Ninjutsu: The Complete Perspective

by William Durbin, Soke of Kiyojute Ryu

When I was a beginning student of the martial arts in 1970 I developed a voracious appetite for everything I could learn about the martial arts.  I read whatever was available, which at that time was sparse, at least in the Bluegrass State of Kentucky.

          My first instructor Richard Stone called what we did Judo, but actually taught a conglomeration of skills having studied under Ramon Lono Ancho, who knew Kosho Ryu Kempo, Kodenkan Jujutsu, and Kodokan Judo.  Stone furthered his study under Hiroshi Wada, who knew Kodokan Judo and Aikikai Aikido.  Finally, Stone studied under a truly great Judoka, Takayuki Ebisuya.

          Stone started teaching in my hometown of Bardstown in 1970.  I had studied self defense with my Father who was a World War II vet.  Since I had been threatened by some of my peers, for my strong religious stance, and received a beating after dedicating my life to the Gospel ministry, Dad had taught me what he knew about ‘Combat Judo’ from his time in the military.

          What Stone taught me gave me a strong foundation in self defense, though we did practice the Randori of Judo in the same way as any sport.  I never really like competition, because I was extremely competitive and didn’t like the way it made me feel.  Later after going to college I would study with whomever I met and share with them whatever I knew.

          Over the years this expanded my knowledge of techniques, though I can’t really say that I was progressing as a true martial artist.  Now what I mean by that is, the real martial arts are about an understanding of principles and the concept of survival.

          A competitor looks for opportunities to compete, which can be legitimate competitions but is sometimes unnecessary battles with others.  Thankfully I joined an organization in 1978 that was dedicated to self defense training.  That organization was Juko Kai International under the founder Rod Sacharnoski.  While I also began training under Bill ‘Superfoot’ Wallace, the consummate competitor, I found my personal philosophy turning more to real combat training and further away from competition.

          Partly this was because competitive skills were not the same as actual fighting skills.  Things that were not allowed in competition were skills that were essential for actual self defense, while competitions, even when they tried to be safe, were still fraught with danger.  Richard Stone gave me a Black Belt magazine from 1969, which told the story of a Judo competitor dying in a match.

          Over the years, even to today, there are still stories of competitors in competitive fighting sports (boxing, kickboxing, UFC, etc.) dying during a competition or because of injuries sustained in competition.  Sadly and less covered are the competitors that end up crippled or disabled due to the injuries sustained in their competitions.

 

Ninjutsu

          You might wonder what this has to do with Ninjutsu and I’ll show you how it all ties together.  As I studied the martial arts and read about what I could, I noticed that there was a real difference between competitors and true martial artists.

          I know I read about Ninjutsu sometime in the late 60s and researched it as much as I could over the years.  When I was a security guard in the 70s I remembered reading about stealth movement and how to use shadows, environmental obstructions, and climbing skills to move unobserved towards opponents.

          I practiced these skills and found them invaluable for my work.  The ability to approach unperceived was tremendously useful.  As more material became available I practiced and learned what I could.  Then around 1977, I believe, I met a young man who had come to Campbellsville College (now Campbellsville University) after a tour in the Marines.  He joined my Self Defense Club and Judo class that I was teaching there and offered to share with me what he had learned in the military.

          Along with basic hand to hand combat, he was told that his training included Ninjutsu.  He shared that knowledge with me and we made an ‘obstacle course’ around the campus, which we would run at night when he came out to train with me as I made my rounds as a security guard.

          We trained intensively working on the hand to hand combat skills, as well as, developing our stealth skills to a high level.  We learned to move around the campus without being noticed unless we wanted to be noticed.  I used my skills several times to approach students who were engaged in behavior that was not allowed on the campus.

          It was amazing to move around and not be noticed by the students or faculty, seeing the things that were going on that most people didn’t have a clue about.  If I wrote a tell all book, it would be amazing.  But the goal was to ensure the safety of the students and that’s what I put my training to use.

 

Judo Master

          During that time I began to correspond with a Judo master from Cuba whose name was Roberto Fuentes.  He had written a series of novels with Piers Anthony and I found his work intriguing.  It turned out he was also a writer for the Judo Times and I was able to get his address from them.

          Fuentes was a comprehensive master of the martial arts having studied extensively.  He shared many interesting bits of information regarding all of the arts including Ninjutsu.  He knew many of the legends and shared this knowledge with me, though some of them seemed more fiction than fact.

