SECRETS OF KNOWLEDGE AND LEARNING
Stephen K. Hayes
Eight centuries ago, Japan consisted of many independent feudal countries and wars were frequent. Daisuke from the Togakura family was once utterly beaten. He escaped to mountains and met a warrior-monk Kain Doshi. There, on hazy peaks of the Iga province, Daisuke studied a new martial art, new ways to use body and spirit, new vision.
From that mysterious studies he learned to move unnoticed, to impose his will without action. With this knowledge, Daisuke left the Iga Mountains as a master of new concept.
A legend about shadow warriors of Togakura was born.
An incredible technique of espionage and fighting - Ninjutsu, art of invisibility, path of invisibility is inwrought in glamorous web of Japanese cultural, political and religious history. Those who used it were legendary spies and commandoes of feudal Japan, known as ninjas.
Ninjutsu bloomed during the civil wars from
14th to 17th century. During that period, the art transformed
into lethal knowledge; which included sophisticated techniques of war,
collecting information and spiritual development.
The main philosophy of ninjas was choosing silent, quiet and discreet method instead of open, noisy and daring one. This way the natural way of elements was minimally disarranged.
Proposing took the place of force, illusion replaced open conflict, and the enemy is induced, without knowing it, to do what ninja wants, instead of being shamefully beaten.
This psychology characterizes ninjutsu, and lets ninja reach the maximum with using minimum of his energy.
Ninjas consider ninjutsu a complex technique for achieving their goals, “the art of winning”. This approach required visualizing the goal and firmness in its acquiring. Ninjas were ordinary people, far under the status of samurai’s warrior class, but they weren’t limited with the strict samurai code of honor and planned ways of behaving in certain situations. Samurais had to equal the purposes of achieving the goal and saving their honor and family, while ninjas could direct all their energy on the target because they didn’t have to protect their honor and family. Because of this loyalty, ninja services were extremely appreciated.
Women, just like men, were taught the complex art of ninjutsu. Kunoichi (female ninjas) personated dancers, entertainers or servants and were often used for watching and spying the enemy bases. Many times women assassins gained the confidence of their victim with beauty and charm when all other types of attack showed to be unsuccessful.
By watching thousands of years of history, it’s hard to divide the facts from imagination. There are no documented proofs to back any theory of the birth of this secret technique.
Fictional stories tell that ninjas’ origins were tengu, frightening long-nosed demons who were half-human half-crow, and who could change the natural principles and influence the human mind.
Probably the closest to real events were the scrolls that say the technique was developed by soldiers who escaped from T’ang China sometime near 900. When the kingdoms which employed generals and commanders as Ikai, Cho Busho and Cho Gyokko crumbled, they became fugitives so they searched for home on the other side of the sea, on the islands of Japan. Their learning found willing disciples and merged with domestic philosophies and approaches to war.
Along with Chinese war tactics came the learning about Chinese mysticism developed from esoteric knowledge of India and Tibet. Chinese priests and shamans came to live in forests and caves of Peninsula Kii at the beginning of 1204. They interpreted concepts of integrated mind-body knowledge, based on the cognition in space, which were accepted by Japanese yamabushi-s (priests-warriors in mountains), and senin and gyoja (ascetic warriors from the wild). Chinese mystic priests as Kain Doshi, Gamon Doshi and Kasumikage Doshi, along with their Japanese students, were the teachers of first ninja families.
Ninjutsu originated by merging these Chinese and traditional Japanese elements; as opposed to most of oriental religion and martial arts, it wasn’t created in a certain moment in history. What later became a very complex method of fighting and espionage began as a marginal subculture, reaction against the conventional Japanese political and social tradition.
For example, ninjutsu ryu (tradition or school) of the Togakura family was grounded barely three generations after Daisuke Togakura started to develop it. United with the clan, which was defeated in various battles against the more powerful opponent, Daisuke lost everything, including his samurai status, and escaped in mountain wildness south-eastern from Kyoto. At the year of 1162, wandering, the lakes of Peninsula Kii, he met a priest-warrior Kain Doshi who escaped in Japan from political and military disturbances in China. Daisuke learned from that mysterious man new concept of fighting and personal achievements. He learned about practical usages of balancing elements in diet, fighting, thinking and emotions, using forces and cycles of nature as an advantage. Because of that he, far away from strict rules of samurai codex, found a new way of using his own will. Daisuke’s successors developed those ideas in Togakura-ryu and became called ninjas.
