Ninja Religion: A Response

Kokeshi

Sorry... couldn't resist!

I received an interesting comment on an earlier article I wrote about Bujinkan Ninjutsu becoming a registered religious organisation and have decided that since it raised many interesting issues it deserved a proper reply. So here goes:

Firstly I would like to ask who the critics of the Bujinkan are and the sources that you have for their arguments against the Bujinkan? Not because I don’t believe you, it seems totally plausible criticism but I would like to know the source of this reference as you do not specify.

I have been involved with martial arts for about 10 years first practicing Wing Chun Kung Fu then Muay Thai and currently I’m training in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and Judo. I also served as the president for the Thai boxing and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu sports societies at university so I have quite a bit of personal experience with martial arts communities and criticisms and discussions of other arts are common in such communities.

However, my main source for the arguments against the Bujinkan I presented is the large martial arts discussion forum ‘Martial Arts Planet’. I have been a member there for over 5 years and over the past year or so I have also become involved with moderating the site. At first I moderated the religion and the Thai boxing forums but for the past few months I have also took over moderating the Ninjutsu forum. As a result, I have read more discussions about Ninjutsu than probably most practitioners have and many of those discussions have revolved around criticisms. So that is the source from where I draw the criticisms from.

I would like to point out as well that not every Bujinkan club is the same. All martial arts coaches, trainers sensei etc. have very different ways of teaching and aims in mind for their students. All Bujinkan dojos operate under Hatsumi ultimately but many have very different feels to the training and a different atmosphere. You could compare this to a government funded high school or secondary school. Just because they all run to the national curriculum it does not meant that every school has the same set of ideals and ethos. Bujinkan dojos, just like most other established martial art dojos, are similar to school in this this way.

I appreciate that there is much variation amongst Bujinkan clubs and this is a point that people responding to criticisms often raise. I think it is a valid point but at the same time I also think that it is still possible to talk about general trends in training.

For instance, a point that many critics raise is that almost all Ninjutsu videos available online display techniques or training being performed in a choreographed non-resistant manner. There may be schools were strong resistance is the practiced but I think it is fair to comment that this does not seem to be the norm. I am however by no means attempting to deny that Bujinkan schools differ widely as it’s quite clear they do.

I think your comment that it’s a ‘crazy world’ because there is a martial art of the Ninja reveals that you have a bias against a martial art of the Ninja (as opposed to other arts). Jiu jutsu is the martial art of the samurai (the Japanese army), karate was a martial art practised by Japanese peasants, epee sword fencing is the martial art that was practised by middle class Western men when they wanted to solve a dispute or defend themselves.

I think you took my comments too seriously. I’m actually not particularly surprised there is a martial art that claims to be based on the techniques of the ninja as I am well aware of the huge diversity in martial arts and that there are many arts claiming to preserve ‘ancient’ fighting systems.

I am aware however that, outside the enclosed world of martial arts, many would consider it odd that there are people in the modern world who actually train in a martial art system based on the ‘ninja’. I would also add that what makes Ninjutsu particularly odd to non-martial artists and even to some other martial arts practitioners is that ninja’s have a particularly mythical image and a deep association with fantasy both in the West and in Japan. Telling someone from Japan that you practice Ninjutsu would more often than not lead to a bemused smile but if you told them you practiced karate or Jiu Jitsu they’re unlikely to bat an eyelid… Ninjutsu is not common and it is considered by most to be more the stuff of anime than the stuff of martial arts schools.

All these arts and more are practised today and I have never encountered any criticism against them (interested to hear from those who have). What is so unrealisitic about a martial art derived from the practises of Japanese assassins (often used by the Japanese army) and guerilla fighters?

Well, the first point I think critics would raise is that there is not very strong evidence that what is taught in Bujinkan has any connection with what the historical ninjas trained in. The second would be that if you are not training the system realistically i.e. with realistic resistance then the legitimacy of the source material would not matter because you will be unable to apply what you have learnt effectively if someone resists. Thirdly what was suitable for medieval Japan might not be at all suitable or appropriate to apply in modern societies i.e. using swords for self defence.

