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Ninja all round bad guy
Silent assassins, vagabond thieves, master less samurai, and all round bad guy.
That's the image portrayed of the Ninja in movies and the media ever since the Ninja Boom of the 1980's, and it's an image that's hard to shack off.
Like most things that come out of Hollywood, they tend to go for the flashy, most over hyped parts, and then blow it up a bit more. You only have to look at the most recent World War II films released in the past few years to see that.
Well the historical Ninja were just a group of people living in the Iga region of Japan, who didn't want to live like samurai. That appears to be their only crime.
They created their own system of self defence, and strategies that enabled them to survive for over a thousand years to this day.These strategies are now taught around the world thanks to the 34th Grandmaster Masaaki Hatsumi.
Masaaki Hatsumi has many personal students around the world teaching Ninjutsu, the system created by the Ninja, including 8th Dan Black belt Brian McCarthy, of the Bujinkan Brian Dojo, who teaches traditional Ninjutsu throughout Europe. Here in Portsmouth, Ninjutsu is taught by Andrew Thomas, 4th Dan, who has studied under Brian for 18 years, as well in Japan with the grandmaster.
Andrew has been teaching in Portsmouth, Bognor Regis and Brighton, for 18 years, and has recently celebrated the 1st anniversary of the new Dojo location at Warrior Crafts in Highland road with two days of training and a meal at Rickshaws.
Unlike nearly all the other martial arts, Ninjutsu evolved over a thousand years and is still evolving. Only recently a new throw was created by a student of the Grandmaster, so that he could throw a man much bigger than him. The throw is named after him.
Ninjutsu isn't the system portrayed in films and television. In fact, until you've actually done some, it looks nothing like you would expect it to. It's very subtle, and it works.
With Karate you can see the punches and kicks, in Judo you can see the throw. In Ninjutsu, we try to keep things hidden. Why let the person who has just attacked you know what you can do to defend yourself?
The other big difference between the other martial arts and Ninjutsu, is that we are not a sport. Ours is a system that was created over a period of time to protect the people of a certain area in Japan, not as a way of keeping fit, and entertaining others.
Does Ninjutsu have a place in a modern society? Yes, of course it does. No only is it a way of keeping yourself active the 33rd Grandmaster trained the day he died, at 82 but in this world with growing crime rates, protecting yourself and your loved ones is always a good thing.
We can punch and kick, throw and lock joints, we can defend against weapon attacks, as well as learn how to use weapons such as the humble stick effectively. We can fight standing up, sitting down, on the floor, in confined spaces and in the open. We train to be able to operate in all environments, and to learn to perceive threats before they become dangerous.
You can't expect to be good in a few weeks, but you will start picking things up. If all you learn the first week is how not to be hit, then you've learnt a very good lesson. A lot of martial arts give out grading's like sweets, but it doesn't mean that you have any real ability, just a nice coloured belt.
In the Bujinkan Brian Dojo, you will only be graded when you have the ability of the grade. This doesn't mean that you could walk into the roughest pub in town and take anyone on, it means that you can recognise threats, and avoid them.
But what does Ninjutsu mean to me? It's more than a martial art, but I don't want to give you the old line, "It's a way of life", although to the Ninja of past it really was. To the 21st Century Ninja, it means more than that. It means training with a group of friends in a relaxed, fun atmosphere, with people from all walks of life from the taxman, to the Kebab man, to the masters degree student. It means learning how to move your body in a way that is natural to how your body wants to move.
As an example of the training given, on the anniversary weekend the training was split into learning the basics on the Saturday, to defending yourself on the street on Sunday. Saturday was about how to move so that you can set up throws, locks and the sort of subtle thing that would leave your opponent on the ground will you get away. Sunday was about how you would do that in your normal clothes, with the restricted movement you get from modern clothes, to learn how to do all the things you did on Saturday, with less movement because you're wearing jeans. It gives you a new perspective on how you behave.
We learn how to use the more traditional weapons such as the sword, and the spear, and how to defend ourselves against such weapons. For the 21st Century Ninja, this would be a chair, a baseball bat, or a snooker cue.
If you want to learn how to disappear in a cloud of smoke like the movie ninja's, you'd be better off speaking to Paul Daniels. Movie's are movie's, real life is more interesting.
To finish, I'll give you some wise words written on new years day, 1891 by the 32nd Grandmaster;
1.Know the wisdom of being patient during times of inactivity.
2.Choose the course of justice as the path for your life.
3.Do not allow your heart to be controlled by the demands of
desire, pleasure or dependence.
4.Sorrow pain and resentment are natural qualities to be found in life. Therefore work to cultivate an immovable spirit.
5.Hold in your heart the importance of family loyalty, and pursue the literary and martial arts with balanced determination.
Now does that sound like the assassin, thief and vagabonds of Hollywood?