Most ryu-s of ninjutsu arisen in mountains of the Honshu Island, including the two biggest ones: Iga-ryu and Koga-ryu. Iga-ryu, placed in Iga province, was under the control of clans Momochi, Hattori and Fujibayashi. Koga-ryu, placed in Koga province, included 53 less known families, including Mochizuki, Ukai and Nakai, and many others who took the name Koga.
There were also many smaller ninjutsu schools, each one with its special appeals.
For example, Kyoto-ryu specialized in koppojutsu (technique of bone breaking), which later evolved in jujutsu and karate. Fudo-ryu usually relied on shuriken (edgy pieces of steel used for throwing) Kunosuki-ryu had branchy web of spied for collecting and transfer of information. Speciality of Gyokko-ryu was the use of koshijutsu, attacking nerve centers with fingers. The secret of Togakura-ryu was shuko, sharp iron armlet which was worn on the hand, and it could be used for blocking sword attacks, climbing on trees and cat walking. Togakura-ryu ninjas used another tool, tetsubishi, small sharp weapons which were used for slowing down the opponent or keeping an entrance. Tetsubishi-s had spikes on all sides and they were thrown on the ground so careless enemy would step on them.
In addition to this, many other families, as Taira, Izumo, Toda, Kashihara, Abe, Sakaue and Mori were active in the secret technique widely known as ninjutsu.
Ninjutsu ryu contained three ranks, and each one had specific obligations and responsibilities.
On the top of every ryu was the main commander known as jonin (high rank, high-ranked) Jonin controlled the activities of ninja organization, made decisions about whom his ninjas will help and at what price. In a big ryu, jonin was a wise man who was well informed about all occurrences in his area. His decisions were based on philosophic cognition of understanding the whole, and he helped the others with advices about right and proper. A real jonin was a keeper of harmony; he helped his minors who were faced with desperate and dishonourable situations.
Jonins reduced their vulnerability by remaining anonymous to most of their minors. That’s why the minors were unable to reveal their identity at torture, or sell it to enemy organization. Also, jonins could confide the same mission to more of their minors (without their knowledge) to stop deception. By getting partial information from those minors he became the only one who had a complete view of the situation. This strategy of “invisible commanding” for the same reasons became popular within many modern criminal organizations.
A group of ninjas known as chunin (middle rank, middle-ranked) worked for jonin. This group’s duty was to plan the operations decided by jonin. Chunins knew how to do the job and which agents to assign. They were also used as middlemen; they transferred jonin’s commands on the field and secured the leader’s safety and anonymity.
Chunins rarely operated as agents. Their training included some fighting and spy tactics but strategy and commanding were primary.
Field agents were known as genin (low rang, low-ranged). They had the responsibility of executing the plans and operations of their bosses. Those genins were inspiration for fantastic legends about ninjas.
When not spying, genins lived with their families in outlying, secret villages, almost always placed in unreachable mountain regions. Pretending to be farmers, ninjas could freely live and train. Because of isolated system of organization, two groups of genin usually didn’t know they were working for the same jonin.
Historically, ninjutsu is inherited by birth. Children of ninja families were trained form their earliest childhood to always be aware of things surrounding them. As they grew up, they were taught secrets and traditions of ryu. At the age of 5 or 6, their games advanced to first trainings. Children would walk over narrow horizontal planks and jumped over low obstructions. At the age of nine they begin condition, muscle development and agility exercises. Children practiced rolling, jumping and yoga moves. As the young ninja matured, he practiced kicking and punching techniques by hitting dolls made of straw. After this training, the children advanced to bare hands fight, and later on basics of using a Japanese sword and traditional wooden stick.
