Ninjutsu – Weaponry

These pages provide some information about Ninjutsu, The Bujinkan, and my experiences training in the martial arts. They do not represent the Bujinkan. I have provided some links to other web sites with useful information about the martial art.


Understanding weaponry is a part of Ninjutsu. Within the Bujinkan practitioners are introduced to weaponry early in their training, often even at a ‘white belt’ or 9th Kyu level. This may come as a surprise to many. In many other martial arts weaponry is only introduced to seniors or after a black belt has been achieved. In Ninjutsu there are very few parts of the art that are kept from students because of their rank – and generally this is done for safety reasons rather than ‘keeping secrets’ for the seniors. An important part of weapons training is to understand that the martial art remains the same with or without weaponry. The weapon provides you with additional options, but as a general rule techniques performed with a weapon have an unarmed or ‘taijutsu’ equivalent.

SAFETY

Weapons used in a class environment are generally made of wood and safety is essential. Even wooden weaponry is dangerous and should be treated with respect as if it were a metal or ‘live’ weapon. The intention of weapons training is not to arm our members with weapons and send them out into the world – it is to understand how these weapons were and are used, how to defend yourself and improve your confidence in the event that you are threatened with a weapon.

WHAT WEAPONS DO YOU LEARN

The use of many weapons is taught in classes. Weaponry is substituted with safety equipment for training purposes. Blades are replaced with wood, chains are replaced with rope. The weapons most commonly examined are the hanbo, knife and sword.

Hanbo helps to provide an understanding of how weapons are an extension of the body and how taijutsu techniques already learnt can be modified to utilise the properties of the weapon. Hanbo techniques can potentially be performed with a stick, an umbrella a newspaper etc – and so is more practical than you might think.

Unfortunately knives are commonly used in serious assaults and it is important for self defence purposes to understand the dangers of knife fighting and how best to defend yourself. Hatsumi sensei tells students that we have a responsibility to use weapons as a last resort and has demonstrated techniques where an attacker is disabled and SHOWN the knife rather than cut with the knife. With knowledge of a martial art, especially weapons study, there comes a responsibility to use control – even with those that would do you harm. Studying knife fighting has taught me how dangerous an attacker with a knife can be – martial arts help prepare you for such a situation, but they don’t make them safe.

Katana is represented with a bokken (wooden sword) or shinai (bambo sword) in class. Sword techniques offer students a chance to understand the more traditional parts of the art and reinforce the importance of footwork, balance, timing and control. Ninjutsu sword work originates from a martial fighting art used in war, not a sport. As such techniques developed were for disabling or killing an opponent.

Weapons commonly studied within Bujinkan schools.

Knife – Tanto
Katana – sword / Bokken – wooden sword

Long and short swords shown

Kusari Fundo – Weighted Chain
Kusari Gama – Weighted Chain and Sickle
(The metal ones I have seen are MUCH bigger and heavier)
Kyoketsu Shoge – Double Blade with weighted ring.
Bo Staff – 6 foot staff
Jo Staff – 4 foot staff
Hanbo – 3 foot staff
Shuriken – throwing blades

My understanding is that the early practitioners of Ninjutsu were not wealthy people and generally would not have weapons crafted for them. They often had to make weaponry out of available materials that could be found on a boat / farm / workplace. Unlike the samurai of Japan, the ninja did not have superbly forged blades not did they have the skills of the samurai when it came to sword fighting. You can see from some of the images above that most of these weapons could be made by hand and would be very effective. The kusari gama and kyoketsu shoge were weapons that could be used to defend against a swordsman. The effectiveness of these weapons would often come from their ‘surprise’ factor. Blinding powder was sometime used, bright burning flames would be attached to the end of chains to make it difficult to see during combat, swords were cut shorter so they could be drawn over the shoulder indoors etc. Caltrops would be dropped to slow pursuers and ninja would learn to hide in trees, under the water using their sword hilt as a snorkel, use baskets on their feet to ‘walk on water’ – all of which contributed to rumours of the ninja being magical. A ‘fair fight’ wasn’t a notion the ninja were concerned with and their vast array of weapons meant they were unpredictable and dangerous opponents.

We learn to use these weapons to better understand the art. I don’t actually ever expect to have to use any of these weapons. Even carrying these weapons is an issue within Australia. We only carry weapons to and from practice and in some schools identificati0n is provided so that authorities can see you have a legal reason for carry weapons. Many of the weapons taught in Ninjutsu have been made illegal within Australia. Even wooden training weapons are illegal in some cases – with the end result being that those who would use these weapons for violence can still acquire these weapons illegally while those who have a genuine interest in martial studies find them difficult to buy.

Understanding weaponry has made me realise the seriousness of using a weapon in combat. Many young people fight with knives without realising just how easy it is to kill someone, when their intention may have only been to ‘scare’ or cut someone, their actions can result in serious or fatal injuries. Ninjutsu takes weapons study seriously and members of the Bujinkan have a responsibility to represent the school inside and out of the dojo.

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