Sometimes I have to remember to relax and realize strength will not win all battles or situations, that is the skill a ninja needs to develop in life.
by Masaaki Hatsumi
(This article originally appeared in Ninja Magazine in 1985)
Great article and I have also added some side notes on how I utilize certain aspects of this article in my own training.
In any martial art, including ninpo, the most important aspect is footwork; therefore I will discuss footwork and the background of certain techniques.
Everyone dislikes the cold, including the ninja; so even in the summer ninja wear tabi, Japanese socks, to keep the feet warm. The feet are the key points of the body for retaining heat and health. In Oriental medicine, it is called zukan no kunetsu, meaning: ” Keep the head cold and the feet warm”. This is essential for staying in good health as well as curing illness. I, personally, will always wear tabi no matter how warm the weather. [With all the new wool blends for daily use there should never be a time for cold feet, camping and hiking here in New England during the fall, winter and spring have taught me this fact well!]
In order to increase strength and virility, the ninja massage their feet by holding the first three toes and rotating them. [Many of you know I am an avid runner, both trail and road running. Each stretching session I massage my feet, rotate my ankles and pull and flex to maintain my joint and tendon elasticity]
Even kunoichi (female ninja) practice this technique to ensure-good health of the whole body. It is particularly good for the liver; pancreas and the entire intestinal system. Part of the technique includes rubbing the bottoms of the feet to maintain good blood pressure and a balanced nervous system.
Ninja will also train by walking on beans scattered on the ground; this helps massage pressure points as well as toughens the bottoms of the feet. More advanced ninja eventually learn to walk on tetsubishi (sharp-spiked caltrops) without injury; this is accomplished not only because the feet are toughened, but because the ninja has learned to walk with perfect balance and lightness, distributing his weight so that he barely touches the thorny caltrops. [I use beans, marbles and even a foot roller for these exercises]
Walking is an excellent exercise, and one can do it anywhere at anytime. When I walk my three dogs every day, I walk them briskly for three hours, making sure I take small, quick steps. It is a good lesson to learn, even on the street for, occasionally we will encounter a cat or something that will excite the dogs. However, since I am always walking properly, I am always in control; I am never pulled too fast or tripped by a tangled leash. [I always try to get additional walking in each day if possible, I park away from the store, use the stairs instead of an elevator, walk in the woods etc., always trying to be light and nimble, avoiding people and items is a great way to advance your elusiveness]
Two years ago  I held a ninja seminar in Dayton , Ohio . Most of the American students I met there seemed to walk more like “Frankensteins” than martial artists. They found it extremely difficult practising the small, quick steps. Many of them felt I walked too quickly, but I explained that in Japan , the foot is considered the ” second heart”, and to have a strong heart means to have a strong mind. So, walking properly also develops the mind.Walking is the most important thing in one’s life. Even classic Japanese No plays emphasise this.
When this technique of walking is mastered, when one “walks like a ninja”, one feels as though their feet never touch the ground. It is as though the ninja walks on air. In fact, one of my students, after observing the demonstration, said, “Sensei, your feet are not touching the ground. You seem to be floating in the air”. Another student, a professional soldier whose nation was at war, told me that training of the legs (in his country) was essential; that even while in Japan he always climbed stairs, never took the elevator. When I heard this, I knew he was a good warrior.
Walking is the basic body movement of martial arts. When you are learning the martial arts, be conscious of walking at all times; always train in the aspect of taijutsu (body techniques). It will leave little chance of your being attacked successfully. I know a professional gunfighter who wears gloves all the time. This is a type of thinking that is important to all martial arts: One should always be training and caring for one’s self. Training is an everyday thing, just as walking is an everyday thing.
Side-walking (yoko aruki) ninja technique involves lowering ones center of gravity and stepping one foot over the other. It also requires a dance-like arm movement in order to maintain balance. When carrying a weapon, one walks according to the environment and one’s relationship to it. It is important to practice side-walking in different environments. With a sword, especially at night, the sword can be drawn and the scabbard used to ” feel” what lies ahead.
