Martial Arts

Ninja Religion: A Response


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.


The Invention of Martial Arts

Judo Throw

Eric Hobsbawm and Terence Ranger are two Marxist historians famous for promoting the concept of the ‘invention of tradition’. This concept is based around a Marxist inspired analysis of traditions which questions the validity of any assumption that they are timeless edifices created organically and haphazardly. Instead, Hobsbawm and Ranger contend that in reality ‘traditions’ are often relatively modern constructions created in the service of specific agendas and hence are ‘invented traditions’.

This concept was originally applied by Hobsbawn, Ranger and their co-authors in 1983 to the ‘invention of traditions’ in an European and, in particular, a British Colonial setting. In 1998 however the Mirror of Modernity edited by Stephen Vlastos was published which comprised of a collection of articles looking specifically at the ‘Invented traditions of Modern Japan’. There were many interesting and quite suprising topics covered in the articles and I hope to address several of them in future posts but the one I am interested in examining now is Inoue Shun’s examination of Judo and it’s role in ‘the invention of the martial arts’.


The Religion of the Ninja

Rather than bother with a long winded philosophical ramble about my motivations or an indepth exploration of the deep personality flaws that undoubtedly underly my entrance to the blogging world I thought I would jump in at the deep end and kick things off with a discussion of the topic at the heart of almost all religious debates… ninjas!

Lest the infamous ability of the internet to eat sarcasm comes into effect I feel I should duly acknowledge that ninjas, although featuring prominently across the internet, are by and large absent from debates surrounding religion. However, this could all be about to change due to a recent announcement from Masaaki Hatsumi, the current head of the largest Ninjutsu organisation around today; the Bujinkan.