Imagining guys running around in black pajamas and swords, disappearing in a puff of smoke? Well let’s start with a proper… non Hollywood idea of what the Ninja were… or are… and then see what we can learn from them.
Today we have this image of the Ninja as evil assassins sneaking around Japanese castles and killing under cover of night. What most people don’t know is that the Ninja were simple farmers, priests and shopkeepers who were forced out of Japanese society and hunted by their own government. They were the ultimate survivors. In fact the word Ninja in old fashioned Japanese translates to “the person who overcomes”.
Early in Japanese history a Samurai General named Daisuke Togakure lost a battle; and as was tradition in Japan his master ordered him to kill himself and ordered that his family be stripped of all title and land. Instead this Samurai General chose to survive. He fled his home with his family and went to live in the wilderness. Now an outcast being hunted by his own government he was forced to re-invent his understanding of combat. Togakure met up with some Chinese immigrants who had fled the massive wars going on in China. Their knowledge of battle tactics, medicine and technology from all over the Asian main continent helped Togakure form what would become one of the earliest and oldest traditions of the Ninja. (This is just a rough and quick version of the oral history of the founding if this tradition) There are many other traditions of Ninjutsu but they all are similar in that they contain a philosophy of life which values surviving and overcoming or “persevering” and which leads to a simple life style with a very alternative method of self defense. The philosophy of the Ninja stood in opposition of the Bushido code of the Samurai which contained a strong class structure, and espoused suicide as a noble and honorable ideal. To the Samurai the Ninja were dishonorable, evil creatures who had no right to live… the Ninja just wanted to be left alone to live their lives as they saw fit. Enough for my quick history lesson, for more information on the Ninja I recommend the book Ninjutsu: History and Tradition by Dr. Masaaki Hatsumi.
As a person who has studied and practiced this tradition for several years now I have found some great principles which are a guide I use in life and in my preparations to continue life. In all of my training and all of my study of the Ninja culture as it existed hundreds of years ago and as it exists today I have found five principles that seem to apply to the Ninjas secret to not only survive but to thrive. Here I plan to lay out a quick example of these five principles and how we may learn from them to protect us from things to come.
Principle #1: Strong and clean spirit
The Ninja were mostly followers of Shinto or Buddhism, however their traditions have strongly embraced members of many faiths and as a devout Christian I have found this to mean a strong relationship with my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. The Ninja speak of attaining an unfettered mind; that you should know who you are at your deepest core. Life should be spent learning, knowing and practicing what you are. This done in everyday life gives an unfettered mind and leads to good decision making under even the worst situations. With a strong foundation in Christ and a daily relationship with him, I find that when hard decisions come I have no trouble knowing how to proceed or at least knowing where to get my answers. This leaves me with a mind and heart which knows what is right and able to act upon it, not getting bogged down in the heat of the moment. When TSHTF it helps to already know in your body, mind, and soul what to do.
Principle #2: Utility.
While the Samurai prided themselves on beautiful swords passed down through their family for generations and body armor decorated with family crests and religious icons the Ninja often used little more than modified farming implements as weapons. This was in part because of the ban on civilians owning or carrying swords… (we can learn a lesson here) but also because of the principle of utility. To the Ninja they were not mere weapons, but rather everything was a tool. A Ninja didn’t pride himself on a fancy sword; instead he would make a sword which like all of his tools served more than one purpose. His other commonly used weapons were converted farming implements. One great example of a converted farm implement turned multi tool was the Kasuragama. It was essentially a small hand held sickle about 3 feet long used for harvesting grain. Sharpened with a rope or chain attached at the end, at the end of the rope was a heavy iron weight. This was used to tie up or entangle an enemy, and then the sickle blade would be used to finish them off. Most of the Ninjas weapons served many uses… sort of like an ancient Leatherman tool. Another example would be the Kunai. This tool started as a small shovel or trowel and was adapted to be used as a dagger, throwing blade and was even used to saw holes in walls for clandestine missions. Also for consideration were the Tekagi-Shuko which were iron bands with spikes on them worn on the hands and feet used for climbing trees and walls, but they were also used extensively as a hidden weapon which was both lethal and able to deflect or catch a sword. Sure the Ninja would have never turned down a fancy ray skin and ivory Katana, but he would usually be found with a much cruder instrument. Much as I am sure a Ninja would have loved to own a fancy piston driven AR-15 but would have likely found more use and value in an FN/FAL or AK.
