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BANKE SHINOBI NO DEN - KÔKA RYU BAN-TÔ - España 2009.
BANKE SHINOBI NO DEN - KÔKA RYU BAN-TÔ - España 2009.
During our stay in Japan in the month of October 2012, the Japanese magazine "Japan Close-Up", carried an article and an interview to KAWAKAMI Soke. The following article was published by "Japan Close-Up" magazine in the month of December 2012. .
Jinichi KAWAKAMI, the present day ninja who inherited the techniques and knowledge of shinobi passed down from the 16th century Sengoku period (the Warring States period).
What is your image of ninja? Their image that comes to mind for most people is of someone clad in black clothes, sword strapped to their back, hurling shuriken throwing stars, and running across the surface of water or disappearing in a puff of smoke. However, that set image is all just the creation of movies, TV dramas, and the like. The real “persons of shinobi” active during the 16th century Sengoku period were actually very different. Read for yourself and find out more.../p>
Jinichi Kawakami, associate professor at Mie University Community Research Cooperation Center and 21st generation Master of Koka-ryu Ban-tô ninjutsu.
Jinichi Kawakami was born and raised in the Uryu district of the town of Wakasa, Fukui prefecture. He was just six years old in 1955 when he met an old man by the name of Masazo Ishida.
Ishida frequently came to Uryu village from his residence in Kyoto, staying for long periods at the local kichinyado – the cheapest class of traditional Japanese hostelries – and making a living as a peddler selling medicines and other goods. Ishida was also a Master of Koka-ryu ninjutsu.
Before they knew it, the two had entered into a teacher-student relationship and Kawakami began learning ninjutsu.
“He taught me how to clamber up houses and cliffs all over the
village, skillfully jump down from high places, and how to infiltrate a house via the roof! I also studied how to submerge myself underwater, and the varieties and usages of poisonous and medicinal herbs found while scurrying around the mountains,” Kawakami recalls.
Of course, Kawakami was also instructed in disciplines such as the methods of various forms of martial art and strategy. At that time, Masazo Ishida was thought to be around 70 years old, but it seems he was able to masterly perform all manner of techniques in order to show them to his disciple.In addition, all of Ishida’s knowledge was stored in his memory and passed down to Kawakami orally.
Although Ishida’s household was in Kyoto, his ancestors were of samurai (warrior) lineage in Koka, Shiga Prefecture. When the Koka Imperial Corps were set up during the bakumatsu – the closing years of the Tokugawa shogunate and Edo Period (1603-1867) – the ninjutsu that had been passed down to each household, including the Ban household which was of ninja lineage, was supposedly gathered together and the techniques and knowledge re-learned by all. This had been passed on from generation to generation until it reached Masazo Ishida. The name of this faction of ninjutsu was “Koka Shinobi no Den.”
At the age of 18, Kawakami became an instructor and was permitted to call himself the 21st generation teacher of Koka-ryu Ban-tô ninjutsu. He continued learning ninjutsu from Ishida until he was around 19.
Why did the elderly Ishida, whose home was in Kyoto, journey out to Uryu (about 50km away from each other) and stay there frequently for long periods? Why did he pass his ninjutsu knowledge on to Kawakami? The young Kawakami rarely played with other children his own age. Ishida and Kawakami likely got on well and overcame their age difference because they both loved solitude. By instructing the young Kawakami, who took on his training earnestly every day, perhaps Ishida felt he was preserving ninjutsu, which was in the process of decline, for the next generation.
We cannot ascertain the feelings of the deceased Ishida. However, with Kawakami taking over his mantle, the fact that many of the techniques and knowledge of shinobi have been passed through to the 21st century is in no doubt.
Even after graduating from school, Kawakami continued his training while working for a company. “After coming home from work at nine or ten o’clock, I’d hurriedly have something to eat and manage to train or study for a few hours before going to sleep late at night. Then I’d wake up early in the morning and go to work again. That was my daily pattern”, Kawakami recalls of that time. Naturally, he was only getting a few hours of sleep, but Kawakami says that he never let up on his practice no matter how tired he got. While he was doing this, his mastery of ninjutsu became known to the outside world little by little and people also started visiting him with the hope of becoming his disciple.
