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  • Writer's pictureDave Giddings

Bujinkan - what's that?

“I saw your ad, was wondering about trying a is Boo-jin-karn nin-jut...?” the voice on the other end of the phone trails off in a hopeful and confused silence.

I’m hardly surprised, I get calls like this (maybe not as often as I'd like!). So I start to explain what the Bujinkan is, what budo taijutsu is and, yeah, explain the whole ninjutsu thing. The biggest hurdle to overcome is the stereotyping of ninjutsu. As soon as you mention anything that sounds like ninja for some bizarre reason the most rational, mature person leaps on that Hollywood image. The stock answers follow: no we don’t wear masks; no we don’t train in the dark; no, actually, I haven’t been on a mission to infiltrate a stronghold recently...ok I made that last one up, but you get the picture.

To start from the beginning (as all good stories should) the Bujinkan is an international organisation under Soke Masaaki Hatsumi (Soke meaning head of family). He established it in Japan in the late 1970’s and based everything we do on nine kobudo ryu (that’s old school Japanese martial arts – literally). Of those nine ryu, three are ninjutsu schools the most famous of which is Togakure Ryu. The other six ryu are budo schools – which means they were martial arts that were learnt by samurai. Soke Hatsumi inherited these ryu from his teacher Takamatsu sensei, who was also known as the last ninja. The reason for that is Takamatsu sensei lived in China between 1911 and 1919 and had, on many occasions, to use what he knew to stay alive and to defeat many challengers.

For 15 years between 1957 and 1972 Soke Hatsumi would travel 12hrs every weekend by train to Kashiwabara, a town in Nara prefecture in Japan, to train under Takamatsu sensei. During that time Soke Hatsumi started to make appearances on Japanese TV and in their press to promote these arts, trying to show the serious and practical side of ninjutsu. After Takamatsu passed away in 1972, Soke Hatsumi continued teaching Japanese students and some foreign students too. This was the beginning of the ‘ninja’ boom in the 1980’s.

The press suddenly started having articles from Stephen Hayes, Brian McCarthy, and others who were coming back full of enthusiasm for this art. Unwittingly they promoted an up-surge of Hollywood imagery – and so enter the way of the ninja. Soon there was a glut of Hollywood films from Japanese productions to pure comedy fantasy, Sho Kosugi in a series of ninja movies was one of the better known, and so were those turtles. If that wasn’t bad enough the popularity of the ninja image brought out various self proclaimed ninja masters who had no connection to the Bujinkan or any actual ninjutsu school.

Unsurprisingly surrounded and almost overwhelmed by the Hollywood stereotype, being true ninja, the Bujinkan faded out of the press in the late 1990’s. Also about this time Soke Hatsumi decided to rename the art ‘Budo Taijutsu’ as it would help with distancing the Bujinkan from the Hollywood image of ninjutsu. This also reflected that six of the nine ryu were budo schools, and only three were ninjutsu schools. As the ninja media boom died away, apart from the occasional resurgence of Sho Kosugi (Ninja Assassin) and those turtles (TMNT), the Bujinkan continued to grow.

With a small core of dedicated students under Soke Hatsumi the Bujinkan would spread to 40 different countries worldwide, with high ranking instructors teaching to serious and enthusiastic students. Students came from all walks of life, from the usual martial arts type of enthusiast to those seriously invested in self preservation either in government and military roles, or because of their personal circumstances. Soke Hatsumi would travel to the USA, Israel, UK and other countries teach to FBI, SAS and other organisations and many from those ranks would become students outside their job roles.

In 1987 Soke Hatsumi introduced the Ten Chi Jin Ryaku no Maki the syllabus to which all Bujinkan Dojo should work to. Within it are the foundation of budo and ninjutsu, the Kihon Happo no kata and San Shin no Kata. These forms or techniques taught principles that are used in all techniques of the nine schools of the Bujinkan whether unarmed or with weapons.

So what do you get in a Bujinkan class? Our next blog will explain that in some detail.....

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