Regarding religion in Japan: I have read (source The Rough Guide to Japan, context section) that until quite recently in history shinto was not regarded as a religion by the Japanese. As they were isolated from the rest of the world, they did not need to distinguish their religion from anyone else’s and so they just saw it as something they did as natural as eating with chopsticks and most people having black hair and dark eyes in that country.

The problem with this is that Japan was not as isolated as it is often believed. For instance, it had extensive trade and cultural interaction with its Asian neighbours particularly China and Korea. As such, the Japanese were well aware of other religions from an early stage and it is almost certain Buddhism was known of prior to its official recorded introduction in 552CE. Its image as a closed country is largely due to the policies enacted by the Tokugawa shogunate to isolate the country which began in 1639 and lasted roughly 200 hundred years. However, even this event contradicts the suggestion that Japan was oblivious to other religious traditions as in large part the isolation policies were enacted to prevent Christianity from spreading across Japan.

Therefore religion does not have the same context and connotations in Japan as it does in Britain today. The distinction between religion and ninjutsu has been made for western practitioners of the art not for the Japanese in my opinion.

Western people observe diversity in their country in a different way to Japanese people who have less diveristy and absorb difference in religion rather than emphasise it (by which I mean they may have buddhist regalia alongside shinto etc. without observing any conflict.)

You are right that religion does not carry the same connotations in Japan as it does in Britain (or in the rest of the Western world for that matter) and indeed the Japanese religious system is often noted for its non-exclusive nature. So for example, it would not be unusual for an individual to have a celebration held shortly after their birth at a Shinto Shrine, get married in a Christian wedding and be cremated in a Buddhist funeral when they die.

However, I would be careful about over emphasising this point as many Japanese religions actually DO stress that they should be followed exclusively. Their practitioners generally do not heed such instructions but still it does somewhat contradict the image of totally cohesive religious systems. The effects of the Meiji period’s enforced distinction between Shinto and Buddhism also has had some long lasting effects.

Regardless of all that though an important point I feel that needs to be recognised is that Japanese people are also, by and large, indifferent to religion and most polls put levels of non-belief at around ninety per cent despite continued high levels of participation in religious ceremonies. In fact I would even suggest that most Japanese people tend to regard religions, especially new ones, with suspicion. This is in part due to the legacy left by the Tokyo subway gas attack perpetrated by the new religion Aum Shinrikyo and also partly due to the levels of corruption within the traditional religions which are widely reported in the media.

So the overall point is that converting a martial arts organisation into a religious organisation would not be considered normal by most Japanese.

I think this goes some way to explaining Hatsumi’s decision but in my personal opinion, it does not bother me either way.

You’re entitled to your opinion and I welcome the feedback, but I do not believe that Hatsumi’s actions are adequately explained by reference to the Japanese religious system. Making a martial art a religious organisation does happen but it really is not that common.

What has influenced me to reply in this vein is my hatred of ignorance and my desire to give those reading your blog the fullest possible picture of your subject matter. I hope that this doesn’t offend or upset any readers or the author but only serves to give people all the facts they need to find more information if they are interested or just to be aware that there are other factors in play in this situation.

I’m glad that you offered your reply and I hope this more detailed response clarifies my positions a bit better.

If you are interested in getting more information about Japanese religions I strongly recommend the following books:

(1991) Ian Reader: Religion in Contemporary Japan.

(1998) Ian Reader & George Tanabe: Practically Religious- Worldly Benefits and the Common Religion of Japan.

Both offer excellent introductions, are written in an engaging style and also contain first rate scholarship.

The Japanese Journal of Religious Studies also has a huge range of interesting articles stretching back to 1974 that can all be read online.

P.S. You may also be interested in reading this post wherein I touched on the issue of whether it is justified to say that ‘religion’ is a western category that doesn’t apply to Japan. I think this is a topic I might address in more detail shortly.

