What IS a Ninja?

Discussion in 'Ninjutsu' started by Cryozombie, Apr 1, 2004.

  1. Don Roley

    Don Roley Senior Master

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    No, but neither term was in much use historically.

    No, you are off the mark. There seems to be no attempt by the ninja to make them seem rather supernatural. That would make them a threat.

    No, popular culture during the Edo period seems to be a big source for the idea that they were supernatural. You know how media exagerates things for effect. There are some cases like the death of a Shogun while in Koga from disease. He most likely died from bad sanitary conditions, but in an age where magic was thought real- there was some talk it was a spell.

    Remember, the Iga and Koga regions were known areas surrounded by paranoid folks. If these warlords thought that their neighbors were hiding mystical abilities and might come after them, they would be more likely to launch an attack before that could happen. The ninja tried to not draw attention to themselves or any abilities other than gathering information. In fact- unlike Hollywood, that is about all they were really known for at the time it seams.
     
  2. thardey

    thardey Master Black Belt

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    Thank you very much.

    So, the people living in the Iga and Koga regions more or less tried to live their own lives and avoid unnecessary attention. Sort of "fly under the radar" so to speak?

    Then they got a lot of unwanted attention from story tellers later on trying to make a buck off of these "legends"? That sounds like a universal story to me :)

    That's when the terms "ninja" and "shinobi" were coined?

    Sounds like I was making it too complicated.
     
  3. Xue Sheng

    Xue Sheng All weight is underside

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    I can't really add anything to this except I was thinking of the original question what is a Ninja and what is a ninja today and the only thing I can come up with is a ninja today is pretty much anything Ashida Kim isn't.

    Sorry, I had to get that out, please forgive the silly CMA guys transgression.
     
  4. Don Roley

    Don Roley Senior Master

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    Well, not quite- but close.

    Please try to consider that a lot of what you have read and heard about ninjutsu would probably make modern Japanese laugh. Hollywood has a lot to do with what non-Japanese think about ninja. (Oh yeah, and Ashida Kim and company.) And of course, what modern Japanese think about the ninja also is distorted by their media and entertainment.

    The image of what people thought about the ninja in the 18th century is vastly different from either. Before we give an answer on the matter, we have to know where the questioner is coming from.
     
  5. thardey

    thardey Master Black Belt

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    I don't doubt that -- that's why I realize that interpreting the ninja through a westerner's eyes is a foolish thing to do. How a culture fights is an area of fascination for me, because I believe that if I can understand how and why a particular culture fights, how they view their weapons, and what "rules of engagement" they assume, then I can get a small foothold into understanding what influences their day-to-day decisions. I believe that people have to be true to their beliefs in order to fight well. If how they fight is not in harmony with how they live, they will hesitate and be killed, or they will survive, but suffer guilt and shame for fighting "dishonorably".

    If by "the questioner" you are referring to me, then I will try to be open.

    When I was a naieve kid, I thought that "fighting fair" was important. You know, playground rules. I disliked the ninja because I understood that the ninja "cheated" in order to win. While my friends were obsessing over the 80's "ninja craze" - buying shiruken, "ninja swords", watching TMNT, etc, I stayed away. No cheating for me.

    Then I got older, and I realized that life didn't have time for "fighting fair". That if I had the option to fight fair, then I had the option to not fight at all. That meant that if I had to fight, my best bet was to be a better "cheater" than the guy who forced the fight. During this time, I was beginning to look into the history of pirates, particularly compared to the British navy. I stayed on this idea until fairly recently. In many ways the only practical difference between the British navy and the "successful" pirates was in who endorsed them. Their tactics, strategies, opponents, goals, etc were built on the same culture. This difference was (IMHO) that the navy captains were endorsed by the empire, with birth and nobility playing a main role in the "endorsing", while the pirates, (specifically, the group known as "buccaneers") were unofficially endorsed by their respective king or queen (did you ever wonder how some got "knighted"?) and were elected to leadership by democratic vote based on performance. BTW the successful pirates were very disciplined and drafted their own shipboard rules. (No women on board, and no raping women at all being a common, but not famous one.)

