In Japan, Kami is regarded as a type of force that exists in nature. Sometimes it can take form, and be conceived as a real entity. But in essence Kami is not really defined and is without form.
The word god is not a suitable translation of Kami, but in Hebrew, as well as in English, there is no exact word for Kami, therefore, in many places Kami is translated as a god. It is said that Japan has eight million Kami; this is to say that Kami can be found in many places and phenomena. Certain places, objects or natural occurrences that have a certain presence or relay a certain feeling, can be Kami.
At times, Kami can exist even in animals and humans. Often people with special powers become Kami when they die. Some of the founders of different schools of martial arts in Japan are considered Kami. Kami is always related to nature, it is the epiphany of nature. The movie â€œPrincess Mononokeâ€ describes extremely well some of the concepts of Kami. One can get a better understanding from observing this film.
Kami is neither good nor evil, it has nothing to do with ethics, and it just is what it is. It can be beneficial and also harmful. The relationship between Kami and man depends on manâ€™s conception and behavior. However, it does not require human attention in order to be, it exists even where there are no living beings. It may actually be much stronger in places where man is not prevalent.
As well as some of the veterans in AKBAN I envisage Kami as a sort of presence or power in certain places in nature. In Israel there are many places where you can feel it, especially in the barren relatively empty south of the country. When arriving in a place and feeling something different, something not sensed before, when seeing something or standing somewhere that arises certain feelings, these are signs of Kami. Some places create a certain atmosphere or feeling, while other places create a different feeling altogether. One must be very sensitive since our culture, the way we live our daily lives, have numbed our abilities to feel.
Weâ€™re not speaking of a being, but about nature that usually affect us in gentle and subtle ways, and sometimes in bursts of power. This power is always present, even when we do not sense it.
After a long wait, probably over one thousand five hundred years, a translated English version of the important and cool book by Issai Chozanshi (or as we in AKBAN call him â€“ I.) has been published.
In the book you can read lectures by a Tengu (or as we call him â€“ T.), the mythological demon who began teaching of Ninjutsu, and to whom we owe our kata.
Not many martial arts pride themselves with the fact that their prime teacher is a crow-like demon â€“ we do â€“ what other choice do we have.
The book, by the way, is serious and important, and should join the bookshelf of every Akbanaut, which should already include â€œHagakureâ€, â€œGo Rin No Shuâ€, and, of course, â€œFoot on the pathâ€ and â€œTree climbing for pedestriansâ€.
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.