Kata from a conceptual perspective

Discussion in 'Ninjutsu' started by Kobudo, Nov 28, 2014.

  1. garth

    garth Valued Member

    Got to agree with Pankeeki. I was in Japan in April and Sokes and Nagatos classes were packed. But Someya had a few classes when I was there. He covered the kata' history and fine points of Chuden and Okuden of Hanbo, yari and Shinden fudo ryu. No Henka' or making stuff up, just directly from densho. Yet strangely only about 12 -15 people in the class.

    I know where i,'m going when I go next to Japan and where not to go, but maybe more people interested in grades, taking the godan, and getting a painting than learning the correct patterns.
  2. bujingodai

    bujingodai Active teacher now. Supporter

    It was much better in Shiraishi's class when we were there. Hatsumi Sensei classes actually got a little annoying.
    However I did enjoy Nagato's classes. Even though packed
  3. Dean Winchester

    Dean Winchester Valued Member

    Sensei people, the word some of you are looking for is Sensei.
  4. Please reality

    Please reality Back to basics

    Well, it's kind of like this...

    Most traditional Japanese arts are still kept small and passed on to a select few, and the majority of people involved(even when Japanese) are tolerated and allowed to share in some aspect of the ryu but don't necessarily get the true deep teachings of it. Being Japanese isn't even a guarantee that you will be in the line of transmission or particularly special to the art, but you will be part of a family or group, and that is considered important here.
    Last edited: Dec 1, 2014
  5. The Iron Fist

    The Iron Fist Banned Banned

    Hi Please reality,

    Is that really true the part about "most traditional Japanese arts" because based on my understanding that is not the case. It was probably definitely the case 100 years ago but there are really no secrets left with regards to Japanese martial art, kata etc. I have a hard time understanding the arguments for secrecy of tradition like these especially when talking practicum (ie training an art versus writing about it) when quite frankly it is no longer the 19th century and everything is generally "exposed" for the world to see. In short, weren't Japans secrets including martial ones exposed long ago? How do you argue that there remains hidden away in Japan secrets that can only be found there? The argument won't work for literally any other Japanese art/cultural contribution to the world...tea, calligraphy, kata, or even gardening. As a student of Asian cultures I find this one argument (that the best ninjutsu training is only available in Japan) mildly racist in a way, even with the cultural exposure I have had it's odd to argue for this kind of "nationalistic" point of view.

    20th century secret societies in Japan notwithstanding (and there is certainly a long history of these in Japan right up to World War II, in fact Japanese secret societies influenced German societies eg Thule and vice versa), it seems non sequitur to argue that this is still the case in Japan circa 2014. What arts or war philosophy associated with ninja are or can still be truly "hidden away in Japan"? We are talking about a country whose culture and arts are (today) known throughout the world. Are there really Japanese kata or conceptual elements of the kata that are really "hidden" still? Didn't people like Sensei Hatsumi attempt to expose their arts to the world precisely to keep them alive (his introduction to one of his books can't remember which says as much). So, if there are "hidden" teachings still that remain in Japan while the rest of the world only sees the superficial elements, doesn't that spell doom for the art? Maybe that is why the Takamatsuden finds itself so alone with maybe a handful of other organizations that claim to transmit the same material?

    Ie "You don't know the Japanese way." why is that a valid argument when discussing the ninjutsu kata, when it's not valid when discussing any other aspects of Japanese culture? It sounds like bigotry to me and I don't think the other arguments like "we have Western brains" make sense either. It sounds equally racist in a way, and I know plenty of native Japanese who don't seem to think/act this way. Sure there are cultural trappings etc but not so much the sense that "the Japanese way" is either unique, special, or superior in any way.
    Last edited: Dec 1, 2014
  6. Dean Winchester

    Dean Winchester Valued Member

    Within ryu you will only recieve certain knowledge when you are initiated into the relevant level of the ryu-ha.

    Some things may be common knowledge about the school but there will be things that are only shown to those higher up.

    Also his comments are not just related to Ninjutsu kata, take some time and look into how koryu function.
    Last edited: Dec 1, 2014
  7. hatsie

    hatsie Active Member Supporter

    Japanese martial arts masters are bigoted and racist, they keep secrets provide misinformation and are not 100% up to speed with today's 'P.C.' ?!

    Basically they don't show everything they know to every round eyed bacon and egg eating gaijin that darkens their door step !!!? Surely this cannot be true!?
  8. Please reality

    Please reality Back to basics

    Oh boy…If I didn't think something was true, I wouldn't have wasted the time and effort to write it.

