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Ninjutsu Master Interview

Interview with ninja master Brain Mc Carthy 8 th Dan

[Adrian]: This is an exclusive pod cast from the websites of the BBD. On Remembrance Sunday, the final national seminar of the BBD in 2006 took place in Edinburgh . The head of the BBD, Brian McCarthy, joined me on my breakfast show to talk about Ninjutsu history and tradition, Brian's journey as a renowned martial artist and training within the BBD. Part 1 of this 3-part interview is about Ninja, the history and tradition .

[Brian]: Thank you, Adrian.

[Adrian]: Good morning, Brian. Now I'm going to ask you some fairly obvious questions because if I said Ninjutsu , most people wouldn't know what it is. If I said shinobi, they definitely wouldn't know what it is. But if I said ninja, they certainly get this sort of Hollywoodization of maybe we wear a half-shell, eat pizza and carry swords in our backs. But who and what were the ninja?

[Brian]: Ninja , Adrian , were originally samurai who had faced difficulties in battles or lost battles or warlords they work for would have been ceded, which means essentially that then they're unemployed or some of them are unemployed. That was the basis of Ninjutsu -- coming together with Chinese monks who went to being warrior monks in the eastern part of Japan and living in communities in the mountains that were essentially enclosed. They then structured their training and their way of living into a military style farmer fighting, and it just evolved from there over a period of hundreds of years.

[Adrian]: I know still in Japan they're greatly feared primarily for their magical powers supposedly but how did they organize themselves if they were warrior monks? How exactly did they organize themselves?

[Brian]: Well, there's sort of two answers to that. First of all, they are still feared in Japan and sometimes they are even recognized in Japan ... this huge part of Japanese culture that says ninja never existed but then again the history was written by the samurai's so they entirely say we didn't exist. And how they organized themselves... primarily because of this samurai involvement on initially who were obviously highly trained military officers, they had a military style background, so they were able to organize themselves into small close fighting groups and to communities. Over a period of time then there's intermarriage, these children are born, their family extended into the mountains so it became a clan of its own.

[Adrian]: So it wasn't a case of a bunch of lads got together, trained together and then said, "Right, we're ninja , let's go off and fight."

[Brian]: No, no, no, no, no, they just changed their lifestyle completely. They lived in the remotest parts of Japan ; they lived in the mountains. They were no longer welcome. Some of them were in fact wanted by the powers-that-be at the time because there was a policy in Japan that if you are on the losing side of a battle in an army then you didn't have much of a future, you weren't going to be reemployed, you're mostly gone to be executed. So when they left that part of the country and they moved to the mountains, that was going to be their new place and where they would have lived.

[Adrian]: I was going to ask you the question, how did they become ninjas, so are you suggesting that it was a clan system based on family?

[Brian]: Yes, it's not a fact that people become ninja; it's a fact that traditionally they evolved from different lifestyles as in as I said -- defeated samurai and monks that had left China or were who were moving to that part of Asia and their initial way of living forced upon them brought about Ninjutsu . And over a period a time then because they're a mix of the mountain people, because they're living in remote areas, they formed communities.

[Adrian]: Edinburgh has a great tradition of the martial arts with many varying flavors and Ninjutsu is one of those martial art practiced quite heavily in Edinburgh. But I want to know...shinobi and ninja's... but I don't know why they call themselves shadow warriors or invisible assassins.

[Brian]: Well, they never did and still don't. People call them that by virtue of the perception of what ninja is and the term "shadow warrior" is kind of an Americanized updated term but the term shinobi essentially means "stealers in"... a person who steals, who enters at night, and when they say "steal" they don't mean actually in theft point of view... but enters quietly, covertly, and the name was given to them by the general public by virtue of the fact that the type of work they did -- they would come in the dark, they would go in the dark, people did not know they were there, they would do what they had to do and hence, they were called stealers in or shinobi.

[Adrian]: So basically it's the westernization of the ninja...

[Brian]: Yes.

[Adrian]: we have with the turtles and the half-shells.

[Brian]: Yes. When we go back to the comment I made that it took them a number of years to evolve, the word " Ninjutsu " or the term "ninjitsu" or "ninja" didn't evolve for about 300 or 400 years. These people just were there. They could have been called bandits, they could have been called outlaws, they could have been called warriors but by virtue of how they, over that period of time, how they developed their profile and how they developed their method of working...there was the broad general population and the authorities who put the name ninja on them or shinobi on them.

[Adrian]: What about the philosophy because you're saying that Ninjutsu as such is being practiced in varying guises for hundreds of, if not, thousands of years...did they have any kind of collective philosophy?

[Brian]: Not necessarily collective philosophy. They would have a broad group philosophy. They were different in certain aspects but to go back understand the formulation and beginning of Ninjutsu , you have to go back and look at the political system. The political system in Japan at that time was the feudal system. There was an emperor who was effectively treated as a god but didn't have a fact of day-to-day rule. The day-to-day rule of feudal Japan was between warlords, generals, shoguns, high ranking priests, high ranking politicians, high ranking merchants. One could probably say not much different than what we are today. However, if a particular or general or warlord lost a battle or was on the losing side, everything he had would have been stripped from him -- his family, his lands, everything, his wealth. He would most likely die if not commit suicide, which would be the honorable thing to do. Therefore, anyone will confirm, and samurai will confirm, would also be killed if they didn't die in battle. So anyone who didn't want to face either of those fates would move out of the area. They became ronin, which is a masterless samurai, and from being ronin living in the mountains mixing with other ecstatic people, Ninjutsu was born. So there's no one broad basis or broad belief other than they did not accept and they agreed that they did not accept this general political system that if you're lost forever, then you died forever. So they wanted a second chance. They wanted to live on, they wanted to have a, you know, a continuance of life so hence, they moved and they formed this community.