At the age of 10, ninjas started learning to use special weapons of their ryu; Throwing knives, hiding weapons, rope techniques and chains. They trained swimming and underwater techniques, learned to use nature for collecting information or hiding. They spent hours in small rooms or hang over trees to develop patience, stamina and endurance. There were exercises of stealth movement, long distance running, and ninjas were also trained to jump from tree to tree and from roof to roof.
Before the age of eleven, ninjas studied acting and psychology. By watching their own process, and the processes of others, they learned the work of psyche, how to use mental weaknesses and limits of others in their favor. Young ninjas also learned to make medicines and drugs. They were taught to enter buildings unnoticed, wall climbing tactics, techniques of tying and trapping the opponent, escape methods.
Ninjas also practiced sketching horizon, paths, landscapes and faces.
On the peak of power
To 14th century, ninjas became powerful in Iga and Koga territories. They tried to save local influence by serving as protectors of mikkyo temples and they offered their services to those who understood their unconventional methods and lifestyle.
But as the political disturbances and war flared after the battle of Onin no Rana 1467, there was a need for ninjas’ lethal services in whole Japan. They were assigned by powerful emperors as Shogun (military dictator of whole Japan) Yoshihisa Ashikaga, and many smaller soldiers. Mystics from the mountains concentrated on military tactics and became a powerful force. They were not pleased with staying in their hidden villages anymore, they worked what others commanded, ninjas expanded their influence over the Japan, killing enemy rulers and attacking their forces.
One result of this was the bloom of popular stories about ninjas which described them more as wizards than commandos. They could walk over water, through walls, read minds, predict future, disappear when they want or transform into wolves and crows. Ninjas from legends of the 16th century were dangerous and unbeatable fighters.
The stories were result of imagination, extravagance and tricks. Original ninjas were mystics, in contact with powers which could today be explained with psyche. Their ability of developing something (in small amounts) like sixth sense was unknown and frightening for other soldiers. That’s why the enemy faced with ninja whose fingers were in one of mystic kuji-in (hand positions for energy orientation) positions indeed could feel reduced because of his inner fear. Enemies, of course, considered that a part of ninja’s magic. Ninjas developed reputation of humans who could see and change the future. Simple and interesting weapons, special methods of walking and climbing, unconventional fighting methods; all those elements increased awe towards ninjas.
The biggest enemy of all ninjas was powerful general Nobunaga Oda, known for his often cruel use of force for achieving his own goals. Nobunaga despised mystic and occult learnings of ninjas of mikkyo so he even protected a new Christian religion in Japan to fight with mysticism. Structure of Christian church, with hierarchy of European priests and bishops who controlled their followers seemed to be a perfect weapon for Nobunaga. Ninjas’ beliefs, that claimed that every man is his own priest, only presented an obstacle in ambitious general’s plans to become a shogun.
A legend says that once, when he rode a horse through Iga with his samurai, Nobunaga was, the first time in his life, thrown off the horse. Gruesome hazy Iga Mountains, in addition with incredible fall were the bases of Nobunaga’s decision which peaked with command to his son Katsuyori to attack ninja fortress.
In a battle of Tensho Iga no Rana 1579, Nobunaga’s army under the commandship of Katsuyori was utterly beaten from Iga ninjas under the leadership of Sandayu Momochi. Furious Nobunaga revenged with a big Iga Invasion 1581. This time, overcomed by more than 10 to 1, men, women and children of Iga were massacred. Ninjas, legendary invisible warriors, were destroyed in an open battle which they despised.
Some ninjas survived, escaped and hid even better than earlier. Families as Tarao, Hattori, Togakura and Momochi convened remaining members of family and retreated to regroup in mountains. Ninja training restarted, and for refugee families began a new life.
After Nobunaga’s assassination in 1592, his ally Ieyasu Tokugawa had to safely travel from Sakai (Osaka) to his castle Okazaki near today’s Nagoya, without trying to cross over dangerous territory Honnoji. The only path led through Iga and Koga mountains. Ieyasu confided his fate in Iga ryu ninja’s hands, Hanzo Hattori. Hanzo successfully organized some ryu’s from Iga, as well as their ex-enemies from Koga to manage protection and safe passage of a man who will in 1603 become a shogun and whose family will rule Japan for the next 2,5 centuries.