However, Kawakami does not teach just anybody. In fact, he turns away all requests at first. Only those who still have the passion and will to learn despite Kawakami’s rebuffs are accepted as his disciples. This is because ninjutsu training is extremely severe and Kawakami knows that those who begin training just out of curiosity are never in it for the long run.
Thirty years passed. Kawakami, who was by then in his 50s, retired from the company he had worked for. He firmly resolved to devote the latter stages of his life to ninjutsu.
At the time of his retirement, Kawakami was asked to become the honorary curator of the Igaryu Ninja Museum in Iga City, Mie Prefecture. As some readers may be aware, Iga City has made efforts to publicize and spread word of its ninja culture as one of its policies toward regional revitalization. As a part of this activity, Iga City appointed Kawakami, the leading figure in ninjutsu.
Some people may find it strange that Kawakami, an exponent of Koka-ryu ninjutsu, should be involved with Iga-ryu. However, Koka and Iga were never originally opposed to each other. In fact, there have been many alliances between them and geographically they are situated next to each other. However, during the course of his bid to unify Japan, Nobunaga Oda – a powerful feudal lord – attacked Iga in a bid to suppress the renegade province.
At the time of this event, which is known as the Tensho Iga rebellion (1579-1581), the majority of Koka warriors and a section of Iga warriors joined Nobunaga’s side, so the image remains of the two sides opposing each other. In addition, Iga and Koka are often depicted as mutual enemies in movies, TV dramas, and the manga world, which helps spread this general image of them. Actually, as schools of ninjutsu, there are no sizeable differences between the two.
As an extension of his tie-up with Iga City, Kawakami was offered the chance to give lectures hosted by Mie University, a national university, which was setting up an industry-government-academia cooperative. As the exchanges between Kawakami and persons connected to the university deepened, the university brought up the subject of whether the two sides should press ahead with research into “ninjutsu studies”– i.e. ninjutsu as a genuine academic discipline. It seems Kawakami was surprised by this suggestion at first, but came to think that a good chance had come
Until then, the existence of ninja, their history, and ninjutsu itself had hardly been spoken of in an academic context. On the contrary, some scholars even denied the existence of ninja.
Perhaps because ninja undertook secretive work, hardly any records of them remain. There are extremely few written historical records with a high degree of reliability that are related to ninja. But even looking at the few historical records currently in existence, there is no doubt that there were at the least some persons whose activities were “ninja-like.” However, as substantiating this is difficult, the academic world has avoided the subject until now.
Kawakami thought that he should take this opportunity to continue research into ninja and firmly prove their existence to the academic world. At the same time, he established the study of ninjutsu itself with the additional aim of ensuring that it would not fail to be passed on to later generations.
These are the events that led to Kawakami being welcomed as associate professor at Mie University Community Research Cooperation Center and embarking on a new stage of his life.
Mention “ninja” and the image that comes to mind for most people is of someone clad in black clothes, sword strapped to their back, hurling shuriken throwing stars, and running across the surface of water or disappearing in a puff of smoke. However, that set image is all just the creation of movies, TV dramas, and the like. The real “persons of shinobi” active during the 16th century Sengoku period were actually very different. The ridiculous way in which some of these ninja came to be depicted is one reason why scholars tend to deny their existence, and this is the point that most concerns Kawakami.
Firstly, misunderstandings surrounding the fundamentals of ninjutsu need to be resolved. Ninjutsu was not originally a strange magiclike battle tactic. It would be better understood as a military strategy activity or part of the “art of war.”
In short, ninjutsu refers to a range of techniques and knowledge that were actually used in the conflicts that raged throughout medieval Japan.
Examples include intelligence gathering and espionage methods, how to sneak into enemy territory, and especially the unique combat methods known as yashu and kishu (“night attack” and “surprise attack”). Persons skilled in these techniques were known as “shinobi” or “persons of shinobi.” In
this sense, ninjutsu is more about actual combat than other military strategies that include theories worked out from behind a desk.
For example, a general should always try to probe for enemy
information before the battle.
Ideally, there would be no battle; the problem would be solved without any blood being spilt. To that end, the enemy may be diplomatically placated or bribes may be paid. Controlling an opponent’s mind using methods like these also falls within the remit of the ninja. If war should actually break out, while keeping damage to their own forces to a minimum, generals would send ninja into enemy territory to spring night attacks and surprise attacks. On days when the wind was strong, ninja would sneak into the enemy camp and start fires. Alternatively, ninja would use poisons to annihilate the enemy. Successfully carrying out such dangerous strategies required sophisticated shinobi techniques, and wherever and whenever war erupted, there was always some form of professional “person of shinobi” active behind the scenes.