  9. The Iron Fist

    The Iron Fist Banned Banned


    There is clearly an interesting generational intermix of koryu arts going on in Japan for quite well past dozens of generations, with some "bloodlines" better documented than others and some details lost to the sands but where I am going with my questions is more along a locality parameter, since the thread is about conceptual elements of kata, the concepts are typically sociogeographical. What I mean by that is that "koryu" itself is just a conceptual container of sorts for collections of artifacts "scooped" from a particular Japanese demographic of the time (largely correlating with familial trees).

    My point was that the arts maintained by the ninjutsu folks are not really so shrouded in secrecy 2014 (in 12th century, sure) and as can be seen by some of the feedback, ironically ninjutsu is nowadays squarely under the microscope of every martial artist on the planet. It must be hard to support arts attributed to shinobi in the age of Youtube. Ninjutsu seems to get more critical inspection than any other art. Some of it seems pretty harsh, some of it doesn't. With regards to the kata I think whatever ninjutsu schools teach it all seems to be very...Japanese.

    Admitted: I am not technically good enough by any means to judge video or techniques, but I was more interested in why the arguments FOR ninjutsu keep using a sort of cultural mysticism. There is almost (forgive me) a Scientology feel to it all at least as it is sometimes described online.

    "You get more at Level 20" etc. I don't mean to directly equate ninjutsu with Scientology but I think this is part of the criticism the
  10. The Iron Fist

    The Iron Fist Banned Banned

    Please Reality.

    Sorry you have overwhelmed me with a lot of counter questions. At one point you answered one of my questions with three of your own. A lot of what you asked doesn't make any sense. I would try to answer them but then I started reading the racial undertones in your answer so I don't know whether I should write an honest rebuttal to what you just wrote. You called my knowledge "superficial" unless I was a PhD well...nobody's perfect but who knows someday... :)

    I am not an expert in ninjutsu or Japanese koryu. I know what koryu are how they developed and how they were transmitted throughout Japan. Are you a ninjutsu expert? If so what are your own qualifications and why should I believe you?

    Yes I am a student of Asian archaeology/anthropology.

    No I don't understand why my Japanese friends don't "act Japanese" in fact that is the racism I was talking about. IF I'm mistaken can you please boil your response down a little? I wanted to have an open dialog.
    Last edited: Dec 2, 2014
  11. Please reality

    Please reality Back to basics

    For those who study the Takamatsuden(which does have some ninjutsu in it), the ninjutsu aspect is not widely taught. Some parts of it have definitely been taught and can be found in video, etc. but not much. A lot of the information and tactics is superseded now anyway. Meteorology and modern psychology or medical methods are much more advanced and easier to access. You can get an accurate weather forecast from your phone, and you don't need to navigate by the stars in today's world. Modern firearms are also way more advanced and better suited to creating trauma, than matchlock rifles so there is no need for the average person to learn or study ninjutsu in depth.

    As for the kata found in the ryu that make up the Takamatsuden, the basic kata have been catalogued and filmed so can easily be experienced. However, there is a big difference between that and claiming to know the principles and apply the physical teachings of the kata. These things change as one goes from the basic beginner kata, to the okuden or gokui of each art, so obviously that information would not be known by the public at large, nor necessarily to those who teach at any particular dojo in any particular town in the world.

    The teaching methodology of traditional arts has not changed in many cases as there is no impetus to do so. Things are taught as they have been historically, because the system works. It is not government regulated compulsory education, and even school education follows particular methods that may not be the same as those found in the West. Even though things like English are taught in Japanese schools, does not mean that it is taught the same way it is in American or British schools. To assume that it would or should be would obviously be ludicrous.
    Last edited: Dec 2, 2014
  12. Please reality

    Please reality Back to basics

    My answers were in response to each of your points. Not sure what you don't understand or how you would see them as racist, but unless you have some understanding of Japanese culture and martial traditions, you really don't have much background to comment on either. There are recognized experts who have published books in English so those would be a good place to start to get some familiarity with the topic.