Ironically, the final fall of ninja clans was caused by peace, not by a defeat in a battle. The reign of Tokugawa shogun – Ieyasu and his descendants – brought peace and law which reduced a need for ninja services. With fewer opportunities for work in ryu’s, many chunins and some genins became self-employed, but without philosophic directions of jonin, their wisdom and use decreased. Some used their unique talents in police, others in army. Many turned to crime, so you could, for a certain amount of money, assign people who were once ninjas, but who now became plain assassins in ninja clothes. Performances of ninja bandits as Sasuke Sarutobi, Saizo Kirigakure and Goemon Ishikawa were glorified in children stories in Japan,just like stories about Robin Hood, Zorro, Butch Cassidy and Sundance Kid in today’s western world.
Ex-ninjas of Iga and Koga became gardeners and bell-boys on shogun’s domain. However, security and comfort brought the end of ninjas. Without a war menace, or need for ninjutsu techniques, their role was constantly narrowed until once lethal ninjas became honorary bodyguards. Their payment and status fell lower and lower, and their responsibilities were limited to activities as door opening and playing with daughters of samurai families.
Some ninja families that stayed in the wild of the mountains near the old capital of Kyoto completely draped with secrecy and stayed hidden from Togukawa’s shoguns in their new capital Edou (current Tokyo). Meanwhile, ninjas who worked for shoguns became completely useless.
Fighting With Bare Hands
There’s no unique technique of hitting in ninjutsu. The hand can be set up in various positions.
An experienced fighter uses his hand on the most useful possible way.
Various targets should be attacked with appropriate areas of your fist.
These are some fist shapes in ninjutsu:
- Shikan-ken (half-outstretched fingers)
Shikan-ken is the primary fist of Togakura-ryu. It’s used on solid, wide areas of bones.
The fist is formed with half-clenched
Important: The fist does NOT retreat after the hit (like you see in most martial art movies), but follows the opponent instead. The power of the hit passes the target and traces the opponent, forcing him to back up.
- Fudo-ken (clenched fist)
This is classic clenched fist which can be used for hitting from various angles. It’s used for many targets, but it’s especially effective against the areas of the body where edges of bones are located.
This fist is formed by bending your fingers towards the palm and overlapping the thumb over forefinger. The front side of the fist or the outside part is used to hit targets as nose, chin, lower part of ribs, arms and legs.
- Boshi-ken (fist with thumb)
Boshi-ken is unique for ninja’s fighting system. Hits with this fist are used for half-mellow targets, usually the muscles which veil bones. It’s extremely useful for precise attacks of nerve centres.
It’s formed with the thumb that juts, and the hand is in approximate position as in holding a golf club. The thumb is established for sticking, and the bent forefinger is used for supporting it. This fist is used for hits in the neck, upper part of the ribs, solar plexus and the lower part of the stomach. As in most of the hits in ninjutsu, the key is to follow the opponent with your power, not to hit and retreat.
- Shuto (hand-sword)
Hand-Sword isn’t actually a fist, but it’s an important hitting weapon.
The lower outer part of the palm is used for hits on neck and extremities, as well as elbows.
In Shuto, the hand is in the position of a normal fist, to hide your intentions.
You swing towards the target, and increase the hit power using the energy of the arm swing and body. A moment before contact, the hand opens in the Shuto position and under the 90° degree, hits the target surface. The hand does not return in the elementary position. The hit should bewitch the opponent or break his bones.
Kamae (stance) in basis is best understood as physical form of mental behavior. Or, even simpler, the stance should match the action you want to take. As opposite to some martial arts, ninja taijutsu doesn’t use pre-determined or numb fighting stances. Kamae of taijutsu are almost nonchalant; the fighter constantly changes different stances. The stances represent fighting moves, and are accomplished on a natural, spontaneous way.
Ninja is linked with the world in five different ways.
The first manifestation, void, is the base of four body manifestations which originate in void, from the least sensible to the most sensible. Four fighting stances repose on the body manifestations:
Ku (Void): sub-atom energy; “nothing” – the origin of everything
- Shizen no Kamae (natural stance)
“Shizen no kamae is the first fighting stance, and the most important one.
