By Yossi Sheriff
Five hundred years ago Lizasa ChÅisai Ienao founded the Katori discipline (Tenshin Shoden Katori Shinto Ryu). It is considered in Japan as one of the classic and most renowned martial arts although it does not have a large number of students.
For hundreds of years this martial art was the starting point of many new martial arts (Ryu), and bred renowned fighters and martial artists. Today, the head of the discipline (the title Soke) is held by one of Lizas’s descendants called Yasusada, while the curriculum is taught and guarded by Risuke Otake (this is quite common in Japan, the Kukinshin discipline is not held solely by Hatsumi, but he holds a degree to teach it, Menkyo Kaiden).
Otake is the star of many tutorial movies found on the web and posted on this site, and I thought it fitting that I explain why the fighting techniques used by Samurai found its way into our Ninjutsu.
In our Ninjutsu I see different sources of knowledge: six of the martial arts Takamatsu brought into Ninjutsu have nothing to do with Ninjutsu per se, but generated from other traditions. Of the Ninja fighting techniques we only practice the Togakure discipline. The two other disciplines: Tomogakure and Gyokushin, are not practiced in AKBAN and probably not in Japan.
In Katori, Ninjutsu appears on the curriculum. Just as in the Ninjutsu practiced in our school, where Katori kata are mandatory.
Many other skills: horse riding, swimming, the use of a sword and other weapons of that time, fighting without weapons, casting weapons and more, appear in both forms of martial arts – Katori and Ninjutsu.
The links between the spiritual traditions are even more compelling – in the third Katori book there are detailed explanations of hand gestures of Esoteric Buddhism (Mikkyo) and Ninjutsu; these gestures are called Mudra (or Kuji kiri, Juji kiri).
Esoteric Buddhism, Mikkyo and the unique mountainous religion of Japan, Shugendo, were the largest contribution to our Ninjutsu’s spiritual content. We, as modern people, can look at some of the aspects of magic in Katori and Ninjutsu and give them only a psychological explanation, I do this. However, it is easy to see, even without any need for explanations, the two disciplines have many things in common.
This is not the main issue.
When I first saw Otake practice, I was deeply impressed and I still have that feeling. I think that his work and personal level is of the highest standard (as it seems without personal acquaintance – maybe this is an inaccurate observation). Though he does not face the same problems we do, we are preserving a diverse and complex martial tradition, whereas Katori has only several tens of Kata, but I still wish both my students and myself, to present technique even approaching the level of Otake and his students.
It’s good to know that there are always goals so far away.