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By Jikishin Kobudo, Apr 9 2014 12:00AM

It has been stated by academics that the ninja (忍者) are a misrepresented phenomenon. Some writers assert that peasant ninja-clans are the work of romantic fiction and Ninjitsu as an art is a modern invention. Those who practice Ninjitsu object to this, and refer to certain historical texts that served as training manuals (such as the ‘Banshenkukai’ and the ‘Ninpinden’), as providing the legitimacy for claiming a continuous line of knowledge transmission from the past to present day.


From an independent viewpoint, evidence strongly supports the notion that “ninja” is simply a term that was sometimes ascribed to spies and covert military operatives throughout Japanese history. It is by no means an exclusive term either; other terms found within historical literature include Kyodan, Mitsumono, Shinobi, Yato, Monomi, Rappa, Kussa, Nokizaru and Suppa, all of which describe the same or similar type of person. In fact, ninja as a term is scarcely found in Japanese historical documents.


Whatever the true history of covert operatives in Japanese history may be, what is interesting for Okinawan martial artists is that many of the weapons associated with the “modern ninja” are also found within the practice of Kobudo. Is this simply because the ninja are proposed to have been peasants and therefore would have characteristically used non-military tools and weapons? Or could there be some connection between Okinawan martial artists and the Shogunate spies?


All writers agree that covert military techniques in Japanese history appear to have their origin outside of Japan and many point their fingers towards China as the source. This is predominantly due to the influence of Chinese military authors such as Jiang Ziya (姜子牙) and Sun Tzu (孫子) who specifically identify methods for selecting and training covert operatives in their writings. However there is also another area of consideration, the islands of Ryukyu.


Ninja are classically associated with the Edo period (1603-1867), this is when they first start to appear in artwork, become more prevalent in literature and their legend most often dramatised. This is precisely the period during which the Ryukyu kingdom was attacked, Okinawa was invaded (1609) and subsequently assimilated into the wider Japanese political landscape. It is well discussed that Okinawan martial arts were at their zenith during this period in history and firmly established that their fighting techniques and strategies were heavily influenced by the Chinese.


There are some Okinawan martial artists who reputedly claim their ancestors were employed by Japanese generals due to their martial arts skill. There are also Japanese who claim descent from ninja clans who also have links with Okinawa. If we observe traditional Okinawan dress we can see many similarities between this clothing and Edo period depictions of ninja. Perhaps most implicating however, is that the traditional weapons of Okinawa Kobudo are those associated with the ninja.


Ed: Nowhere in translated literature has the link between the “Ninja” and Okinawa been made. Though this area is significantly under researched, to the best of the author’s knowledge, it has never been witnessed, documented nor asserted.



By Jikishin Kobudo, Jan 31 2014 12:00PM

Though mainland Japan celebrates the new year in accordance with the solar calendar, many Okinawans hold true to their Ryu-Kyu traditions of celebrating new year in accordance with the lunar calendar. This is one example of how Okinawan culture remains close to that of the Chinese.


A tradition at new year is for the Okinawan people to take fresh water and use this to wash either themselves or to bless their property or possessions. This is called Wakamiji or "Young water".


The new year is a time of transition, during which the Okinawan people say goodbye to the fortunes of the previous year and get excited about the prospect of good fortune for the coming year. It is a time for families to come together and it is the most important of all festivals.

By Jikishin Kobudo, Sep 27 2013 11:00AM

We are fortunate to practice martial arts amongst one of the largest collections of arms and armour in the world, at the Royal Armouries Museum in Leeds, England.


One of the objects on is display is exhibit XXVIM.17: Listed as a Chinese parrying weapon. The weapon is steel and measures 48.9cm in length. Its shaft is octagonal and the hilt is very sturdy.


The exact age of this weapon has not yet been determined, but we believe it to be at least one hundred years old. This weapon was purchased from a collection of South and East Asian weapons in the second half of the 20th century.


At the moment we are investigating as to whether this item is Okinawan or indeed Chinese and would welcome the thoughts of other martial artists with experience in this area. The item can be viewed at the museum inside the Oriental Gallery.


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