You must fully initiate this stance and understand its value, because it’s used for defense from most of unexpected attacks.”
Natural stance mirrors the land power, and fighting techniques from this stance use stability.
Body weight is placed in waist.
The legs are loose, but they stand tight on the ground, as if they were underground roots of a mountain.
Knees are even, neither numb nor bent forward, and the muscles are held in a comfort, intense position.
“If someone wants to harm you, or kill you, he probably won’t proclaim that.
You must start defending from the moment when you realize his intentions. You’ll usually stand or walk in a stance like this.”
- Ichimonji no Kamae (defensive stance)
This stance is used for defense of your opponent’s techniques.
Ichimonji no Kamae mirrors fluidity of water, and the fighting techniques used from this stance use quick, tricky moves.
Body weight is placed in stomach.
The body is sidelong leaning towards the opponent, the back is straight and most of the weight rests on rear leg.
“The important thing you mustn’t forget about defensive stance is to first move your waist and let your body to follow it. Don’t do a mistake and lead with your shoulders. Also, do not start a move with your legs. Leading with shoulders results in a poor balance, and the legs are too slow. If you stay low and turn your waist in the wanted direction, your legs and shoulders will follow you.
You should have the feeling as someone has just grabbed you for your belt and he is positioning you in a stance. This way, you can stay outside of your opponent’s range, and still be close enough for counter attack, right after a successful defense. You can be like ocean waves; you retreat, then come back and destroy everything in front of you.”
- Jumonji no Kamae (attacking stance)
After the demonstration of defense, a ninjutsu student progresses to the attacking stance, in which he moves forward, towards the opponent.
Fists are positioned in front of the chin, crossed in elbows and ready to hit or block the upcoming attack. Elbows are low, above the ribs as a protection, and the hand of leading side of the body is in front. The legs are widening a little more than shoulder length, one leg leads.
Attacking stance mirrors the passion of fire, and fighting techniques used in this stance are purposeful. Body weight and conscience are placed behind the solar plexus, on the bottom of the breast bone.
Just like in other fighting stances, the back is straight and the body is never leaning forward, in front of the legs. While moving in the attacking stance the leading leg slides forward along with the foot which is turned inside in a small angle. The knees are bent so the balance center is low and stabile, so you can move around quickly. You shouldn’t be in Jumonji no Kamae if you are not going to attack. It’s dangerous to use a stance which isn’t compatible with your intentions.
- Hira no Kamae (grabbing stance)
The legs are lightly outspread and the knees are lightly bent.
Hands are raised above the shoulders and are held on the sides with palms facing forward. Hira no Kamae mirrors the ease of wind, and fighting techniques of this stance use illusive, quick moves. Body weight is placed under the center of breast bone, and that center moves along with the body.
A ninja fight with his bare hands for only one reason: to protect himself or the ones who he is responsible for, in lethal situations. He must be prepared to face any opponent and use any method that will guarantee his survival. The techniques that were learned in Togakura-ryu could be counted in thousands. Students learn countless combinations to be able to survive any possible situation. Of course, nobody’s able to remember all the possibilities of real fight; that’s why the basis is learned as a response to the wide spectrum of attacks.
Ma-ai (distance) is very important for a smart fighter. Ninja does not come close to a fighter who is skilled in a close fight. On the other side, he comes close to a person whose techniques require distance. A ninja avoids specializing in only one set of techniques that would only limit his reach, and efficacy.
Dodging is also very important for ninja’s fighting method. By moving in unexpected direction a fighter can have strategic advantage. That relieves him from rather primitive thinking of defeat the opponent with blocking and counter-attacking, so his attack can be used much more usefully.
Maybe the most important factor of Togakura-ryu bare hands fighting methods is naturality and ability to realize a defensive situation. Power is used when power can bring victory. Dodging is used when it will succeed. Speed and rashness are use when they will be useful. A ninja does not look as a fighter when he fights: he just moves properly, his body is a servant of his intentions.
Chains and ropes
Only ninjas use Kyoketsu-shogei.
It contains a dagger with another dagger that juts under degree of 90° from the stick linked with 3 or 4 meters of rope. At the end of the rope (in old times made of female hair) is a ring, made of steel (with a volume of about 10 centimeters).