Although this may shatter your image of ninja, the shuriken throwing stars thought of as the typical ninja weapon were actually rarely used at all. Shuriken were originally just one of the many tools and implements used in martial arts. The image that ninja always use shuriken was again no more than a creation of movies and TV dramas.
So why did the Koka and Iga clans become famous among ninja?
Kawakami thinks the reasons for this may be as follows: “Both Koka and Iga are positioned between Owari (Nagoya in the present day) and Kyoto/Osaka, and those geographical conditions were likely significant. This area was the focal point of the Sengoku period where the daimyo (powerful feudal lords), vied for supremacy. Against this backdrop, the Koka and Iga clans with their superior techniques and knowledge were given prestigious positions as mercenaries.”
When the Edo period (1603 to 1867) began and Japan entered an age of peace and tranquility, the battles in which ninja had been active dissipated. However, descendants of ninja and those drawn from the ninja tradition established numerous schools to ensure that ninjutsu was passed on. The text Bansenshukai (“Sea of Myriad Rivers Merging”), which records details of ninjutsu, was also written during this period. The manuscript still exists today. That ninjutsu was of high value was surely the reason why efforts were made to preserve it for future generations.
What Kawakami learned from the venerable Ishida was this very same ninjutsu, passed down in an unbroken chain.
Kawakami will probably teach at universities in the future, but
what will his lectures be like? As mentioned previously, the focus of ninjutsu is combat and espionage methods. Depending on the content, these methods may also include a considerable number
of elements that are socially unethical today. But whatever the activity, developing something to a high level reveals a truth about humanity, and in order to win wars, “knowledge of humanity” is also essential.
According to Kawakami, people desire five things: food, sex, possessions, refinement (of pursuits and ideas), and honor. People also experience five main emotions: joy, anger, sorrow, enjoyment, and fear. Ninjutsu attempts to cleverly use these desires and emotions to entrap or placate the enemy.
The true nature of humanity itself is constituted by the five desires and five emotions. By putting these desires and emotions to use and channeling them in a positive direction, people living in the present day could improve the way they live their lives. On the other hand, the three pillars of the art of war – seizing opportune moments, utilizing the terrain, and harmony among people – were used by ninja in an attempt to win victory.
For example, the ninja would arrive at an inopportune time for the enemy opponent, lead the opponent to places with unfavorable conditions, and disrupt the personal harmony among foes. Those elements of ninjutsu could also be put to use in business environments, but there may be some ethical issues with these methods in the present day.
However, Kawakami does not seek to apply the three art of war techniques to attacking rival groups. If the techniques were instead put to use toward the opposite end – to utilize one’s own opportunities and surroundings and to improve teamwork among colleagues – people would surely be able to achieve greater success at work, too. Furthermore, the physical exercise involved in activities such as martial arts promotes health, while the techniques used to survive in the countryside could be applied as a means of protecting oneself in the event of a disaster.
Ninjutsu techniques and knowledge were originally for combat,
but as they are so sophisticated, they have a universality that transcends generations.
Kawakami is also engaged in the idea of producing watertight theories so that anyone can appreciate the usefulness of ninjutsu in the present day. “Over the next 10 years or so I’d like to build a springboard for discussion for those studying ninjutsu in the future, both as an academic discipline and to pass the tradition on,” he says.
The ninja adopts the following three mental attitudes: do not be afraid; do not underestimate or take something for granted; and do not think too much. Armed with these three mental attitudes, Kawakami, the ninja of the present day, is seeking the path holding even higher ideals, taking on challengesin unknown territories.
The practitioners dodge swiftly to avoid a straight downward slash from their opponent’s sword, and jump forward to thrust a jutte (a short metal truncheon) to his throat.
The motion is done in a blink of an eye. Or, when grabbed by the lapels, they slam their fists strongly against their enemy’s elbow joints, while at the same time launching kicks to his abdomen.
These life-and-death defensive movements are practiced in a place of scenic beauty, near a large lake ringed by mountains. What a contrast! All of the trainees look very intense, but you can’t hear their shouts – only their raspy breathing from time to time. It seems they are making efforts to maintain ninja-like secretiveness.
