The history of Ninjutsu is stepped in myth and superstition. The origins of some aspects within this art are still under debate in a few circles around the world. The very nature of the art makes it hard to find early records dealing with it. As part of tradition, Ninjutsu was not recorded on paper. Rather it was passed down verbally from teacher to student for over 800 years. This was due partly to the need for protecting their identities from the upper ruling classes of the period.
Only within the past few hundred years has the art started to be documented. In this time over seventy “Ninjutsu ryu” (school/families) have been catalogued/identified. A majority of which have died out or evolved into a new art. Some systems have adapted and changed. Some have become arts that are today known as something completely different. This has led to much debate over the authenticity of some lesser known Ninjutsu ryu. There is still much debate over the number of true ryu remaining.
Most of the known Ninjutsu families and practitioners originated in the Iga/Koga (Modern Mie/Omi) regions of Japan. The Terrain of the Iga/Koga regions was largely unexplored. Inhabitants lived a relatively isolated life. Most of the families in this region were farmers and craftsmen of various types.
People inside as well as outside this region kept records, some of these records refer to the individuals/families now recognized as Ninja/Ninjutsu families as “Iga/Koga no Bushi” (Warriors of Iga/Koga) and “Iga/Koga no Mono” (Men of Iga/Koga). This relatively isolated existence freed them from the oppressive “mainstream” society of the period, also enabling them to cultivate views that were otherwise not given the same chance to develop elsewhere in Japan.
Gradually over time, direct influences of the upper ruling classes crept into the Iga/Koga regions. This slow wave of influences eventually caused political and social unrest. These differences in perspective also created turmoil in the ruling classes of the middle to late 1500’s, ultimately leading to the invasion and destruction of communities in both the Iga and Koga regions of ancient Japan. Facing outnumbering samurai forces, the inhabitants started to create the art we now know as Ninjutsu. Due to this the “Iga/Koga no Bushi” (Warriors of Iga/Koga) and “Iga/Koga no Mono” (Men of Iga/Koga) were forced into fighting for their lives. They were known to use the superstitions of society and social groups around them as a tool/weapon. As a result they became feared and shrouded in a veil of shadows and myth.
The term “Ninja” was not in use until the Tokugawa period (1605-1867). This is also the period in which the stereotypical image of the “Ninja” started to take shape. This image was unfortunately a somewhat negative one. Ninja were made out to be the bad guys (“assassins without honor who used their cunning and stealth to kill anyone for a cost”) this was not a common practice. Unfortunately within all groups there are a few that do go bad. This is what people saw when they looked at the Ninja. This view of the Ninja was and still is to this day most always totally inaccurate.
Labels: Martial Arts