Recently in an interview for BBC Radio Norfolk about my new book Becoming a Ninja Warrior I mentioned that a true Ninja would never fight unnecessarily. I had a few emails from people asking to explain this in more detail as the idea of a Ninja avoiding conflict seemed strange to them.
Soke Masaaki Hatsumi once said that “Ninjutsu could be defined as an art of not having to take revenge when someone has betrayed or insulted you”. When I first read this I too didn’t understand. Surely out of all the people in the world someone with Ninja training would be able to take revenge and bring justice to people through his stealth and cunning.
As I continued to study I found this sentiment is reflected in many of the historical documents of Ninjutsu. In the Shoninki for example, there’s a whole chapter entitled ‘the art of not breaking people’ and another one dedicated completely to the art of letting go.
Reasons for this are obvious once you get in the Ninjutsu mindset. The ninja should be focused on his mission and the outcome he wants to achieve and not get distracted by fighting with other people or by some distracting emotion. If someone attacks you or does something you find offensive, your instinct is to respond aggressively, but this isn’t useful. Imagine you are a 16th-century ninja on a stealthy mission; fighting back would make lots of noise, get you caught and draw attention to your position. Your best bet is just to run away.
Modernly as students of the art, we have to always remember what we’re trying to do. There’s always someone who would like to have a fight for their amusement, or for their inadequacies, who would insult you and try to pull you into some kind of an argument. Then it’s really important to remember what your mission is and keep yourself focused. Or as Hatsumi puts in his book Japanese Sword Fighting “When someone insults and disrespects you, the ability to laugh and not make them your enemy is true courage”.
The truth is that if something someone says or does makes you so upset or angry that you start putting effort into them, then they have controlled your action and you have had your mission misdirected. Your pride pulls you into actions that are not useful for what you are trying to do in life. All that energy could have been put into building something good in the world for yourself and those around you.
I truly believe that part of becoming a Ninja is cultivating an immovable heart so that you can keep focused on your aims with what Toshitsugu Takamatsu used to call ‘single-minded determination.’