Each year a session of intensive training in the mastery of ninja techniques is held in Takashima-city, Shiga Prefecture. This year’s event, held for nine days in October, was intended mainly for non-Japanese, all of whom aspire to become authentic ninja.
Looking at the regimen of the nine-day training schedule, you may find words unfamiliar and the concepts difficult to
understand. They include double breath, kotodama (spirit of words), kongotai (solid posture), koppojutsu (bare hands techniques), torinawa-jutsu (rope techniques), sui-jutsu (swimming techniques), hishingyo (climbing, jumping, crossing, etc), ju-jutsu (sorcery techniques) and others.
“These are the martial techniques handed down from the Koka and Owari region. They are also the basic skills required by the samurai (military class of ancient Japan),” says Jinichi Kawakami. “This martial art is only a small part of what constitutes ninjutsu.” According to Kawakami, ninjutsu also includes such disciplines such as espionage or reconnaissance, deceptive planning, surprise or night attack, sowing confusion and so on, to achieve a certain collective purpose.
. According to this thinking, the martial techniques are only to be used during direct confrontations with their enemies. In addition, the discipline’s purpose is not meant to be an individual, but a collective one, such as defensive fighting to ensure the survival of one’s own small village during a period of civil unrest, for example. If it conducted for personal reasons, it would become a criminal act. It was the ninja who came to specialize at mobilizing an array of comprehensive techniques, and they devoted their lives to refining their abilities in order to achieve their goals.
“They will do whatever it takes to survive. If they think they can’t win, they don’t fight, like the English expression goes, ‘If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em,’” Kawakami explains.
“Ninja have psychological skills. They might set a fire to distract their opponents, or use medical herbs to staunch the flow of blood and treat wounds. Ninjutsu is also a set of integrated survival techniques composed of various skills and knowledge.”
Kawakami believes ninja are misunderstood, especially outside Japan. Non-Japanese often liken ninja to ancient assassins or spies.
But that explains only part of what the real ninja were. However there’s something unrealistic about practicing techniques for conducting a night attack or performing acts of espionage without the benefit of modern technologies. So the regimen at this annual training camp focuses on basic samurai martial arts, called bujutsu, which are taught during daylight hours. Knowledgebased techniques such as deception, or mnemonic techniques, knowledge of herbal medicines, and others or more demanding skills like guns or using fire are taught at night, either through lectures or utilizing written texts.
Every day I get up before 7 am and until 9 I review the training I learned the day before,” relates 35-year-old Marco Palomar from Spain. “Between 9 and noon, there is a formal class. The lunch break is between 12 and 2 pm. Then from 2 to around 6:30 pm we have afternoon classes. There is an evening break until 8 and knowledge lectures are held for 2 hours after that.”
This year marked Palomar’s fifth session at the training camp. Back in Spain, he works as a surgeon. He has trained in judo and other martial arts since childhood, but became so captivated by the ninja that he now trains in ninjutsu exclusively.
“Ninjutsu has an old history and there are many techniques which intrigue me the most,” says Palomar.
According to Kawakami, ninjutsu reached its pinnacle of development during the period of civil wars in the 15th and 16th centuries. The Koka and Iga schools became the most
famous, since both were situated close to the ancient capital, Kyoto, which enabled latest methods or expertise to be obtained, thereby enabling knowledge and various techniques to accumulate.
“Not only judo or karate, ninjutsu is becoming popular,” says Jose Defez, 40-year-old from Spain, when asked about the popularity of ninjutsu in his country.
Defez first participated in this training camp nine years ago.
He finds the katana as weapon harder learning, saying, "it is the most difficult but also the most interesting". Although this year’s camp is his ninth, each time it offers new learning experiences and he takes notes constantly. “So that I can practice by myself back in Spain,” he smiles.
As the practitioners’ instructor and organizer of the training camp, Yasushi Kiyomoto, explains, “We assume the skills are used in an actual fight, so repeating moves again and again until we can perform it without thinking is a necessity. Practicing every day is something that must be done to acquire real skill. So every trainee diligently takes notes.”
The oldest participant in this year’s session is a 50-year-old Japanese, Hiromasa Tsuyuki, who holds dan (advanced rankings) in several other martial arts such as jujutsu, bo-jutsu (staff weapon techniques) or iaido (sword techniques). But this is his first try in ninjutsu.
