Authors Antony Cummins and Yoshie Monami delve into ninja lore heavily in "The Secret Traditions Of The Shinobi: Hattori Hanzo's Shinobi Hiden And Other Ninja Scrolls." I have to admit I am new at learning about Ninjas and have found this interview fascinating on many levels. So the best thing I can do is thank you for being here. Then whisk you off on a great adventure of wisdom and knowledge! Presenting.
What was your prime motivation in creating your book, The Secret Traditions Of The Shinobi: Hattori Hanzo's Shinobi Hiden And Other Ninja Scrolls?
My prime motivation for all my ninja books is the need to correct a certain section of Japanese history. Since James Bond ‘s You Only Live Twice to Shogun – The TV Series and up to Ninja Assassin the poor old ninja has been given a bad image. I started to love ninja at the age of 4, would jump around in black and hide in the roof, thinking I would grow out of it (and still hiding in the roofs of buildings at 16) my parents just took it for a quirky love. However, at 24 I moved to Japan for a year so I could be near the last ninja grandmaster. At 24 I was hit in the face with a hammer! Standing at the doorway to the last ninja grandmaster I saw that instant that something was wrong. This was no ninja, this was a fraud, so the next year I put together a small team of translators and I set out to find the truth of the ninja, I found it and to my great surprise, there was no need for a fantasy idea anymore. So this book and all the other books I do are translations of primary material so that others can see the truth as I did.
Could you, Antony Cummins and Yoshie Minami, go into your backgrounds as authors who edited and translated this book?
Myself (Antony Cummins) I am from Manchester England, I had some basic jobs after leaving school (including being an undertaker) and just felt that I needed more from life. So I popped off to University to study Archaeology and Ancient history, then taking my first year out in Japan (as told above) I returned to do my Masters in Archaeology and from there started to write history. Yoshie was a student of mine while teaching English and has a degree in Linguistics – I used to give out photocopies of ninja scrolls as homework to my students and Yoshie came back with amazing translations, so I snapped her up and started the Historical Ninjutsu Research Team.
Who exactly is Hattori Hanzo, historically speaking?
Hattori Hanzo was famous to the people in the martial arts world but was made a popular name through Kill Bill. The sword maker in Kill Bill is Hattori Hanzo and was added because the director loved an old ninja show from Japan that had Hattori Hanzo as the main character. The real Hattori Hanzo was born in Mikawa, his father was a “man of Iga” in the service of the lord of Mikawa. For those who are not saying “wow” that means his father was a ninja who was in the service of the future shogun of Japan. His father originally from Iga left and started his own family branch in Mikawa. This was a lucky move because just after this, Iga (famous for ninja) fell to the warlord Nobunaga and the samurai-ninja there lost their position as samurai and became lower class. This meant that Hattori Hanzo was still samurai and was ninja trained. His friend became Tokugawa Ieyasu, the ruler of all Japan, and Hattori Hanzo, who had the nickname “Devil Hanzo,” became a feared commander and shinobi leader, this has propelled the name Hattori to ninja stardom and you cannot read about the ninja without hearing of Old Devil Hanzo.
What are some secrets you can share with us regarding the Ninja Tradition that you personally find fascinating?
I love the lore of the moon. A ninja was trained to follow the moons progress through the sky and to have the ability to track its changes and cycles. There are two festivals in old Japan that happen every month, one of on the 8th day of the lunar month, the other was on the 24th. Ninja were taught that they could infiltrate after the 24th day and before the 8th day of the cycle, because this is when it is dark and the terrible moon does not shine its light on a shinobi infiltration. If they had to go on a mission in that “no go” time they would wear white to blend in with the moon. Also, the ninja black board is a favourite of mine, a ninja would get a black shield like section of wood and use it to hide his outline at night while creeping in, he would hide under windows below the board so that anyone looking out could not see his shape from above. This is done because the human eye sees a human shape with ease so the ninja tried to get rid of that outline. They did the same thing with black powder, throwing this in the air to hide their outline. Overall, ninja had some amazing infiltration skills that are too vast to mention here, but they are some crafty little tricks.
The book is filled with infiltration techniques and night attack information. What can you share with us about this?