          There is a book that many people use as the ‘official’ history of Ninjutsu, which was actually written late in history and should probably be considered more fiction that actual historical knowledge.  Still, thanks to Fuentes I was directed towards certain areas of research, which I thought were essential to my growth as a martial artist.

 

Shadows of Iga

          As my training progress, eventually a couple more books came out, by Donn Draeger and Andrew Adams, which gave more information about Ninjutsu.  Under Rod Sacharnoski my training had continued to be comprehensive, including a great deal of weapons training, something Sacharnoski considered essential to be a real martial artist.

          Eventually under Sacharnoski I was taught that unless a person trained in the traditional arts of the Japanese sword, they could not be considered real martial artists in the sense of the Japanese concept.  Thus I studied Kenjutsu, Iaijutsu, and Battojutsu.

          Years later Steven Hayes started an organization called the Shadows of Iga, which I joined and was able to study under for a time.  While I never had the pleasure of training directly with Hayes, one of his students taught clinics in Kentucky which I was able to attend.  I read all of his books, but was concerned about how some of the historical knowledge did not match Japanese history.

          I’m sure it was not meant as an appeal or substantiation of terrorism, but when in the newsletters they began advertising certain items, I thought I’d better distance myself from the organization.  At that time I was already an ordained minister and I thought it was best not to be associated with a group that noted where certain items of terrorist use could be bought.

          Still I learned a great deal of tradition and information regarding Ninjutsu, though I felt the need to sift through it using Japanese history to determined what had actually happened as opposed to the ‘official’ story that was being espoused.

 

Koga Connection

          I continued to build my research into Ninjutsu, finding some writings based on Koga Ryu.  A British author who claimed to have trained with Motokatsu Inoue, the protégé of Seiko Fujita, wrote a book.  There was much in that book, which was excellent.

          At that time I met Bruce Juchnik, who told me that James Masayoshi Mitose, one of the instructors to Ramon Lono Ancho, had trained in Koga Ryu Ninjutsu and Sato Ryu Kempo.  I had been told that Koga Ryu was sometimes taught along with a family art and supposed that Sato was one of the fifty three families of the Koga Ryu branch.

          I thought that Sato Ha Koga Ryu might have been the overall family style, teaching both Kempo and Ninjutsu.  Later I met Nimr Hassan, who had trained directly with Mitose in the 70s and found out that Mitose did in fact study Koga Ryu Ninjutsu.

          Intrigued by this fact and realizing that my lineage came directly from Mitose through Ancho to Stone, I felt that I needed to look deeper into the Koga connection.

          My first break came, after releasing some of the information I had about Mitose’s Koga Ryu Ninjutsu training, when a gentleman from Canada contacted me and told me about training he’d done with a Japanese Koga Ryu Ninjutsu practitioner in Canada.  This master, having had a bad experience teaching Ninjutsu, wished to remain anonymous, and I can say that after talking with some of the Ninjutsu practitioners today, with the backbiting and infighting that goes on between factions, I fully understand, acknowledged that James Masayoshi Mitose not only trained in Koga Ryu Ninjutsu, but with Seiko Fujita.

          Still I looked for a second connection that would confirm this idea.  During that research I found out many things.  First of all, according to Robert Trias, James Masayoshi Mitose trained with Choki Motobu in his form of Kempo Karate.  Second I found that Seiko Fujita was part of the Japanese entourage that trained with and followed Choki Motobu.  This would explain why Mitose would have known and had access to Seiko Fujita.

          Once I had the connection between Mitose and Fujita, I wanted to see what Mitose learned from Fujita and what would have been the knowledge he’d learned from Motobu. Luckily I had Mitose’s second book, which contained in it many obscure aspects that did not match with the teachings of Motobu.  The first book of Mitose’s was very obviously a Kempo Karate book, with certain Jujutsu aspects.  But the second book was so esoteric as to be hard to comprehend.  However, Nimr Hassan had been trained specifically in the teachings that were contained in the second book and it suddenly became clear that these teachings were based more on Ninjutsu.

 

Hakkakkei

          It took a while to get Fujita’s own book, but once I did, it was easy to see the connection between the teachings of Mitose and Fujita.  Mitose taught what he called the octagon, in Japanese Hakkakkei.  The teachings of the octagon are the same as an art in Ninjutsu known as Choyakujutsu Roppo as taught by Seiko Fujita.