Next is shizumi araki or low position walking; a technique especially useful in narrow areas. On a narrow path for example, a lower position is better, making you less visible to a potential attacker. Another low side-walking technique is called ninpo uzuru gakure. Mokuton means to hide in the trees; sooton – to hide in the grass; and sekiton – to hide in the rocks. These can all be developed once the basic walking technique is mastered.Whether the ninja walks alone or with others, he and they can progress undetected if everyone walks “correctly”. The obvious advantage of walking in numbers while on a mission is that, when you are three ninja, you are six eyes, six ears and three noses, each focused in a different direction so that all areas are covered. [When practicing the various stepping motions, I practice this in a constant movement. For example walking straight at an opponent or object I step to the side using yoko aruki and then continue on in my path, (similar to the shinden fudo ryu practices). For shoten no jutsu I use a small 2 X 6 on an angle, then run at a straight wall to see if I can scale it quickly]
In shoten no jutsu (going up to heaven), ninja practice walking up large plants placed at various angles, increasing the incline to as much as 80 to 85 degrees in order to master the art of walking and climbing in the forest. Training eventually advances to climbing plants or tree trunks situated at 90-degree angles. After reaching the top, the ninja then learn to tumble back down to their original position (kamae). Often, when carrying a sword, both sword and scabbard are used to maintain balance. Side-walking is also used while up in the trees crossing from branch to branch. In koto ryu koppojutsu (which includes side steps and other body techniques), the ninja can easily move backward while facing forward simply by crossing one leg after the other. This is particularly useful when eluding an opponent’s attack and positioning ones self for a counter attack.
Ninja no shinobi kobashiri means running in small steps with the body leaning forward. In the night, while in the mountains, you can see the sky between the trees. This is your path. You must also use care when near the water or anything that might give off a reflection, lest you be detected. (Moonlight can be an enemy as well as an ally.) [I often run in the early morning and it is pitch dark, running with a headlight you can only see a certain distance in front of you, forcing you to focus on every step]
In Japan , the martial arts are not only “offensive orientated”, but very defensive as well. The Japanese are basically agricultural land oriented people; and our martial arts have developed out of that tradition. I hope these illustrations of basic footwork and ninja body movement and techniques have been helpful to you. It is good to start from the ground up. It is important to have good feet on the ground.
I hope you enjoyed this article, and my side notes on how I and my students utilize footwork in training.
Alright ninjutsu practitioners, it takes daily practice of pushing yourself to grow stronger, face your fears, do the things others will not do, to develop the mental strength of a Ninja. There is no time to waste on feeling sorry for yourself, or thinking I am not going to work out today, or some other lame excuse that is holding you back from pushing your boundaries, physically and mentally. So what traits should you be striving for? Well, here are 7 things you should be attempting to improve each day.
Now these seven points are just the beginning of a path, but once you are on the path you have taken a step that 90% of the people on this earth will never do. De different, embrace ninjutsu and be strong mentally.
“Takamatsu Sensei used to tell me(Soke Hatsumi) that it is a fortunate thing that I am in connection with some divine force in the universe. I accept this mystery for what it is. I believe that such things can and do exist in the world of human beings. If such connections are used wrongly, or are taken in a wrong direction, they can become destructive things. Such abuse would be a form of heresy. Hold on to your pure and straightforward heart, Takamatsu sensei used to tell me. To obtain such a heart, the basic requirement is ninpo taijutsu training. From there, you go on to enlightenment.”
A question to you all: Have you done your daily ninpo taijutsu practice today?
Airyu – “Living the ninja lifestyle.”
Hello Ninjutsu Practitioners!
Alright, I have had a few emails about my Facebook post regarding my edible plant training a few weeks back, but what most started asking was in regards to what common plants can be poisonous. So on that note here are three commonly found plants that are dual purpose – Beware!
