short snippet where when interviews a 'ninja master' in Japan, one which I have never come across. Some of the stuff is similar to Togakure Ryu, including the only mention of Shuko (the hand spikes - presumably) outside of the Bujinkan when relating to ninjutsu.

    While its not the earliest western depiction of Ninjutsu in the 60's (Jay Gluck's book Zen Combat, and the Argosy magazine article with Hatsumi predate it by a a year)

    I'm going to include Nina's experience on MAP as the book is increasingly hard to find. The other chapters alone on Japanese society in the 60's and its undergoing changes are wonderful enough. Ill use the thread a a dump for other tit bits that I unearth over time about postwar ninjutsu over time. Enjoy.

    April 18th

    I saw a fascinating programme on television the other night about ninjas, or invisible men, who used to be employed as spies by the feudal lords. Only a few men are keeping the old tradition alive, but I should not be surprised to hear that their services are in demand, since spies and assassins are not unknown in present day Japan.

    I suspect that Yuso, who introduced me to Mr Toshiro, faith-healer and Ninja instructor in his spare moments, is one of his disciples. It does not seem to be a lucrative profession, for the two storey house in one of Tokyo’s lesser known suburbs where the master lives is quite humble.

    Ninjutsu, explained Mr Toshiro, is a martial art perfected over the centuries. It originated in the twelfth century when small bands of defeated warriors took to the hills and began to live on their wits. As they lacked arms they had to make up for them resorting to trickery, stratagem and unorthodox devices. The first thing they had to lean was to merge into the landscape like chameleons. Their ‘Uniform’ was - is - dark blue and when they are ‘on duty’ they conceal their face with a hood. The Ninjas became so adept that their talents were recognised by the warlords and their services were highly paid for. From that time on they enveloped their profession with an aura of mystery, forming a tightly closed brother-hood. Anybody who revealed his true identity to an outsider was immediately murdered by a colleague.

    For a long time the Japanese believed that the Ninjas were capable of almost superhuman feats. They were said to run at incredible speeds, to scale high walls at a leap, to make themselves invisible thanks to magic powder. They appear in films about Samurai times with the aid of trick photography.

    All this, said Mr Toshiro candidly, is absolute nonsense. The genuine Ninja is a highly trained man, an expert in Judo, karate and kendo (Japanese-style fencing) plus a few extra tricks handed down from generation to generation on Ninjas. “We are taught the art of deception,'' he said “and muscular control”.

    Mr Toshiro took a grape and swallowed it but continued talking in a perfectly normal voice. A few moments later he opened his mouth and revealed the grape. This was useful in the old days (one can conceive it could be still handy in present day circumstances) for hiding secret messages. I should have thought it would be difficult to get a message into a grape in the first place, but Japanese are pastmasters at wrapping things up small. I do not think a westerner would ever be capable of such a feat.

    A Ninja acquired the reputation of being able to make himself invisible by such simple devices as throwing powdered resin contained in an eggshell into his pursuers eyes or jumping in the air and grabbing a beam in the ceiling by means of metal hooks bound to his wrists.

    The Ninja carries ropes armed with hooks which can be used for a quick get-away over a wall or a gate (when not in use they fold into a bamboo pole), spiked wrist bands to ward odd sword blows and deal pretty deadly ones and knives…. But even without weapons. Thanks to his training in judo and karate, the Ninja is a formidable opponent.

    The ‘Master’ demonstrated some of his skills by grappling with his student and then climbing onto the roof by means of his grappling hook - loops tied in the rope were used as rungs of a ladder. Such sprightliness he said was the result of years of training. He had started at the age of eleven.

    Mr Toshiro has a small group of ‘serious students’. I should have liked to know a little more of their background. Perhaps the police would be interested too. A fully trained Ninja is not a person to be taken lightly. The ‘master’ was not only sprightly, he also looked very tough. And surely, one doesn’t learn all these tricks for fun! Would it not be a waste of considerable talent?

