Majority of the Japanese Martial Arts & Traditional Sword Arts have documented founders and births which can be traceable to the 1500’s. However the art of Ninjutsu reaches back over the Millennium dates prior to history of the famous elite Samurai Warriors.
The roots and origin of the art of Ninjutsu and the legendary Ninjas are shrouded in ancient myths and very few documentations and records have survived and compiled till date. In order, to remain alive the Ninja guarded their secrets jealously, by remaining anonymous by which they could succeed in their operations. Around 500 B.C. a book of War “Sun Tzu” written by a Chinese General Sun Wu used by the wandering priest became instrumental in the birth & was known as “Ninjutsu”.
Initially Ninjutsu was regarded as merely an unconventional way of handling situations for danger protections. The Art which later came to be called as “NINJUTSU/NINPO” (the higher order), eventually became a highly systematic and scientific method of Combat. It had begun as a counter culture upheaval due to Japan’s political, economic, social & military traditions. Ninjutsu as an art being studied and taught, but the Ninja families and clans as we know still did not exist. Around 522 A.D. Japanese priest traveled to China to study Buddhism brought with them Chinese culture and military science, including spying & subterfuge which nourished the art of Ninjutsu.
Recorded documented lineage dates 6th. Century where a Mountain priest “Yamabushi” the Warrior monks originated in the region near Mount Hiei, used spies to settle civilian disputes. They refined the techniques due to religious wars and were forced to fight against heavy odds, made use of the knowledge in Ninjutsu and developed into a fine art. These priests were not violent people, they were mystics who gathered and shared information from the ruling classes, and they became followers of the secret knowledge known as “Mikkyo”. It wasn’t until 645 A.D. that this priest perfected their skills and used this knowledge to practical use when they found themselves being harassed by central government and they found it necessary to protect themselves.
Civilization flourished around (794 – 1192) known as the Heihan period was considered to be the Golden Age of Japan, where wealthy families like Fujiwara, Minamoto, Taira and Sugawa fought with one another. The need for spies, informants and new assassins grew as these families dueled for power and as they were jealous and suspicious of another they would resort to any means to eliminate any possible threats. Therefore the practioners of Ninjutsu were in great demand as the art firmly established and boomed during that time and Ninjutsu became refined in the basic form that is known today. It was during this time that one of the areas of Japan’s Iga province close to Kyoto completely devoted to this fighting art under the leadership of Hatori Clan, who had learned the art from the Mountain priests, thus laying the foundation of Iga Ryu school of Ninjutsu and thus Ninja was born.
The period ( 1192 -1333) known as the Kamakura period proved to be the golden Age of Ninjutsu, as there was constant conflict internally all over Japan, for the Warlords fought for political power, thus provided a perfect set up for the young talented Ninja. Many schools of Ninjutsu sprang up in Iga and Koga provinces, where Iga Ryu & Koga Ryu consisting of over 50 families.
The Kamakura period also saw the rise of the samurai Warrior class of Japan, and the study of Martial arts now became of paramount importance. Each Ninja Ryu’s were specialized and known for its particular techniques or the weapons they carried. Their own particular brand of espionage and use of certain weapons characterized these families or clans. Eg. The Koto Ryu were famous for its Koppo Jutsu ( Bone breaking) techniques, the Fudo Ryu for its Shuriken ( Star shaped throwing )techniques, the Kusonoki clan for its espionage techniques and the Togakure Ryu were famous for its adoption in shuko and tetsuibushi ( climbing claws & caltrops). Their specialties were clouded and were closely guarded secrets and each family handed down through generation their knowledge to members of their own family.
Budo schools were established to train the Warrior class of Samurai and Ninjutsu were studied to produce secret agents for the feudal society. The Ninjas were counter culture to the Samurai. The stronger the Warrior class grew, the greater the need there was to make the Ninjas. As ninja gained in popularity, so also did the stories of their superhuman activities and abilities. This reputation was encouraged and propagated by the Ninja themselves. The Ninja being a small family and vulnerable to attacks by the surrounding warring families used every advantage to out think them, taking advantage of the beliefs that they were gifted with amazing powers such as becoming invisible at will, jump over several buildings, turn into an animal and fly etc. Thus they became very effective and were in great demand.
With the introduction of Zen & Buddhism, the Samurai were emphasized and forced to follow a rigid Code of Bushido (The Way of the Warriors) devoted to military virtues such as the code of honor, courage, self discipline and living & dying by the Sword with no fear of death. The Sword was the Soul of the Samurai and they used it often with great expertise, their motto was to do or die, cut & strike, and would commit seppuku or hara kiri ( ritual suicide) by cutting open their stomach with their sword if ashamed or strayed from their code of honor. In contrast the Ninjas followed no such code of honor as rigid as the Samurai Warriors class, as they were below the status of a Samurai. Thus freed from this rigid code of honor to get the job done following no rules and regulations in handling things, would and could use anything to their advantage, the whole idea was to win at all cost by using any and all means.
Over the centuries the Ninjas trained from cradle to grave in every known Martial art. Their forte was espionage and assassination by every possible means. Their training taught them to reach spiritual heights by pushing their body and minds to limits far beyond that of normal human endurance. Their training began as soon as they could walk, their childhood games were designed to make them an expert in unarmed warfare and combat, sword work, various weaponry, escaping, camouflaging and evasion techniques. In time they became feared through out Japan. They practiced their art in secrecy and taught only amongst their own families living in the mountainous regions of Iga and Koga provinces. Because of their exceptional skills they became feared warriors and tacticians. The Warlords who employed them were deemed to be powerful and dangerous.