February 13, 2014

On the Use of Spies

What exactly makes a Ninja, a Ninja?

The reason I ask is I'm currently writing a book - novelizing a multiple award-winning screenplay of mine with another script I wrote that New Line Cinema was interested in some years ago.

I'll be making the fictional case for the existence of modern-day Ninja with 800-years of unbroken activity - big action, a love affair, broken trust testing the bonds of brotherly warriorship. All that good stuff. 

Naturally, when you start laying foundations for these kinds of things it brings up questions - how would these folks think, sound, and act? 

Questions relating to their existence fostered questions relating to my own. Personally, I've always been satisfied with the answers I've received over the years from teachers and my own sense of discovery. In fact, I've never questioned it.

I've also never promoted myself as a "Ninja" or made claims about teaching "Ninjutsu" to any great extent. The Bujinkan arts include, among others, the Togakure ryu -  the best known of the remaining Ninjutsu lineages - as an aspect of its history. However, I am most comfortable saying when asked that I'm a Budoka, a martial artist. Ninjas notwithstanding.

I don't claim to fully understand the differences between Taijutsu and Ninjutsu, or more specifically, Ninpo Taijutsu. But if I had to state a broad analogy to draw the distinction I'd probably look to the story of the Marine in my last post. His actions to position, leverage, and initiate options in his area of operation are indicative of the raw fundamentals of "Taijutsu." But when he comes face-to-face with his enemy, a veil is pulled over those options that confuses an otherwise relentless adversary into voluntarily accepting a bomb with his own hands. Thus, "Taijutsu" becomes, in essence, "Ninpo Taijutsu."

Taijutsu is like the "natural law" tradition of martial arts - the repository of universal principles of the martial ways, be they strategic, tactical, or technical. And as these aspects are universal and natural to human use they are guided and shaped by human nature's ethical, moral, and motivational instincts.

These are the anthropologic inclinations that would have provided the energy to originally discover these martial conceptions as well as provide a framework to train them tactically so they could effectively and efficiently defend and protect the value of human life. If they could not accomplish even this viability, then what good would they have been?

[An aside. Those who take issue with the above statement must answer to this contradiction: If the guiding value of martial arts were only the "killing of the enemy," then how does one explain the fact these arts contain, were refined, and were meant to be understood and trained protectively? In other words, the arts themselves retain the tactical calculations in order to live, even though killing the enemy may be necessary.

Were the guiding value to cultivate only a "killing art" they would have been refined far differently, for it is always easier to kill the enemy - and train to kill them - when one's own life and the lives of others is forfeit and sacrificial to that goal. Suicide bombing is first and foremost a "killing art" - if "art" at all - for its guiding values and principles place "killing the enemy" above even the life of the bomber. Thus, the martial arts must cohere with human nature's life-preserving instincts - even a "killing art of survival" is qualified by the value-of-life notion, "survival."]

Taijutsu is also a generalization, not a specialization, thus the absence of distinct form becomes a hallmark of its infinite functionality and a key to understanding its power and use. Most martial arts today - the "shinbudo" - are modern representations of Japanese, Korean, or Chinese traditions. They are specialized ways of perceiving the world as they peer through their own particular physical prism of strategic and tactical awareness. They are also inevitably influenced by cultural sensitivities and identity. I would argue, these facets can actually restrict applicable options when regarding the challenging nature of change itself. 

When Soke speaks of being a "UFO," regardless of what exactly he means, he draws distinction to the unidentifiable nature of universal movement and the transcendence of eternal message, one that introduces Taijutsu as unbound to any single culture or creed, except that of humankind. Thus, Taijutsu in its generalness does not look like anything specific because it only moves in the moment as it is supposed to in order to remain viable. In essence, Taijutsu is not set by its technique. It cannot be. If it were, it would mean it is not what it is. 

This leads me to suspect a natural connection - trajectory even - between Taijutsu and Ninpo Taijutsu - maturity. Taijutsu inevitably becomes Ninpo Taijutsu when its universalized, general habits become so intrinsic that one can hardly establish they are being used, let alone, even there.

And here's a photo of Paris reading Sun Tzu.
You're welcome.
This story from the introduction of Thomas Cleary's The Art of War, captures this rather telling aspect. Interesting to note, Cleary claims that a Ming dynasty critic wrote of this little tale of the physician, "What is essential for leaders, generals, and ministers in running countries and governing armies is no more than this."
According to an old story, a lord of ancient China once asked his physician, a member of a family of healers, which of them was the most skilled in the art.
The physician, whose reputation was such that his name became synonymous with medical science in China, replied, "My eldest brother sees the spirit of sickness and removes it before it takes shape, so his name does not get out of the house.
My elder brother cures sickness when it is still extremely minute, so his name does not get out of the neighborhood.
As for me, I puncture veins, prescribe potions, and massage skin, so from time to time my name gets out and is heard among the lords."
This story highlights the nature of the study of universal principles. The eldest brother's ability has become so intrinsic, it allows him to act at a stage that gives sickness no chance to generate. In doing so, his "quiet" approach would seem as if he had done little or nothing at all, thus "his name does not get out of the house." Conversely, the youngest and seemingly "inexperienced" is also the "loudest" and most well-known.

I can't help but think this story is illustrative of the plight that Budo and Ninjutsu researchers are faced with. I understand the curiosity in digging into history, and appreciate it, but it seems to me they often beg the question of the concept of "Ninja" itself - they're taking for granted they can define something that in reality was probably never meant to be defined. How does one identify something that by its very nature seeks to change as it needs to change to remain undetected?

One of the reasons so little historical evidence remains of their existence may not just be the fact much of it was destroyed, but also perhaps because it was never meant to be recorded in the first place. And if it was, maybe it was recorded in a way that we have yet to detect. After all, if you are trying to shroud existence, why would you generate evidence of that existence that would certainly be used against you? So, when some archetype is labeled "Ninja," is it just me, or did it just fail the Ninja test?

It is this indiscernible nature that provides fitting example of the sincere reverence that is held for the core values of martial training. What better way to protect the viability that gives rise to the warrior ethos (and everything else), than to be able to be "invisible" in the prudential use of that protection? 

This spirit extends far beyond its application by Ninja and can be found in traditions around the world from the Biblical stories of Moses sending forth the "Twelve spies" into the land of Canaan, to the ghostly Native American Scout - eyes and ears of the tribe - to the technical ingenuity of today's clandestine operatives at war with fanatical religious and secular ideologies.  

The control of this veil of ambiguity is an embodiment of the hard/soft, bright/dark, heavy/light ever-morphing duality in the nature of change itself. This physical philosophy is at once overt and covert, indicative of the kyojitsu, the interchange of genuine and possible, the paradox that reveals the truth at the heart of the very precepts of perseverance and endurance we have come to know as "忍." 

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The original concept of Ryu playing itself out through various periods of time, political climes, degrees of pressure and privilege. The concept of cultural identity and separation of function from nature. The fluid nature of Ninjo ("o" not the "a" of the onyomi ninja) competing with the structure of Giri. Sounds interesting.