Contrary to popular belief, the ninja’s martial art is not merely a blending of conventional “styles” of martial arts. Many people believe that if you mix the striking and kicking of karate with the throws and joint locks of judo and jujitsu, and then throw in a sword and some throwing stars – and presto! You have a Ninja warrior. In truth, nothing could be further from reality.
In fact, many of the modern, conventional martial arts that we know of today, have at their foundation, the same skills and subsystems which still make up the Ninja’s armed and unarmed combat methods used today!
Where the new wave of mixed martial artists are doing just that – mixing skills and techniques from different martial arts to make up for perceived lacks in any given system – the ninja’s combat arts are a unified system of common principles and concepts that naturally fit together and operate as a cohesive whole.
Where MMA fighters have to contend with often contradictory principles picked up from different so-called “styles,” the ninja does not have to worry about this problem. Where the mixed martial artist has to work through the problem to get a hard-style to mesh with a soft one, without giving away his intentions or strategy, the true ninja is free to move from technique to technique without the need to change “styles” or fear of giving anything away.
While ninpo-taijutsu, the unarmed combat method lying at the heart of ninjutsu, appears to just be a mixture of skills and techniques, in truth it is actually made up of 3 general sub-arts – each with it’s own specializations. These sub-arts, or skill-sets, can be used as-is, or chosen and applied in response to the attacker’s own techniques and intentions.
These sub-arts are:
1) Daken-Taijutsu – Daken means “striking.” So this is the Ninja’s striking arts. Again, rather than just being limited to one way or “style” of doing things, the ninja’s dakentaijutsu striking methods are made up of the sciences of koppjutsu (“bone breaking skills”), koshijutsu (‘using the fingers and toes to strike and tear the assailants muscular system), and others.
2) Ju-Taijutsu – Often translated as “grappling arts”, the kanji for ju in the name ju-taijutsu, actually means “soft.” So this is the Ninja’s “soft body skills.” The predecessor to what was to later become jujitsu, the ninja’s jutaijutsu focuses on the skills of throwing, pressure point attacks, joint locks, etc.
However, the common mistake when thinking about the above 2 systems is to assume that there is no grappling or throws in dakentaijutsu, just as there isn’t any striking in jutaijutsu. When in reality, these two arts are suggesting 1) overwhelming an attacker with striking (dakentaijutsu), and… 2) using strikes to set up the skills for controlling, restraining, and tying up your assailant (jutaijutsu).
3) Taihen-Jutsu – This is the ninja’s skills of body movement. Taihenjutsu means “body-changing skills” and is the general classification or heading for such skills as the ninja’s unique methods of walking, running, rolling, climbing, etc.
Again, the misconception is to confuse the ninja’s taihen skills with those of gymnastics, when in reality, the reason for doing the skills in each is very different. Where the gymnast can do the skills at his or her own timing, the Ninja must execute his roll, body shift, or leap in direct response and timing to his assailant’s attack!