First published in "Bushido" and the "DOJO Newsletter"
During the few years that I have studied under the guidance of the DOJO- Academy of Martial Arts, I have found that the popular view of Ninjitsu is nowhere near reality. In order to correct this, I went straight to the top for the best information I could get. Ashida Kim, author of a dozen books on the subject and master of the Invisible Fist, graciously accepted my request for an interview, and here I am. The following excerpts from our dialogue are what I considered to be the most interesting and relevant pieces. I have only edited what I felt to be unclear, and have made no attempt to alter the original meaning.
AM: Many people consider Ninjitsu to be a joke, with no redeeming qualiues. Obviously this is based on lack of information. What do you consider to be the purpose of Ninjitsu?
AK: The purpose of Ninjitsu is to preserve the ancient knowledge and pass it on to future generations. This has been true since its inception, which can be traced back to the Pole Star School of China.
AM: Then slowly the mystic way of the Ninja migrated eastward to Japan. Have branches of the Pole Star School surfaced elsewhere?
AK: Virtually all civilizations have a legend of the end of the world, such as the Great Flood of Biblical proportions, and the Chinese are no exception. And, just as in the Bible tale, the few that survived did so by taking refuge on the highest mountain peaks on the planet, the mysterious Himalayas. In fact, Shangra-La, the kingdom and domain of the Dalai Lama (before it was overrun by the Chinese), is a valley surrounded by an encircling mountain range, a huge bowl somewhat protected from the ravages of even planetary floods, and was quite likely the first area repopulated by the survivors of the cataclysm. It should also be recalled that Noah was the founder of the Mystery School of Knowledge which was later to preserve the wisdom of the Egyptian civilization. This knowledge was considered ancient and hidden even in the time of Moses, and was based on the teachings of one Hermes Trismigistus; reportedly a 300 year old monk who taught the Sumerians agriculture, medicine, and astronomy. So too, the founders of the Pole Star School, who realized that kings and empires rise and fall and that only the wise rulers should be privy to the ancient secrets; so they do not use them to oppress their people, as Princes are wont to do. Thus, acupuncture, martial arts, philosophy, magic, and mysticism were preserved by the Pole Star School and handed down to those who seek to follow the Way of Peace and Harmony. Among these, as you know, are the Ninja.
AM: Many historians claim that Ninjitsu faded out after the sixteenth century, its necessity gone with the unification of Japan. Still, rumors abound of the existence of several Ninja schools around the world. To make matters even more confusing for the lay person, author Stephen Hayes boasts that his 'Shadows of lga' group is the only 'official' Ninja family in the world, being sanctioned by the Japanese government. What do you have to say about all of this?
AK: Contrary to what some so-called experts have said, Ninjitsu did not 'die out' in feudal Japan. History records that the Shogun Tokugawa tried desperately to destroy it by having his massive army attack the relatively small number of family clans who practiced the Art of Invisibility in the Koga and lga provinces, and killing every man, woman, and child found living there. But, like other dictators who tried such techniques as mass extermination of their 'enemies', they did not succeed. There are always a few survivors, and any attempt at such genocide merely provides them with a strong and lasting motivation for harder training to extract their revenge.
Ninjitsu, the Silent Way, has always been a covert art, often hidden under the guise of more common and routine daily activities. The tale is told in many martial arts systems that when they were outlawed under one regime or another that those skilled in the martial arts techniques simply converted their kata, or practice forms, into folk dances; thereby being able to practice them at the frequent festivals of medieval times in plain view. So too with the Ninja.
Further, since much of their esoteric training was of a mental or spiritual nature, it could be taught and practiced in rituals and ceremonies, and secret one-to-one meditation; this was often at night under the cloak of darkness. And since Ninjitsu was derived from Chinese techniques practiced by their own secret societies, like a tree that has been pruned or transplanted, the roots do not die, and new buds spring forth, replenishing and continuing the growth such ancient arts have always enjoyed.
(Special Note) By the way, what kind of foolish ninja would license himself with any government? If and when the Silent Way is banned again, guess who will be the first to go!
AM: Please tell us more about the DOJO.
AK: The DOJO- Academy of Martial Arts is the name of a martial arts fraternity descended from the ancient masters of the Pole Star School. Its members practice a variety of martial arts, from Tai Chi Chuan, to Shotokan and Tae Kwon Do, to Ninjitsu. All paths lead to the same summit of the same mountain of knowledge, therefore we make no claim of exclusivity, or that we know it all and no one else has any inkling or smattering of knowledge. We have never called anyone a fake or a fraud, because we do not place ourselves on a pedestal and pass judgment on others. All are seeking the same thing, who are we to say that one way is the only way? To do so limits our thinking and may even prevent us from leaming the very key needed to attain our goal.
