excerpted from this article (see link)
Imagining guys running around in black pajamas and swords, disappearing in a puff of smoke? Well let’s start with a proper… non Hollywood idea of what the Ninja were… or are… and then see what we can learn from them.
Today we have this image of the Ninja as evil assassins sneaking around Japanese castles and killing under cover of night. What most people don’t know is that the Ninja were simple farmers, priests and shopkeepers who were forced out of Japanese society and hunted by their own government. They were the ultimate survivors. In fact the word Ninja in old fashioned Japanese translates to “the person who overcomes”.
Early in Japanese history a Samurai General named Daisuke Togakure lost a battle; and as was tradition in Japan his master ordered him to kill himself and ordered that his family be stripped of all title and land. Instead this Samurai General chose to survive. He fled his home with his family and went to live in the wilderness. Now an outcast being hunted by his own government he was forced to re-invent his understanding of combat. Togakure met up with some Chinese immigrants who had fled the massive wars going on in China. Their knowledge of battle tactics, medicine and technology from all over the Asian main continent helped Togakure form what would become one of the earliest and oldest traditions of the Ninja. (This is just a rough and quick version of the oral history of the founding if this tradition) There are many other traditions of Ninjutsu but they all are similar in that they contain a philosophy of life which values surviving and overcoming or “persevering” and which leads to a simple life style with a very alternative method of self defense. The philosophy of the Ninja stood in opposition of the Bushido code of the Samurai which contained a strong class structure, and espoused suicide as a noble and honorable ideal. To the Samurai the Ninja were dishonorable, evil creatures who had no right to live… the Ninja just wanted to be left alone to live their lives as they saw fit. [ ]
As a person who has studied and practiced this tradition for several years now I have found some great principles which are a guide I use in life and in my preparations to continue life. In all of my training and all of my study of the Ninja culture as it existed hundreds of years ago and as it exists today I have found five principles that seem to apply to the Ninjas secret to not only survive but to thrive. [ ]
Principle #1: Strong and clean spirit
[ ] The Ninja speak of attaining an unfettered mind; that you should know who you are at your deepest core. Life should be spent learning, knowing and practicing what you are. This done in everyday life gives an unfettered mind and leads to good decision making under even the worst situations. [ ]
Principle #2: Utility.
While the Samurai prided themselves on beautiful swords passed down through their family for generations and body armor decorated with family crests and religious icons the Ninja often used little more than modified farming implements as weapons. This was in part because of the ban on civilians owning or carrying swords… (we can learn a lesson here) but also because of the principle of utility. To the Ninja they were not mere weapons, but rather everything was a tool. A Ninja didn’t pride himself on a fancy sword; instead he would make a sword which like all of his tools served more than one purpose. His other commonly used weapons were converted farming implements. [ ] Sure the Ninja would have never turned down a fancy ray skin and ivory Katana, but he would usually be found with a much cruder instrument. [ ]
Principle #3: Simplicity.
As I said earlier the Ninja were mostly farmers and merchants, but they could be found in all levels and aspects of life. There were even some Ninja amongst the ruling class of Japan at one time. What was common amongst them was that they strove to live a simple life. Both historic and modern Ninja rarely had lavish homes or castles. Rarely were known to frequent parties and social events. Instead they lived simple lives enjoying the things in life which were of true value. Simplicity permeated all aspect of their life. Often a diet of simple, healthy home grown food was eaten. With this simplicity in lifestyle one also becomes more in tuned to your own environment, able to notice small changes in weather and even understand nature on a closer level. Rarely did the Ninja draw attention to themselves. Instead of going off to become famous warriors and have grand adventures most Ninja lived quiet lives in their villages and trained diligently in their fighting arts; not for glory, but simply as a means to protect them and their families from the outside world. [ ]
Principle #4: Community and Self-Reliance.
Contrary to what some may argue community and self reliance are not mutually exclusive ideas. The Ninja were experts at having a community OF self reliance. The Ninja often lived in very close nit villages and towns where they worked and trained together so as to provide everything they needed and thus insulate themselves from the rest of Japan. [ ]
Principle #5: Fluidity.
Absolutely essential to the fighting style and even day to day life of the Ninja is the principle of fluidity. The Ninja fighting style involves five principle ways or feelings of combat. Each one represents an element of existence and grants almost a personality to your movement and technique. Examples are fire, a strong hot burst of energy cutting through an opponent or earth, the stable and immovable feeling of power. The five elements (earth, wind, fire, water, and the void) are not in themselves all powerful; it is the Ninjas ability to transition from one to the other and combine them in response to any situation which is essential. This fluidity was not just expressed in the elemental forms of combat, but instead is the fundamental difference between the Samurai and the Ninja. The Samurai followed set in stone techniques and movements. Memorize enough movements and you will have one for every situation. The Ninja started when they had to adapt and abandon old ways; this flexibility allowed them to meet all situations and adapt their techniques to any situation. A fundamental idea in the Ninja philosophy is not to have expectations of what will happen, but instead to be ready for and deal with whatever comes. Work towards your goals but adapt to the outcomes as they happen, don’t get caught in a frustrating loop of things not going your way and reacting with the same effort every time. [ ] We should have basic tools which will work in any situation. Tools which serve multiple purposes and can be adapted to anything we need. [ ]
WATER: Just as water feeds life and contains a power in both its ability to draw away from and crash back onto anything, to slowly erode a mountain, feed the tallest tree; we need the essentials of life. [ ]
EARTH: Strong foundations in faith and community allow us to stand like a rock against the corruption and destruction around us. [ ]
FIRE: Fire is our arms, our brute force through firepower.
[ ] The Ninja as with all people of Japan were disarmed by the ruling elites, however the Ninja refused to comply, instead they fought back. [ ] Fire comes in a burst of violence, heat and action. It is emotional, but not un-controlled. Fire also represents our passion, the passion which makes us act. It is the burning sense of right and wrong which protects our very soul from the corruption of the world. [ ]
WIND: Wind leaves us aloof, it represents the lighthearted sense of security preparedness gives us. [ ] The feeling of being un-touchable effects your very movement and every aspect of life. Being self reliant, with your own business and self sustaining property gives you this confidence and allows you to take stands politically and economically without fear of losing your job or being evicted from your home if you oppose the powers at be.
THE VOID: This is often a difficult concept. [ ] The void is the sense that anything can and will happen. On one hand it is the knowledge of all potential dangers and the ability to handle them. On the other hand it is the ability to react with anything, having every tool in your toolbox so that you can react and adapt in any way necessary. [ ] Where the void can help is in the idea of not being an idea. Not being anything in particular, be void of form. Don’t fit a stereotype . . . . [ ]