The first item I stumbled across in the Science Fiction and Fantasy section of my local bookstore. It was the Book of Erotic Fantasy. It's a Role Playing Game supplemental rulebook described as: "A different kind of combatLove and Battle are both intimate acts, both done in heat and sweat, with the sounds of cries echoing in your ears. And really, who is to say which is the more dangerous? This book ads a new dimension to your game- intrigue and manipulation, marriages of power, dangerous seducers, sex and magic." Really? It's come to this? The D&D crowd get so little action they need to roleplay it out? I have a feeling you could psycho analyze the market for this endlessly. One of my thoughts was, "Just WHO is playing this?"
(No, I didn't buy it. I wiped my fingerprints from the cover and quietly slid it back on the shelf. I don't need the police coming after me when they find it on some serial killer's bookshelf...)
I also ran across an old news story about two young guys ("men," as you'll see, is not the right word), ages 20 and 19, who were arrested. A cop discovered them parked on the side of the road dressed in black ninja outfits, tactical vests, and weighed down with the stereotypical variety of exotic martial arts weapons. When questioned, they identified themselves as the "Shinobi Warriors" on a mission to deliver warning letters to neighborhood drug dealers. Their master plan was to use their "stealth" skills to post letters -- complete with dragon sigil and chinese characters -- directly on the doors of the drug dealers. The cop arrested them on weapons charges. The police were unsure of how many letters had been delivered, but the pair admitted the first letter had been delivered to the 16-year-old former girlfriend of one of the men.
Let me quickly note: these two guys were not reported to be connected to have any martial arts training; let alone a connection to the Bujinkan.
Clearly, these guys have problems. This was not an approved use of ninja stealth skills.But it too got me thinking: who do we expect the average student to sneak up on? And I'm betting that's one of the questions those outside the Bujinkan ask. If you teach a skill, there is an implication that it is a skill with uses.
In the old days, Stephen Hayes use to say stuff like: "What parent wouldn't want their child to have the option of hiding from bullies?" So, maybe it's not about sneaking up on some heavily armed sentry. Although it runs counter to the macho -- dare I say, "warrior?" -- image of martial arts; sneaking away is often a sane option when trouble erupts. Just consider some of the recent mass shootings. What's a better option if you find yourself unarmed against a guy with a gun collection? Are you planning to close that gap and apply seoi nage -- or do you think running away and hiding might have a higher percentage for survival? And, for all those tough guys -- do you think your plan might change if you had your family with you? Sneaking them all away from danger is probably a very attractive option.
However, I think the ancillary skills taught in the Bujinkan are intended to have a broader use. In and of themselves, they may provide options for extreme situation, but I doubt most people devote the neccessary to train the skills well. I believe the broader purpose is to instill "out-of-the-box" thinking. It's not just how to sneak through the woods, or start a fire, or make blinding powder; it's training in how to systematically overcome an obstacle -- any obstacle. Training like that is a kick-start to creativity. For a mature individual -- someone who recognizes the boundary between fantasy and reality -- this kind of training is fun and useful.
There's a very loud voice in the modern martial arts community that seems to be saying a martial art must make you the toughest guy in the ring to be any good. They have a point, but the fact is, most martial artists are not training for competition nor will the majority face life and death on the street. But all martial artists have to live, and hopefully a good martial art will teach strategies about how to face life -- in addition to a good, solid punch.