    Seaweed for breakfast : a picture of Japanese life today by Nina Consuelo Epton
    axelb, cds, Dead_pool and 1 other person like this.
  2. Botta Dritta

    Botta Dritta Valued Member

    Finding postwar ninjutsu stuff becomes increasingly difficult, doubly so if like me your knowledge of Japanese is non-existent. That does not mean that snippets didn't make it into the west, though you have to practice much google fu and check repeatedly what gets added to sites such as internet archives. Take for example a PDF I found of an New Jersey newspaper from 1950, where an short article and interview was given by a claimed descendant of a ninja, wo was a barber. Naturally our ability to verify or track any of this information is close to non-existent. we have to take his 'black outfit' claims with a pinch of salt and wonder if its recycled Gingetu Itoh imagery. But what it does show is that even if the 2nd Ninja Boom started in the media proper in Japan in the 1960's, there was still claims and knowledge that precede it. See below.

    Japanese Spies of Feudal Time Said to Be 'Invisible'

    • TOKYO

    A lost art may have had a lot to do with the final defeat of Japan—if stories of feudal arts currently circulating here are to be believed. ' Many Japanese have recalled, in discussions with American newsmen and others, that in feudal times, Japanese spies had the knack of making themselves "invisible." One, a claimed descendant of the especially gifted spies, said the secret weapon had not I been used for a 100 years or more. And, when they did use it, he said, the ancient Japs used it only among themselves.

    During the feudal days of Japan, when rivalry, suspicion and intrigue among military leaders were rampant, the Japanese developed the art of spying to a high degree. Local warlords always had spies in the territories of their enemies. The ears of captured spies often were sent home on cushions. The more wary of the spies learned to make themselves "invisible"—an art called "ninjustu." Japanese legends are full of the accomplishments of these spies, but people today admit the claims may be a little exaggerated. Nevertheless, ninjutsu experts really existed. They mastered their art only after years of hard training.

    Sanzo Kimura, one of downtown Tokyo's best barbers, knows all about the "lost art" because he's a great-great-great-grandson of one of the best ninjutsu operators that ever lived in Japan. Here's what Sanzo says his ancient relative did:

    "When my honourable ancestor was still a boy, he first learned to walk and run fast—faster than ordinary persons. He trained himself to go without eating and sleeping for many days. Then my wise and honourable ancestor learned to walk softly and noiselessly anywhere, to climb perpendicular walls, jump over high fences, open and shut doors in silence, and see things in semidarkness, and developed an especially keen sense of hearing. When my kind, guileless and honorable ancestor went on a mission for his master, he dressed himself in a tight black outfit which covered his whole head and face, except for small holes for the eyes. He selected a moonless night and scaled the outer wall of the place he intended to enter. If he met anyone in the corridor, he flattened himself against the wall or jumped up and held his body in mid-air above the person by grabbing the sideposts. He went wherever he pleased and listened in on the household of his master's adversary. When he had obtained his information, he silently returned to report it."

    So far as occupation personnel know, the art of the invisible spies has not been practiced in modern times. Even- Sanzo believes not. The modern electric light, he admits, probably would have thrown even his honorable great - great great-grandfather for a loss.

    Raritan Township and Ford Beacon
    Thursday, July 6th, 1950, page 5.

    Raritan Township and Fords beacon. : (Fords, N.J.) 1936-1954
  3. Botta Dritta

    Botta Dritta Valued Member

    For this week I offer something unusual, perhaps prompted that Anthony Cummins is once again off on one with his Takamatsu video he posted last week.

    An individual I have both grudging respect for him and makes my eyes roll in equal measure: there is no arguing that he has put so much historical ninutsu output there, regardless of how accurate his interpretations of the material is. My suspicion that he has neither looked into the actual Gata for Togakure ryu or understood that they aren’t for the most part ninja hand to hand combat techniques, but anti-arrest and escape and evasion was reinforced by him once again implying that it was Hatsumi and by extension Takamatsu that promoted the whole ‘ninja fighting techniques’ schtick that infested the 1980’s.

    To some extent you can understand it, after all both Hatsumi and Takamatsu were ninja choreography consultants in the first Shinobi no Mono (1962) movie that kicked off the whole 1960’s gritty ninjutsu aesthetic in Japan during that decade, which was a break from the quasi-magical folk magicians view of ninjutsu that had predominated until then. You can see an cockeyed Ichimonji no kamae in the very first scene amongst the battlefield wreckage and corpses.

