Ninja and Yamabushi: Warriors and Wizards of Feudal Japan

Ninja and Yamabushi: Warriors and Wizards of Feudal Japan

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In our time when Japan fascinates and where manga is extremely widespread, in France in particular, the ninja is a figure that fascinates. Seen sometimes as a warrior, an assassin, the holder of mystical powers, or simply those who performed shameful but necessary jobs that the samurai could not stoop to. One thing is certain, ninjas are intriguing. Almost as much as the yamabushis, their peers, these mountain hermits, ascetics with immense powers, according to legend ...

Florent Loiacono, French semi-contact karate champion, student at the age of 17 of the most respected master ninja still in activity, Masaaki Hatsume soke. He also practices shûgendo asceticism, the way of yamabushis. Author of several articles for the French and German press, he also participated in the translation of L'essence du ninjustu, by Drr Hatsumi, and is currently working on that of La Voie du ninja. Florent Loiacono makes a point of lifting the veil on the true nature of the way of the ninja, and that of the yamabushi, distinguishing the legend from the real.

The importance of spirituality

The first thing that Florent Loiacono explores in depth in his book is the concept of the Way, the path that all ninja and all yamabushi follow. Stemming from Taoism, the Way defines the progression of each one in his attitude towards the universe, a journey which leads to becoming one with the universe. It also explores the Buddhist and Shinto aspects of the ninja arts. For example, the fact that ninjas and yamabushis were often seen as related to tengus, Shinto fantasy creatures, raven-headed men. According to legend, they are the creators of both ninjutsu and shugendô. In addition, the yamabushis saw their ascetic practices considerably modified by the development of Buddhism in Japan. Gradually, the art of yamabushi became that of being one with one of the aspects of Buddha, thus acquiring its powers. Ninjas were also known to be inspired by oni, evil spirits that came to torment humans.
Second important element concerning ninjas and yamabushis, the nature of the Way. Ninjas did whatever was necessary, both to survive, and to accomplish their mission, whether it was assassinating a dignitary, assessing or spotting enemy troops, or judging morale. Population. But walking the Way is, according to the author, much deeper than simply ignoring the moral code of the samurai. To become discreet enough, to be invisible, the ninja had to become the earth, the trees, the rocks that surrounded him. He was to be one with the wind, with fire, and the three other elements that Shinto considers the components of the universe. It was the same for the yamabushi, who meditated under the waterfall, and crossed barefoot fields of embers, and this without difficulty, thanks to his connection with the elements. In short, these two paths were not only martial, but also and above all spiritual.

The Way in a World without a Goal

Florent Loiacono evokes, as much as their origin, the way of progressing on the ways of ninjutsu and shugendô, and criticizes (sometimes sharply), the way in which these ways are considered today. For him, the Way of the ninja (or that of the yamabushi) is a whole, not just a hobby or a sport, even in martial form. He considers that hardly any real teaching remains of how to advance on these paths.
But, subsequently, he relativizes his position. The ninja has always adapted to the circumstance, whether it is the introduction of firearms in Japan, or the opening of the country. Perhaps these new forms are the best way for the Way to continue to exist?

In summary, this book is a concentrate of everything there is to know about ninjas and yamabushis, from legends concerning their origin, to the evolution of these practices in the modern era, through the different martial and meditation techniques. However, be careful! Some passages address Asian philosophies in such detail that a good knowledge of these subjects is necessary to understand everything. Recommended for the enlightened enthusiast, but the neophyte might feel lost.

Ninja and Yamabushi: Warriors and Wizards of Feudal Japan, by Florent Loiacono. Budo Editions, June 2013.

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