[Adrian]: So as we know today, that's how ninjas evolved and became. What about feudal Japan ? Because I think that a lot of people won't understand what feudal Japan was about. Would it mean you're walking down the road, you didn't like the look of me, you could draw your sword, hack my head off and there would be no repercussions?

[Brian]: Not necessarily so. To some degree, yes, but not necessarily so. What feudal Japan meant was that the emperor was idolized as a god and was to talk and care for the whole country. Effectively the emperor would need the warlords to carry out the business of collecting taxes, the business of controlling the populace, the business of fighting his battles for him, and he would award people with various and high ranking titles and property and land on the basis that they will maintain loyalty to him. So therefore, there was a position for warlords to make themselves very important people -- to appear into court a couple of times a year. To insure trust was kept, family members would be lodged in the court as if they're like hostages, so if a warlord had some work to do on behalf of the government, on behalf of the emperor, his oldest daughter or his youngest son would be held as hostage to make sure that he stayed on his side. So what I said about the feudal system, it meant that it was higher ranking all the way down, from the very top there were branches of power, branches of nobility, branches of wealth and the samurai came somewhere, depending on the rank of the samurai, somewhere in the middle towards the end of that, the lowest scale of that. The people who eventually became ninja were people who had left that system so they were in themselves very educated people and very well trained in military arts, very well trained in strategy. Their linking up and joining forces with warrior priests in Japan made them an extremely effective force. That then, if you go back to the feudal theme, the feudal system did not want that alternate force growing in the country because it's seen as a threat, it's seen as an educated well armed, well equipped threat to what would be a traditional feudal system all the way up to the emperor.

[Adrian]: What about their weaponry though? Traditionally we know of...most people call it a samurai sword, which is a curved blade, a katana. What would have been the ninja's traditional weaponry?

[Brian]: They didn't have one traditional weapon. Ninja by virtue is a person of their potential, so any weapon is a weapon. Any piece of equipment is a weapon to a ninja. They would use a katana, and they eventually made their own katanas, but as again we go back to living in communities, living in the mountains...but they didn't put the artist and type of quality into blades that the samurai or Japanese sword makers would do but they used swords, they used tanto, which is a knife they used. Many different weapons, but they're weapons of choice, weapons of necessity and weapons of opportunity. A ninja did not have a love affair with a blade; the samurai did a love affair of blade. There's the difference.

[Adrian]: One thing you're saying to me is the samurai had this ethereal connection to what they did. The ninja were purely there to do a job.

[Brian]: Correct, correct. The samurais see themselves as, if you like, the protector of the emperor, the protector of Japan . A ninja see themselves as people who are free spirits, who were not going to live a life that was being imposed upon them.

[Adrian]: Now to the victor the spoils, you said earlier on our conversation that obviously samurai have rewritten history. Is there still this conflict? And I know you've lived and trained in Japan . Is there still this conflict in modern day Japan between the victors and the view of...

[Brian]: No, no, I've never come across that. I suppose how you look at it now, Adrian, is that Ninjutsu nowadays, and people I've met and trained with in Japan, are people of the establishment, they are people of the government, you know they are police officers, they are farmer military officers, so Ninjutsu is recognized, certainly yes, as a martial art now. There's no opposition to it from other martial arts. When I say that it's not accepted, it's not accepted in the written world, so to speak. There's no history books written about Ninjutsu. You go to any bookstore in Japan and there's all kinds of martial arts books and all kinds of books showing samurai, and samurai history and samurai artists and samurai painters and samurai horsemen and so forth, and I guess the ninja never wanted to write that down and they never had a historian to tell their story for them. Where the samurai arts always attracted and people who wanted to tell a story about the samurai way of life was, which is an excellent way of life, don't get me wrong, it's an excellent honorable way of life, it's just that with ninjas...who people hadn't written down about it.

[Adrian]: Would there have been female ninja?

[Brian]: Yes, there was and there still are females practicing Ninjutsu. Female ninjas were called kunoichi. Kunoichi. And they had a particular role, much different than male ninjas. Female ninjas were used for, and I use the word used in a proper sense, they were involved in...what I suppose what females do best -- they used their skills, they used their intelligence, they used their beauty, they used their cunning, they used their sensitivity to get to places and find things that male practitioners of Ninjutsu during the old days, male ninja couldn't do.

[Adrian]: So would you say that the ninja were, whether they were male or female, were sort of forerunners to today's special forces?

[Brian]: People make that linkage, people make that linkage. I think today's special forces and again those that's been in it are extraordinary breed of people both male and female. I think the mentality is the same. I think the mentality is the same. It's a mentality that requires, wants to continue to try to succeed in, against all odds, using the best technology that you have at the time. Ninja used their best technology they had in the last thousands years.