“It’s on a completely different level and very advanced,” Tsuyuki observes. “Ninjutsu was developed in mountainous areas and was not intended to deal with one-on-one conflicts, but one person against as many as 10 or more, so the techniques are vital and wild, but clever.
“Japan’s other martial arts were mostly systematized during the Edo period (1603-1867), a time when the nation was at peace, so usually you contend with one opponent at a time, much like present-day sports. But ninjutsu was developed during the warring period, as its techniques can be applied irrespective of the number of opponents.”
Ninjutsu, Tsuyuki notes, incorporates moves that are never or rarely ever conducted in other martial arts. “Falling and attacking simultaneously, doing backward somersaults to counterattack opponents or techniques for killing with just one blow are real eyeopeners,” he says. “Ninja never give up, either, because surrender would almost certainly mean death.”
These merciless, kill-or-be-killed circumstances resulted in the development of a ruthless fighting method. But at the same time, Tsuyuki points out that ninja training is also good for health.
“The movements are very natural and reasonable,” he says. “If you do them properly, there is no burden on your body. Eight days have passed now, and I already feel my body is lighter and more nimble. I guess that’s because I had to summon parts of my body I rarely use in my daily life.”
Kawakami’s current activities aim at achieving similar results. “After systemizing the whole ninjutsu picture, I can discern which things can be learned today and which things cannot,” he states. “Using poisons is illegal and deceiving someone is unethical. But practicing body movements can be applied for health or physical protection against an assailant, for example. Or, having an authentic lesson course for throwing shuriken or negotiating rugged terrain can be intriguing for some people, and offering such courses might also be used to revitalize the economy of a local region. Anyway, obtaining a complete picture of ninjutsu will be the first step forward.”
Kawakami laments that very few Japanese learn ninjutsu any more, and would like to see his compatriots adopt a fresh perspective toward the martial art. “In general, Japanese tend to be better at making a poker face to conceal their true feelings,” he says. “But they can also laugh, for example. They can discern what others are thinking and sense changes in the atmosphere. Ninjutsu was born in Japan, and I suppose Japanese would still have some advantage in achieving mastery of its various aspects.”
Kawakami-soke made a conference by TEDx in Bermuda, Saturday October 19th, 2013.
The next day, on October 20th, Kawakami-soke and Kiyomoto-sensei taught a seminar.
In this link you can see a video about the conference in Japanese and English:
For more information visit our blog and our Facebook.
Interview of KAWAKAMI-Soke by Mr. Guillaume Lemagnen.
Interview of Master Kawakami, know as the last heir alive, of ninjutsu tradition. It was an improvised interview, so I didn’t prepare myself and my japanese wasn’t very well at this moment. Please do not take care about it.
It’s important to say, master Kawakami was always trained directly by his master Masazô Ishida. It was always a direct transmission, wasn’t use any document. Japanese are always surprised to know, foreigners considering old japan document about ninjutsu as a guide, manual or transmission.
- Greetings Master Kawakami.
- Can you give us a synthesis presentation of ninjutsu ?
- To say simply about ninjutsu, I can say it’s the whole of techniques and skills in view to survive.
- As you were formed in ninjutsu during your childhood, can we call you « ninja » ?
- « Ninja » is more a word about specific activities. I haven’t practiced this kind of activities in my life, so I cannot be called ninja. It’s more exactly to say I was formed to ninjutsu and I am an heir of this tradition.
- In Japan history, which aim was used ninjutsu ?
- Ninjutsu was used for spying, sabotage, mind manipulation and for lightning attacks. At now this kind of activities are perform by spy and guerrilla. That’s skills for war.
- Ninjutsu was used in view to collect informations and documents ?
- Yes, but not only for this kind of activity.
- Outside Japan, people thinks ninjutsu is a martial art or a technique for kill. So, is it a wrong conception ?
- Yes, it’s a erroneous idea.
- I heard you trained ten years under supervision of master Ishida ?
- I start to train in ninjutsu when I was 6, I achieved it when I was 19, so it was a 13 years training exactly.
- During your formation, do you know it was ninjutsu ? Your master let you know what kind of training it was ?
- When I was a child I didn’t know it’s ninjutsu, I thought my master teach me burglar techniques.
- Thinking it was for robbery, did you want to stop this training at this time ?