(Special Note) As I have said, Ashida Kim, the subject of this interview is ranked as a Master and Regional Director of DOJO for North America. A mystic soldier of fortune, mercenary, and intelligence operative (or spy), he has written twelve books on the Art of Invisibility. In his spare time, he has also accepted the role of Grandmaster only because of public interest and the need for someone to lead the membership. He was selected from a host of qualified applicants by the Grand Council of Nine, each of whom hold sway over their own continental territories, much in the same way a new Pope is chosen to head the Catholic Church.
AM: How can someone join the DOJO, or at least find out more about it?
AK: There are two ways to gain admittance to this esoteric fraternity: a) present credentials from a reputable Sensei in any martial art or military combat style; or b) videotesting, in which the applicant presents a demonstration of his chosen style or system for evaluation by our Review Committee. He or she will then be a qualified expert in self defense, equal to any other Yudansha or Black Belt. Inquiries may be addressed to The DOJO, P.O. Box 209, Lake Alfred, FL 33850-0209.
(Special Note) But of course, it's anyone's guess as to where Mr. Kim actually lives!
AM: On the lighter side, what do you think of the current popularity of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles?
AK: The current popularity of the Mutant Ninja Turtles is a reflection of America's need to regain its balance, as was the popularity of the spate of Ninja movies and the TV series the Master with Lee Van Cleef. Each generaton has explored the ancient mysteries through some alien culture that has preserved them. The recurring fascination with Hindu Yoga techniques is a good example. Ninjitsu represented to many the magic and mysticism of the Orient, just as Kung Fu and Karate did in their turn.
The concept of using the mind to overcome an adversary, of secret powers known only to a few who practiced long and diligently has always had a fascination for those on their personal quest for enlightenment.
The turtles were alien, a product of nuclear contamination, which was the prevailing fear of the 1950's. Now many have turned that fear, expressed in such motion pictures as Them, about giant mutant ants, to a more rational and acceptable, even humorous concept. Especially in light of the fact that we did not extinguish ourselves in a nuclear holocaust as so many had predicted. It demonstrates that mankind has learned to live with that fear, just as we have with all advances in weaponry; like the Crossbow of feudal English times, which was supposed to make warfare so brutal and hideous that it would disappear from the face of the Earth. Or, the musket and gunpowder that promised the same hideous fate.
The Master of the Ninja Turtles, Splinter, a man transformed into a mutant rat, was not only able to deal with his mutation in a rational way, but also able to retain his humanity through the practice and study of Ninjitsu; and even pass it on to his pupils, the Turtles. He expressed it perfectly in the first movie when he said, 'Ninjitsu is not about fighting, it is about Invisibility...' pointing out that it is not a system of combat at all, but a pathway to higher spiritual growth and knowledge; as explained in the previous section on the Pole Star School.
Such a sensei, a teacher, is worthy of respect, as demonstrated by his students, and a role model that appeals to the large class of young men in America who have found themselves lost in a morass of loose morals and hypocritcal laws, devoid of any direction or definition of their place in the tribal structure of humanity, as Joseph Campbell would express it.
Further, the Turtles themselves are special, elite, and possess covert power that must be hidden from the 'normal' world. Yet another powerful incentive to follow them for those who feel outcast, downtrodden, and disenfranchised, as most teenagers do at some point in their development.
Plus, they are a force for good in the world; doing great deeds, saving nubile young maidens, fighting against the disfigured Shredder and his interdimensional ally who seek to take over the world in each episode. And, they have a sense of brotherhood, of loyalty to each other in spite of their diverse personalites, which they accept in each other without question and without trying to change each other. A bonding sorely wished for by most teens, who usually find such expression in gangs or peer groups. Also, they are sexually neutral, being mutants, they have no one to mate with; another expression of loneliness and separation. Just like being forced to live in the sewers, out of sight of the real world. Lastly, they have power, each a specialist with his own chosen weapon, providing a diversity of role models to emulate.
The writers and artists are familiar enough with the tenets of Ninjitsu to have their stories conform to the classic conflict motif; so they are heros.
DISCLAIMER: BUSHIDO is a publication of the Feudal Japan SIG, a special interest group of American Mensa, Ltd. Opinions expressed herein are the opinions of the writers, and not of American Mensa, Ltd.[Edted 5 Oct 2005]