Ninpo – Thoughts on a theme


 photo by Steve Olsen


 The following is a combination of my notes and thoughts regarding this years theme. Soke has stated that this years theme is KU – the void. We began this years study with concepts and waza form the Togakure Ryu. Soke then as usual made everything transparent to teach us the truth of budo. The truth is ” If you thing there is something there isn’t. If you think there is nothing, there is.” Therefore, we must learn to breath and live within the Kukan to truly grasp the secrets of life and budo. This is the way of Ninjutsu. The way of budo. The way of life. 


At the beginning of the year, Soke painted a kakejiku ( scroll )  for the Honbu dojo.

It read menkyo kaiden. However, the most common meaning (complete transmission and mastery of an art ) was obscured by Sokes use of different kanji. Soke wrote the scroll with different kanji for the “K yo” in menkyo and the “Kai” in Kaiden. The “Kyo” is the same kanji used in Kyojutsu ( truth and falsehood ) while the kanji for“Kai” as in Kai butsu ( monster ) or Ayashi which  can be interpreted as  mysterious / strange, or suspicous and suspect.

There are those who can perform the fundamental waza of ninpo and believe that they have achieved knowledge in ninjutsu.  These practitioners are low class students and know nothing of true Ninpo.

Kyojutsu works against those who study ninpo before they have first sincerely worked at

 Seishin teki ryoyo ( self refinement ).It’s easy for people to change into monsters from personal desires.

 It is important to remove the desire to “Know what ninjutsu is. By this I mean knowing ninpo is something deeper than the conscious mind and intellect. It’s secret to understanding is sincerity.


The real knowledge and realm of ninpo is hidden in the subconscious and can only be understood through training with a clear heart during Isshi Soden (direct transmission from a real teacher or mother nature .) As you sincerely accept that you don’t know, you will open the door to a path of true learning and understanding. Ninpo is an innate feeling lying dormant within us all. Through training, we can come to sense the feeling of Ninpo and appreciate that it is an art for living and enduring with the flow of time. The feeling of Ninpo can be naturally experienced to those sensitive enough to Shisei ( the cycle of life and death.)  The Godan test of the Togakure ryu is a step into the gate of budo. With many more small steps of perserverence, we hope to become awakened to the Gojo ( the five essences to enter the path of enlightenment ). Maintaining Ninja no kokoro ( the ninja heart ) is essential.

The practitioner must have the virtue of Ninniku ( patience ) and Ninpo Ikkan ( consistently flowing with the way of ninpo)..Ninniku and Ninpo Ikkan are the basis for understanding ninpo taijutsu,

while Ichi go Ichi e ( one moment, one chance ) is the heart of the ninja.


Recently Soke has stated “ If you cannot understand, this is normal because it’s Ninjutsu. If you could understand, it wouldn’t be Ninjutsu!”

Those who believe they understand have begun to die as a martial artist. We can relate this, and the following words to the Kakejiku in the Honbu. Regardless of ones rank or position achieved, there is no real evidence of mastery. Those who claim to be a master of the martial arts because they hold menkyo kaiden ( complete transmission in the arts ) have progressed no further than a beginner, and have become lost.. This is the Shinken gata ( cutting truth ) of ranks in budo.

For those sincerely pursuing the martial arts, the more they train, the more they feel humbled to the truth, and thus train harder. The true masters are people who remain natural and develop with balance. Wisdom and knowledge permeates from their eyes, and a strong, spiritual presence moves with them as they live with the heart of a budoka. Living with Ninpo is achieving harmony with life, enabling them to walk freely,  with no adversity. This is also Kieru no kankaku, the simple and invisible movement and life of the ninja.

They have become transparent. They have become zero. They have become ninja.

Having mastered bushinwa ( the harmony of a warrior ) due to  jihi no kokoro ( a benevolent heart ), these practitioners tread the path of a meijin ( master of the martial arts  ).These people are the avatars of the Bujinkan Dojo. From this we can come to appreciate more clearly the words of Toda Sensei, the 32nd Soke of the Togakure ryu:


“Know the secret of Taijutsu is the foundation of peace. If you can learn this, you can walk the path of the immovable heart.”

This year, Soke has naturally moved forward with Banka shizen no ninpo taijutsu ( forever evolving and adpating nature of ninpo). Moving with kage no ugoku  ( shadow movement ) Soke plays freely in the kukan, always sensing the echo of the opponent and his environment.

Keiru no kankaku, ( feeling of disappearing ) is gained through mastering the kihon, moving in the kukan with no openings, using kurai dori ( life preserving positions ) and understanding the heart of Ninpo.


Soke has also mentioned the concept of yoyuu. This expresses the idea of giving enough” slack” to move freely while also giving the opponent the feeling he can move freely, yet, he mysteriously cannot.