    So then I (foolishly, I admit) thought that this might explain the "differences" between samurai and ninja. That the samurai was a caste of nobility, who fought according to a strict Bushido code, and did what was necessary to maintain their "honor". (Like the British navy) While the ninja were common people who had the same skills as the samurai, but who weren't limited by "honor". (Like the pirates). The British navy tried to discredit the pirates, it backfired, and romanticized them instead, turning them into the classic anti-hero, fighting for the common man. I thought the same thing could have happened between the samurai and ninja, which would explain the romatic version of the ninja to the westerner's eyes.

    Please remember, this conjecture was based on the limited resources I had, none of which I really trusted, it turns out for good reason. The above reasoning was me trying to sift through the legend and "ghost stories" to find something that was actually likely. So my search continued.

    Recently, I have been seeing an acupunturist, something which I thought was voodo, but now have a deep respect for. I realized that I had a lot of predjuces against the eastern mindset, and I would like to break them. The easiest way to do that is through education. I realized that one of the biggest misunderstandings I had was in the concept of "balance". I thought it was a waste of time and energy to try to keep life in "balance. I figured life was unfair, and one should just learn to deal with it. But I found that in my religion, the concept for "righteousness" originally meant "balance" -- something that had been lost in most teachings. I realized that the Japanese and Chinese cared deeply for balance in all things, and so my interest grew.

    Then I found this board, and began reading many of the historical debates on the ninja and samurai, and I thought this would provide a good insight into how the Japanese dealt with fighting honorably, fighting with/against nobility, "saving face" vs. "saving your hide", etc. The idea that the ninja were samurai is a new one to me, which is diffult for me to reconcile - thus my recent questions that you were kind enough to respond to.

    I'm not particularly interested in learning to throw a shiruken. (I've thrown hunting knives since I was twelve). I don't have time to learn to fight with a katana (as I've posted on the SA forum, I'm already committed to rapier and longsword for the time being). I do want to make sure that my karate is useful on the street for survival, and not just for sport, and I wouldn't mind knowing how to disappear. (But then again, I'm an archery hunter -- you don't get a deer unless you can already disappear. No orange vests for us.) Besides, I'm on the sniper country chat forum for that. I've even spent some time doing magic tricks as a hobby, so I understand the concepts of misdirection and the power of letting people's imagination fill in the gaps. The "magic" of the ninja is not what I'm after.

    But I would really like to understand more about how the Japanese thought about the ninja, about the samurai, and how these seemingly (from my perspective) different fiighting cultures learned to work together.

    Now then I'm not sure what question to ask, other than, where do start? I don't even know enough about this to even know where to begin, or what sources to trust. I've been warned that some books that bear Dr. Masaaki Hatsumi's name may not have been faithfully translated. I don't speak Japanese, and I don't see the opportunity to go to Japan anytime soon. Besides, I don't want to go until I can understand the culture there more.

    Can you help?

    I'm sorry if this post is too long, but I feel that the questions I am asking will require some time.

    (BTW I'll be out of town for a few days, so I won't be able to reply)
     
  6. Grey Eyed Bandit

    Grey Eyed Bandit Master of Arts

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    Neither are most serious Bujinkan practitioners. You're spot on with your statement that preconceived notions about the ninja are difficult to get rid of, but while we're on that topic, you might want to know that the things you mention above do not take up the bulk of what we're practicing.
     
  7. jks9199

    jks9199 Administrator Staff Member

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    As I understand it, I think you could probably make a pretty good comparison about the reality, versus perceptions at the time, and modern perceptions between the ninja in Japan, and cowboys in America.

    I think both were probably much more "ordinary" in day to day life than we want to admit (for their time & place) and much less romantic than we want to believe. And I think that the image of both over time has gone through a lot of changes... In fact, I bet that a "real Wild West Cowboy" wouldn't recognize many of the movie/film/fictional portrayals of himself anymore than a "real authentic ninja" would see himself in modern portrayals!
     
  8. thardey

    thardey Master Black Belt

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    That is a new bit of information for me -- that changes a lot. So what do you spend most of your time on?

    I'm also beginning to realize that I am as far off on the idea of the samurai as I am on the ninja. I knew that I had a fuzzy understanding of the samurai, but I think there are some other preconceived notions about them I need to weed out to understand this subject.