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13 comments

  1. Hi there, This is an interesting topic that you have chosen to start your blog in. Perhaps a synergy of your obvious love for martial arts and your passion (perhaps?) for religious discourse (as an atheist that is). I have read your original post, the reply to Anon and the extended reply as well as your other posts in your forum and what strikes me is that you seem to base a lot of your opinions on internet chats and discussions. You seem to think that browsing though the web is doing research (as opposed to observation, interviews and repetition) you probably even think that Wikipedia is a valid source of knowledge. So it seems to me that you are a sifter; someone who reads a lot online and then summarizes what they read whilst trying to be quirky and sound smart. Please don’t take offence, is my opinion. So, if you let me, I will answers some of your own comments regarding the original post.

    I agree with most that Anon said except that you present an unbiased view. From your own replies you say that you have practiced martial arts for years. Most of them competitive martial arts as you said you did Tai boxing and jujitsu/judo. You also moderate the Martial arts planet forum’s ninjutsu pages. So of course you are biased, you would naturally favour your own style of martial arts over others. And if the only source of knowledge you have about the bujinkan is from webchats and somebody else’s opinions then you would have a very biased view. It is unfair for that matter to speak about something you have never experienced. Have you ever been to any dojo? Have you been to all the dojos? Have you gone to seminars, trained in Japan, been explained the concepts? Of course not. You probably think that any martial art that doesn’t require you to wrap your legs around another man is a waste of time and not worth trying out. The point I’m trying to make is that you should have the integrity to base your opinion on your own experiences instead of believing somebody else’s. If you are serious about proving me wrong, there is a guy in London called Simon Yeo. He is 10th dan in bujinkan (I think) and 4th dan in BJJ (I think). He was personally asked by the gracies to tour Japan with them a few years ago teaching BJJ in Japan. Go to him and ask why he trains and teaches both.

    Also, you made a comment about viewing some youtube clips regarding the Bujinkan and how it seemed to be choreographed. Well, it will be interesting to see the clips, could you post a link perhaps? (I bet you haven’t seen all videos on youtube, try Bujinkan Argentina, or Moshe Kastiel to try a few.) What you call non-resistent is in fact non-competitive, that is, people train in drills repeatedly to gain muscle memory of the technique. These drills are also design to introduce and train in concepts of distance, angles, timing, target, weapon and movement. You cannot teach drills or basic concepts whilst punishing them on the ground all the time. Do you think the army’s drills in dismantling, cleaning and re-mantling of their weapons is ineffective because they don’t do it under live fire?
    There is a number of “techniques” in the Bujinkan that are used for condition only and are not meant to be used “exactly” the same way on a real live conflict, which is why some people assume they are ineffective, only when you understand their purpose can you actually see their usefulness. You mention you trained in MMA, have you ever heard of a MMA who was asked by the FBI to teach at their headquarters in Quantico? Have you ever heard of an instructor who was repeatedly asked by the British, American, German governments to teach their military? Has any MMA instructor been knighted by the German government for their services? They wouldn’t have asked Hatsumi sensei’s instruction so many times if his system was ineffective.
    Moving on, I have a problem with your definitions of Religion and Cult. I browsed your blog to see if you actually tackled this issue somewhere else. You came close on your article of Japanese Religion but you reverted into claiming that superstition equals religion (which it doesn’t). If the definition your working with is “religion is a system of beliefs in spiritual beings….” Then Buddhism is out because it doesn’t believe in a pantheon, Shintoism is out because is not really systematic. It could also be defined as “belief that plays an important role in people’s choices and lifestyle” but then you could apply this to football clubs, political parties or even weight watchers (atheism could also be defined as a religion by the last definition, although you probably would cringe at the thought). My point is you have to have a clear definition which to work from, which you don’t. Your use of the word cult aswell is basic at best. In your original post you give a list of reasons why some people believe the Bujinkan is a cult, although you do say that the word cult could be made to fit any organization so kudos on that. But then you lose objectivity by accepting the statements as correct… without challenging their origin or bias or nothing. You say that the Bujinkan has Hatsumi sensei as the focus point which is cultic. Well have you ever heard him talk? He talks on and on about his teacher Takamatsu sensei transferring the focus to him. You see, the reason why people focus on Hatsumi sensei is because he is their teacher and so focus goes up the ladder (a vey Japanese custom). You also fail to mention that cults by nature are exclusive with a strict set of guidelines, practices and beliefs. The Bujinkan doesn’t even have a curriculum….