    Without some background in the subject, we will likely be talking past each other. Your understanding of "Asian" archaeology/anthropology has little to do with traditional Japanese arts, their history, and how they are practiced, studied, and passed on(either historically or today). Unless you study one, you are just guessing. Most Japanese people are ignorant of the tea ceremony or other traditional arts, so race has nothing to do with it. However, there is a cultural tendency for some Westerners to assume they know more about a particular "Asian" topic(and brag about it), that is quite laughable when scrutinized. Japanese, Chinese, Korean, Indian(etc) culture are quite different, so to say "Asian" archaeology/anthropology doesn't really explain much. Taking a few survey classes in Asian Studies does not make one an expert on something like traditional Japanese arts.

    There might've been some confusion in my response because looking back, I broke down your post into chunks. You originally wrote:

    "Ie "You don't know the Japanese way." why is that a valid argument when discussing the ninjutsu kata, when it's not valid when discussing any other aspects of Japanese culture? It sounds like bigotry to me and I don't think the other arguments like "we have Western brains" make sense either. It sounds equally racist in a way, and I know plenty of native Japanese who don't seem to think/act this way. Sure there are cultural trappings etc but not so much the sense that "the Japanese way" is either unique, special, or superior in any way."

    There definitely is a "Japanese" way of dealing with conflict, dissension in the ranks, people who are of little use to a group, etc that is different from how we deal with them in the West. We often confront people or call them out and expel them from the group. Here, just to take a few examples from my own experience in the workforce and from the dojo, people who are a problem for whatever reason, are not necessarily expelled or chastised to their face, nor are they kicked out of a group for things that we would do so in the West. They are allowed to stay but instead, are ignored to some degree or not taught in the case of a dojo but allowed to attend class. Just because you are attending class, does not mean that you are being taught. The attendance side of things takes more import over the "getting the education" side of things.

    So just because you are allowed to join a koryu, or attend okeiko(practice), does not mean that you are automatically entitled or allowed to learn the art in its entirety. People who are outside the group would not even be exposed to the most basic teachings, except in a simple manner of maybe seeing them in a demo or something like that.
  13. The Iron Fist

    The Iron Fist Banned Banned

    I am pretty sure I have a good understanding of Japanese culture, thanks in part to your post. :)

    That doesn't mean I have to be Japanese. That's my point brother.
  14. Please reality

    Please reality Back to basics

    Nobody ever said you had to be Japanese.
  15. The Iron Fist

    The Iron Fist Banned Banned

    Yes you're correct, it was this you said over and over that had me puzzled:

  16. Please reality

    Please reality Back to basics

    Nobody said you had to be Japanese to know the Japanese way. The questions you were raising and how they were phrased were why I wrote that. Anybody familiar with how traditional Japanese arts were taught would know that there is a progression of what information is taught and who gets what. Also, one's culture dictates how things are handled and Japan is in many ways quite different from the West.
  17. hatsie

    hatsie Active Member Supporter

    I must have forgotten the sarcasm smiley, but as we were referring to one of the most racist civilizations on the planet, I didn't think it would be needed.
  18. The Iron Fist

    The Iron Fist Banned Banned

    Please Reality it was hard to answer your questions because when I hit "Quote" I don't get anything except what you wrote above. I copied your bolded text in from your response and tried to go through them line by line. So that it's easier to respond to you could you use the "Quote" feature when responding to save me the trouble? thanks!

    I have a basic understanding of the koryu at an academic level (as in I know the names of a few dozen covering the last eight centuries roughly, what age they come from, basic information on the contents, etc.) I've never trained any of the arts themselves so asking me to provide information on the training or content of koryu or gendai arts is going to end up empty :) I do however know what these terms mean, how they fit with Japanese history. Where I lack precision would be the areas you seem to be most familiar with (actual training but honestly I don't train martial arts that much anymore as I am too busy with research).

    Like I said I have no gokui to post, but if you know "how many koryu are extant" please share. The "deepest teaching" part I am not going to argue although based on so much of ninjutsu being known to the world, I still don't see how "secret" any part of it can be, unless you're talking about secret ritual/formulae.

    I really don't think this argument holds water. A lot of martial arts schools teach things that can result in "another person's death" and I don't believe that the ninutsu schools in Japan really teach anything "secret" with regards to killing people, do they?

    Also, ninjutsu is not military training or real intelligence training some I'm not sure how the SWAT/CIA/FBI/Pentagon are relevant at all to ninjutsu. From a conceptual point of view though I can see how the ninjutsu ryu might contain elements of historical Japanese warfare. Not arguing at all with that.

