What is Ninjutsu Really?
Ninjutsu is actually a term for a class of martial arts. In modern times, terms such as Karate or Judo are familiar to most Americans. Historically, martial arts were known by the name of the specific school of the art (also called a Ryu or Ryuha in Japanese), and that name usually contained some phrase indicative of the nature of the training in that school. For example in the school name Koto Ryu Koppojutsu, the term Koppojutsu refers to the type of the school, in this case, Koppojutsu roughly translates to “bone breaking method”. Other styles are Koshijutsu, Jujutsu (also called Jutaijutsu), and many others. The term Ninjutsu technically is one of these terms and describes a class of martial arts characterized by a particular approach to martial matters.

Sadly, of the many schools of Ninjutsu known to exist historically, only three are known to survive to this day. All three of these schools: Togakura Ryu Ninjutsu,Kumogakure Ryu Ninjutsu, and Gyokoshin Ryu Ninjutsu are part of the Budotaijutsu taught today by Masaaki Hatsumi. It is important to keep in mind however that historically there were very many Ninjutsu schools. Other teachers have, over the years, claimed secret lineages to these schools. Unfortunately, none of these teachers have been able to authenticate these claims, and most have been debunked as frauds.

What is the connection between Ninja and Ninjutsu?
The term Ninja literally means something like a practitioner of Ninjutsu. But in modern times, this is not so useful a concept. Most people who train in Ninjutsu, would not describe themselves as Ninja – and regard the term largely as an anachronism. This is because Ninja implies not only a body of skills, but also a profession, and complex historical and political context which made being aNinja a necessity – or at least a practicality – in Medieval Japan.

How do I know that this is the real thing?
In the 1980’s it became very fashionable to have a ninja in every movie. Ninjas appeared on TV, movies, comic books, sometimes as space aliens, turtles, or even hamburger delivery men. Ninja were very cool. As a result, countless martial arts teachers set about describing what they were doing as Ninjutsu, in order to attract students who were taken by this Ninja boom. Over the years, one by one, most of these famous Ninja people turned out not to really know much more about Ninjutsu than what they might have read in a book, or at best, learned from the Ninja Museum in Japan (yes, there really is a Ninja museum and it is quite an interesting place – albiet a little campy), and whose martial arts background was in other Japanese or even Chinese and Korean martial arts.

It is natural to ask then, if all of those people were frauds, why would one believe that Masaaki Hatsumi is not a fraud. The simple answer is that martial arts lineages are passed on from teacher to student, and from master to subsequent master. The voracity of a claim of lineage is mainly backed up by two things: authentication of that person’s teacher, and authentication of that teacher’s right to claim himself the master of a particular school. In Soke Hatsumi’s case, the former is well established, through a trail of photographs, letters, and other written documents. The latter is traditionally accomplished through Densho which are scrolls listing (among other things) the sequence of masters, and handed from one master to the next. Soke Hatsumi has made available to many people the opportunity to view and authenticate the Densho which he recieved from Toshitsugu Takamatsu.

Will I learn to kill people?
Bujinkan Budotaijutsu is from a class of martial arts now usually called “Koryu”. The Koryu are old style martial arts, from a time when “martial” really meant “military”. In the course of life as a professional soldier, one needed to do many things, which included resolving complex situations. Killing is not always the appropriate method of resolving even a military matter. Having said that, a soldier’s responsibility is to know how to apply force when force is needed, and in whatever quantity is needed to defend himself, his family, and his country.

Will I get hurt?
Training in the martial arts has some inherent risk associated with it, it would be naive to think otherwise. Having said that, good and proper training, in a good martial art with a good teacher, should not be a cause of constant injury. In Koryu martial arts where one is studying the real thing, one must train with great care. How to train in complicated and potentially lethal matters without becoming injured is in fact one of the hallmarks of the Koryu arts. In many modern schools, such as Judo or sport Karate, the arts themselves are designed for sport, not to do great bodily injury. Thus, like a sport, people are often careless, or driven by the needs of competition to perform in such a way as injury results. It does not take a great leap of logic to understand that a military leader can not afford to have his troops training in such a manner that they arrive on the battle field already injured or crippled. Even beyond this, schools in which students spend much of their time injured are schools in which they spend a lot less time training.

So to sum up, training is inherently dangerous. But unlike other dangerous activities (motorcycling, rock climbing, cliff diving) those involved are well aware of the danger, and the lineage of teaching is largely about how to study these dangerous topics without becoming injured.

Is there a height, weight or age requirement for the classes?
We do not have a hard limit on age, but we do require that students under 18 years of age make sure that one of their parents come to watch a class with them and we usually talk with the parent before starting to teach minors. Usually, we do not accept students under 16 unless they are training with an older relative, such as one of their parents or in some cases an older sibling.