    So is the whole ninja hand to hand thing a Hatsumi/Bujinkan thing?

    Well perhaps not… There is an earlier snippet/source for Ninjutsu in a hand to hand combat context, in English no less from that titan of sci-fi Robert a Heinlein (of the Starship Troopers fame) in his short Sci-Fi novel Tunnel in the Sky, which you can read from this link.

    And in particular this except below:

    “No.” Cliff hesitated, then added, “Bruce, throw your knife away. Go ahead- or so help me I’ll poke a joe- sticker in your belly myself. Give me your knife, Rod.”

    Rod looked at Bruce, then drew Colonel Bowie and handed it to Cliff. Bruce straightened up and flipped his knife at Cliff’s feet. Cliff rasped, “I still say not to, Rod. Say the word and we’ll take him apart.”

    “Back off. Give us room.

    “Well- no bone breakers. You hear me, Bruce? Make a mistake and you’ll never make another.”

    “‘No bone breakers,’” Rod repeated, and knew dismally that the rule would work against him; Bruce had him on height and reach and weight. “Okay,” McGowan agreed. “Just cat clawing. I am going to show this rube that one McGowan is worth two of him.”

    Cliff sighed. “Back off, everybody. Okay- get going!” Crouched, they sashayed around, not touching. Only the preliminaries could use up much time; the textbook used in most high schools and colleges listed twenty-seven ways to destroy or disable a man hand to hand; none of the methods took as long as three seconds once contact was made. They chopped at each other, feinting with their hands, too wary to close.

    Rod was confused by the injunction not to let the fight go to conclusion. Bruce grinned at him. “What’s the matter? Scared? I’ve been waiting for this, you loudmouthed pimple- now you’re going to get it!” He rushed him.

    Rod gave back, ready to turn Bruce’s rush into his undoing. But Bruce did not carry it through; it had been a feint and Rod had reacted too strongly. Bruce laughed. “Scared silly, huh? You had better be.”

    Rod realized that he was scared, more scared than he had ever been. The conviction flooded over him that Bruce intended to kill him … the agreement about bonebreakers meant nothing; this ape meant to finish him.

    He backed away, more confused than ever… knowing that he must forget rules if he was to live through it … but knowing, too, that he had to abide by the silly restriction even if it meant the end of him. Panic shook him; he wanted to run.

    He did not quite do so. From despair itself he got a cold feeling of nothing to lose and decided to finish it. He exposed his groin to a savate attack.

    He saw Bruce’s foot come up in the expected kick; with fierce joy he reached in the proper shinobi counter. He showed the merest of hesitation, knowing that a full twist would break Bruce’s ankle.

    Then he was flying through air; his hands had never touched Bruce. He had time for sick realization that Bruce had seen the gambit, countered with another- when he struck ground and Bruce was on him.

    Tunnel in the Sky (1955) Robert Heinlein
    Chapter 4: Civilisation

    I've bolded the parts that allow us to understand the context

    • Its a fight in which techniques are discussed.
    • Savate attack is described as an in-world technique
    • Shinobi counter is described as another in world technique

    This is interesting for two reasons

    1) Its described as Shinobi not Ninja, which is the older historically more correct term.
    2) This is 1955 two years before Hatsumi even met Takamatsu.
    QED Ninja as a hand to hand martial art perhaps wasn't associated with Takamatsu first. It appears in popular fiction well before then, even in english. Takamatsu/Hatsumi may have popularised it. But they are not the originators.

    The mystery though is why the word Shinobi, and where did Heinlein get this sense that ninjutsu was a hand to hand combat art? He and his wife did a world tour/sabbatical in the early 1950's but I've double checked and their itinerary definitely did not include Japan. Heinlein did have a career in in the Navy during WWII but I've found no reference to him in Japan.

    Mysteries. Who knows where he picked this idea of Shinobi techniques from?
    Last edited: Jun 2, 2021

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