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Bujinkan ninjitsu is a martial art of self-defence. Ninjitsu can be defined as 'the art of the ninja'.

The world often has an incorrect understanding of what a ninja is; mostly this is due to popular culture. A ninja was never the same as the stereotypical Hollywood vision of a hooded man in black sneaking through a house as an assassin. Ninja were often rural people who had to turn to being ninja as a way to survive. It would be incorrect to say that ninja were never assassins or spies; these are certainly ways in which they may have worked. It is, however, wrong to imagine that this was the main part of their job, or that they were born into families of skilled warriors. Instead, they would first and foremost be farmers or other rural tradesmen who had learned the skills and abilities that later would go on to be famously associated with ninja.

According to one of the ancient scrolls, the Bansenshukai1, the essential trait for a ninja is 'to have a pure and honest heart. Those who practise trickery and dishonesty will always be discovered.'

What is Bujinkan?

Bujinkan2 is a Japanese martial art founded by Masaaki Hatsumi who is the current Soke – or Grand Master. Hatsumi was born in 1931, and is regarded as the 34th Togakure-ryú ninpo Soke.

Bujinkan was founded as an attempt to return to the origins of the martial art and as a move away from what had become a form of sport and competition. In Bujinkan, it is not a battle of strength but of technique and understanding of form.

The Method

Although there are many strikes in Bujinkan, the primary method is that of disrupting your opponent's balance. In doing this, a fight stops being a battle of strength or fitness but of technique and skill. Bujinkan uses armed as well as unarmed combat. In learning unarmed combat you learn that a weapon should be used as an extension of the body without changing the true flow of the technique. One of the important aspects is learning how to disarm an opponent so that their weapon cannot be used against you. Bujinkan is not a sport but a true form of self-defence, therefore many of the techniques can have unpleasant consequences when used against real-life opponents. In training, it is important to leave behind your anger and other violent emotions when entering the dojo.

The Teachings

The principal teachings in Bujinkan are similar to many of those found in other martial arts3. There are, however, some differences in the application of these teachings. The philosophy behind ninjitsu could be said to be that of learning how to use your body, using subtle movements and the ability to deliver strength while retaining stability.

  • Jutai jutsu  – Throwing and grappling
  • Dakentai jutsu  – Striking
  • Koshi jutsu  – Joint manipulation
  • Koppo jutsu  – Bone manipulation
  • Happo biken jutsu  – Weaponry
  • Ninjitsu  – Ninja technique

The Grading System

Unlike many other martial arts, Bujinkan does not have a simple belt system where one progresses through many different colours until a black belt has been achieved. Instead, every beginner starts out with the white belt.

Once the 9th kyu or lowest kyu level has been reached, this white belt is exchanged for a green one. Some dojo (schools), particularly in Japan, give female members a red belt if they wish to have one. It should be pointed out that there is no difference in skill needed between a green and a red belt; the different colours are associated only with different genders and this practice may not be the same in all dojo.

With the 9th kyu, pupils also receive a patch which may be attached to their jacket. For the levels between 9th kyu and 4th kyu, a silver star is awarded. On gaining the 4th kyu, this changes to a gold star for the levels up to 1st Dan (black belt).

On attaining 1st Dan as well as a black belt, there is a change to the patch for the jacket. For the levels between 1st and 4th Dan, a silver star is awarded, in a similar manner to the kyu levels.

To progress above the 4th Dan, it is currently necessary to travel to the main dojo in Japan to take a special grading test.

At 5th Dan, the patch on the jacket changes again and the levels between 5th and 9th Dan receive a gold star.

10th Dan and above have a gold patch on the jacket and a gold star to denote any level between 10th and 15th Dan.

As there are no formal competitions in Bujinkan, grades are earned at the discretion of the tutor.

1A 17th-Century scroll about the philosophy, strategy, techniques and weapons used by ninja.2Sometimes referred to as bujinkan ninjitsu or just simply ninjitsu.3Jujitsu in particular.

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