What are the essential texts?

Discussion in 'Ninjutsu' started by ZapEm, Aug 2, 2014.

  1. ZapEm

    ZapEm White Belt

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    Hi, I'm not a practitioner of ninjutsu and I don't practise any martial arts at the moment. However, I am interested in the history of covert operations in diverse cultures, including Japan. I don't know any Japanese language and I'm just interested in this for its own sake.

    So far, I have identified three books, or scroll collections, that can be assumed to be old manuals about the ninja. They are:

    1) Shoninki
    2) Bansenshukai
    3) Ninpiden

    What I'm after are some reliable (and complete) translations of these works. I understand only a few original manuscripts are in existence and that there may be slight differences between them, but I expect they are substantially the same.

    When looking for these books, I discovered a lot of interesting and sometimes heated forum posts and remarks made by people familiar with this subject matter. I gather there are serious problems with regard to translation accuracy, translations of translations, uncited authors(!), plagiarism and worse. Therefore, as someone who doesn't have a background in this field, I am wary about which books to buy. Academic-style footnotes would inspire confidence but wouldn't be necessary for me if the translator is someone properly credentialed in either the ninjutsu tradition or research/linguistics.

    My first question is probably the easiest: are Claude Schedler's, Don Roley's and Axel Mazuer's translations of the Shoninki fairly reliable (I think I can narrow my choice to these three authors, and I'm not going to ask which is "best")? Reliable as in accurate, complete and not redacted (for "safety" or any other reason).

    Second, the Bansenshukai seems to be a lengthy text, and at least some of it is available online in Japanese (not much use to me). However I'm pretty sure not all of the text in this book has been reproduced online. And I'm absolutely sure that most of the English translation of this work online omits reams of content. Is a reliable translation of this book available yet, and if so where can I get it?

    Finally, is there a good Ninpiden translation available?

    Thanks for any tips.
     
  2. Chris Parker

    Chris Parker Grandmaster

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    Well, it seems like you've already seen the warnings about Antony Cummins' books… and I'll re-state that they are to be avoided for a range of reasons, even going beyond what you've indicated here...

    When it comes to the "essential texts", there aren't any other than the texts of the particular Ryu-ha you're studying… if you're not studying one, then none are "essential". Beyond that, each of these texts, and others such as Ito Gingetsu's work, are written for a specific audience, so aren't to be taken as singly authoritative of the subject.

    In terms of translations, I'd go with Don's. Pure and simple. He's in the middle of redoing the Shoninki as an e-book, and I know he's working on other titles as we speak… a bit of patience is required….
     
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  3. ZapEm

    ZapEm White Belt

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    OK, many thanks for your advice. Yes, many books and articles on ninjutsu are seriously doubtful. I'm not pedantic or picky in nature, but some of the stuff out there really is shameless. I think I'll go for Don Roley's Shoninki, then wait for him to release more stuff (I'm glad to hear he's working on more translations). The other 2 books can wait.
     
  4. hoshin1600

    hoshin1600 Senior Master

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    oh man....i wish i had found this sight and did some research before shelling out $ for Bansenshukai. i am not a ninjutsu practioner but i have read Mr Hayes stuff and Hatsumi back in the 80's and met Hayes once at a Buddhist convention. so i was excited about getting it. i guess its ok. one more book to add to my library along side of ashida kim, Joe hymas and others located in the BS catagory.
    (not saying Joe is a bad MA guy , i dont know him. but his book had nothing to do with real Zen)
     
  5. Brian R. VanCise

    Brian R. VanCise MT Moderator Staff Member

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    I will vouch for Don Roley's translations as well.
     
  6. Meitetsu

    Meitetsu Yellow Belt

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    As far as modern scholars there is Itoh Gingetsu!
    Okusei hasn't been translated that I know of, but I heard a gentlemen in Florida may be working on on book of his.
     
  7. cypher

    cypher Yellow Belt

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    For me, Understand, Good, Play, and any of Hatsumi's older works from the '80s where he's interviewed. Essential Ninjutsu as well as some of the newer ones like Way of the Ninja. Another good one is Ninpo: Wisdom for Life (although this is more philosophical, but it is a very interesting read). Kacem Zhougari's book is excellent as is the two by Jack Hoban (they being Ninpo, and The Ethical Warrior). Other good books are the ones by Glenn Morris.
     
  8. Chris Parker

    Chris Parker Grandmaster

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    Hi Cypher,

    The problem with those books is that they are (largely) more to do with Bujinkan methods, techniques, approach, and so on, rather than anything to do with what the OP was actually after. The closest would be Kacem's book… but I'd add a word of caution. It's got some okay historical content, but it's not actually that good on that level to my mind. But really, the OP was after more historical texts, not the Bujinkan-centric works that you're recommending. That doesn't mean that the books aren't good (I'm not giving endorsements or refutals here), just that they're not what the OP was asking about.
     
  9. Brian R. VanCise

    Brian R. VanCise MT Moderator Staff Member

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    Kacem's book was great and well he is a Phd in Japanese Studies from a University in France. I am sure he has forgotten more than you or I about this matter. Understand, Good, Play was fantastic and even better if you know some of the back story. While the OP was looking for straight up historical texts he could and probably would love reading works by Hatsumi Sensei especially from the 80's as cypher mentioned. I mean after all the Takamatsuden Arts are the preserved lineages of authentic ninjutsu. I think anyone who is interested in ninjutsu would want to look into writings about them. I think cypher was just trying to help Chris and or broaden his opportunity to learn some thing about ninjutsu!
     
  10. Bob Hubbard

    Bob Hubbard Retired

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    Thread locked pending review
     
  11. jks9199

    jks9199 Administrator Staff Member

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    Thread re-opened after pruning.

    Keep things in line, people.

    jks9199
    MT Asst. Administrator
     
  12. ZapEm

    ZapEm White Belt

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    Thanks to everyone who contributed to this thread. I appreciate the many helpful suggestions.

    If it helps, the disputes and controversies are something that exist in many martial arts in much the same form. Stick around long enough and you'll see the same lines of argument unfold in many different environments. I stopped believing a long time ago. In the end, it's about calibrating your own sense of the known vs the unknown. Most things are unknown, but immediacy and proximity help us to focus on specific objects of consciousness better. Something similar to the Bujinkan sakki test, perhaps. I hope that makes sense.
     

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