    So now to the point of the matter, your original post is about the Bujinkan becoming a religion. Well, this is not true, the facts are that the Japanese government are expanding their railroad system and have planned a line exactly where the Bujinden currently is. So, in a very Japanese way, Hatsumi sensei is using this problem as an opportunity to create a headquarters for the wordwide Bujinkan. This new venue will be a training hall, studio and Ninja Museum where Hatsumi’s vast amount of ninja and samurai collection can be displayed. In this venue they will also build a shrine and thus making it a religious site. The Bujinkan therefore will manage this site and thus become a religious administrator not a religion. There are a number of reasons why this had to be done, first, Hatsumi sensei has no children so in the case of his death the government will cease all his possessions. Also, without an actual headquarters, in the case of his death the Bujinkan as an organization will be liquidated. However, with a religious site to it’s name then the Bujinkan as a whole avoids these.

    Now I know a lot of people are moaning that they will have to pay for it, but that is all together another issue. I hope I have made my point without offending you or anyone else. If I have criticized anything here it is not you as a person, but your methods and objectivity. Feel free to reply.

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  2. Daniel there is alot to respond to there so excuse me if it carries over more than one reply.

    First I have to say that I find your response in it’s passive aggressive nature to be rather typical of a group of Bujinkan practitioners with whom it is difficult to have productive discussion with. I’m willing to give you the benefit of the doubt for now but I suggest that if you want to actually have a discussion it would be a good idea to leave out the childish insults such as “You probably think that any martial art that doesn’t require you to wrap your legs around another man is a waste of time and not worth trying out.”

    Second as to my sources of information. You are correct that I am drawing most of my information about the Bujinkan from online sources and I have freely admitted this above. I do not however think that this makes the information worthless it just means you have to carefully assess the reliability of the statements you read, which I do. As for being ‘a sifter’ in this case that is a fair assessment. My intention was to provide a round up of the various arguments being made for and against the Bujinkan becoming a religion and to offer my own thoughts on the topic.

    In regards my own thoughts on the subject they are drawn partly from my experience with martial arts but more substantially they are drawn from my 5+ years of research into Japanese religions. And I do not agree that not having trained in the Bujinkan makes one unable to comment on Hatsumi’s decision to register it as a religious organisation.

    Staying on the topic of religion you make a series of criticisms of my portrayal of religion. Citing that I have not defined ‘religion’ or ‘cult’ very clearly. This is true but you are wrong to assume that therefore I am working from simplistic definitions and am unaware of debates over how exactly you define a religion. I have a degree in Study of Religions so as you might imagine I’ve addressed this topic at some length during my studies… it was however not the main topic of the post at hand and so I didn’t feel the need to go into great detail on definitions.

    You are also wrong on your assertions concerning Japanese religion. 1. There are detailed pantheons in most forms of Buddhism and 2. Shintoism is a variable religion but almost without exception it involves the veneration of kami which are indeed widely understood as ‘spiritual beings’.

    As for the Bujinkan becoming a ‘religious administrator’ actually a ‘shukyo houjin’ (which is what Hatsumi has indicated he hopes to get the Bujinkan registered as) is better translated as a ‘religious organisation’. You are correct that it is not the same as becoming a religion in the Western sense but I made the point clearly in the original article. Also, the arguments you present as to why this is an unavoidable necessity were also discussed in the original article and as I indicated then I don’t find them particularly compelling.

    There are other ways to get round Japanese inheritance task than becoming a religious organisation. It simply isn’t as common or as unavoidable as supporters of Hatsumi’s decision like to contend.

    I’ll deal with the more martial arts related comments in a different reply.

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  3. Now, about my bias. Certainly I have my views about martial arts and I enjoy the arts I train in but I am not the ideological fanatic that you seem to believe.