Kusari-fundo is a short chain with a steel bob attached to one or both ends. The length of this weapon varies from 60 to 90 centimeters. This multi-functional weapon is made for countering a long sword without using a sword.
It’s very easy to make and it’s simple for hiding.
Kusari-gama is made of a blade which is attached to a wooden stick linked with a short chain long about 3 or 4 meters.
At the end of the chain is a steel bob which weight approximately as the chain itself.
This weapon was developed by farmers, and Kusari-gama later became a standard weapon for ninjas and samurais.
Kaginawa is usually used as a climbing tool, but it can also be used for a close-combat.
It’s made of a 9 meters long rope with an attached claw on one end.
Ropes and chains are not used for spinning around and hoping they will hit anyone who gets in the range.
These weapons are used like whip; the power is concentrated on the top.
As with punches or kicks, there is a perfect moment and place for the attack, on which ninja must concentrate with lethal precision.
When using these weapons, it’s very important to keep the proper position of legs.
A ninja doesn’t stand still, waiting for the opponent to get in the range. Predictability can be avoided with constant moving.
While doing “eights” or quick swings with the weapon, ninja can come closer to the opponent or circle around him, constantly changing and adjusting the distance.
A rope or a chain is held with the last three fingers. Thumb and forefinger are used to increase the catch or hold the weapon while not using it.
This method of holding is enough flexible to be used either for attacking, or catching the opponent with rope or chain when he attacks.
Sticks and clubs
Sticks and clubs were standard weapons in feudal Japan. In a traditional Japanese staff fight 3 lengths were used:
- Bo (180 cm)
A ninjutsu student must know that his practice staff, in real fight, can be replaced with any staff. Pool sticks, umbrellas, walking staff etc. are potential weapons which can be used if needed.
It’s very important (with all sticks), to use the top of the stick for hitting as much as possible. This is crucial for using maximum power and speed in the attack.
It’s not good being hit by a staff, but when the whole power is concentrated in one point, this kind of weapon becomes a lot more useful.
Whenever it’s possible, a fighter should combine his movement with his attack. If the waist is coordinated with the staff, attack will gain additional power. This is similar to the concept of jumping attack. Body movement adds to attack power.
Of course, a long staff enables an attack from bigger distance. However, a smart opponent might estimate the length of staff and position himself to avoid the attack. That’s why it’s important to coordinate body movement and staff’s “travel” well.
Ninjutsu students first learn basic attacks and stabs from static position. Precision is the key factor of exercise. After that, students learn to hit while stepping forward at the same time. For complete readiness, students practice hits while stepping backwards. This move is used when an opponent approaches to a ninja with staff.
Ninjutsu method of fighting with staff includes one more trick: Labile catch. When a ninja brandishes the staff from its starting position to the hit point, his fist looses for a moment. The staff slides forward from his fist. Right before the attack, the catch becomes regular again, and top of the staff hits the target hard. This gives staff elasticity; however, hours and hours of training are needed for mastering the precision of this technique.
As in fist fight, the best method for a staff fight is to avoid blocking. Blocking can take too long and it might give your opponent a chance to attack again.
After mastering basic hits and blocks, student starts to use his legs to avoid attacks. Rear leg is used as a support for retreating, and the front, leading leg is used to attack.
Next step is development of counter attacks while avoiding the opponent. That can be called the highest stage of staff fighting. Good targets for such counter attacks are arms and face because minimal energy is needed for hurting or stunning the opponent. Successful timing is very important for a successful hit. Counter attack must be accomplished in the exact moment when the opponent begins with his attack. Any hesitation will result in a loss of time and will bring ninja in a position where he is forced to block.
Sticks with hidden weapons
Shinobi-zue (ninja staff) looks like a normal walking staff, farmer staff or a priest staff. However, many objects are hidden inside the staff.
Some staffs contain hidden knives, daggers or swords. Part of the staff in some cases represents a stalk, and in other cases the weapon could be thrown. Special ends on some long sticks could be removed to reveal the peak and transform a staff into a spear.
