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.
In Japan, a stay in the field went without saying in ancient times. A warrior would pass through the field on his way to battle or his teacher. A warrior would sleep in the field during this stay. There were people who mastered the art of being in the Japanese terrain: the mountains, the valleys and forests, which changed them. These were the Yamabushi, those who â€œsleep outsideâ€.
A martial art can exist very nicely without spending any time outdoors. But some of us think of such an art as a weak new creation and synthetic. In the martial art we practice the old paths play an important role. This connection to old ways is an option, not a necessity, much like the practice of the sword is a very old path, one which not all veterans choose to take.
I try to walk both new and old paths. The newer ones because of their comfort, the excitement, for entertainment or just because itâ€™s necessary. The old paths I walk for the benefit of my soul.
It’s still unknown in which direction the posts in this blog will go, most probably in many different ones, similar to the difference between students in Budo Ninjutsu groups.
I wanted to write posts on the students as well, what appeared in the old website as â€œstudent profileâ€. We have many students whose appearance does not disclose their past, an unusual military service, esteemed academic achievements or a rare profession. One person, whose looks reveal him instantly, is Dr. Gendun Dhargay.
Even the veterans, trained to not even blink at atomic blasts, find it difficult not to stare as Dr. Gendun removes his heavy blue jacket revealing an orange Tibetan monk robe and prayer beads. Soon after, the black Ninjutsu outfit make him part of the group, one of us.
Dr. Gendun studied Tibetan medicine for many years, and is considered an expert in the field. His studies were conducted in a number of world centers: Tibet, where the medical center is sponsored by the Chinese government and in India. Dr. Gendun has a wide Western education and is fluent in languages to an extent that made it possible for me to invite him over for tea and cake at my favorite coffee shop at the Hungarian confectionery “Garden of Eden”.
So, as we sit and eat in the garden of Eden (I’m having burekas and Dr. Gendun a Linzer tort), I hear stories of a childhood of poverty and deprivation, of many years of academic qualification required of a Tibetan monk and of Dr. Gendun’s friends in Israel.
Upon receiving a few tips on my meditation practices, we compared Bon (the more common religion in Tibet before Buddhism) and Shugendo (the mountain religion forming the base of Ninjutsu in Japan). We spoke of the meeting of different cultures: Judaism and Buddhism, and of the melting pot of the Ninjutsu groups.
When I finished my tea I thought: “I am lucky, to teach and train with so many fascinating people is not a given thing”. It seems as though not all of us come from exotic places, this is but an illusion, there is nothing more exotic than our profession, a martial art over a thousand years old, from Japan in an era of wars to Israel in an era of wars. We discussed this as well. There is nothing more to add now. It’s fun sitting the Garden of Eden.