    For instance, I am well aware of numerous problems with training purely in BJJ such as a lack of striking, a reliance on gi based chokes and grips, a general lack of emphasis on takedowns, certain leglocks and kneelocks being illegal until higher grades and so on. I enjoy BJJ and I think it has good points so that’s why I train. Before I trained in BJJ I knew much less about it than I do now however I was able to identify these problems and recognise how the training was carried out through discussions (online and offline) and seeing videos of training.

    As such I find your argument that it is impossible to have any opinion on a martial art until you have trained in it extensively to be unconvincing. I had never trained in Judo until a few months back and yet I found the classes to be exactly as I expected.

    On top of this many of the Bujinkan’s critics are actually Bujinkan members or ex-Bujinkan members who also have often been involved with Ninjutsu training for long periods of time. So even if I was to accept your dismissal of my opinion, your argument doesn’t hold up as to why their opinions should not be considered.

    In regards to training with the Bujinkan, I don’t have any interest in this as I already have enough time taken up with BJJ and Judo. I would like to visit a class sometime just to visit but I really don’t see why you think this would significantly change my perspective. For one Bujinkan schools are notoriously variable so basing my views of the entire organisation based on the few schools in my local area would be a bad idea. The schools could be unusually good or unusually poor and either way it wouldn’t contradict the widely recognised problem with standards in the Bujinkan. And again, this isn’t just my opinion as there are many Bujinkan members who complain frequently about the proliferation of crappy schools.

    Also, in regards to naming instructors that have worked with military/police this is a frequently heard argument for EVERY martial art that receives criticism and it remains extremely uncompelling. There is a US army general who is instigating battlefield acupuncture at this very minute but that doesn’t make acupuncture any more valid as a treatment. It simply reflects the fact that an individual in the army has faith in it. This is also the case with martial arts being taught to members of the police and the army.

    Oh and Simon Yeo is not a 4th dan in BJJ he is a brown belt. This is a very high grade and undoubtedly Simon is a tough guy but this bears no relevance to any of the points I’ve made in any of the posts. I’ve trained with guys who did Ninjutsu who are tough and proficient at groundwork. This does not take away from the fact that a lot of Bujinkan training across the world seems to be highly choreographed. It’s either that or only highly choreographed training groups bother filming themselves which is possible but very odd. Especially since their are highly choreographed demonstrations with Hatsumi and 13th dans.

    As for the comments on resistance when training: Compliant demonstrations, drilling and even very light resistance training are of course necessary components of all successful martial arts training. They are in my opinion not enough on their own however to enable one to develop effective skills which can be practically used against a resisting opponent. For that, you need to have some form of sparring/resistance training.

    Anyway, this is all getting very long now so I’ll stop here but I think it’s worth noting that practically every single argument you raise has been discussed over and over on MAP. This to me is a clear illustration of why you are wrong to dismiss online discussion forums as sources of information or opinion. The exact arguments you are making have all been debated in depth by high ranking and low ranking Bujinkan/Independent and Non-Bujinkan practitioners. I and many others have never found them compelling and I continue not to do so.

    I expect there is no hope that we will ever agree on most of the issues above but I do appreciate you at least taking the time to offer your thoughts. I’ll leave it up to others to read our respective comments and judge for themselves who is in the right.

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  4. Chris,
    Im impressed on how quickly you answered my reply. Over 1300 words in less than 24 hrs. Impressive. I don’t have much time to answer with another extended reply so I will just reply at parts I deemed need clarification.

    “I’m willing to give you the benefit of the doubt for now but I suggest that if you want to actually have a discussion it would be a good idea to leave out the childish insults such as “You probably think that any martial art that doesn’t require you to wrap your legs around another man is a waste of time and not worth trying out.”

    Common man… it was only a friendly poke. You’ve gotta stop taking yourself so seriously.

    “And I do not agree that not having trained in the Bujinkan makes one unable to comment on Hatsumi’s decision to register it as a religious organisation.”

    I am not contradicting this, I am putting a question mark on your assesment of Bujinkan’s efficiency not on your freedom to criticize the Bujinkan or Hatsumi sensei.

