Difference between ninjutsu and Jujitsu-related arts

Charbel Hanna

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Greetings! I hope you are well.

Some people might have met me in another forum, where I asked a question about aikibudo, aiki jujitsu, and ninjutsu. Here, I will ask a question more specific to ninjutsu. Beforehand, I want to say that I have read the pinned description and FAQ about ninjutsu, but there were so many Japanese terms that I just frankly got lost in it, so I thank you in advance for your patience.

Here goes. Practically speaking, what is the difference between ninjutsu styles and jujitsu (and related) styles? I suspect there will be many minor differences, as there are between particular schools within a same style, and sometimes even from a dojo to another, but I mean... what are the major differences, if any? Let's say a jujitsu practitioner and a ninjutsu practitioner meet and fight (informally in a dojo, or formally in the street), what will be characteristic of each person's techniques or movements?

Feel free to also compare with other martial arts too. I'm just really curious about what ninjutsu is in practice!
Thank you!
 

dunc

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The old Japanese martial arts each evolved according to the needs and experiences of their practitioners
The styles tended to adopt names that encapsulated their key insight or approach &/or something to do with their history, family name etc
The distinction between jujutsu style and a ninjutsu one (your terms) will be a function of the style’s history
Often the core ingredients would look the same, but they are blended together and used a little differently

For example one school of jujutsu, Takagi Yoshin Ryu Jutaijutsu, has seated techniques and an emphasis on disarming your opponent. This maybe reflects the situation/history of their practitioners spending a chunk of time indoors

Whereas a school of ninjutsu, Togakure Ryu Nino Taijutsu, has a focus on escaping when grabbed, using climbing gear as weapons and having particular weapons to aid one’s escape (rather than to dominate your opponent)

Another school might have a lot of weapons techniques because their practitioners were more military in nature, etc etc
 

Tony Dismukes

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It's tricky to compare and contrast unless you specify what "jujutsu" and "ninjutsu" you are talking about.

"Ninjutsu" might refer to
  1. A small subset of the curriculum in an older koryu (pre-1868) Japanese art which covers methods of military intelligence gathering and related techniques.
  2. A modern system created based on someone's fantasy of what ninjas might be like based on popular entertainment.
  3. The Takamatsuden systems (i.e. the arts taught within the Bujinkan and it's offshoots such as the Genbukan, Jinenkan, Akban, etc - also referred to generically as X-kan). This is what you are most likely to encounter in a "ninjutsu" dojo today.
Regarding the 9 arts taught in the X-kans:
3 are supposedly forms of ninjutsu, but none of those are historically verifiable as existing prior to Takamatsu (Takamatsu was the instructor of Hatsumi, the headmaster of the Bujinkan.)
3 are verifiably historical arts, but those are not ninjutsu arts.
Several of the arts are either forms of jujutsu or contain elements of jujutsu as part of the curriculum.
Within the Bujinkan, it's common for students to be taught what is essentially a blend of Hatsumi's interpretation of the various arts, under the name "Bujinkan Budo Taijutsu."


"Jujutsu" is a broad term for a large family of historical Japanese arts and the modern systems (Japanese or otherwise) derived from them. In general, they are unarmed systems focused primarily on grappling, but they will often include some striking and sometimes even weapon use. Older forms of jujutsu range from supplemental battlefield training for armored warriors to complete unarmed self-defense systems for civilians. These historical (koryu) arts are niche arts and relatively hard to find legitimate training in these days.

Most jujutsu schools you can find today are modern ("gendai") systems. The most widespread forms are Judo, Aikido, and the many, many systems which have been derived from one or both of those (BJJ, Danzan ryu, Small Circle Jujutsu, Sambo, Hapkido, German Jujutsu, etc, etc). (Not all of these systems still use the jujutsu name, but you can often find more similarities between a school which uses the jujutsu name and one that doesn't than you can between two schools which do use the name.) Even most schools which claim to teach "traditional Japanese Jujutsu" are actually teaching a modern amalgamation of Judo, Aikido, karate, and/or other non-Japanese elements.

Bottom line, the labels in question are so broad that it's impossible to answer unless you narrow it down a bit.
 

isshinryuronin

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It's tricky to compare and contrast unless you specify what "jujutsu" and "ninjutsu" you are talking about.