Principle #3: Simplicity.
As I said earlier the Ninja were mostly farmers and merchants, but they could be found in all levels and aspects of life. There were even some Ninja amongst the ruling class of Japan at one time. What was common amongst them was that they strove to live a simple life. Both historic and modern Ninja rarely had lavish homes or castles. Rarely were known to frequent parties and social events. Instead they lived simple lives enjoying the things in life which were of true value. Simplicity permeated all aspect of their life. Often a diet of simple, healthy home grown food was eaten. With this simplicity in lifestyle one also becomes more in tuned to your own environment, able to notice small changes in weather and even understand nature on a closer level. Rarely did the Ninja draw attention to themselves. Instead of going off to become famous warriors and have grand adventures most Ninja lived quiet lives in their villages and trained diligently in their fighting arts; not for glory, but simply as a means to protect them and their families from the outside world. OPSEC was a large part of this simple life. When the majority of the country you live in wants you dead why would you want to announce your presence and tell the whole world that there is a village full of trained warriors living here? This shows that an entire community of people can live their lives every day just like everyone else, yet still prepare and train. The rest of the world didn’t know then and they don’t need to know now.
Principle #4: Community and Self-Reliance.
Contrary to what some may argue community and self reliance are not mutually exclusive ideas. The Ninja were experts at having a community OF self reliance. The Ninja often lived in very close nit villages and towns where they worked and trained together so as to provide everything they needed and thus insulate themselves from the rest of Japan. Today we have been trained to think that community means reliance upon others, but who decides where our community ends and who we are to be reliant on? If we were to think in terms of a community of self reliance, perhaps in our churches and neighborhoods we could go along way to change our nation in a better direction. Instead of thinking its all about me and my preparations we should look to find a group of like-minded people with similar moral values and help each other work and train to provide for our every need locally. (Mr. Rawles has expounded this idea for many years, and I say it’s a sound principle wherever it comes from and can be applied to far more than just a retreat group.) This could go along ways even in our own neighborhoods and churches to insulate us from the insanity which is happening to the rest of the world. Imagine you belonged to a church or lived in a town which took no federal subsidies, grew its own local food and had a strong tradition of tradesman and craftsman industry… how bad would a collapse of the dollar and international economy be for you then? Not good for sure but a lot better than what your looking at now.
Principle #5: Fluidity.
Absolutely essential to the fighting style and even day to day life of the Ninja is the principle of fluidity. The Ninja fighting style involves five principle ways or feelings of combat. Each one represents an element of existence and grants almost a personality to your movement and technique. Examples are fire, a strong hot burst of energy cutting through an opponent or earth, the stable and immovable feeling of power. The five elements (earth, wind, fire, water, and the void) are not in themselves all powerful; it is the Ninjas ability to transition from one to the other and combine them in response to any situation which is essential. This fluidity was not just expressed in the elemental forms of combat, but instead is the fundamental difference between the Samurai and the Ninja. The Samurai followed set in stone techniques and movements. Memorize enough movements and you will have one for every situation. The Ninja started when they had to adapt and abandon old ways; this flexibility allowed them to meet all situations and adapt their techniques to any situation. A fundamental idea in the Ninja philosophy is not to have expectations of what will happen, but instead to be ready for and deal with whatever comes. Work towards your goals but adapt to the outcomes as they happen, don’t get caught in a frustrating loop of things not going your way and reacting with the same effort every time. We prepare for a myriad of predicted situations, financial collapse, martial law, foreign invasion, civil unrest, tyrannical dictatorships or natural disasters. We should not have categories of tools and utensils for each scenario all stored in labeled lockers and sealed for that day. We should have basic tools which will work in any situation. Tools which serve multiple purposes and can be adapted to anything we need.