Elderberries are a no-go when it comes to eating raw in the woods. Consuming the stems or leaves will leave you with a severely upset stomach, and a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found juice made from the raw berries is poisonous as well. Elderberries contact glycosides t that turn to cyanide once digested. The good news is that cooking breaks down these harmful compounds, so any jams, wines, or foods made with processed elderberry are safe to eat. Just save the bush-rummaging for the animals.
Cherries seem harmless enough, but these little guys—their pits, actually—are seriously dangerous. Aside from being nearly impossible to chew, or crack with your teeth, the stones of fruits like cherries, apricots, plums, and peaches contain cyanogenic compounds that turns to cyanide when crushed. If you accidentally swallow a cherry pit, don’t sweat it; they’re rarely poisonous when eaten whole, according to the British Columbia Drug and Poison Information Centre. Just be sure to avoid the broken pits. Just one or two of these seeds can do you in.
One of my favorite guilty pleasures! The key is only to eat the stalks. The plant’s leaves contain a chemical called oxalic acid, which is used in bleach and rust removal, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine. Eating rhubarb leaves induces a slew of bad side effects like burning in your mouth and throat, nausea, vomiting, convulsions—even death. Cooking doesn’t break down these harmful compounds, either. Talk about a two-faced vegetable: Rhubarb stalks can be turned into pudding, and a naturally-occurring compound in its leaves can be turned into corrosive acid.
Beware of these common plants and this post is for information purposes only! Remember a ninjutsu practitioner is always aware of the legality, and dangerousness of his or her actions.
Airyu – “Living the Ninja Lifestyle”
Your lesson today is something so simple that everyone believes(especially men) that they can do it without thinking, yes that is building a fire!! Now the catch is, you are going to do it with 1 match. So, what is one of the best methods in a survival situation to build a fire? Well the photo here kind of outlines the whole process for you but here are the basic steps:
1) Gather everything you need prior to lighting anything! (tinder, kindling, fuel)
2) Select a dry spot, you may need to use a piece of wood or bark to start your tinder on, to keep it off a wet surface.
3)I utilize either a teepee or log cabin structure to start the fire off. Use plenty of tinder that will ignite easily (birch bark, pine cones, small shaved dry wood, fuzz stick, pine needles etc)
4) Allow enough air flow to start the fire.
5) Add kindling and fuel slowly as the blaze gets moving.
I have built fires in all types of weather, while camping or for practice. A fire will keep you warm, allows you to cook food and or purify water, adds light and a sense of security to your camp. So my lesson here to you is learn this basic skill, with several types of ignition sources – blast match, old fashion flint and steel, steel wool and battery, bow drill etc. lots of improvised ways to start a fire and they are all handy to know and be able to utilize.
Airyu – “Living the Ninja lifestyle”
I was doing some article reading this past weekend and I came across this short piece below, it really hit home as I have been traveling quite a bit and trying to maintain healthy eating and regular physical and mental training is a challenge. So read on and get ready to train again!!
“Maybe it’s all the weekends away or the hot sticky weather, but there’s something about summer that makes it tough to stick to a consistent workout schedule.
Though skipping a few gym sessions won’t totally derail your weight efforts, going just two weeks without breaking a sweat can, recent Danish research indicates. It gets worse: In addition to taking a toll on your physique, physical fitness and strength, the findings suggest that it will take you triple the amount of time you were inactive to regain the muscle mass that you lose after a two-week fitness hiatus. (Are you running to the gym yet?)
To come to this finding, researchers gathered 17 active men in their twenties and 15 active men in their sixties. Each participant had one of their legs immobilized for two weeks. After two weeks of inactivity, all the participants lost physical fitness and muscle mass—no shocker there. However, the younger set lost about 17 ounces of muscle and 30 percent of their muscle strength (which is the equivalent of aging about 45 years, according to the study), while the older men only lost about nine ounces of muscle mass and 20 percent of their strength. Simply stated, the fitter and more muscular you are, the more you stand to lose if you slack off.