"Ninjutsu" might refer to
  1. A small subset of the curriculum in an older koryu (pre-1868) Japanese art which covers methods of military intelligence gathering and related techniques.
  2. A modern system created based on someone's fantasy of what ninjas might be like based on popular entertainment.
  3. The Takamatsuden systems (i.e. the arts taught within the Bujinkan and it's offshoots such as the Genbukan, Jinenkan, Akban, etc - also referred to generically as X-kan). This is what you are most likely to encounter in a "ninjutsu" dojo today.
Regarding the 9 arts taught in the X-kans:
3 are supposedly forms of ninjutsu, but none of those are historically verifiable as existing prior to Takamatsu (Takamatsu was the instructor of Hatsumi, the headmaster of the Bujinkan.)
3 are verifiably historical arts, but those are not ninjutsu arts.
Several of the arts are either forms of jujutsu or contain elements of jujutsu as part of the curriculum.
Within the Bujinkan, it's common for students to be taught what is essentially a blend of Hatsumi's interpretation of the various arts, under the name "Bujinkan Budo Taijutsu."

Good brief summation. Bottom line - there is probably no true ninjutsu being publicly taught today. The true koryu arts in your #1 are esoteric and hard to find, especially ninjutsu related. #2 I think is what one would mostly encounter at "ninjustu" schools. #3 presents some bona fide ninja technique, but as you point out, mixes it with other joint locking arts. I think that's because there is not enough pure ninja knowledge to build a whole system nowadays.

Poison darts, primitive explosives, being an undercover mole, hanging upside down for hours, throat slitting, etc are skills that very few are qualified to teach or others want to learn. There is much more, as you touched upon, to being a ninja than fighting.
 
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Charbel Hanna

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Thank you all for your answers.

Poison darts, primitive explosives, being an undercover mole, hanging upside down for hours, throat slitting, etc are skills that very few are qualified to teach or others want to learn. There is much more, as you touched upon, to being a ninja than fighting.

Yes indeed, as I have said elsewhere, I am not kidding myself into believing that a ninjutsu dojo will teach me how to become a ninja, haha! But if the fighting technique works well, the label won't matter to me.
 
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Charbel Hanna

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[Follow up, because I hit "post reply" by accident.]

Bottom line, the labels in question are so broad that it's impossible to answer unless you narrow it down a bit.

The dojo that I am looking at appears to be a Bujinkan dojo. I will probably go and check it out! If you have anything in particular to say about the Bujinkan styles, I'm all ears.

Thank you again, all of you, for your answers!
 

Tony Dismukes

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If you have anything in particular to say about the Bujinkan styles, I'm all ears.
I trained in the Bujinkan for about 8 years and since leaving I've occasionally stopped in to visit a class or watched video to see how things have changed. In the 28 years since then I've trained a number of different styles, but my primary technical foundation is in BJJ and Muay Thai.

The Bujinkan curriculum is a fairly well rounded mix of grappling (standing grapping, not newaza), striking, and weapons work. There's not much time devoted to the "ninjutsu" elements of stealth, climbing, and so on.

The technical principles of the art are reasonably sound. The problem is that actual sparring is just about non-existent. Techniques are typically practiced against an training partner who presents a pre-determined, overly committed, highly stylized attack. (Most commonly you'll see a stylized long range lunch punch with the arm left hanging out at the end or a static wrist or lapel grab.) Even when you see the attacker present a combination or a "free style" attack it still will be the sort of incompetent attack that would never work against a skilled fighter.

The result of this (in my opinion) is that you end up with practitioners who are skilled in demonstrating techniques against a certain type of stylized but incompetent attacks and have lots of theoretical ideas about what would work in a given situation that don't necessarily hold up in reality. There are techniques taught in the Bujinkan which are reasonably workable, others which might work under certain specialized situations, and others which just aren't going to work at all for anybody - but there's a general lack of awareness of the difference between these high-percentage, low-percentage, and no-percentage techniques.

To be fair, this is a criticism I would have for any system which doesn't include any kind of sparring.

The best things I got out of my time in the Bujinkan were improved body awareness and control, good ukemi, and a sense for thinking about things tactically.
 

punisher73

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If you want the history of studying a "ninjutsu" art, then go for it. If you wanted an "updated" approach with ties to the old schools, then many people like Stephen K. Hayes approach with To-Shin Do.

But, like Tony and others have pointed out. Both the ninja and samurai would have had very similar jujitsu training. The ninja would have focused more on escaping grabs and strikes to create distance and escape since their missions were supposed to be covert and not being caught. They would not have had the restraining skills that samurai would have also practiced for taking prisoners.

If you care none of that and want the skills of what the historical ninja would have had. Train like a Special Forces soldier in covert ops and weapons and skills, then mix in espionage training and wilderness survival training. :)
 
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Charbel Hanna

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I trained in the Bujinkan for about 8 years and since leaving I've occasionally stopped in to visit a class or watched video to see how things have changed. In the 28 years since then I've trained a number of different styles, but my primary technical foundation is in BJJ and Muay Thai.