There are many things we need to be prepared and I pose we can learn from the Ninja just what we need. We can use the five elements to know what we need to have in order to flow from one situation to the next.
WATER: Just as water feeds life and contains a power in both its ability to draw away from and crash back onto anything, to slowly erode a mountain, feed the tallest tree; we need the essentials of life. Food and water, staples which will allow us to pull away from society in crazy times or from a disaster; then crash back into the world to effect proper change because we did not have to corrupt ourselves or compromise our morals to obtain the basic necessities of life. Having extras of the basic staples of life also can allow us to slowly erode the negative influences in the world around us by being able to help those in need. When a friend or neighbor loses a job or goes through a personal tragedy having extras allows us to help, possibly preventing them from becoming dependent on a corrupt system of entitlements and government dependency.
EARTH: Strong foundations in faith and community allow us to stand like a rock against the corruption and destruction around us. Drawing strength from our foundations in the lord and our ability to stand on our own can enable us to be the rock upon which the golden hordes can wash upon with no effect. Earth also is the principle in which our retreats and our property can give us strength. It is the foundation in this world from which we draw strength. Having our own land, untouched and uncontrolled by the outside world allows us to have a foundation which can not be corrupted; to remain in our communities and to hold our morals untouched by the rest of this corruption we see around us today.
FIRE: Fire is our arms, our brute force through firepower.
“Before a standing army can rule, the people must be disarmed; as they are in almost every kingdom of Europe. The supreme power in America cannot enforce unjust laws by the sword; because the whole body of the people are armed, and constitute a force superior to any bands of regular troops that can be, on any pretense, raised in the United States" -Noah Webster
The Ninja as with all people of Japan were disarmed by the ruling elites, however the Ninja refused to comply, instead they fought back. There is a time in life when life can only continue to exist through the direct application of violence. Fire comes in a burst of violence, heat and action. It is emotional, but not un-controlled. Fire also represents our passion, the passion which makes us act. It is the burning sense of right and wrong which protects our very soul from the corruption of the world. When the world around us descends into chaos it is this passion for justice which will separate us from the looters, not just our stockpile of food.
WIND: Wind leaves us aloof, it represents the lighthearted sense of security preparedness gives us. Knowing that you can not be harmed by a grid down situation, or a food shortage; knowing that you are ready to take on armed bands of looters, or able to provide medical aid to a family member. This is the goal of every prepper, and with it comes a feeling that you can flit through life untouched like a leaf blowing in the wind. This feeling does not come from having stockpiles of dry beans, nor does it come from an arsenal of guns and bullets. This feeling comes from the training we seek. Having beans and bullets does you no good without the ability to use them and the confidence which comes from training. The feeling of being un-touchable effects your very movement and every aspect of life. Being self reliant, with your own business and self sustaining property gives you this confidence and allows you to take stands politically and economically without fear of losing your job or being evicted from your home if you oppose the powers at be.
THE VOID: This is often a difficult concept. In a sense the void is entirely what preparing is. The void is the sense that anything can and will happen. On one hand it is the knowledge of all potential dangers and the ability to handle them. On the other hand it is the ability to react with anything, having every tool in your toolbox so that you can react and adapt in any way necessary. Basically preppers have a stereotype, a reputation for being the crazy guy sitting in his basement full of food and guns with a frying pan for a helmet declaring the end is near. Where the void can help is in the idea of not being an idea. Not being anything in particular, be void of form. Don’t fit a stereotype; don’t buy tools or equipment because you are told it’s the cool prepper thing to do. Void means that your entire life is intertwined with the principles of survival preparation and you live the way you believe. Prepping isn’t just something you do, it is a part of who you are and in everything you do. You do not have the form of a prepper, you’re just prepared.
I have done my best in this article to both educate you about the medieval survivalists of Japan and to point out lessons we can learn from their approach to life. I am by no means an expert in the subject, but I have brought to you my understandings. I hope that this has been a great help for you. If you are interested in this subject and would like to pursue it further I strongly encourage you to do so. There is so much that the Ninja of our modern world can teach and can give you for your survival preparations. To learn more I suggest you seek a group called the Bujinkan.