    “I have a degree in Study of Religions so as you might imagine I’ve addressed this topic at some length during my studies… it was however not the main topic of the post at hand and so I didn’t feel the need to go into great detail on definitions.”

    Again I wanted to highlight the theoretical assumptions and pitfalls you were dealing with, but you haven’t actually corrected them. You simply state you are aware of them… (huh)…. Oh could I ask, as a side matter, what are your qualifications and on what subjects (just interested).

    “Shintoism is a variable religion but almost without exception it involves the veneration of kami which are indeed widely understood as ’spiritual beings’. “

    In respect to the Buddhism claim I made, I was mainly referring to Zen Buddhism as I understand it after reading Watts and other authors. But I stand corrected regarding the pantheon system in wider Buddhism. I beg to differ on the shintoism comment, though, I know Kami which is a generic word for god in Japan involves veneration, but they do not entirely fit with the western concept of a personal god. They are in most cases related to a specific location and an specific custom. Thus not necessary a ‘spiritual being’ as much as a sacred place. Similar to the wakas in andean cosmology. Anyway, my point was that Shintoism is not systematic.

    “As for the Bujinkan becoming a ‘religious administrator’ actually a ’shukyo houjin’ (which is what Hatsumi has indicated he hopes to get the Bujinkan registered as) is better translated as a ‘religious organisation’. You are correct that it is not the same as becoming a religion in the Western sense but I made the point clearly in the original article. Also, the arguments you present as to why this is an unavoidable necessity were also discussed in the original article and as I indicated then I don’t find them particularly compelling.”

    This is a very good point that you are making here and I can see from your reply you are readed in the subject, be it online read it at that. But to me this alone makes your ORIGINAL POST unnecesary and infactual as you started with the title of a NINJA RELIGION, but here you are saying that it is not a reigion per se but an organization….so my question is why choose this topic and why the title?….. if you yourself acknowledge that it is not so.

    “There are other ways to get round Japanese inheritance task than becoming a religious organisation. It simply isn’t as common or as unavoidable as supporters of Hatsumi’s decision like to contend.”
    Fair enough, but you don’t give any examples….. is this just your opinion or do you have evidence?

    “Now, about my bias. Certainly I have my views about martial arts and I enjoy the arts I train in but I am not the ideological fanatic that you seem to believe.”

    Neither am I, I have trained in 4 other styles and in Toshindo, Genbukan and BBD. All of which were highly critical of the Bujinkan and the standards in the Bujinkan. My point is that I have made the effort to have first hand experience in the subject. I am not learning from forums or other people’s opinions.

    “As such I find your argument that it is impossible to have any opinion on a martial art until you have trained in it extensively to be unconvincing. I had never trained in Judo until a few months back and yet I found the classes to be exactly as I expected.”

    I didn’t say extensively, only to sample them. And I can’t see your point regarding judo as if it were different from Jujutsu… one came from the other.

    “On top of this many of the Bujinkan’s critics are actually Bujinkan members or ex-Bujinkan members who also have often been involved with Ninjutsu training for long periods of time. So even if I was to accept your dismissal of my opinion, your argument doesn’t hold up as to why their opinions should not be considered.”

    Again, it is their opinion regarding a school they left for whatever reason. Of course they are going to be extra critical of a system they chose to leave. You will find that most people or dojos don’t leave the Bujinkan because of standards, syllabus or real life training. Mostly they leave because of money… either they want to make money for themselves or don’t want to pay money to Japan.

    “The schools could be unusually good or unusually poor and either way it wouldn’t contradict the widely recognised problem with standards in the Bujinkan. And again, this isn’t just my opinion as there are many Bujinkan members who complain frequently about the proliferation of crappy schools.”

    This to me is the key here, that western people can not comprehend a style that has no standard except the one you place on yourself… yes I agree the basics in a lot of schools are poor… but it is up to the individual practitioner to perfect their style and find their weaknesses.

