The Art of Winning & Its Practitioners

Some time back, I had posted ‘the shadow warriors of Japan‘, and this was supposed to follow that… It took me some time, before I could put this together… It would be better if you read the first post, before you got into this… thanks…

History sheds very little light on the birth of this obscure art; and the documented evidences are a mixture of facts and folk-lore, many times fancy taking the upper hand.  The stories of the Ninja’s descent from tengu, the terrifying long-nosed, half man-half crow demons, who alter the laws of nature and the workings of the human minds, are aplenty.

Plausibly the closest to the actual playing of history are the scrolls that indicate that the art had its sources in the military men who fled the collapsing T’ang China around A.D 900.  Generals and commanders, Ikai, Cho Bushi and Cho Gyokko, who found themselves to be outlawed, with the collapse of the mainland kingdoms, sought sanctuary in the islands of Japan.

The Chinese military tactics, based on the famed ‘The Art of War, and closely related to the mysticism and esoteric knowledge of India and Tibet; blended with the indigenous attitudes and approaches to warfare, found receptive ears in Japan.  A.D. 1024, saw large numbers of Chinese monks coming and making the forests and caves of the Kii Peninsula, their homes.  Their teachings and the systems of integrated body-mind awareness  were taken up by the Japanese yamabushi (mountain warrior-priests), and sennin and gyoja (warrior-ascetics of the wilderness).

Ninjutsu evolved from a mixture of these Chinese and Japanese elements; and  unlike most Oriental religious and martial arts, was never founded at any one specific point in history.  The basic body of knowledge that later became Ninjitsu, was first considered merely an unconventional way of looking at situations and accomplishing things.  The highly schematic science or rather art, that later evolved began as a shadowy counterculture, a reaction against the mainstream Japanese political and social tradition.

The ninjitsu ryu (traditional school) of the Togakure Family was formalized some three generations after Daisuke Togakure began to develop it.  Daisuke, who had lost his Samurai status, escaped to the mountains of the Kyoto region, where he met the warrior monk Kain Doshi, who had fled to Japan from the political and military upheaval in China.  There in the mountain caves of Iga (Mie Prefecture), Daisuke learned the new concepts of warfare and personal accomplishment based on Chinese and Tibetan ideas.  It was Daisuke’s descendants who developed and refined these notions into the Togakure-ryu of ninjitsu and came to be called by the name of Ninja

The mountains of south central Honshu Island, were home to most of the Ninja-ryus; including the 2 largest ones; the Iga-ryu and the Koga-ryu.  An organisational system was developed in these ryus, with three distinct ranks; the jonin (high man), the chunin (middle men) and the genin (low man).

We went to Iga Ninja ryu museum as part of our Mie Culture and People course, conducted by the CIER, Mie University.  We took the train from Edobashi, changed to JR.. well the train too was special, this was a ninja train, reached Iga at around 11:30 in the morning.  The museum is some 10 minutes walk from the railway station.  What welcomed us there was a group of people, clad in Ninja attire, getting ready for the Ninja show.  We got tickets for the show, and got our cameras ready.

After the show, we had a shurikan throwing session and then it was time for the museum.  This is a remodeled ninja house, with a number of hiding places, unique escape pathways, look out places and secret tunnels.  A guided tour of the museum, and then the house of ninja tools.  The ninja armor, a real heavy metal chain armor, the floating foot wear for the bogs, the spears, the farm tool converted weapons, the exhibits were many.

The Iga Ueno Castle, also called the “White Phoenix”, is some 5 minutes walk from the museum.  This place also houses many ancient Japanese artifacts, the samurai helmets are simply great.  The view from the top of the castle is also amazing.

We left Iga late in the evening, again by the ninja train.  On the train, we met a bunch of school kids, who showed us their own version of the ninja moves, and also told us about the ninja festival held once a year; People, lots of them, dressed up in Ninja attire, walking the streets, showing off their ninja skills, and then the professional shows, the ninja food festival, Well, that sounded like an exciting time, and would be great to be a part of…

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