Ninjutsu, literally ‘the art of stealth and perseverance,’ refers to the martial application of special warfare tactics and espionage in the classical Japanese military traditions. Despite popular belief that only “ninja” utilized ninjutsu teachings, several Japanese koryu have ninjutsu teachings in their curriculum.
Warriors during Japan’s feudal era had a broad encompassing curriculum of skills in which they trained. In addition to becoming familiar with these skills, bushi (Japanese feudal warriors) would then further certain skills that related to their specific duties. For instance, a mounted archer, like all samurai, would be trained in kenjutsu, sojutsu, jujutsu, etc, but would concentrate heavily on the skills of bajutsu (horse riding methods) and archery.
In the same vein, samurai who showed a particular aptitude for clandestine tactics (or were raised in areas where these kinds of techniques were more common), and who were assigned to units responsible for special warfare, were later referred to in terms such as, ninja, kusa, rappa, and shinobi no mono among others. This is very similar to our modern military in which soldiers learn a broad spectrum of skills, and then when assigned to a more specialized unit, begin intensive study of the skills needed for their duty. An example of this would be comparing the skills required to be a Marine Corps artillery officer versus a Marine recon sniper. Both are trained in the primary skills necessary for a US Marine, however the skill set and knowledge needed to implement artillery is completely different from what a sniper is required to know for his function. The term ‘ninja’ refers not to a special kind of warrior, rather denotes the samurai’s particular function – espionage and special warfare.
Various ryuha were developed to address the specialized nature of this type of warfare. Our organization and our dojo teach the only remaining authentic traditions currently extant in Japan. The traditions, which have been handed down for several generations, are the Togakure ryu, Gyokushin ryu, and Kumogakure ryu. These schools, while containing orthodox military arts, emphasize specific clandestine skills and tactics appropriate for the warrior’s military function. These skills include stealth, infiltration, small unit tactics, disguise, espionage, specialized weaponry, camouflage, terrain evaluation, etc.
At the Jigoku Dojo, fully accepted students who have gained proficiency in the fundamentals of our military arts may be exposed to the skills and concepts that constitute ninjutsu and ninpo (the philosophical component of ninjutsu). Throughout history these teachings have been relegated to more advanced, trusted students. This practice continues to this day, both in the Bujinkan organization and the Jigoku Dojo.