    “I’ve trained with guys who did Ninjutsu who are tough and proficient at groundwork. This does not take away from the fact that a lot of Bujinkan training across the world seems to be highly choreographed. It’s either that or only highly choreographed training groups bother filming themselves which is possible but very odd. Especially since their are highly choreographed demonstrations with Hatsumi and 13th dans.”
    I agree that some clips are laughable but again your assertion on the style itself based on these is unprofessional at best. Oh and by what you mean choreographed you will find Hatsumi sensei is showing waza.

    “As for the comments on resistance when training: Compliant demonstrations, drilling and even very light resistance training are of course necessary components of all successful martial arts training. They are in my opinion not enough on their own however to enable one to develop effective skills which can be practically used against a resisting opponent. For that, you need to have some form of sparring/resistance training.”

    I couldn’t agree more… The ability to know when to use technique is in my opinion what sparring is for. The ability to gain the proper distance, timing and angling is drilled all the time in Bujinkan training. Hatsumi sensei and the shihans (those who are worth the title) will constantly teach that you mustn’t do waza, but instead feel your opponents actions to be able to control the fight. So I agree sparring/resistance training is a key part of martial arts and a good dojo will haveit. I know we do.

    “This to me is a clear illustration of why you are wrong to dismiss online discussion forums as sources of information or opinion.”

    This to me is a clear illustration of a poor research desing. You have but one (biased) source, of course the outcomes are going to be skewed. A good desing would entail a sampling of the subject matter and three or four different sources. What you are dealing here is insider epysthemology theory, that is, the ability to know something only from within. Although I don’t agree you can only know something if you are within it. Martial arts is more than knowledge, it is an experience and you know this… It is not possible to learn a martial arts style ala Matrix.

    “I and many others have never found them compelling and I continue not to do so. … As for being ‘a sifter’ in this case that is a fair assessment. My intention was to provide a round up of the various arguments being made for and against the Bujinkan becoming a religion and to offer my own thoughts on the topic.”

    You have mentioned that you the arguments uncompelling a few times here which makes me think that you have already made you mind up, so there is no point in trying to argue with your opinions and no ammount of evidence will change your mind so I agree that we leave it at that. After all it is your blog and you can write anything you want on it. I for once rather spend time with the kids or on training. As for being a sifter…. I hope you are not happy with only that… as I rather have my own thoughts and original ideas than other people’s. My last point will be this: shut up and train….. do you get it?

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  5. Daniel,

    Prepare to be suprised even further as you receive yet another punctual reply. I’m not one for being entirely serious but your tone came across as insulting in parts with a veneer of politeness which is why I suggested dropping the insults. Anyway, I’ll try and keep this reply shorter so you don’t get too bored!

    Working from the bottom up, yes I train quite a bit and have not yet had to ever face the choice of blogging or training so don’t worry about that and yes, I have opinions of my own, referencing other opinions doesn’t preclude this. I suggest reading the rest of the blog or having a look round the martial arts forum I moderate MAP (my username is CKava) if you want to have a look at my opinions in greater depth.

    As for MAP being ‘a single biased source’ I think that’s an odd way to look at a site with over 38,000 registered members from a whole range of different martial arts however even setting that point aside the debates on MAP have pointed to individuals and independent websites/blogs/clubs etc. etc. including those owned by current high ranking Bujinkan members. So unless you regard ALL information available online including those from Bujinkan members as a single biased source I think your comments are off. Oh and current Bujinkan members are also criticising this development so saying it’s only folks who are holding a grudge after leaving doesn’t work either.

    Next up, having an opinion on martial arts without training in them. Judo was one example, I started MA in Wing Chun and then moved on to training in Thai Boxing, training was as advertised online, same thing goes for BJJ and Judo. Wing Chun is not like Thai Boxing and Thai Boxing is not like BJJ yet I had a good idea of what went on before taking part. Being involved in martial arts you also tend to have a pretty good idea of what other martial arts are about especially when engaging in discussions about them frequently. It’s not a replacement for personal experience but you don’t need to experience everything personally to have an opinion or discuss others views.