This is a form of kyojutsu. You are holding your opponent with shinnenjutsu  ( spirit/mind control with an over-powering will). He thus feels enveloped by this spiritual pressure and cannot move ( Fudo Kanashibari no jutsu ).

Ninjutsu is about manipulating ones environment to survive. This not achieved from academic study or from simply outwitting an opponent based on intellectual ability. It is based on living the life of a real human being. From exploring the effects of kyojutsu from an evolutionary point of view, we can come to understand natural justice and specie preservation not only within the human realm, but within the animal and plant kingdom aswell.

Through consistent focus on shinobu inochi ( the ninja warrior life ) your life will naturally move in the correct direction. Kyojutsu will mysteriously act to protect you as a result of living in harmony with the world.

We can now see that manipulating your opponent to survive is not a conscious decision, but a result of naturally moving in the void with Magakoro ( a sincere / pure heart ) and Mushin ( no mind ).


The ultimate goal of the Bujinkan Budoka is to achieve Shin Gi Tai Ichi ( the unification of the mind ,technique, and spirit ). The kukan ( life space ) exists within this unification. Within the kukan we feel the echo produced from our connection / radio wave with the opponent. This sensitivity to the echo enables one to live and sense the future response of the opponent and the changes in the environment. This can also be related to Banpen Fugyo ( 10,000 changes, no surprise ) and Kanjin Kaname ( Heart & Eyes of God ). Soke has said that as practitioners of the Bujinkan we must learn to live between the space where air and nothing exists. We must study to reach such a high level of existence that we can survive on mist like the Senin ( mountain mystics.)


me-a-ninja-in-disguise-with-metsubushi Togakure Ryu Ninpo Enbu. Togakushi 2007.

11 Responses to “Ninpo – Thoughts on a theme”

  1. Duncan – just a short note to thank you for taking the time to make your thoughts available to those of us not fortunate to live in Japan. Your writing style is lucid and has helped me fill some of the gaps that inevitably arise when training.

    Best wishes to you and your family in 2009.


  2. Duncan,
    The depth of your writing is amazing, very informative and well developed!!.
    I have done meditation and Yoga and incorporated into my daily life besides my Taijutsu training.
    your knowledge about certain mystical concepts, such as ” avatars” is very encouraging to read.

    very deep things you are saying, keep up the good work!!
    Best wishes on 2009!!

  3. Why does a person pass a Godan test and how is this accomplished?

    A person who practices self protection and focuses the training on programming for the purpose of protecting life is vital. This approach syncs with the automatic pattern already embedded in the subconscious mind. For example, healing pain or injury is a result of this embedded command. Therefore, a person who has trained to the point that his programming is now operating subconsciously can be actually tested. It is actually a brilliant idea to test the subconscious patterns and as a result observation can be applied to adapt a pattern or evolve it.
    A person who is recommended for this examination reveals subconsciously if their actual purpose of training included harmonizing with the naturally embedded command of protecting life. In another light it is like life itself awakens and the observer within the vehicle attunes and flows with the actual purpose of life.

  4. Animals do it all the time. It has nothing to do with training, more like ‘un-training’. Soke has said this many times.

    But then, who wants to die?

  5. Heaven is protected by doubt.

  6. No doubt.

  7. “All great things are achieved with a light heart.”


    Fear is “not knowing” fear is a great and powerful sword that has been and is still being leveraged in society, religions, government, training halls or schools. It is a wonderful tool to enslave.

    Laughter is a higher state of consciousness than shame or guilt.

    The test is to shatter your own hypocrisy and free all human beings of your attitudes – there by freeing yourself.

  8. To Adapt and to Evolve, that is the Shinobi Way

  9. Okay, now I know that some guys think that Ninpo is all about stealth and lethality while fading in the shadows. That’s the material idea, but it lacks the principles of “Nin”. All sentimental feelings aside, Ninpo has five principles that reflect its essence; Valor, Sincerity, Loyalty, Virtue, and Wisdom. It is these five “KEY” principles that help build the foundation of the Ninja. In Ninpo we strive for the highest order of the Ninja. Ninjutsu on its own without the very important part that makes you a REAL Ninja, is merely techniques based on a lie. In the Shinobi Arts there are two sides kinda like a coin; the first is Omote (front or open) which focuses on martial arts, strategy, and using everything around as weapons to turn the tide of battle. The other is Ura which concentrates on spiritually fine-tuning the Ninja, kind of like a swordsmith cleaning impurities out of the metal of the blade for maximum efficiency. There are surprisingly few Omote stuff in it. So what Ninjers(people who use Ninjutsu for personal gain only) are doing is scoffing the very spirit of the Ninja. Don’t you think so?

  10. Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

  11. Great blog! Thank you.

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