For height and weight, we have no particular restrictions. If you are particularly heavy, in the sense of being substantially overweight, much of the training will be difficult for you in the beginning. Having said that, we try to train each student individually and in a manner appropriate for their body. Bujinkan training is about teaching real people how to operate in the real world. As such, there is no “right” body type for training. The method of training should teach you to understand your own body, and use your natural form in a way which is effective and beneficial to you.

So what do I do if I want to start training?
All perspective students are asked to come and watch an entire class from beginning to end before starting training. Our training is not for everyone, and this should be no suprise. All martial arts are different, and some arts, as well as instructors, are better suited to one body type or temperment than another. If, after watching a class, you would like to join the training, take a moment to talk with one of the instructors, and come back the following week for class.

Do I have to buy a lot of expensive stuff to train?
No. You can start training in comfortable clothes. As we train outdoors however, these clothes will tend to get stained by dirt or grass, and you will want to get a Gi (training uniform) soon. We strongly recommend a heavy weight Gi, and it should be black. It will probably come with a white belt, depending on where you buy it. Many suppliers in the area or on the web sell Gi, and you should be able to get one suitable for training for $40-$50. As your training progresses, you will also want to get weapons to train with, but simple training weapons, such as Bokken (wooden training sword) are readily available for only $10-$15.

Do I have to sign a contract?
No. We do not do anything like that at the Dojo. Our training is about learning, sharing, and a love for the martial arts. It is not a business. If you are interested in training, that is wonderful. If, at some point, you decide it is not for you, then you can stop at any time. Modest monthly dues are collected at the beginning of every month.

What is with the ranks in the Bujinkan? The head instructor is listed as 10th Dan, are there higher ranks? What does this mean?
The Bujinkan uses a Dan ranking system similar to many other Japanese martial arts, as well as other Japanese systems. (Did you know that Go players use a Dan ranking system too?) In the Bujinkan, there are 10 Dan ranks, ranging from 1st Dan (the first Black Belt Rank) through 10th Dan. The rank of 5th Dan is particularly signifigant in the Bujinkan, as it is associated with a special test administered only in Japan, and is the required rank to teach and operate ones own dojo. The rank of 10th Dan has several “interior grades”, these are called Chi, Sui, Ka, Fu, and Ku. These are awarded subsequently to the 10th Dan itself, so if you like, you can think of these as five more Dan ranks. It is common in the Bujinkan for instructors to simply state a rank as “12th Dan” rather than Judan-Sui for convenience and clarity.

It is worth noting that because the number of Dan ranks used in the Bujinkan is not the same as the number used in many other arts, a direct comparison between the ranks is not meaningful. Some systems only use, for example, five Dan grades, others use ten, but reserve the highest few for honorary titles for senior members of their organizations. The number of variations is endless, and none is better than the other.

Some other Bujinkan instructors are called Shidoshi on their web page, what does this mean? Is the head instructor of this Dojo a Shidoshi?

The term “Shidoshi” is the formal title used in the Bujinkan for a student of Soke Hatsumi who has taken and passed the 5th Dan test, and who is now licensed to teach in their own Dojo. This test is administered only in Japan. In the past, this test was only administered by Hatsumi Sensei himself directly to each student who was ready to take the test. In recent years, as there have come to be students holding the highest rank of the Bujinkan (Judan-Ku, also known as 15th Dan), Hatsumi Sensei has begun instructing these students to themselves administer this test. Even so, the test is always administered in Hatsumi Sensei’s presence, and typically in the presence of many other senior instructors.

The term Shidoshi is specific to the Bujinkan, and is used as a formal title. In most cases however in daily training, teachers continue to use the title Sensei, reserving the title Shidoshi for formal activities and documents.

Some other Bujinkan instructors are called Shihan on their web page, what does this mean? Is the head instructor of this Dojo a Shihan?

The term “Shihan” is used as a high title in some martial arts and some other activities in┬áJapanese society. It has been traditional in the Bujinkan for a small number of Soke Hatsumi’s direct students to be referred to as Shihan, or collectively “the Shihan”, meaning something like “the masters”. Shihan is not, however, a title (as is for example the term “Sensei”, which is linguistically analogous to terms like “Doctor” or “Professor” in English).

The term “Shihan” is applied to another person out of respect and as a way of honoring that person’s abilities and lifelong accomplishments. Many foreign instructors in the Bujinkan have chosen to self-apply this term treating it as a title. Soke Hatsumi has himself used the term on occasion to refer collectively to those students at or above 10th Dan, and somewhat more often to refer to those who hold the highest rank of Judan-Ku (also sometimes called 15th Dan). The overwhelming majority of Bujinkan practitioners however use this term to refer to a small number of senior Japanese instructors, and in some cases, a few non-Japanese instructors who have, in their lives, accomplished a profound level of ability, insight, and character.