    The title and my relevant qualifications:
    BA in Study of Religions took a variety of courses on Japanese religions historical and present.
    MA in Social Anthropology with a major in Japanese society and culture and my MA dissertation looking at a New Japanese Religion operating in London.
    Next year starting at Oxford doing Cognitive & Evolutionary Anthropology and intend to make my PhD research focus on Japanese religions.

    I chose the title Ninja Religions because a) it’s a funny title, b) it’s about Ninjutsu and it’s status changing from a martial arts organisation to a religious organisation and c) the title Leader of the Bujinkan decides to register his organisation as a Shukyo Houjin wouldn’t make sense to most people. The blog was not intended as a martial arts blog so simple is better. It was also not meant entirely seriously.

    The religious questions are slightly off topic and as you can see they are something of a personal fascination so I apologise in advance if the reply gets dull and over long here:

    Re: Shintoism and kami. Yes they do not necessarily MAP onto the traditional Christian concept of a deity as they are often associated with awe inspiring locations/natural formations. This does not however invalidate the fact that Shintoism has detailed pantheons of deities and most shrines do in fact have specific deities they venerate all with different associations. As for Shintoism not being systematic it depends what you mean they do now have a central Shrine organisation which most famous shrines belong to and which issue doctrinal guidelines and fund research into Shintoism. Similarly, State Shinto was certainly systematic and it’s influences on Shinto shrines can still be keenly felt in many places.

    Re: Zen Buddhism and it’s lack of a pantheon. Almost every form of Zen Buddhism also includes a pantheon of supernatural beings in it’s doctrines. The popularisations of Zen prominent in the West via Alan Watts, DT Suzuki and so on are not particularly accurate representations of the tradition in Japan or it’s history. They portrayed Buddhism as an atheistic, rationalistic belief system largely in order to attract Westerners and to show that Buddhism was more compatible with science that Christianity.

    Re: Using the term religion. I believe it is justifies when referring to Japan because the arguments associating ‘religion’ as only fitting with Christianity are not compelling. The term shukkyo (and others) denoting ‘religion’ was used in Japan long before Christianity arrived and on top of that if you go back and look at the introduction of other foreign religions such as Buddhism from China it is clear that well before Western interference Buddhism was recognised as a religion. The arrival of Buddhism in Japan actually inspired Shinto to become more ‘religion like’ i.e. priests began creating texts, doctrines, pantheons and so on. Those arguing that ‘religion’ doesn’t mean the exact same thing in Japan are correct but I don’t see why it should or why that makes the word unsuitable. It’s only unsuitable if you think religion is one and the same as ‘Christianity’… I don’t.

    Ok sure that’s too long now. Anyway, hope I answered most of your questions and I agree we arent going to see eye to eye. I’m not deaf to compelling counter arguments but the arguments you are presenting I’ve already heard and they haven’t substantially changed my opinion on the matters I have been discussing. I’m not however a die hard critic of the Bujinkan, I simply think that some of the criticisms made against it are valid and that the explanations offered to justify Hatsumi’s decision to register it as a religious organisation are usually off target.

    Anyway, off to bed now got training tomorrow!
    Good night!

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  6. 1:30 am answer….. do you ever sleep mate : ) You make some good comments there specially regarding the religious horizon in Japan. I understand now why you chose such a topic to start your blog, as you obviously feel comfortable in addressing this topic from your academic training. Your insider epistemology bit is still sketchy though, in my opinion. You can know about something…. That doesn’t necessarily mean you know “it”. But nevertheless, it is only a small point out of many that we don’t agree. I have a similar academic background to yours , BTh and Mth in theology with a major in Catholicism, but my MA was in Sociology… Sociology of Religion at that. Your PhD Dissertation seems to be very interesting good luck in that. You’ve got my email so if you want to discuss further drop me a line…. I really enjoy arguing intelligently about things…

    now get a life and stop replying at 1:30 in the morning ….

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  7. “I enjoy arguing intelligently about things…”

    Agreed 🙂 I’ll maybe drop you an e-mail at some point but feel free to leave any comments on any other post I really do appreciate feedback even when it’s negative!

    I think I’ll be posting a longer post shortly about ‘religion’ and whether it’s a concept that applies to Japan that you may find interesting!

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