The ninja symbol is the character “nin,” which means endurance, tolerance, and strength. The pictograph of a knife above a heart represents self-discipline.
The Early history of the Ninja
Practitioners credit the origins of the art to En No Gyoja, a warrior monk who set up a training camp in the Togakure mountain range. The sect existed in isolation for 500 years until 1165, when Daisuke Nishina, a clan member, ran away to the Iga province. There he came under the tutorage of Kain Boshi, a mystic warrior and monk, which greatly influenced his training, adding esoteric philosophies to his fighting and tactical guerrilla skills.
Ninjas Versus the Samurai
In its original form, the art was geared to the needs of the assassin, with a large emphasis on concealment, infiltration, and spying. Opportunities for employment among the ninja peaked during medieval times, when warring factions became better organized and the need for unconventional battle tactics became vital to success.
It is a widely held misconception that the ninja were sworn enemies of the samurai. In fact, many were also samurai who took on assassination jobs or gathered intelligence for opposing samurai clans as a way to raise their status and financial wealth. They actually share many of the same techniques for fighting. However, there were many battles between them, largely instigated by warlords who had gathered samurai militia and felt threatened by the ninja’s expertise in destabilizing power bases.
Teaching and training in Ninjitsu
In the past, the art of ninjutsu was practiced and taught in a strict code of secrecy from master to disciple, and teaching as a profession was discouraged by the ninja until quite recently.
Today, there are many different schools of ninjutsu, the majority of which teach skills that originated from samurai fighting arts: spiritual refinement, armed and unarmed combat, explosives training, stealth, water training, military strategy, escape, horsemanship, espionage, geography, and meteorology.
Principles of Ninjutsu
Ninjutsu’s basic tenets are summed up in a poem, probably composed by a warrior known as Yamabushi.
The Essence of Ninjutsu
My parents are the heaven and earth,
My home is my body,
My power is my loyalty,
My magic is my training,
My life and death is breathing,
My body is control,
My eyes are the sun and the moon,
My ears are sensitivity,
My laws are self protection,
My strength is adaptability,
My ambition is taking every opportunity with fullness,
My friend is my mind,
My enemy is carelessness,
My protection is right action,
My weapons are everything that exists
My strategy is one foot in front of
My way is ninjutsu.
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