Deep in the rural region of Matsubusi, Japan there lives a man named Shoto Tanemura. His name literally translates to the law of the sword. Mr. Tanemura is the 34th grandmaster of Ninpo and ancient martial art with roots that date back over 1000 years. For centuries this art was kept secret from all outsiders, but their came a time when Grand Master Takamatsu Toshitsugu decided that the martial art of Ninpo came from the world and therefore it must be given back to the world. Grand Master Takamatsu was born in 1887 and died in 1972. After his death his legacy has been carried out by Grand Master Tanemura. Tanemura has since brought the art of Ninpo from a small region of Japan to almost every continent in the world. Perhaps, you may ask why this art based around an ancient Japanese religion and culture has been so widely accepted in the modern world. I believe that it is because of the underlying ethics, principles, and philosophy involved in the art. To give you an idea of what philosophy and principles I am referring to I will provide you with a small example. Ninpo when broken down translates to Nin – patience and perseverance, and Po – which encompasses a much more complex meaning, translates to ultimate and eternal reality; together they can be understood to mean the ultimate and eternal reality of patience and perseverance as stated on Shihan Roy Rons Web Site Ninpo.org. This name suits the Ninpo practitioner because; in Ninpo unlike in the samurai arts it is believed that the ends justify the means. In Ninpo if your goal is pure how you accomplish this goal does not matter. You must use all that is at your disposal to persevere over what ever obstacle is in the way of achieving that goal. In order for one to understand this belief you must first understand the ninja as a person. The character Nin can be separated into two parts as well; these two parts are the heart and the blade. When this was first explained to me by my teacher He said that means one who practices Ninpo should have a heart and mind that is as sharp and pure as a blade, he also continued to say that you should always use the heart before the blade because a person that trains in these potentially dangerous arts must have compassion even toward his attacker. It is this pure and compassionate heart that allows the ninja to use his abilities for universal good. Ninpo is not used to achieve self serving goals; it should be used to defend others who are weaker then yourself, your country, and then yourself. “If an expert in the fighting arts sincerely pursues the essence of Ninpo, devoid of the influence of the ego’s desires, the student will progressively come to realize the ultimate secret to becoming invisible – The attainment of the “mind and heart of god.”” Grand Master Toshitsugu Takamatsu.
A Scottish man named James Wright, who is one of Tanemura top students, was asked why he chose to move to Japan and train with Tanemura. He responded that Tanemura was a great man and that he saw it as an opportunity to grade up his life. I believe this is the reason many Americans and foreigners all over the world have accepted this martial art. The unwavering dedication to self and global betterment is intriguing to all people, because people know how hard it is to dedicate your life to constant physical and mental betterment and I believe it is seen by many to be honorable. However, though the reward is great the sacrifice is also high. There have been many days when came home from training with bruises covering my legs and arms, broken toes, sprained thumbs or pulled joints. Other days I might come home so physically exhausted that I would feel like vomiting. From this type of training I have grown mental strong. By denying my body what it wants I have learned what it needs. Physical and mental training in Ninpo is not enough. Spiritual training is also necessary. You must learn to sense murderous intent. For example to test for one of the very high levels in Ninpo ones teacher will tell the student to sit in seiza, (a Japanese kneeling posture), with his eyes closed, the teacher with then leave the room after waiting an undetermined amount of time the teacher will return being careful the student does not hear him and will attack the student with murderous intent (sakki) using a razor sharp blade. Sitting in seiza is something that is done all the time in Ninpo, therefore the student who is not aware he will be tested will have no idea that he soon will be attacked. The student must sense the murderous intent emitted by his teacher and evade the blade if not he will be killed. It is this type of spiritual development that separates Ninpo from other martial arts. This mystical aspect may attract people toward the art of Ninpo, but as you train your motives change from trying to attain skills to show off in front of others to wanting self betterment and a greater understanding of your own body, mind, and spirit. If your Motives remain unchanged then you can only go so far in the system of Ninpo. I have seen many students who came to my school looking to learn how to be a “ninja”, as they know them from movies, most of these students do not last very long when they find out the amount of dedication, spiritual refinement, and sacrifice needed to accomplish their goal. Ninpo is not a hobby it is a way of life that requires discipline, dedication, and sacrifice.