    I don't see a forum group marked "samurai" -- which groups could I read up on to find out more about them?
     
  9. Sukerkin

    Sukerkin Have the courage to speak softly

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    I'd recommend that you do a little 'old fashioned' book reading first before venturing out onto the Web looking for information.

    By it's very nature, the internet fosters the spread of disinformation better than fact. This is because the reality of any period of history (and the people that lived through it) is seldom simple and the Net thrives on sound-bites.

    For a basic grounding in Japanese history, with particular emphasis being given to the Samurai, I'd suggest getting some of Steven Turnbull's works (like 'The Samurai Sourcebook' or 'Samurai - The Story of Japan's Great Warriors').

    To round things out, a book I've mentioned elsewhere on the fora is Giles Milton's "Samurai William". This is a historical biography of William Adams (the inspiration for "Shogun") and covers a slice of Japanese life as seen from a Western viewpoint.

    Another nice little book which handles social history is Dr. Saburo Ienaga's "History of Japan" but that might be hard to get hold of. "Japan - It's History and Culture" by W. Scott Morton might be easier to get. However, for general history I'm sure that it will be quite easy to pick up several texts from your local book shops.

    The best approach is to read widely at first and get an idea of the consensus in the academic community on the issues that interest you. Because history is at least partially subjective, you can't rely on just one source of opinion ... because it might very well be wrong or contentious :) ... so browse the field a bit.

    Good luck.
     
  10. Grey Eyed Bandit

    Grey Eyed Bandit Master of Arts

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    Establishing control.
     
  11. thardey

    thardey Master Black Belt

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    Very true - one thing I like about this particular forum though is that nothing is sacred, so "sound bites" and misinformed ideas like mine get questioned early and often. As the proverb goes "The first to present his case seems right, till another comes forward and questions him."

    It's funny, I had just bookmarked a page about William Adams and am about halfway through it. I was leery about using "Shogun" to learn about Japanese history, since it is a fictional book, and I've already been burned by getting ideas about Japan from that kind of stuff, but if it is a fairly accurate biography, that helps a lot.

    Edited: I forgot to thank you for including names of actual books that you found helpful. It is very maddening to have people tell you to "go research" it while only warning you what authors to stay away from.
     
  12. thardey

    thardey Master Black Belt

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    To what purpose?
     
  13. Grey Eyed Bandit

    Grey Eyed Bandit Master of Arts

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    Control over ourselves and those we may have to confront physically.
     
  14. thardey

    thardey Master Black Belt

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    Thank you, I think I understand.

    Does that include control of your environment?
     
  15. Grey Eyed Bandit

    Grey Eyed Bandit Master of Arts

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    (Cue bencole)
     
  16. Sukerkin

    Sukerkin Have the courage to speak softly

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    You are more than welcome, sir. Always happy to help someone who is looking to learn, especially when they are frank and honest enough to admit what they don't know rather than pretending that they do :tup:.

    EDIT: Please don't be mislead into thinking that the books I mentioned are either the pinnacle of sources or even that they do more than scratch the surface of the repository of works that there are on the subject. I hope you find at least some of them a useful starting point tho'.
     
  17. thardey

    thardey Master Black Belt

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    Any place to start is helpful.

    I personally don't see how pretending to know something will encourage people to help teach me, but, then again, not everybody is here to learn, are they? :uhyeah:
     
  18. thardey

    thardey Master Black Belt

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    Has this conversation already happened somewhere? If you could point out the thread, I would be happy to read it.
     
  19. Grey Eyed Bandit

    Grey Eyed Bandit Master of Arts

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    Head over to martialartsplanet and do a search on "kukan". Or perhaps, if bencole's feeling talkative on the subject...?
     
  20. thardey

    thardey Master Black Belt

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    I was browsing at B&N last night, and didn't see the books you listed, but I did pick up a copy of "Code of the Samurai", translated by Thomas Cleary. Does anyone know of this book (he also had one called "Soul of the Samurai") is it well translated?

    I also picked up a copy of "Shogun" -- not for the historical details, but for the cultural picture, so to speak. I'll probably start on it next month, since I'm in the middle of a novel right now.123
     

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