Moving Like a Ninja
The martial art of To-Shin Do is an up-dating of the ancient art of Japan’s ninja. 1500s Japan had its own distinct culture, legal system, social formation, ways of moving, and codes of morality – all quite different from those of 2020s America. I took the practice forms and guiding principles of historical ninja taijutsu and adapted them to better fit the 21st century in the West.
Modern attackers use a distinctive approach to causing trouble. They have a predictable verbal lead-up. They move quickly and erratically, throwing looping punches and ducking in for full body takedowns. Street scrappers are likely armed with a knife, if not a handgun. In YouTube videos, we see street attackers in gangs swarming a lone defender. This is all so different from classical Japanese fighting situations.
The goals, form, and appearance of high level To-Shin Do do not differ from classical ninja taijutsu. We grow beyond reliance on speed when we learn to apply timing. We advance beyond crude power when we learn to utilize leverage. We no longer rely on complex technique once we grasp perceiving what our attacker is trying to do and going with it to defeat him. These are training goals of To-Shin Do as well as the historical ninja’s taijutsu.
The original Togakure ninja were intelligence gatherers. Their goal was to find out what an enemy was planning, and then get their findings back to their superiors. As an intelligence gatherer, the last thing a ninja would want is to have cover blown and then have to fight with those who made the discovery. To defeat an adversary would draw everyone’s attention to the fact that a spy had gotten into their midsts.
Today, To-Shin Do training purpose and methods are very different from most other martial arts that emphasize willing competition to defeat an adversary. We aim to get out and away with the least amount of effort.
In the beginning stages of training, however, we do allow students to believe in speed, power, and technique. One, this is what most people expect when studying a martial art. And two, this is all that most people are capable of in the beginning.
After a few years of practice, students gradually come to appreciate the sneaky subtleness of timing over speed, leverage over power, and responsiveness over set techniques. One, they recognize how much more effective smart fighting is over crude struggling. And two, they now have more experience allowing them to move with the more advanced approach.
After even more years of practice, To-Shin Do students see themselves as “above, looking down” on the fight as a whole. They know what a conventional fighter is likely to do, and they are able to fit in in such a way that their attacker gives them the means to defeating them. At this stage, the To-Shin Do student needs less energy, and yet the results are definitive. This skill only comes with years of experience in chaotic and ever-changing practice scenarios.
Decades into the training, students are able to embody the Togakure Ryu Soto Tonko no Kata approach to fights, amusingly translated as “escaping rat method”. At this extreme level of skill, the student is able to feel the attacker’s movements at such a subtle level that he or she can effortlessly blend and actually lead the attacker to defeat through knowing exactly what they are trying to make happen.
So, in the beginning, we allow students to use their muscles and some tension to get things done. It is what they are capable of, it makes sense to them, and they really are incapable of the more advanced movements anyway. Fitting what they expect is a good idea in the beginning. But eventually they are supposed to leave high school, move on to bachelor’s degree, then a master’s degree, and eventually a Ph.D. You’re not supposed to keep repeating elementary school.
As they progress in To-Shin Do training, they mature in their skills, and adapting to the attacker’s movements becomes a more reasonable thing to do. By the time the student reaches older age through decades of training, skills have progressed to where the little-effort ways just naturally mirror the reduced energy of older age, and yet provide an increasingly amazing ability to handle violence.
Contrast this skill and age parallel progression with more athletic martial arts, such as judo or kick boxing. In those arts, skill levels definitely give way to age, and most retire from active cutting edge performance by early middle age. With the unusual To-Shin Do system, based on the ancient ninja combat method, age is no barrier. Indeed, the older one grows, the more effective he or she becomes.