Night attacks were a part of samurai warfare. You have to put your mind deep in the black forests of old Japan. On one part is camp A and at the other end is camp B and in the middle is “ninja-land.” This area is guarded by troops and it is a ninja’s job to get through this area and into the other camp while other troops attack with night raids. Ninja 1 moves alone or in a very small group and sets himself up, passing the watch fires, passing the spiked traps and even the gravel to track his footprints and there he waits. Then, ninja 2 leads a squad of samurai to the enemy camp in the dark, all of them wearing mouth gags to keep silent and the ninja taking them through enemy lines. There they jump the walls and start the killing. Now, ninja 1 moves into action, creeping in the camp while the fight goes on. He is now mixed in with enemy troops and the night attack ends. The troops retreat and there is a game of cat and mouse as ninja on both sides try to infiltrate each position but ninja 1 got in! Tomorrow night the enemy camp will go up in flames and a full attack will happen at dawn. “The gods bless ninja” the commander cries.
Infiltration by disguise and by stealth are the specialities of the ninja, in the wars of japan the commander would have his own personal ninja to protect him and to creep into the enemy, these were the men that slept in the day, enjoying the sun while others died in screams but at night it became the world of the ninja.
So the word Shinobi is pretty much the word for Ninja correct? What is the history behind the word Shinobi and the actual men who played in these roles? Were there women Shinobi?
Up to now I have used the word ninja, waiting to answer this question. 忍者 means nin-ja, however Japanese can be read two ways and here this compound can be read as shinobi-mono. It may come as a shock to some but there (so far) is not a single instance of the word ninja being used, by that I mean no clear guide to say that忍者 was ever said as ninja. However, 100 out of 100 times, when there is a phonetic marker showing the pronunciation, it always says shinobi mono. That means that in old days, a person would say shinobi mono not ninja – but it means the same thing, so as a reader you should exchange the word ninja with shinobi mono. However, lots and lots of times they are just called shinobi忍. Likewise the arts of the ninja should not be ninjutsu, it should be shinobi no jutsu. Now, 忍者 means “stealth-person” 忍 (in stealth or to endure) and 者 (person) so a shinobi mono is a person who endures and steals in to a place, the shinobi. But one massive myth is that the ninja are separate from samurai, this is simply not true. In samurai warfare a lord needs to hire samurai who are shinobi trained, shinobi training was an elite part of samurai warfare and while shinobi themselves were low ranking samurai they were still samurai or at the least, some were foot soldiers. For the reader you should imagine an army officer in the SAS with his trooper SAS men and you will have the correct idea about the shinobi squad. But also, many samurai schools of warfare would teach shinobi skills, like Muhyoshi ryu of Kaga domain, they have a secret scroll in their sword school called Mizukagami and that is their secret ninja skills. If you look at army listings, about 1 in 400 samurai were registered as shinobi trained, that is that their job was ninja, but how many more had shinobi training is simply unknown. Hattori Hanzo was a very high level samurai because he climbed the ladder as samurai, but he was still shinobi trained.
Women; the debate about women shinobi is a difficult one. Yes, there were ninja women but there were low-level sexy women sent in to spy, used to open doors from the inside. There is one example of a woman taking over a ninja school, but on the whole, ninja were men.
What can you tell us about the Shinobi belief system when it comes to spirituality, etc.? Did they have gods they worshiped?
The shinobi, being samurai or just simply Japanese did not believe any differently from other samurai. They followed the Japanese gods and Buddhism. Their principle god was Marashiten, the goddess of war and also of invisibility. In modern media, the ninja changed from assassin to noble spiritual warrior in the 1990’s and now we have the idea of ninja sitting near a waterfall listening to the birds. This is simply a product of the 90’s. In reality, like all samurai, the shinobi would pray for victory in battle – he would be a good Buddhist and try not to kill – but then go out and burn down a house with women and children in it; cut the heads off men – on their own side – and present them to the enemy so they could be fake spies/double agents; they would open up the stomach of a watchman to see what food was being eaten in the castle; and in short, they did the very dirty work and asked the gods to help them do it.
However, ninja magic is very spiritual, it has faith in divine intervention and relies on the gods to aid the ninja through magic spells.
In the Koka Ryu Ninjutsu Densho it speaks of certain spells and rituals. Ninjas had spells? Could you share some with us?
