There is a fifth dimension beyond that which is known to humans. It is a dimension as vast as space and as timeless as infinity. It is the middle ground between light and shadow, between science and superstition, and it lies between the pit of human fears and the summit of human knowledge. This is the dimension of imagination. It is an area which we call the Ninja Zone.
I took some liberties with the opening narrative from season one of the Twilight Zone and I’m going to take some liberties with the scientific definition of dimensions as we journey into a wondrous land whose boundaries are that of imagination. From my imagination came a dimensional analogy to help understand the different levels of training I believe are necessary to understand ninpo taijutsu. Each level is an essential part of a journey you take to understand and each also represents a cul de sac that you could get stuck in if you don’t stay on the path.
One dimensional training represents knowing the kata models of your system. These are the source material of your training and should be appreciated. It is important to understand that these are teaching tools passed on from our martial ancestors from teacher to student as more of a graduation certificate versus a textbook. They were the notes for someone who already had learned.
If you read most of the kata models without any understanding of the art provided by a teacher they don’t mean much. They are a starting point to the training, trying to memorize them as if they were some kind of magic pill that will give you martial powers is the first cul de sac you must avoid to stay on the path. The catch here is the need to be right, “I know this kata.” The most dangerous aspect of this way of training is developing the habit of focusing on yourself instead of the situation, the moment you are in.
Two dimensional training represents focusing on defeating the opponent. This could be represented by a competitive sports athlete. Having worked as a bouncer for a number of years I can tell you that focus is an absolute necessity in combat. The Brazilian jiu jitsu practitioners used their expertise at this to pull off one of the greatest marketing strategies ever in the martial arts by competing against martial artists from the one dimensional mind set back in the 90s. It brought into the public consciousness the difference between memorization training and competitive training.
The cul de sac here involves the denial that strength and speed will fade with time along with the idea that anything beyond technique, strength and speed does not exist. Now this is coming from the leader of Muscle Holics Anonymous. I was a scholarship football player in college and with my size was a huge proponent of size, strength and bashing people (pun intended). However my dual experiences of training with my teacher Mark Davis, who is bigger, stronger, and much better at taijutsu than me, and the Japanese teachers I was fortunate enough to train with, who were on average half my size, showed me there is definitely something beyond size and strength.
Three dimensional training is just what it says, understanding the relationship between bodies in three dimensional space and gravity. This is where physics becomes the tool to overcome what my teacher calls asymmetrical situations, where you are at a disadvantage. It is here we begin to let go of doing kata models and start the understanding of distance, alignment and shape and their effects on a violent situation. These are the principles that allow you to go beyond size, strength and speed and continue your training and capabilities into your later years.
The danger here is in becoming a theorist and never trying to apply these scientific concepts under pressure. This is a cul de sac that could get you hurt if you don’t bring along the capabilities of the previous dimension. Intellectual understanding of a concept is not the same as experiential learning. You must do the experiments and test the principles for yourself. Not to cast doubt on the science but to gain faith in your ability to apply the science in realistic situations. The science must become a habit for you if it is to be available when needed.
Four dimensional training is the capability to perceive three dimensional relationships from moment to moment in time. This level opens the door to the possibility of leaving behind reactionary fighting where you are always responding to the actions of your opponent. You begin to view the moment of conflict as one thing with no separation between the combatants.
An analogy to help you visualize this four dimensional level would be to think of a kata model as Chinese dragon seen in parades. Imagine yourself and your training partner at the beginning of the kata model as the head of the dragon. Then imagine the two of you at the end of the kata model, the tail. All the steps of the kata model between would be the twists and turns of the dragon’s body. Perceived in its entirety the dragon gives you a way of modeling four dimensional space.
The cul de sac here is ego. When you reach this level of perception if you’re not careful you can believe yourself more capable than you actually are. You may underestimate the abilities of others. We are not the only martial art to understand these concepts. This understanding does not make you invulnerable. There are extremely dangerous people out there, trained and untrained, who you do not want to take for granted. To avoid this trap you must remember and accept that anything can happen no matter how well you understand these concepts.
Five dimensional training to me is about the use of kyojutsu tenkan ho, a Japanese phrase that has been translated as truth for falsehood. I’m not qualified to tell you if that is an accurate translation because I can’t read Japanese. From my experience in training it has come to mean for me the idea of affecting my opponent’s perception of the other four dimensions. You allow your opponent to have their perception of reality in the moment while creating another that allows you to survive the conflict. To reach this level of perception requires an understanding of the science of perception itself. I believe this dimension can be summed up in the quote “The first priority to the ninja is to win without fighting.”
What’s the danger here? Delusion, believing somehow you are performing magic. You can delude yourself and then delude those you teach. It’s not hard to find videos of some very deluded martial artists on the internet. To stay out of this cul de sac and all the others you need science. Ask the hard questions, do the experiments, collect the data, adjust your training and repeat. The best part of using science this way is that you never have to stop your training. You can travel through other dimensions of understanding.