Ninjutsu is a highly honourable tradition dating back over a thousand years. Preceding James Bond, ninja were the original masters of infiltration, disguise, invisibility and deception who flourished as highly trained espionage agents in feudal Japan. Their training was harsh and rigorous and remains so to this day. They started out with very honourable intentions - but before long a renegade, underground group formed of mercenaries prepared to fight and kill for money.
The word 'ninjutsu' literally means 'the art of stealthy movement' and the ninja warriors became so skilled at appearing and disappearing whenever they wanted, people started to believe they were somehow magical. This only served to enhance the ninjas' reputation as terrifying, unbeatable warriors.
Stealthy movements are only a part of a ninja's skills. They are also highly trained fighters - both with weapons and in unarmed combat.
But what sets ninja aside from many of the other Martial Arts is our ability to think on our feet. We study puzzles and riddles - or Japanese 'koans' - to keep our minds sharp and to see the world from a different perspective. We know what to eat, how to breathe, how to prepare our eyes and ears for maximum effect at night and underwater. We train in many levels, each requiring different skills, so that once we come to the end of our training, we can fight effortless and instinctively.
To become a real ninja warrior, I had to work through five levels - or Dans.
‘Knowing when to leave requires training . . .’
The First Dan
is about stability, strength and stamina and involves disguise and invisibility. It’s the state of “Preparation” – the “Earth” level, or “Chi” and it’s about knowing when to run rather than fight. It encompasses Taijutsu
- the art of hand-to-hand combat, which literally means “body art”, “way of moving” or “coordination”. Only a person with great Taijutsu
skills will be able to make a weapon come alive in their hands...
‘Anything can be a weapon in imaginative hands...’
The Second Dan
is the “Fluid” state, the “Water” level, or “Sui”. Only by learning to be conscious of my own emotions and the fluid elements of my body, could I make my weapon become part of me. Mind and body must work together in harmony if any high degree of skill is to be achieved. A weapon has to become an extension of the ninja’s body...
'The heart confuses the mind...'
The Third Dan
is about becoming conscious of anger and aggression and turning it into warmth, enjoyment and direct control over your life. It’s the “Heart” state – the “Fire” level or “Ka”, where a ninja must learn to control their temper and practise forgiveness. This is the level where I had to discover my "animus", which literally means “animating spirit” – the essence of a person's core being, the spirit that defines you as a person. But it can also mean “animosity” which is why the animal shadows only usually come out in confrontational situations. For centuries, ninja warriors looked to the earth for inspiration in ways to live and fight. This is why we all give off animal shadows - all of us studying the species that means most to us. Every “animus” is unique.’
‘Gentleness shall defeat harshness . . .’
The Fourth Dan is the “Mind” state – the “Wind” level or “Fu”. It involves using feelings of wisdom and love to help those who need it. Once a ninja has trained to fight, we learn more about disguise, deception and how to use our skills for the good of others. This is stage where I had to dig pits and cover them in woven branches, so people could still walk over them while I was hiding in the ground. Then there was training in ropes and traps, springboards, climbing claws for walking across the ceiling or disappearing up a tree. I practised hiding underwater – submerged in the pond and breathing only through a straw. And in case of a real emergency, I had to master the technique of giving the underwater kiss of life... (not quite what I'd had in mind for my first serious mouth to mouth activity!)
‘A ninja’s ultimate tool is the mind . . .’
The Fifth Dan is the “Nothing” state, or “Ku”, from which all things take their form. It’s about the great emptiness of potential. If you show nothing, pretend nothing, think nothing, there is no way for you to be caught by the opponent’s attack. In the Fifth Dan you must master “Emptiness” - the most important thing for staying alive. When you can be “Empty”, you can move without letting the opponent know what you're going to do. You can escape blows from behind – as animals do – by becoming sensitive to what’s happening before you even see or hear someone move. This was my favourite Dan of all - being at one with the universe and literally mind-merging with the enemy, so I could defend myself before I was even attacked! In the highest form of battle, the word “I” does not exist...