    To the world...there is a boatload of information out there on ninjutsu which is why I find it odd you'd ask me to name all the people who are distributing information about ninjutsu...there are a lot as far as I know. Aren't you one of them??? :)

    What is "proprietary" or intellectual property about ninjutsu? The forum here seems to be loaded with information shared openly, so I'm confused what's secret? It sure seems like "the secrets" are discussed openly here, among other places. So by secrets do you really mean "high level material" in other words material only shared at a certain point? I think maybe that's what you meant.

    I'm not making any bold claims at all!

    Why are you asking me to post tea ritual information? I didn't say anywhere I was an expert on the ceremonies.

    Eastern Asian cultures for the most part. My whole family are archaeologists and anthropologists so I am continuing the family tradition. What do you mean traditions indoctrinated I'm not following. I am not indoctrinated in any Japanese traditions in the way I think you mean.

    Not sure what you mean here because I made a point about Japanese secret societies (the older of which WWII and prior are no longer that secret in 2014, for example the "Black Dragon Society"/"Amur River Society"/Kokuryuka).

    Sorry I don't understand what you're asking.

    So if there are hidden elements you mean hidden in the hierarchy sense (not shared with new students) as opposed to "hidden from the public" ie never uncovered/publicly informed?

    Maybe I misspoke but aren't the Takamatsuden rare? As in you can't learn them from many different places, you essentially need to go to a small handful of schools.

    I tried to explain "Japanese way" shouldn't be a valid argument. I know a hell of a lot about Japan. I don't have a "lack of knowledge" at all about your culture (ninjutsu training definitely, but history/culture is kind of my thing).

    You're making a lot of accusations I don't understand why. I told you I am a student of your culture and you are arguing I am not?

    This is why your posts confuse me. White Supremacists? That's not really the "racism" I was trying to point out. If you are arguing you feel these ways because you are Japanese, then I certainly must begrudge you your cultural leanings however I don't have to agree with you.

    I look forward to chatting more Please Reality so I can learn more about ninjutsu from your perspective but please be respectful as my questions are all academic. I have no in way touched on the controversies of ninjutsu nor do I desire to do that, but to have a serious academic discussion about Japanese kata in the context of historical warfare (I have a very strong background in Japanese military history!).

    To be completely clear my interest in Japan to this point has been mostly earlier clan warfare ages (Heian for example) but also very much the periods of Kamakura, Kenmu restoration, and so on where from what I've read, ninjutsu arts began to experience their "golden age" (forgive the term).

    What interests me most are what concepts from the clan warfare days might have been "conceptualized" and laid down in written/verbal instructional format and transmitted beyond the 10th century when those clans began merging and forming clearer feudal boundaries and eventually the various shogunates. I have some ideas about how early Japanese clan warfare influenced later the feudal era fighting, and where ninjutsu falls into this especially in the kata they teach and how it developed is where my research interest lies here. If you maintain "it's secret" I will just try to word my questions different :)
    Last edited: Dec 2, 2014
  19. Please reality

    Please reality Back to basics

    First of all, I am not Japanese.:hat: I have a few questions for you though.

    What is an academic understanding of koryu?

    To me that would mean you had researched them from the respect of where and how they developed, the players, what battles or conflicts their use could be traced to, and the technical and other philosophical elements found in them. There are books that catalog the different ryu, but even memorizing that entire book would only begin to give one a basic understanding of the varieties and histories of koryu arts. Now, I am only familiar with a handful of foreigners who have an academic understanding of koryu arts, and most of them also have an experiential knowledge as well. These people are usually professors and published authors. So again, based on your line of questioning, it doesn't sound like you have much experience or understanding with traditional Japanese arts. On top of that, there is almost no academic research on ninjutsu, be it in Japanese or any other language. Japanese academics rarely took interest in it, and foreign academics followed suit. The books that are out there are riddled with errors and many are pop culture based fantasy stories.

    Unless you do have an actual academic understanding of ninjutsu, coupled with some experience examining actual densho, techniques, and strategies, how could you argue that so much about ninjutsu is known to the world? That does not fit the reality of the situation. Much of what people think they "know" about ninjutsu is incorrect, and there are very few scholars of things related to ninjutsu, whether Japanese or foreign. Thus, anybody who claims to know or teach ninjutsu should actually be kept at arm's length until one can verify their credentials. Unless one has there own deep understanding though, it is hard to verify what other people claim.

    In general, people who claim to know a lot about Japan, don't. I know people who have spent decades studying and even living in Japan(some as academics), and none of them make such bold claims.

