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Ninjutsu and the Five Elements

The Ninja had a very good understanding of nature. They lived amongst the hills and valleys and many would have been farmers, so nature was all around them. Ninjutsu today is still based upon an understanding of 4 naturally occurring elements, earth (Chi), water (Sui), fire (Ka) and wind (Fu). These elements form the basis of Ninjutsu fighting skills and of the philosophy and psychology behind them. This will begin to make more sense after a few lessons, but to give you an example, earth corresponds to the idea of immovability, strength and stubbornness. Techniques that require power or for you to hold your ground are generally earth centred techniques. This will be seen in the way your body moves and in the way your mind thinks. The same is true of each of the elements, and through training you will see a difference in each one. The Ninja learnt to unify body and mind so the two did not conflict and they were able to achieve their goal. This can be equated to the modern idea of ‘the power of positive thinking’, though in essence it is quite different.

Having mastered the basics of these four elements you will learn the fifth, Void (Ku). This is where you are able to blend all elements together and adjust your movements as the situation dictates. This leads us to another important aspect of Ninjutsu, adaptability.

The Development of Ninjutsu

Adaptation is an important part of life. The world is constantly changing and at times we struggle to keep up. The Ninja had the same problem. In the Sengoku Jidai period (time of civil war) there were many rulers, changes in political alliances, not to mention constant warfare. The Ninja had to adapt to these situations if they were to survive. When new weapons or modes of warfare developed the Ninja had to learn about them if they were to stay one step ahead of their enemy. A classic example of one of these changes is the arrival of the first guns to Japan. The world has developed even more since this time and so has the art. Though the study of ancient weapons and fighting skills is interesting, if one wishes to defend oneself then learning to use a spear or defend against an attacker on horse back is of little use. A potential attacker, be it a mugger or just a street thug, no longer wears battlefield armour and so is a much faster opponent. They no longer carry a sword (though this has been known recently) but they may certainly be armed with a knife, or even a gun. Equally, the places where we may find ourselves in danger have also increased. Attacks take place in Bars, clubs, on the bus or train/tube, as you walk home or worse still, in your own home.

Not all of the training will take place inside a dojo hall, as we regularly train outside. Occasionally you will train wearing ordinary, everyday clothes. These are what you will be wearing should you ever find yourself in a potentially violent situation, so you must learn how to move whilst wearing them. The dojo hall will not always resemble a typical martial arts training hall, but may be set up to represent everyday situations, such as a street, a pub or even a bus or tube. The way fights begin has changed. The ancient method of selecting a worthy opponent, bowing out of respect, then fighting to the death no longer exists, nor does the concept of a ‘fair’ fight. You may well be outnumbered and your attacker could be armed. They may be screaming and hurling abuse and threats at you. All of these variables must be taken into consideration and the highly adaptive nature of the art makes it able to meet the challenges of modern living.


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