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Historical Ninja and their Secret Fighting Art

Some scholars have in the past ten years translated into English some of the ancient classic books of ninja reference. An-shu Rumiko and I never considered doing such translation work. One, I did not think there was a big enough book buying audience to justify the enormous amount of work it would have taken. Two, I really was not a historian. My interest was in the martial arts, and that’s what I had become known for writing my books about.

Some of these historians have some pretty odd positions (in my opinion). It is popular in certain circles to state that there never was a uniquely ninja martial art. Ninja are seen strictly as saboteurs and intelligence gatherers in these scholars’ minds.

Of course my training gives me a different stance. I studied the ninja martial arts in Japan. I have also studied other martial arts, which gives me a valid point of reference. Let me be blunt. I have never experienced any other art like the ninja martial arts.

But maybe there is a bit of confusion here. And maybe I was responsible for that confusion?

In the 1970s in Japan, I learned “ninpo taijutsu”, or the “ninja’s fighting art”. Technically, I was taught a martial art. I was not taught “ninjutsu” sabotage and spying, but “ninja taijutsu” striking, grappling, and weapons. My first three degree diplomas are in Togakure Ryu Ninpo Taijutsu.

In the 1980s, back in America, I was forced to refer to ninpo taijutsu as ninjutsu. This came about from magazine articles written about me. “Ninjutsu” was what everybody else called what I taught.

People referred to “Stephen K. Hayes, the ninja guy.” Not “Stephen K. Hayes, the ninja martial arts guy.”

Did I create the misperception that “ninjutsu is a martial art”, when I knew more correctly that ninjutsu “incorporated a martial art”?

Is the public now ready to accept that seemingly minute distinction? Can that distinction make sense?

I realize that technically, I am out of that game now. I teach To-Shin Do, which is decidedly a martial art. However, my background is ninjutsu, as well as ninpo taijutsu. Those were stepping stones in my 1970s and 1980s.

Have I clouded up that distinction? Maybe. But then, isn’t that just like a ninja to leave everyone questioning just what happened, and confident in their own personal explanation (no matter how skewed that explanation might be)?

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