Chains were also used as hidden weapons in staff. Clips overlapped easily inside a hollow staff, and when extracted, they could reach a meter or more than the staff itself. A bob or a hook were placed on chain, and were used as secret weapons in a fight. The chain could suddenly be projected to hit the opponent or catch his hand, leg or weapon.
When the staff becomes a sword or a chain weapon, it’s used with the same fighting techniques as sword or chain alone. Ninja who was well trained for a chain fight would carry it inside shinobi-zue, whole a good swordfighter would carry a sword etc.
Other specialized group of sticks was hollow sticks used for puffing needles or dazing powder on the enemy.
By removing the cover from both sides, ninja could use the weapon for making smoke.
Other hollow sticks had a cover on only one side, so they could be caught on one side, and brandished to throw the content on the enemy.
Blades were ninja’s primary fight weapons. Many variations of blades were used in a fight. Ninja used his sword for a close fight, spear for medium distance and throwing blades as daggers in a long distance fight.
Ninja sword was usually shorter than a samurai sword. Ninja-to had many purposes besides fight. Samurai families glorified their swords and searched for the best blacksmiths while ninjas considered their swords ordinary weapons and didn’t give those names or souls.
Tsuba (hand shade) was usually malleable of a big piece of steel. They were rarely decorated like samurais tsubas.
Stalk and scabbard were usually black and carried within the waist, on the left side of the body. The sword was sometimes carried off the rear side or flipped over the shoulder to stay hidden or to make climbing easier.
The sword is held with right hand right below the tsuba, and left arm is right under the stalk. There is a space between the arms that allows flexibility.
Special catches include holding the sword with one hand (right), which is useful in a fight that includes climbing, running, carrying things in the left hand etc.
In the reverse hold, the sword is held so the blade extends over the hand for hiding it.
First goal of ninja’s sword training is developing the ability to unsheathe the sword fast enough to attack the opponent before getting in a situation where he is forced to block opponent’s attack. Unsheathing actually converts into a first attack, as opposed to technique of unsheathing and preparing to attack. The technique is practiced as a response to a sudden attack, and the swing is targeting opponent’s leading hand, body or neck. If the opponent’s swing is too quick, unsheathing turns into a block.
Swings usually use top and last quarter of the blade. They’re usually quick and easy, where the sword’s top pulls whole sword and hands. Heavy, powerful swings, like the ones in baseball, are not part of ninja’s sword fighting method. The sword must be like an extension of ninja’s hand, and it should move naturally.
Stabs are directed to targets on body or head. Those can also be combined with swings when attacking limbs or outward parts of body.
There’s no inhalation, retreating or pause before the attack, no gap between preparation and execution of the attack. Dramatic rising of the sword warns the opponent, just like retreating of your fist before the attack.
Ninja’s throwing blade is called shuriken. This weapon can have countless shapes, but there are 2 basic types: straight and with more pikes.
Straight shurikens vary in the size from short needles to wide knives. Some are shaped as thin, long spikes while the others are thick and wide. Stars with more pikes or square shurikens are made of one piece of steel and have three to eight pikes rising from center. Shurikens are carried in groups of nine, hidden in secret pockets in ninja’s jacket or hoses.
Historically, Togakura-ryu uses semban-shuriken, a shuriken with four pikes as an addition to a knife. Square blade can be precisely used to 12 meters of distance, and it can also be held in hand for close fight.
Square or star-shaped shurikens were usually used for wounding or disturbing the opponent. Shallow ends usually stopped deep entrance adequate for lethal injuries. However, the weapon was very useful when suddenly thrown at hands or face of an armed opponent.
Square shuriken can also become an “invisible aggressor”. If a guard or an enemy stands in open place, ninja hidden in the bushes or along the wall would throw the weapon with rotation. Confused victim, wounded by the invisible weapon, would go for help, leaving the territory unguarded.
In fight, the blade is help for its pitch and thrown horizontally. Shuriken is held with fingers, wrist is outstretched, hand is bent in elbow, but loose. The blade slides from the hand.
The weapon gets power from the hitch of forearm, the wrist should stay outstretched and it shouldn’t bend during the throw. Similar technique is used in throwing a straight shuriken.