- I have never think to stop. I was a child at this time and in Japan it’s out of question for a kid to say «no» or refuse.
- Ninjutsu is not only a whole of techniques, I think there is a large part of spirituality too ?
- Yes, in ninjutsu, you have a large and deep part of spirituality training too. Ninjutsu formation is really hard, so body and spirituality develop together. I haven’t just learn techniques and train my body, I trained my spirituality too. Ninjutsu cannot consider as a physical skill only : heart, spirit are primordial too.
- Ninjutsu using specific equipment ?
- Some equipments exist but in fact, except for diving, it’s not really specific.
- As ninjutsu is not a martial art, can you confirm or infirm if a ninja is a person who avoid fight ?
- In true a ninja have to avoid fight, because if he fights he takes the risk to be killed and it’s not a possibility for him, for his activities. So he use everything he have to avoid fight.
- Ninjutsu including some specifics skills, as capacity to stop breathing during a long period, can you tell us why ?
- It was used to simulate death and put down vigilance of enemies, or during an infiltration, to not emit breathing sounds.
- During Edo period (1603- 1868), wars were over in Japan, ninjutsu was necessary at this time ?
- Ninjutsu wasn’t not necessary during Edo period. It’s very important to say at this time many things change. It’s was the beginning of « givings forms » to many things, like ken-jutsu. From few points, sometimes not essential or importants or vague knowledges, books, documents were written about many subjects, about ninjutsu too. It’s difficult to understand if what it was written during in Edo reflect reality.
- If you have to resume ninjutsu in one word ?
- Gaman ! (patience, endurance, support)
- Master Kawakami, thank you for your responses
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Interview of Defez-sensei by Mr. Guillaume Lemagnen.
During my travel to Valencia, I had the occasion to meet Mr.José Défez, 41 years old, member of « Bankeshinobi no den » school from 11 years now, transmitting this art in his private dôjô, in Spain.
Mr.Défez, practicing arts and tradition of samurai, share the same values, he’s humble and discrete. But he accept an interview in view to share and explain about his experience. (Thank you very much to Mr.Gomez for his essential help)
G.L : Mr.Défez, thank you to accept this interview. First, can you present your course/experience ?
J.D : Since I was a child, I practiced many different fighting sports and discipline. But at least, I understand many of those disciplines turned to a sport. I wanted to practice an authentic tradition, so I start to do research and finally, I found the school of «Banke shinobi no den» eleven years ago.
G.L : Many disciplines exists all around the world, why at least, you turned to a Japan tradition ? How do you explain this ?
J.D : In Japan, everything go together ; culture, history, training, … And then, some school were able to keep tradition, where sometimes, tradition was lost or deteriorate in another lands. I had a deep interest for this.
G.L : In this situation, can I say the school of «Banke shinobi no den» was an open door to Japan culture ?
J.D : In fact, I had already study history and culture of Japan in view to found a traditional teaching. that’s what guide me to «Banke shinobi no den». I started to give up fighting sports twenty years ago, turning my interest to tradition.
G.L : In Japan, there are many disciplines to. So why, «Banke shinobi no den» had you preference ?
J.D : Because, in my opinion, in «Banke shinobi no den», we can found a school who kept tradition and didn’t turn into sports practice.
G.L : Can you present «Banke shinobi no den» ?
J.D : In «Banke shinobi no den» school, we study and practice very seriously, in traditional way bu-jutsu (martial arts arts) and ninjutsu (art of spy). All this tradition is link to Ban family from Kôka (Kôga). The founder and leader of this school is master Jinichi Kawakami.
G.L : Master Jinichi Kawakami is your teacher at this school ?
J.D : A part of training is directly teach by master Kawakami himself. An another part, by his closest disciple, master Yasushi Kiyomoto.
G.L : Vous mentioned the words «study» & «practice». It’s an interesting point, don’t you just learn techniques ?
J.D : Yes, a part of teaching consist to learn and practice techniques but an another part consist to study. It can explained by difference between bu-jutsu and ninjutsu. We cannot understand a practice without study it’s historical context.
G.L : Can you present master Yasushi Kiyomoto ? How was you first meeting with him ?
J.D : The first time I met master Kiyomoto, I immediately felt he’s a very strict person totally devoted to his art. We can feel his practice is the center of his life. When I see him in action I was very surprised but very happy, because I understand I found, at least, what I expected for a long time.
