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Ninjutsu in the 21st Century

Know your enemy and know yourself and you need not fear the outcome of 100 battles.

Sun Tzu

Ninjutsu is a warrior art that seeks to resolve conflict - conflicts that 900 years ago would have been waged on the battlefield and in single combat. However, unlike other conventional forms of bujutsu of the time, the concepts of espionage (shinobi iri) and information gathering through clandestine means were also key to strategy of the ninjutsu clans. Through the ages, the former guardians of ninjutsu understood that fighting was rarely a question of meeting force-on-force. While the shape of the battlefield has changed over the past millennia, the core concept of dealing with the conflict contained within has not.

In the 21st century as in previous centuries, battlefields are not just physical or political but also emotional and sociological. While the majority of us are not serving in the military, physical battles exist in the form of our own personal security or in our personal lives or the civilian occupations we have selected. However, we are frequently exposed to conflict in many other guises such as business and financial negotiations, anti-social behaviour and personal interactions.

As is presented in the quote from Sun Tzu, understanding of one’s self is vital to the successful resolution to conflict. The practice of ninjutsu provides a suitable vehicle to meet this aim as it requires us as practitioners to be self reliant and provides an environment for honest self appraisal. Once our own strength’s and weaknesses are understood we gain a better understanding of how to utilise our strengths and avoid exposing our weaknesses. Furthermore, utilising the principles of bo ryaku (strategy) and kyojitsu (truths and falsehoods) we are able to manipulate the opponent’s concepts of our strengths and weaknesses to our advantage. As Sun Tzu states:

When weak, appear strong and when strong, appear weak

Like is seen in the animal kingdom, aggressors (of whatever form) appear to be driven to attack on two main stimuli Ethe appearance of especially weak individuals or occasionally, the presence of especially ‘strongEindividuals. By targeting the weakest individual (or an individual that has made themselves weak by nature of their current state), an easy victory can be achieved and the object of the aggressors desire is obtained. Alternatively (and seemingly more rare) there is the occasion where the ‘strongestEappearing member of a group or situation may be targeted, presumably for the effect a victory over such an individual will have on the aggressors status with others or their own self-worth. Using skills of observation (kyoman) and awareness that are promoted in ninjutsu and our understanding of an attacker’s motivations, we as practitioners should be able to prevent ourselves being targeted by not only preventing our exposure to such dangers but also appearing neither too weak nor too strong. We could consider these concepts as modern interpretations of the arts of inton no jutsu (concealment and invisibility).

Should avoidance fail, or be inappropriate, and a conflict is initiated by another, we as ninjutsu practioners then have several options: To appear meek, even insignificant (henso jutsu), control our own ego and thereby facilitate our escape; to posture, appear fearless and cause capitulation in our aggressor; or as a last resort, to engage the adversary, but on our own terms. These options of course are not mutually exclusive, and it is sometimes inevitable that one course of action must evolve into another in order to regain control over the adversary in the same way that one physical technique may flow into another (nagare). The ability to make these choices, I believe, places us in a unique and privileged position among others who may be restricted to only one course of action or another.

Self-protection, from the perspective of the protection of our physical ‘selfEin particular, like the protection of others, truly falls under the guise of Jihan no kokoro as it reflects the ability to prevent the emotional distress in those around us that may be caused by our own distress or injury. Physical self-protection is one of the most important facets of my own ninjutsu training for it is through this, that the confidence and skills to attempt other forms of conflict resolution is gained.

Once our own strengths are truly understood and we are confident of our victory in whatever battle is presented to us, we can ask ourself, what do we gain by engaging in this conflict? Truly there are some instances where we (or those around us) are in physical danger or risk being put at some other disadvantage. In these instances, we should have the skills to act and be victorious and more importantly the will and self-belief to place ourselves in this precarious position. However we should also know where we or those around us are not in real danger (or disadvantage) and not feel the need to be pulled unnecessarily into a conflict.

It is possible that the approach to conflict that we should undertake is contained within the ‘ninEkanji itself. This is generally translated as the ability to endure or persevere. In my opinion this is not just telling us to ‘put up with itErather to weather the storm, keep going and be prepared to push longer and further than the opponent is prepared to go.

Ninjutsu is an art that allows you the strength to step up and engage if necessarily but also provides the strength to step back and let nature takes its course. This strategy is timeless and is as true today as it was in feudal Japan.