          Mitose gave an interview during his life in which he listed the arts that he’d studied in Japan.  Many of these arts are the traditional skills of the Bugei, martial arts that were included in traditional Ninjutsu curriculum.

          An important note to this is the list of the Juhappan, sometimes referred to as the Juhakkei, the eighteen arts of the martial arts as actually taught in Japan.  Whereas many people try to make Ninjutsu the some total of the martial arts, actually the way to look at it is that Ninjutsu is one of the martial arts.

          Many people are confused today, thinking learning a form of Jujutsu, sometimes called Taijutsu, is Ninjutsu training, but there is much more to Ninjutsu than just learning some form of hand to hand combat.  Real Ninjutsu has methods of auxiliary training that will definitely improve one’s hand to hand combat, but is not limited to close quarter fighting.

          Through the practice of Hakkakkei, a person learns a plethora of skills, which can be applied to stealth movement, scouting, guerilla warfare, as well as, fighting.

 

Shihan in Ninjutsu

          As Hassan and I went through the skills that Mitose taught him, organizing it and giving it proper Japanese terminology, Hassan realized that I had a fundamental mastery of the two specials arts in which Mitose had instructed him.  Thus he awarded me Shihan in both Koppo, the special bone breaking art that Mitose taught, and Ninjutsu, as based on the application of the octagon.

          Though with the certification from Hassan, I still kept researching the knowledge and information about Ninjutsu.  Now with a solid knowledge of Japanese history I was able to sift through the common misconceptions of Ninjutsu and see the real history and use of the art.

          Also during a period of time in Juko Kai, Rod Sacharnoski instructed that I receive tuition from John Willson, a high ranking Ninjutsu practitioner of the Bujinkan.  During that time I received a Shodan from Masaaki Hatsumi.

          I have also kept training extensively in the material and knowledge I gained from my Kempo training.  Mitose’s Kosho Ryu Kempo was a comprehensive art that was made up of what he had learned of Okinawan martial arts through the Motobu lineage, and Japanese martial arts from both Namban Satto Ryu Kempo (taught with an emphasis on Jujutsu skills combined with excellent striking techniques and in a unique fashion which did not use prearranged sets of either self defense skills or Kata) and Wada Ha Koga Ryu Ninjutsu.

 

Discord

          Sadly there are people who emphasize discord between the various factions of Ninjutsu.  Some spread false information, claiming that certain styles of Ninjutsu no longer exist or are not legitimate styles of Ninjutsu.  But the truth is that Ninjutsu is alive and well in modern times, having been saved and survived through many different styles and systems.

          Masaaki Hatsumi himself has said that Iga Ryu and Koga Ryu were basically the same and used the same training and techniques.  Shoto Tanemura says that he studied Koga Ryu Ninjutsu, so it must exist if he’s studied it.  Two other masters are touted as high ranking masters of Koga Ryu.  Fumio Tanaka claims to be a Hanshi of Koga Ryu, while Jinichi Kawakami is referred to as the Banto (guardian) of the Koga Ryu.

          Having studied Bujinkan and Koga Ryu, as preserved in Kosho Ryu Kempo, it is obvious that Ninjutsu is one body of knowledge though with certain individual characteristics. The differences are more of personality of instruction, rather than actual stylistic differences.

          The personalities I have learned from all still taught the fundamentally same knowledge.  Each added their own specific interpretation, which made for unique and interesting study.

          I organized a research group determined to investigate and explore the traditional methods of practicing Ninjutsu.  Called the Koga Ninjutsu Kenkyu Kai, the organization meets each year for eight Saturdays, practicing and studying the advanced skills of the Shinobi.

 

Survival

          I train in and teach Ninjutsu (Nimpo Kempo Kobujutsu) as part of Kiyojute Ryu Kempo Bugei, because it is a necessary aspect of overall self defense.  It teaches methods of avoidance, ways of evasion, and aspects of combat that can benefit a person wanting to know how to defend themselves and survive in the world as it is today.

          A final word, one of my students was in the Special Forces and served in both Afghanistan and Iraq.  During one of the sessions of our Koga Ninjutsu Kenkyu Kai a student asked him what was the difference between what he had learned in the Special Forces and what we were practicing in the Kenkyu Kai.

          The Special Forces person answered, ‘You know it’s the same, except what Soke teaches is much more advanced.’



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