Sunday, December 28, 2008


This is true, but it's a bit of a fable...

The Bujinkan gets a lot of heat for the ninja connection. The detractors like to throw the insulting label "LARPers" around. "LARP" stands for "live action role play." If you're not familiar with the term, it's like crossing Dungeons and Dragons with a Renaissance Festival and taking it all to another level. The Society for Creative Anachronism is one kind of LARP.

Obviously, the allegation is that Bujinkan folks are dressing up like 16th Century Japanese assasins and pretending.

"We" tend to resent this. Though many of "us" don't help our cause.

And let me briefly mention at this point that our "unbroken" lineage to 34 generations of ninja masters is disputed by many historians, and not all of them have an axe to grind regarding the issue. The fact seems to be that the paperwork isn't there. "We" tend to argue that there are lots of reasons why the paperwork doesn't match-up: some are good reasons, and some are bad reasons. I've become somewhat agnostic on this particular point. Intellectual honesty demands that I admit the paperwork isn't all together for an independent verification. On the other hand, practice of the techniques identified as ninjutsu leads me to believe something had to be there for Takamatsu. I'll leave it to more qualified minds to prove or disprove whether or not he collected the techniques, expanded on the techniques, or invented the techniques out of thin air.

While there are kata associated with Togakure Ryu, there are also techniques for silent walking. Now these are not described in kata -- at least as they have been taught to me. Silent walking is usually passed on as a series of suggestions or guidance on how to move by subtly shifting your weight and minimizing sound. In order to really master these methods, you have to practice them.

I once taught the silent walking methods to a Vietnam veteran. Back in the day, he was a LRRP. Now "LRRP" should most definitely not be confused with "LARP." LRRP stands for Long Range Reconnaissance Patrol. Soldiers volunteering for LRRP units snuck into enemy-held territory and searched for enemy units. Then they would radio in for artillery, or air strikes, or more conventional infantry. Silence and stealth was their trade. Since they usually deployed in very small teams and specifically sought out much larger bodies of troops, they tried to avoid being found at all costs.

So this old LRRP listened carefully as I briefed him on the "ninja" walking methods. I explained to him that practice was essential, and that I did not claim to have them mastered. He told me the methods were very similar to what he'd been trained to do, or learned by trial and error, in the jungles of Vietnam. Of course, this makes sense, since the human body moves only so many different ways. Not long after this quick training, he was silently sneaking across the mat. Despite the years and mileage, his body quickly relearned the old habits and he was the quietest of any of us.

Learning to walk quietly does not make a person a ninja, any more than it makes them a LRRP. Nor is it an essential martial arts skill -- though I'd suggest it has certain benefits. But if I go out to the park to practice walking silently through the grass, am I LARPing? Or is it only if I put on my AWMA-supplied Shinobi Shozoku (with two piece mask) and hide in the woods?

What about if I throw around blinding powder? Who can deny that learning to blind an opponent is not a useful combative skill? But I'm not denying that I'm LARPing if I play dress up at the same time.

There's a really thin line here. And I think it is all too easy to cross.