G.L : Can you present master Jinichi Kawakami ? His name is very famous in Japan from more than 30 years ago, in bu-jutsu and ninjutsu domain. But his name is still unknown in Occident.
J.D : In fact, I met master Kiyomoto and master Kawakami in same time. It was a very singular feeling, I felt directly from his personality and his energy. And I clearly felt he trained without interruption from his childhood when he started practice at six. I was very impressed and I notice atthis time I met a living tradition, even I thought it was disappear from a long time. My feeling at this time was like I found a treasure.
G.L : «Banke shinobi no den» school delivery ninjutsu teaching, art of spying in Japan’s medieval times. But this tradition is unknown or misunderstand in Occident. Can you explain, with your personal experience, what is ninjutsu ?
J.D : First, the most important point to understand about ninjutsu ; Almost or totally informations spread in Occident about ninjutsu is false. Because modern image of this discipline came from manga, anime and movies. It’s a very big problem, because the essential point is : Ninjutsu is absolutely not a martial art. Most of people think ninjutsu is a fighting skill, but in true, it’s really different. It’s more about military strategy, activités of intelligence (search and collect information) and sabotage. And it’s necessary to talk about different periods of ninjutsu. At those times, required training for ninjutsu reach an unimaginable level, physically and mentally. We have to admit at our time, no one can support this training. The only person alive today, who be albe to achieve this training is master Jinichi Kawami. And oing this, he became the soke (successor) of ninjutsu’s school from Kôka.
G.L : Ninjutsu is not a martial art but you let me know before, practice of bu-jutsu can help for ninjutsu practice. Can you explain me this point ?
J.D : In my opinion, it would be an error to separate radically ninjutsu from martial practice. Of course, ninjutsu is not a martial art, but training of martial art can help to prepare, to apprehend ninjutsu.
G.L : With teaching of «Banke shinobi no den», something changed in your life ? I ear, for example, you don’t eat some kind of aliments anymore ?
J.D : Not only this, one or two days per week, I fast. I don’t eat too much to stay alerte and be responsive in every moment in my life. In true, my life radically changed with teaching of «Banke shinobi no den» ; How I ear (and what I ear), how I move, how I walk, how I breath, how I sleep, etc … All my life changed. I don’t mean the training of this school is better or worst from another school, just it’s different.
G.L : What do you consider as the most important on «Banke shinobi no den» ?
J.D : Of course, many things are very important and primordial, but for me ; This spirit of perseverance, what allow to preserve tradition.
G.L : You have your own dôjô to retransmit what you learn in Japan.My first question is ; Why do you teach a tradition you can keep only for you ?
J.D : I teach at the request of master Kawakami and master Kiyomoto. They wish I help them to preserve and perpetuate the tradition by teaching. And that’s I try to do, humbly, with my possibilities.
G.L : Can you describe you students ? What are they expecting when they come at your dôjô ? Are they surprise by your teaching (as ninjutsu is very different from Occidental image)?
J.D : First, before to accept a student on the dôjô, a private meeting is required I explain what is our school and the person can see if he can found what he’s looking for. After this I will see if this person is serious, able to train with perseverance.
G.L : «Banke shinobi no den» is a traditional school, so they’re no «dan», a modern graduation degree. How your’s students react with this ? Someone asking you for «ninja licence» ?
J.D : Most of people are effectively surprise by absence of «dan», but in general, they appreciate this. It’s true some occidental people want to receive a form of recognition or kind of «occidental reward» about the teaching they receive. But at our school, the important is to receive the teaching, not showing we receive the teaching or buying degrees and licences.
G.L : Now, university of Mie leading official research about ninjutsu tradition. and master Kawakami, as the last heir alive of ninjutsu tradition, is a close collaborator of those research. What do you think it will be change for occident ?
J.D : I think it’s a very important action, primordial for official recognition of authentic ninjutsu. It will lift the veil of mystery about this tradition and allow to understand the misguided image of ninjutsu create for business. Those research, done with the serious academic methodology will change all our perception and public perception of ninjutsu for sure.
G.L : As occidental who transmit a japan tradition, do you think it can be really understood in Occident ?
J.D : Yes, I think sincerely. If I trust the contrary, I would not teach.
G.L : for you, is it important to understand Japan to be able to understand this teaching coming from Japan ?