The Bujinkan curriculum is a fairly well rounded mix of grappling (standing grapping, not newaza), striking, and weapons work. There's not much time devoted to the "ninjutsu" elements of stealth, climbing, and so on.

The technical principles of the art are reasonably sound. The problem is that actual sparring is just about non-existent. Techniques are typically practiced against an training partner who presents a pre-determined, overly committed, highly stylized attack. (Most commonly you'll see a stylized long range lunch punch with the arm left hanging out at the end or a static wrist or lapel grab.) Even when you see the attacker present a combination or a "free style" attack it still will be the sort of incompetent attack that would never work against a skilled fighter.

The result of this (in my opinion) is that you end up with practitioners who are skilled in demonstrating techniques against a certain type of stylized but incompetent attacks and have lots of theoretical ideas about what would work in a given situation that don't necessarily hold up in reality. There are techniques taught in the Bujinkan which are reasonably workable, others which might work under certain specialized situations, and others which just aren't going to work at all for anybody - but there's a general lack of awareness of the difference between these high-percentage, low-percentage, and no-percentage techniques.

To be fair, this is a criticism I would have for any system which doesn't include any kind of sparring.

The best things I got out of my time in the Bujinkan were improved body awareness and control, good ukemi, and a sense for thinking about things tactically.

Alright, thank you for your answers! Yes, I tend to agree with you, that sparring is important. Otherwise it's just predetermined scenarios. I'm probably gonna do a bit of muay thai on the side with my wife (who really just wants to hit stuff, she's not interested in grappling and locks), so that might balance things. But anyways I still haven't visited the ninjutsu dojo yet, so I'll see when I visit it. Thank you for enlightening me a bit, I am now a little bit less clueless about ninjutsu, haha!

If you care none of that and want the skills of what the historical ninja would have had. Train like a Special Forces soldier in covert ops and weapons and skills, then mix in espionage training and wilderness survival training. :)

Nah, I'm good haha! As I said, I am not kidding myself into believing that I will become an actual ninja or spy or assassin or what else. As long as the fighting techniques are good, the name of the school matters little to me. And since there's a ninjutsu dojo near my home with very good reviews on Google (for what it's worth), I'll pay it a visit.

Thanks y'all for your answers!
 

dunc

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In the Bujinkan you’ll find a very broad curriculum that represents a good cross section of the old schools of Japanese martial arts. Ranging from proper high class samurai family arts to the styles that developed in the Iga region that’s famous for ninjas
These have a historical context and depending on the teacher you’ll either have more history and less modern day applications or visa versa
I agree with most of Tony’s assessment, with a couple of points of contention:
1 - History. There’s an established link now back to martial arts from Iga region
2 - Efficacy. Bujinkan dojo vary a lot in terms of their approach and training methodology so it does depend on the teacher
My recommendation is to go see the clubs and decide if it’s for you
 

Tony Dismukes

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I agree with most of Tony’s assessment, with a couple of points of contention:
1 - History. There’s an established link now back to martial arts from Iga region
If I'm understanding correctly, the link is that Takamatsu had an instructor with a familial link to the arts from that region. However that doesn't mean that Togakure Ryu, Kumogakure Ryu, or Gyokushin Ryu necessarily existed under those names, with the same formal curriculum, or with the claimed lineage prior to Takamatsu. (In fact we can be confident that the claimed lineage/history is not literally accurate.) Would you say that's fair?

2 - Efficacy. Bujinkan dojo vary a lot in terms of their approach and training methodology so it does depend on the teacher
True, but the specific elements I cited seem to be pretty widespread, Would you agree?
My recommendation is to go see the clubs and decide if it’s for you
Always good advice.
 
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Charbel Hanna

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In the Bujinkan you’ll find a very broad curriculum that represents a good cross section of the old schools of Japanese martial arts. Ranging from proper high class samurai family arts to the styles that developed in the Iga region that’s famous for ninjas
These have a historical context and depending on the teacher you’ll either have more history and less modern day applications or visa versa
I agree with most of Tony’s assessment, with a couple of points of contention:
1 - History. There’s an established link now back to martial arts from Iga region
2 - Efficacy. Bujinkan dojo vary a lot in terms of their approach and training methodology so it does depend on the teacher
My recommendation is to go see the clubs and decide if it’s for you

Thank you for your answer! Yes, of course, one has to go and see the dojo by himself, all these discussions are just so I don't go there completely clueless about what to expect, haha!
 

dunc

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If I'm understanding correctly, the link is that Takamatsu had an instructor with a familial link to the arts from that region. However that doesn't mean that Togakure Ryu, Kumogakure Ryu, or Gyokushin Ryu necessarily existed under those names, with the same formal curriculum, or with the claimed lineage prior to Takamatsu. (In fact we can be confident that the claimed lineage/history is not literally accurate.) Would you say that's fair?