    Ninjutsu, as well as traditional koryu arts have many secrets that only those indoctrinated into the traditional know. A lot is not shared with the public. Is it necessarily anything mind blowing compared to the technology and science? In most cases not necessarily, but for their time it was the cutting edge(especially in looking at dealing with gunpowder and guerrilla tactics). Also, ninjutsu as a concept is rooted in spying and subterfuge, which was first laid out in Sun Tzu's Art of War, a book that generals and military academies still consider pertinent even today. Ninjutsu is about strategy, and nobody shares their strategy with just any Tom, Dick, or Harry who wants to know.

    My point that you failed to understand about the FBI or SWAT is that nobody has a right(let alone ability) to know everything. Knowledge is not something you are owed by anybody or organization, it is something you have to seek out and take responsibility for getting yourself. In the case of groups with sensitive information, it is only commonsense that they do not share it with the general public, or even people inside their own group without a need to know.

    The secrets of ninjutsu are not known to the public, nor necessarily people who study martial arts. There are a few historic scrolls and tomes about ninjutsu, but even these were often written after they were at their height and the author's even admit that what they are writing is just the tip of the iceberg and that the real high level practitioners were unfathomable to even them.

    If you haven't studied any traditional Japanese arts, it is very difficult to comprehend what that study entails and means. Unless you can read Japanese, in particular kambun, you are not qualified to have an "academic" discussion about ninjutsu or Japanese warfare from pre Modern Japan. Perhaps if one has read all of the books on the topic that are in English and all of the theses that pertain, one could get close, but without such a background, such exploration is difficult enough to be impossible for the average person. I know a professor here who can read kambun and who's research deals with Nara and Heian period Japan, but that doesn't even begin to make him able to understand and research ninjutsu.

    There is no historical evidence that ninjutsu was an influence before the late 15th century. Yes there are mentions of different people who are considered to have been "ninja" before that, but looking at the scope and practice of historic Japanese warfare will show that there wasn't much need for ninja. Also, without studying the history of the Iga and Koga regions(not much out there in English), you cannot understand how and why ninjutsu arose there. As Japan began fragmenting and local bands of warriors got bigger and began to control more territory, you now had a need for knowing what the other guy was doing, thinking, building, etc. so that is when ninjutsu came into its own. Constant warfare and the unstable political situation created its heyday. So look there if you want to know about ninjutsu and know that its focus and practice changed when Japan was unified. It didn't die out, but morphed into something else.

    If you are interested in the kata found in Togakure ryu or Koto/Gyokko ryu, you can buy a video that shows them and some of the principles of these arts. But beyond a brief introduction, you will be hard pressed to get any information. Also, most kata in recognized extant ryu come from the Edo period, with very few schools being able to prove their roots in Sengoku period warfare. Anything prior to that is pretty hard to piece together.

    Good luck.

    ps- I will add that I've lived in Japan and trained in the Takamatsuden for over 10 years now and I don't consider myself anywhere near an expert on ninjutsu. There are a few Japanese people who make such claims but nobody from an academic background is making such claims.
    Last edited: Dec 4, 2014
  20. The Iron Fist

    The Iron Fist Banned Banned

    Hey man I finally learned how to use the "Quote" feature correctly.

    Right pretend for a moment I have read way too much Japanese history (in both English and some Japanese), I also have a great love of shall we say certain fiction (I really love to read and learn new literature and languages (and how they formed), brother). That's what I intended I have spent most of my time reading books in libraries, not training in Ninjutsu even one day. I research, read really old papers and even pieces of stone...it's not exciting work by other people's standards. Ninjutsu is a way for me to push a few boundaries and unexplored places, let us leave it at that!! On to the Q&A!!

    I understand but again maybe our use of "academic" differs I mean I have spent a majority of my life studying the Asian cultures (not just Japan but India and several others), but my key interest has always been not just feudal but pre-feudal Japan and its quite terrible record of war.

    Now we are talking turkey I am very familiar with the works of the Zhou dynasty! I did not however realize until your post the connection between Japanese ninjutsu and Sun Tzu....thanks!!!!!!!!

    Can you begrudge me at least what kind of secrets? I am more interesting in the ontology of our discussion than training in the art :))))

    Hey man I am not only hip to kanbun but also to PREhistoric Japan. It makes things tougher to deal with when there is almost no writing at all but hey I manage :))))

    You are "the man" thanks!! Sorry I have been gone so long but I often read stuff for weeks without going on the internet.
    Last edited: Dec 23, 2014

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