From Battlefield to Battlefield
It has been 22 years since I made the commitment to train in Ninjutsu under Stephen K. Hayes. I was a young twenty-two-year-old when I moved from New Jersey to Ohio to train with him. Under his tutelage, I learned the depth of this fantastic art from Japan. With each passing day, month, and year, it was made clear why I had left everything behind to train in this art under such a strong master. The Ninja was an extremely versatile group of mountain ascetics turned warriors do the tenuous and life-threatening circumstances at the time.
They were poor mountain people surviving in the harsh wilderness that also had to grow to survive the aristocratic and war-ridden contemporary wilderness of ancient Japan. Because of the many challenges of struggle that came with both environments, the Ninja has to be adaptable in a myriad of situations. They couldn’t afford to overlook knowledge that could aid in their ability to win based on pride, ego, or the defined societal right and wrongs of the self-righteous noble class. Their most important focus was the survival of the community and the health of the family by any means available to them. The challenge was that their enemy was better equipped and had more significant numbers. Understanding this led to the growth of Ninjutsu as a combat system.
Since Ninja were mountain people that had to fight warriors that were better equipped and with more numbers, one common question that arises is how did these warriors succeed in combat against their enemy. Although this is a complicated question with a multi-level answer, for the purpose of this article, we will narrow it down to three primary aspects. One was, the Ninja focused highly on espionage and psychological warfare tactics. Using knowledge of how humans operate from profound studies in personal human nature and dynamics for self-enlightenment, Ninja were uniquely quipped to find ways to manipulate and discourage the enemy while also avoiding attacks. Another aspect was through guerrilla combat tactics.
Setting up obstacles and traps hat would hinder and diminish the combat capabilities or dispatch the enemy was a common practice. The last one, which I would like to highlight for the purpose of this article, is that of using their enemies’ own tactics and knowledge against them. The question that arises is how well were they able to understand their enemies’ methods of fighting and tactics. The answer is well, considering the truth that the Samurai class, known as the fighting class of the aristocracy and thus the primary threat to the Ninja, sometimes became Ninja. To clarify this, sometimes Samurai became Ninja, and sometimes Ninja operated under the guise of Samurai.
This concept is hard to understand since, in modern movies and books, it seems to be a pretty clear division between the two, but the reality is not so clean. Often during the Sengoku Jidai (Period of the Warring States), the losing side of a warring Samurai clan would find some warriors from those clans fleeing to the mountains. In these times, it was common for the once noble warrior aristocrats to adopt new lives within small mountain villages. In blending with these villages, their fates became tied, and thus their knowledge became assimilated. This knowledge was important to survival was especially valuable in hand to hand combat.
The Samurai had the best and most advanced equipment compared to the poor Ninja. One aspect of the equipment that posed the highest challenge was that of Armor. Armor gave Samurai strong advantages when it came to close quarters hand to hand. Protecting many of the most vital areas that would normally be accessible while giving them the mobility to attack. To add to the fortification of their advantages, the Samurai also had schools dedicated to training how to fight in Armor. This aided in overcoming the challenges in how to maintain stability, move and strike in this heavy, cumbersome protection.
Schools such as Koshi no Marwari Katchu Bujutsu, Yoroi Kumiuchi, Yotsumumi, and Kogusoku were all schools that focused on armed and unarmed armored combat. It is also important to note that there were two primary types of Armor worn, which provided different advantages and disadvantages when it came to protection and speed. These two main types of Armor were called the O-yoroi and Domaru.
The O-yoroi (“great/big armor”) was worn primarily by mounted cavalry and higher-ranking Samurai, while the Domaru (“around the body”) was lighter and therefore worn primarily by the infantry and lower-ranking Samurai. Although it was often never the Ninja intent to fight in close quarters hand to hand with a Samurai, in the event that it was unavoidable, this knowledge was extremely valuable. Understanding why this was became very clear to me when I joined the military Special Operations Forces and began wearing Armor in training. Oddly enough, the body armor of the old Samurai and the modern military warrior is very similar in weight and design. Therefore, due to my studies in our modern Ninjutsu tradition, which embodies lineages from Samurai schools, I immediately understood the importance of learning how to move in Armor as well as how to protect my vitals.
The joint areas of the body are exposed to allow for mobility, but they are also the most vulnerable to attack, and thus combat stances and positioning was adapted to accommodate these. Stability became very difficult to do the unbalanced weight distribution. Most of the weight is on the upper body, which calls for lowering your center of gravity and moving from the core on flexed knees.
In addition, the final lesson was that hand to hand training became more efficient by necessity. To conserve energy, the movement has to be done with the full-body, and attacks are aimed at the joint opening, which are also the areas that primary arteries and other vitals pass through. I discuss this more in detail in my book Modern Hand-to-Hand Combat.
As I am still growing in Ninjutsu, I am reminded that many lessons are still very applicable today. Because of their rich and blended history, the Ninja tradition embodies wisdom from all aspects of self-preservation in the face of danger. This article explores one of the most obscure lessons that found its way from one battlefield to another.
Article in Ninjutsu Magazine.