Yeah - without getting into a long winded posts about history I'd say that now on balance the facts support the assertion that Takamatsu learnt from his grandfather, who was a well respected martial arts instructor from Iga and he & his family were employed in a role traditionally associated with ninja
Rather than characterising it as "none of those are historically verifiable as existing prior to Takamatsu" which paints a rather negative interpretation of the facts

True, but the specific elements I cited seem to be pretty widespread, Would you agree?

In terms of training methodology: I'd agree that your points would apply to most dojos, but it depends on the instructor

I’d agree with your point about the traditional punching methods and that training against these doesn’t really equip you to deal with trained modern strikers
However, the Bujinkan does have some very valuable skills that you don’t see much of across the MA community. For example it does a great job of dealing with someone grabbing with one hand and punching, always considering weapons (which changes things a lot in my view), striking during standing grappling with a gi, escaping/surviving rather than going for the tap etc

So at the end of it all I guess I’m trying to provide a holistic and balanced perspective based on my direct personal experience
 

Martial D

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Alright, thank you for your answers! Yes, I tend to agree with you, that sparring is important. Otherwise it's just predetermined scenarios. I'm probably gonna do a bit of muay thai on the side with my wife (who really just wants to hit stuff, she's not interested in grappling and locks), so that might balance things. But anyways I still haven't visited the ninjutsu dojo yet, so I'll see when I visit it. Thank you for enlightening me a bit, I am now a little bit less clueless about ninjutsu, haha!



Nah, I'm good haha! As I said, I am not kidding myself into believing that I will become an actual ninja or spy or assassin or what else. As long as the fighting techniques are good, the name of the school matters little to me. And since there's a ninjutsu dojo near my home with very good reviews on Google (for what it's worth), I'll pay it a visit.

Thanks y'all for your answers!
If you are looking for practical fighting techniques, you are looking in the entirely wrong direction if you are looking at ANY school that advertises as 'ninjitsu'.
 

dunc

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If you are looking for practical fighting techniques, you are looking in the entirely wrong direction if you are looking at ANY school that advertises as 'ninjitsu'.

Hi
What makes you say that?
Thanks
 

Martial D

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Hi
What makes you say that?
Thanks
Because they don't actually fight or spar, and what they teach doesn't work in actual practice when the other guy is fighting back.

If you want to learn how to fight, learn how to box, kick, wrestle and do groundfighting somewhere they actually compete.

If someone tells you their stuff is 'to dangerous for competition', you know you've been had.
 

dunc

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Because they don't actually fight or spar, and what they teach doesn't work in actual practice when the other guy is fighting back.

If you want to learn how to fight, learn how to box, kick, wrestle and do groundfighting somewhere they actually compete.

If someone tells you their stuff is 'to dangerous for competition', you know you've been had.

OK but in my direct experience
a) Some schools do pressure test and spar
b) There are tonnes of techniques that are taught in the Bujinkan etc that work just fine in pressured/resistive situations. For example most of the core judo throws are in the curriculum with some variations
c) Anyone who spars regularly knows that there are some techniques that are too dangerous for rolling & competitions
 

Martial D

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OK but in my direct experience
a) Some schools do pressure test and spar
b) There are tonnes of techniques that are taught in the Bujinkan etc that work just fine in pressured/resistive situations. For example most of the core judo throws are in the curriculum with some variations
c) Anyone who spars regularly knows that there are some techniques that are too dangerous for rolling & competitions
Ehh. Have fun with that then.

Most of what you are going to get is Japanese flavored larping.
 

drop bear

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OK but in my direct experience
a) Some schools do pressure test and spar
b) There are tonnes of techniques that are taught in the Bujinkan etc that work just fine in pressured/resistive situations. For example most of the core judo throws are in the curriculum with some variations
c) Anyone who spars regularly knows that there are some techniques that are too dangerous for rolling & competitions

Is there any video of ninja sparring?
 

dunc

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Ehh. Have fun with that then.

Most of what you are going to get is Japanese flavored larping.

Hi
Not sure what you mean by this....
Do you disagree that the techniques in the curriculum, that are also in judo, are not proven to be effective?
Do you disagree that there are techniques that are not appropriate for sparring/rolling?
Thanks
 
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