After the immobilization period, the men trained up to four times a week to regain their lost muscle mass, strength and fitness—and it ultimately took them six weeks to get back to their original shape. Apparently the old adage “use it or lose it” really does hold true.
If these findings don’t inspire you to squeeze in a few weekly workouts, we’re not sure what will. Remember, even if you can only make time to hit the gym for a half hour a few times a week, that’s better than nothing at all.”
Some of you may have seen this photo on our Facebook page, but I wanted to expand upon the post there with what Living the Ninja Lifestyle is.
Each day we all wake up equal, I know you are shocked to hear that, we all wake up with 1440 minutes in which we can thrive or we can waste the precious gift that is shared equally among every person on the earth, TIME. Every day I wake up with a purpose, and that purpose is to live that fine line between pushing myself to the razor’s edge, and or falling off and crashing. We all have choices that either help us grow in our learning and expansion of knowledge in the arts and life, or we settle and just get by for the day, watching T.V and eating ice cream. I choose to push my limits, get up early, run, work out, train with my students and family, post on this website, learn new things….I challenge myself to learn one new thing each day, and I can say some day’s that isn’t an easy thing to do!
Live on the edge of experience! Challenge yourself to do the things you are afraid of, hey I haven’t been comfortable with heights, so I started climbing trees, and then got back into rock climbing(Great Ninja skill) did a 500ft face climb, and haven’t looked back yet.
So what are you doing today?
“The only way to find the limits of the possible is by going beyond them to the impossible.” – Sir Arthur C. Clarke
Yesterday, I was traveling back from another state to enjoy some time off with my spouse, and we were speaking on a call, when I noticed that traffic was coming to a slow stop on the highway, up ahead I could see cars off the road, so I knew that there was an accident. As I slowly approached and passed the cars, it appeared that a young man in a light jeep like truck had hit another vehicle rolled over several times and was ejected from the vehicle. He was lying on the side of the road, in a small pool of blood around his head. That moment reminded me of how short our lives are and that we need to live fully each day, as we have no control over when we are going to be leaving this mortal life.
Today, as I finish this short note to all of you, I am about to go work on my cardio vascular level, by trail running (it is time for a personal best time!), then I will come back and train with my family and start our day off around the Ninja homestead. I hope you all take away a bit of motivation from this post and jump up and do 1 thing to challenge yourself as our ancient forbears did and Live on the Edge of the Sword in your training and in life!
Airyu – “Living the Ninja Lifestyle”
More coming so stay tuned!
Hey there Ninja Fans!
Alright it is time for a Ninja to rant!
The other day I was speaking with another martial artist who was telling me(not suggesting) telling me that his art had it all. It had striking, and jujutsu, and even escrima to round it off. So, I said why does it have all these components? Are they all seamless in the way they flow to one another? His response was classic….”No, they are all taught separate as you gain rank they allow you to learn these pieces”. Wow! Many of you know I practice several arts and have been for 40 years, but each time I learn something I ensure that it flows from one range to another and is combat applicable. I spar alot, and have sparred and fought alot, with weapons and without. So when I start practicing a new art or technique I try and learn it in force on force training scenarios or sparring sessions.
I have never held back anything until someone is a particular rank to teach them, especially in Ninjutsu! It all is linked and flows from one piece to another. Not only that it has deep strategies and skills that can help you survive in a modern combat situation as well as modern day life(work, home etc). So I had to take a moment here and rant about “arts” that hold back teaching something a person may need or want to learn, and if any of you read my post about Independent thinking, you should know that this falls right in line with that mindset.
“Absorb what is useful, disregard what is useless, and add to it specifically what is your own” -Bruce Lee
Everyday, I try and live this philosophy, hopefully you will to, and help those on the path to see the light and join you!
Airyu – “Living the Ninja Lifestyle”