Ninjutsu Teaching Methods

As a ninjutsu practitioner it is beneficial that you have an understanding of the various teaching methods that are used within the Japanese martial arts community.  I will start with the most common teaching method.

The Classical Japanese Method :

The classical way of studying a Japanese martial art is very formal, and very strict.  A Master who teaches in this way offers very little explanation of the techniques that are taught, and most demonstrations are performed by senior practitioners.  This teaching method is a product of Japanese society, which is structured on three principles :

• do what you're told

• believe what you're told

• and don't question what you're told.

Because of this social structure, a traditional class would involve a strict training timetable. No deviations.

Each technique begins with an elaborate ceremony. This allows the student to centre themselves, physically and emotionally.

There is no talking during practice. This sense of quiet allows the body and mind to function as a single unit.

The attacker taps the defender or the floor to indicate submission. If there is no submission, the student is expected to adjust and correct their technique.

Each pattern is exercised without variations, unless the students are instructed to do so. This develops a student's discipline.

The focus of each practice is on feeling the technique, not trying to analyse it or memorise it.

This kinaesthetic (feeling) assessment develops a student's physical awareness.

In the role of the attacker, the student will often kiai (shout) to give the attack a sense of reality.

In the role of the defender, the student will often kiai to give their counter-strike intent and power.

All together, these aspects create an intense attack and defence experience that quickly develops a sense of confidence and power.

The Ninjutsu Teaching Method :

This ninjutsu teaching method is very different from the classical Japanese teaching method. The atmosphere is less formal, and the training has a focus on strategies and tactics, rather than on techniques. In other words, it's "conceptual" rather than technical.

The largest ninjutsu organisation in the world is Bujinkan Dojos. It's a martial art organisation that teaches several Ninjutsu and Jujutsu traditions. It was established by Hatsumi Sensei... and the style of teaching originates from Takamatsu Sensei, who was a Grandmaster of Togakure Ryu Ninjutsu, and Teacher to Hatsumi Sensei.

The Takamatsu Teaching Method :

Takamatsu Sensei taught a small group of students in a very casual way. The atmosphere was more like a private training session than a formal class.

He did not use any warm-up, other than the stretching that his students performed before his arrival. He would simply begin by inviting one of his students to grab or punch or kick at him, and then he would demonstrate the first technique of the class.

The training that Takamatsu Sensei offered was not as structured or confined as the traditional Japanese method. He would have a basic idea of the principles and techniques that he planned to teach, however the class would take it's own direction, according to the variations that he was inspired to demonstrate.

This concept of presenting a series of variations is not something that you will see in a martial art school that uses the traditional Japanese teaching method.

Why not? Because the Japanese culture values tradition, and students are expected to :

• do what they're told

• believe what they're told

• and don't question what they're told.

The Japanese feel that if a warrior managed to survive on the battlefield, then his techniques and training methods should be respected and honoured. Instructors of the art may no longer understand the reasons behind these old techniques and training methods, however they will still continue to present them in their original form.

This traditional approach to teaching a proven style of fighting undoubtedly has it's merits. However if a modern day practitioner is hoping to develop a street self defence skill, then I think it's wise to compare what the Founder of a martial art faced in old Japan to what we face today on the streets.

But let's get back to Takamatsu Sensei's teaching method.

It's common in most martial arts to repeatedly drill basic techniques. However this is not the approach that Takamatsu Sensei used. Instead he would present techniques that reflected the combat principle that he wanted his students to exercise, together with several variations.

This constantly changing series of techniques and variations was often confusing to his students. But what they didn't realise was that he was focusing on the essence of every technique ... the ninjutsu artform.

This teaching method can be very difficult to appreciate, especially if it is never explained. And Japanese Masters traditionally don't offer detailed explanations.

Students are expected to be patient, and persevere. It is thought that they will understand ... eventually.

However I will explain it to you now.

Countless techniques and variations overload the conscious mind, and can cause students to feel lost and confused. But what students often fail to realise is that the "techniques" are not the answer to developing a versatile self defence skill. The answer is actually the "artform" that is the basis of all the techniques.

Once you have grasped the artform, you can express 10,000 techniques.

By overloading the conscious mind, the student gradually absorbs the essence of the artform at an unconscious level. But it does take time for this to happen.

Once the artform can be expressed unconsciously, the student has been properly trained to defend themselves against a sudden attack.

This process is based on the knowledge that your response to a sudden attack will come from the unconscious level of your mind. It's part of your natural survival response.

Your intuitive unconscious mind is much quicker at responding with an appropriate defensive action than your logic-based conscious mind.

Because it is unknown exactly how or where you will be attacked, it is thought that there is no point in repeatedly drilling a particular style of self defence techniques. You may actually be attacked in a way that those techniques cannot defend against.

I'll give you an example. What if you trained for years to defend against any type of punch. What if you got so good that you could stop any punch from touching you. But on your way home one night, from out of the shadows, you're attacked from behind with a baseball bat?

Even if you were lucky enough to see the attack coming out of the corner of your eye, what would you do ? Would you block the bat? Or would you punch the bat? Either way, you'd be hurt.

Masters like Takamatsu Sensei understood that a spontaneous expression of artform is more superior to an automatic expression of technique.

Artform can manifest itself in many ways, many different responses... but technique is limited to a specific practiced response.

So he taught in a way that gradually developed an unconscious expression of artform, not set techniques. And while his students were focusing on trying to remember the various strikes and kicks and limb-controls, he was focusing on natural power, balance, distance, timing... and retaining a centred mind.

This approach is a very sophisticated method of teaching, however most ninjutsu instructors around the world still don't understand it.

Most Japanese ninjutsu instructors that I've met aren't able to explain the process, but they continue to use it because it's how they were taught. And traditionally, they never question what they've been taught.

Most western instructors that I've met don't understand the process either, but they enjoy the sense of freedom in being able to express their own variations of the techniques.

I learnt to understand the process through my study of Analytical Hypnosis. That system of knowledge taught me to understand the different functions of the conscious and unconscious minds.

There is nothing mystical or magical about Takamatsu Sensei's teaching method, but it does require you to have patience and perseverance... which just happens to be the meaning of the Japanese character "Nin"... as in Ninja and Ninjutsu.


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