The Koka ryu Densho (we found out after publishing!) is the Kaiden scroll of the Akutagawa family of Koka. Kaiden means highest traditions and this scroll is one of four (only two have been made available to date) the first three are practical ability, creeping in, etc. But this one is their high magic. Ninja magic tends to be about staying hidden or finding information out. But it is not for the faint of heart. Shinobi magic normally entails animal cruelty. Killing dogs while they are mating, burying live sparrows or killing turtles and using animal parts in ritual magic to find out information or to hide. They of course do this apologising to the animal and taking vows of silence. But in short, a shinobi magic is the highest level of shinobi-jutsu, this is the magic given by the gods to help them on their missions. From a modern prospective 90% of the magic can be seen as giving the ninja psychological strength, for example taking the fangs of a live pit viper and putting them in your topknot as you infiltrate, the power of the snake will hide your form from the enemy. Or chanting the spell of hiding in your mind when the enemy are close, this is now seen as an attempt for the ninja to stay still while hiding and not panicking – looking for an escape when all he has to do is stand still. Or one from the scroll in question, capturing the darkness of a lunar eclipse in a hair pin and bringing black clouds around you when on a mission, these are all ways of keeping your mental strength while death is on the horizon. That being said, there are some that meant to have an effect. For example, when you hang a stone from the eves of a house, just above the floor, it is said when the house “falls asleep” (the wooden frame relaxes) then those inside are also asleep. Above all, the magic of the shinobi is dark and secret and yet to be fully explored.
Historically what happened to the Shinobi when it comes to their fates? What can you provide for us regarding them historically? Are they still around?
There is still on-going debate about this. There are maybe 10 people in the world claiming to be ninja grandmasters, maybe 3 have a steady following but no one anywhere has ever proven it. This is a key factor, there is simply no proof that anyone has been passed down a ninja tradition and all the masters in the world show problems when compared against history, so it is down to personal belief. My own belief is that there is no one that has lasted to this day. The fall of the ninja started in 1603 when Japan found peace and there was no place left for the ninja. From there the skills declined, they fell out of employment and even dropped in class in many cases, to the point where one ninja-related school, Natori ryu, said that their skills were useless in the modern world of 1868 and gave their schools up. So as a reader, you should know that there are people in the world that claim ninja lineages but no one has ever proven it and that the ninja started to become useless after the days of warfare in Japan.
This is most assuredly been a unique read when it comes to books. What would you like to share with us from the heart from your book as we depart? Also what are you up to in the future, book wise? Thank you.
I try to be as fair in my research as I can be and I try to be professional but it is my personal quest to correct the history of the ninja and my heartfelt desire is for people outside the ninja community to get involved in shinobi-jutsu, be it just to read the scrolls or to train themselves up as a way of keeping fit. There is the belief that ninjutsu is a martial art, this is a lie and is one of the main reasons I do what I do, the ninja martial art was made up to sell people just jujutsu while being dressed in black. So my aim is to get this corrected and to have the shinobi open to the world so that all the ninja of the past are represented correctly. (Here comes the plug) – the ninja world has some core manuals and we are publishing them all, so if anyone is interested, then here is the run down:
The Secret Traditions of the Shinobi (original Shinobi hiden 1560)
True Path of the Ninja (original Shoninki 1681)
Iga and Koka Ninja Skills (original scroll collection 1719)
In Search of the Ninja – (My first book on the subject of historical shinobi)
The above contains some of the most detailed information on the ninja yet published, in fact collectively its more than any one shinobi knew. However, a good place for the reader to start is my website, www.natori.co.uk and click downloads, there is much free information there. However, the next few years will see more and more shinobi scrolls published, it will see more info on the samurai as well. Readers should look out for two documentaries “Ninja Shadow Warriors” and “Samurai Head Hunters” I appear in both and this would also be a good place to start their quest.
If anyone reading this is truly interested, they can follow me on Facebook and I try to answer all the questions I can. So please join the crusade and help correct Japanese history.
This book and many other fine publications are sold by North Atlantic Books.
Jeffery Pritchett is the host of The Church Of Mabus Show bringing you high strange stories from professionals in the carousel of fields surrounding the paranormal.