J.D : It’s very important, essential. The most important condition to know the history, the culture of the land where the tradition we practice was born. To really understand and applicate. And it’s help to made difference between what is tradition and what is not. Of course, everybody can choose, but for my part, I searched tradition and my personal research help me to understand I had found it when I saw it.
G.L : We are close to the term of this interview, have you got a message ?
J.D : I think we are now, in a very decisive moment to start spread truth about ninjutsu. Common efforts of «Banke shinobi no den» and Mie university will allow to understand truth about ninjutsu to the world, with historical facts. And for me, it’s important to show tradition of «Banke shinobi no den» and distinguish what is authentic and not.
I would end with this advise because it was very important for me ; Start with the study of japan culture and history and go to the specialists who teach the true tradition as master Kawakami, master Kiyomoto and professor Yamada.
G.L : Mr.Défez, thank you very much for your time and your response !
J.D : Thank you too !
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Interview of Mr Guillaume Lemagnen to Mr. Yuji Yamada, a professor at Mie University.
- Good evening professor Yamada.
- Good evening
- Is it said, Mie university actually doing research about ninjutsu ? What kind of study exactly ?
- This year, we started cours about ninja and ninjutsu, especially with historical view. Techniques and tools used by ninja, that’s what we explain to students.
- Which way are you using for your research ?
- Until now, studies about ninjutsu were based on modern books. But at Mie university, we’re using old documents coming from sengoku period (medieval) or Edo period (17-19 century) for having a authentic approach of what ninja is. More precisely we’re disposing a great data base which was brought to Iga ninja museum. Those documents are very important for our researchs, to understanding ninja and ninjutsu evolution.
- Are you alone for this research ?
- My speciality is the history of Japan, but specialists from another university domains, as literature, brought theirs competences for ninjutsu studies. Professors from China and Korea giving theirs precious contributions.
- At Mie university, mister Jinichi Kawakami is lecturer, can you tell we more about him ?
- Mister Jinichi Kawakami is closely linked at Mie university. Recently I requested him to make a conference during one of my cours. He clarifies some old ninja document obscure meaning. Also, when documents are missing about techniques or specific concept he brought his advice and his precious knowledges when it’s necessary.
- Occident have a great interest for ninja, do you think this research will have an impact outside Japan ?
- Yes I think. I know outside Japan, ninjutsu is considerate as a martial art. But in Japan, ninjutsu are not considerate at all as a martial art, or a budô like judô and kendô. Ninjutsu is more considerate by Edo period descriptions : a method for infiltrate the enemy to spy, sabotage and collect informations. It’s the basis of ninja activity. So it’s very different from martial art. In ninjutsu practice documents, they’re no reference about ninja body in view to fight, but more about how a ninja can infiltrate a place. It’s mean, his clever mind ! Most people think ninja infiltration sollicite body, in fact, ninja use his intelligence to infiltrate, collect and transmit informations. That’s the essentiel point for a ninja. Ninja is also very courageous ; if he panic, he cannot acting efficiently. So courage and strong mental are essential. What about ninja techniques and ways he use during stress situations ? We do not know exactly yet, but ninja skill clearly based on strong and clever mind an not a fighting skill.
- It’ the first time we can hear this explanation, is it the first time ninjutsu are the subject of official studies ?
- Yes, it’s the first time in the world, university specialists studying ninjutsu. Of course, many points still dark, but we doing our best, with academic methods and by reconstitution ways, making alliance with theory and practice. For understanding strategies of ninja action, during different periods all along centuries (sengoku, edo, meiji) and actual period. We’re also trying to understand why ninjutsu was suddenly view as a martial art.
- Have you got a message to people who have interest for ninja outside Japan ?
- Yes I have. We know ninja, even his origins are in Japan, is very popular in foreigns countries. I want to say come in Kôka and Iga, original place of ninjutsu to see and feel what really ninja was. We have cours at Mie university, and doing conferences and activities open for all audience at Iga. Everything can brought to ninja fan, a true understanding about ninja and ninjutsu.
- Those conferences are public ?
- One saturday per month, we organize a ninjutsu conference at Iga, and report it in internet for all people can have access to informations.
- Yamada sensei thank you very much !
- Thank you.
In this link you can see a video of the interview in Japanese and French:
Note: There is no relationship between BANKE SHINOBI NO DEN and the known as " Japan Ninjutsu Federation". ".
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