Hands of the Ninja
Updated: Mar 21, 2022
At the height of the historical ninja period, the clan's ninja operatives were trained in eighteen fundamental areas of expertise, beginning with spiritual refinement brought about by mediation and understanding their own identity. They would then progress through a comprehensive range of physical and mental skills.
Seishin Teki Kyoyo (Spiritual Refinement)
The Togakure ninja worked at developing a deep and accurate knowledge of the self, their personal power, strengths and weaknesses, and their influence on the playing out of life. The ninja had to be very clear about their intentions, commitments, and personal motivations in life. Personality traits could often mean the difference between life and death in their line of work. Exercises in mental endurance, ways of looking at reality, and proper perspective when evaluating a situation, were taught to the ninja along with physical skills.
When asked about all the various skills the ninja would train in, the fact that spiritual refinement or meditation is the first one does seem to surprise some people. However it should be viewed in the context of their society and the time they lived in. They were involved in intelligence gathering and the use of misinformation to affect their society for the benefit of the people and the aims of their leaders. To be able to do this they needed to withstand a variety of harsh and sometimes fatal situations with resolve and determination.
How they managed this mind-set and ability to stay centred was through the use of Taoist meditations which included a process often referred to as Kuji-in, which is used predominantly in Shugendo practice and ryobu Shinto (which is a blending of Shinto and Buddhist practice).
Thanks to a lack of knowledge and the exaggeration of Hollywood there is a misconception that this Kuji-in practice has some magical or demonic effect. Nothing could be further from the truth. The use of mudra (hand postures) mantra (chanting) and mind-set are to help to clear and centre the persons mind. They differ depending on the circumstances, some were to settle the mind and resolve when over stimulated or excited, some were to raise the spirit and energy when at a low ebb.
Within the specific kuji-in there are 9 separate hand positions or mudra. These are Rin, Pyo, Toh, Sha, Kai, Jin, Retsu, Zai, and Zen. Each one has a specific mudra, mantra and mind-set or visualisation. There are different hand postures depending on the specific school or sect that they belong to but the ones usually associated with Ninjutsu are below.
There is also something called Kuji Kiri which is translated as nine cuts. In this the first two fingers of the right hand are ‘drawn’ from the left hand as a sword is drawn from its scabbard. The hand then makes a succession of alternating horizontal and vertical cuts to form a grid pattern in the air with each cut the syllable is spoken in order Rin, Pyo, Toh, Sha, Kai, Jin, Retsu, Zai, Zen. At this point the right hand can inscribe a kanji on the grid to represent a certain desired outcome. The right hand will thrust through with the syllable ‘Ko!’ uttered as the thrust is made. This is used to either cleanse a place from a negative feeling or poor luck, or to set a feeling of good fortune within those at that place.
This is a video of Hatsumi sensei performing kuji kiri at the start of an annual training seminar.
Kuji-in is at its core a method of meditation and a way to bring about a desired mind set to be able to deal with changing circumstances. In the modern context these practices are still relevant in keeping the practitioner centred through out the highs and lows of modern life. It is a practice that is as effective as more mainstream Buddhist or popular meditation with the added benefit that it has a proven history in extreme circumstances.
It is not taught in many dojo as there is still not a lot of information out there and many students are more interested in the physical aspect of training. These two factors combine to make it a less taught aspect in Bujinkan Dojo.