This way of life was brought to New York by a man named Ismael Rodriguez. After practicing martial arts for 20 or so years Ismael was in search of something that could take his training to the next level. During his search he found the martial art of Ninpo. As he learned more about the spiritual refinement and discipline of Ninpo he became captivated by the art. Ismael who at that time was a Brooklyn native decided to travel to Ohio, were at that time there was one of very few Ninpo schools. There he met a Japanese man named Haguchi who taught him the discipline of Ninpo. Through constant training and spiritual refinement Ismael, began to uncover some of the mysteries of Ninpo. When Ismael’s training with Haguchi had come to an end, Ismael left Ohio and returned to New York. After he returned, Ismael decided that he wanted to teach the many skills he had learned to others. After a rocky start financially, Ismael was finally was able to open up his own school in Brooklyn, which after 20 years is still is there. It was at this school that I began my training. The First thing I remember before I signed up was Ismael correcting my etiquette; I was standing with my arms folded and he told me that, “in Japan to stand with your arms folded means that you are the strongest and most skilled person in the room”, Then he grinned at me as I nervously put my arms to my sides. From that day on I was obsessed with Ninpo; I attended every class that was available and still do. In the beginning I wanted to learn techniques I could use in fights; which due to my neighborhood in Flatbush Avenue Brooklyn were all to frequent, however as I progressed I became more interested in the deep spiritual aspects of the art. As I continued to advance even further self defense was so natural I no longer needed to think about it. It was at this time I learned the importance of showing mercy toward your attackers.
At the Beginning of each class we recite a prayer in Japanese this is the prayers English translation as it is written on the Genbukan website “The essence of the Ninja spirit is fortitude: Perseverance of mind, body, and consciousness. Endure Shame, forget jealousy. The origin is patience. “Nin” is not the blade over the heart to hurt others “Nin” means “kajo Waraku.” A truly strong and compassionate heart, pure as a tender flower, such a heart shall enjoy peace.
Hence, attain the wonder of the changing strategy. Your body shall naturally evade the opponent’s sword. In defense against the enemies of justice, societies, and our country, utilize nature’s earth, water, fire, wind, and air. This is the fundamental principle of the ninja.” This prayer sums up the beliefs of a Ninpo practitioner. Another Symbol used in Ninpo is the lotus flower. This flower is significant because though the surroundings it grows out of are dirty and swamp like, the flower is still beautiful. We are told that we also should but be like the lotus flower and regardless of what may be in our environment grow up to be internally beautiful.
Though we may learn techniques which have the potential to be deadly, the art of Ninpo is about preserving life and becoming at harmony with nature. We are taught that because human beings have the ability to take life it is there responsibility to preserve life, no matter how small or insignificant that life may seem. It is highly forbidden to kill anything in our training area, weather it is a mosquito or a water bug they will be captured and immediately released outside. Once I absentmindedly swatted and killed a mosquito on my arm, my Teacher stopped class and yelled at me never to kill anything again. In the same way that all people should care for nature’s disadvantaged, Ninpo practitioners are taught that we should help others who may be more vulnerable then us. There is a saying in Ninpo that is also common to Americans, this saying is, “if someone witnesses an injustice, and does nothing that is a greater injustice.” This does not mean that you should try to take on 12 men with knives robbing a store; rather what it means is that you should due what ever you possibly can to help the victim. Not all cases can be solved by violence. If you were to stop a robbery buy attacking the people committing the injustice and put them into a hospital, perhaps the next time they see the man you helped they will stab and kill him, who then have you helped? That is why the Ninja Must develop his mind and learn to solve problems without confrontation. Perhaps, deception will best serve your goal. Only as a last resort, will a ninja use force, the ninja would much rather fool or distract his opponent to achieve his goal. These types of tactics are why the ninjas are often portrayed as ruthless assassins with magical powers. “Rather then face battle with a very strong adversary the ninja would rather throw an object so that he can escape” James Wright. When fighting is concerned the Ninpo practitioner had no set ethics. Whatever the ninja has to do to protect what he thinks is just and good he does. To be a student of Ninpo on must also be a student of life. Learning everyday from everything he does. He has to keep an open mind and a pure heart, however that heart must also be as sharp and cold as a blade. Due to the secretive nature of Ninpo most of the teachings are passed down through Kuden. Kuden means oral teachings or heart to heart. It is said that these oral teachings are more important then techniques. “A teacher’s goal is to plant inside his student a seed. Hopefully the student will grow up to be a plant and have seeds of his own” Shoto Tanemura, this will ensure that Ninpo lives on forever in the hearts of its practitioners