Theme for 2008: Togakure Ryu Ninjutsu

One of the really nice things about the martial art I practice is that each year has a theme, an area of focus that helps practitioners zoom in on a particular way of thinking and set of strategies. This past year, 2007, was the year of Kukishinden Ryu, or the Kukishinden family method of warfare and protection.

2008's theme is Togakure Ryu, a lineage founded by Daisuke Nishina of Togakure (now Togakushi), in Nagano, sometime in the 12th century. If you remember the 1998 Winter Olympics coverage, Nagano was the prefecture of Japan in which they occurred and from which Togakure Ryu originates.

Togakure Ryu is one of the only surviving ninjutsu lineages around. Its founder, Daisuke Nishina, was on the losing side of a campaign in feudal Japan and as a 16 year old, found himself required by tradition to commit ritual suicide, as his side had lost. Rather than do so, he ran like hell into the mountains and trained with a number of masters over the years in not getting your ass beat while facing overwhelming odds. The practices were codified into the Togakure school of ninjutsu.

Some of the themes in Togakure Ryu are considered "secrets" - not because they're particularly esoteric, but because they're so hard to actually do. For example, one of the "secrets" is - only fight battles you can win.

Not much of a secret, huh?

Until you take a step back and look at your life and realize that you take up fights and battles all the time, literal or metaphorical, that you cannot win. Whether it's office politics, marital relations, or facing an opponent in a dark alley, if you engage in a battle in which you know you can't win, then you're either hooked by your ego or you're an idiot. Instead, your plan had better be to run like hell until you can set things up so that you can win.

What other lessons do the ninja have, nine centuries after the lineage was founded? Lots. Tons. More than enough to fill a lifetime and then some. If you'd like to learn more, go visit my teacher's teacher, Stephen K. Hayes, or if you're in the Boston area, visit my teacher, Mark Davis, at the Boston Martial Arts Center.

"Ninjutsu is the way of attaining that which we need while making the world a better place. The skill of the ninja is the art of winning." - Toshitsugu Takamatsu, 33rd headmaster of the Togakure Ryu

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