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Emptiness, Wind, Fire,
Water, and Earth


The Philosophy of Ninjutsu




That which shrinks
Must first expand.
That which fails
Must first be strong.

That which is cast down
Must first be raised.
Before receiving
There must be giving.



The original teachings of Ninjutsu were developed through an experiential knowledge of combat methods, human psychology and cultural patterns, and the workings of natural phenomena and a personal closeness with nature. From these broad considerations, the feudal Japanese science of survival under any circumstances eventually took its shape. The art came to be known as a countercultural opposite to the conventional concepts of warfare and territorial expansion that were routine during the feudal ages in ancient Japan. Sun Tzu's The Art of War was the basis of Ninjutsu philosophy in many ways.

One important purpose in the study of Ninjutsu is to cultivate an awareness of ki-ai, or allowing yourself to come into harmony with the "scheme of totality." The student of Ninjutsu should become a totally natural being. There is nothing bizarre, unreal, or imaginary implied in the mystical teachings of Ninjutsu. Mysticism is simply the study of methods used to directly experience natural laws and universal consciousness. By observing nature with an unbiased mind, people come to understand their world and how they relate to it; thus they come to understand themselves.

The Tibetan Tantric lore teaches the doctrine of mikkyo, or "secret knowledge." The concept is that all physical aspects of existence originate from the same source and are in essence one of five elements. The five elements are:

Ku: The emptiness or nothingness from which all things assume their forms

Fu: The Wind (or gaseous elements)

Ka: The Fire (or energy releasing)

Sui: The Water (or fluids)

Chi: The Earth (or solids)

By studying the relationships of these elements in nature, the Ninja learns how to become a more natural and balanced being, more conscious of personal power and responsibilities in the stream of life. To the Ninja, these elements also represent human life.

In the human body, sui represents the body fluids and those aspects of the body that provide suppleness and flexibility. Chi equals the bones, teeth, muscles, and other solid body tissues. Ka is seen as metabolism and is experienced as body warmth. Fu corresponds to the breathing cycle--the movement of air into and out of the body and then out and into the breathing cycles of others. Ku manifests itself as speech and the ability to communicate.

The five elements around us are also paralleled in the stages of elevation of the personality. We all move up and down from one element of influence to another. Westerners refer to the effects of our changing consciousness as "moods."

Chi, the earth level, is the most base of the elements. While in a state of chi we are conscious of our own solidity and stability. We resist change or movement--like a rock. Chi is centered at the base of the spine and is associated with the color red.

Sui, or water is the next highest level of our physical personality. Under its influence we are conscious of our own emotions and the fluid parts of the body. Sui is characterized by reactions to physical changes and adaptability to our surroundings. Like plants we are capable of independent movement and growth. We react to stimuli, and yet we are incapable of controlling our environment. When our personalities are under the influence of the water element, we react to what we encounter, and we are oriented toward the heavier emotions. Sui is centered in the lower abdomen and is associated with the color orange.

Ka, fire is the third highest element. When under its influence we are aggressive. (Aggression in this sense refers to energy, and is not intended to carry negative or violent connotations.) We experience feelings of warmth, enjoyment, and direct control over our environment, as wild animals do. We are aware of our reasoning faculties. Ka is centered at the lower tip of the breast bone and is associated with the color yellow.

Fu, wind is the fourth level. Under its influence we are aware of our own intellect, magnanimity, and feelings of wisdom and love. Human beings are the highest example of the wind principle; we are capable of contemplation, understanding, and love. Fu is centered in the middle of the chest and is associated with the color green.

Ku is the highest of the physical elements. In the personality, the ku emptiness brings about creative abilities, and the capability to direct any of the four lower elements. Ku, the source of all elements, is centered in the throat, and is associated with the color blue.

I should stress that no one element of influence is inherently better or worse than another. In fact, one of the greater reasons for studying the effects of the influence centers is to realize the impossibility of assigning arbitrary value judgments to our emotions and experiences. Every emotion in the wide range of moods available to the human being can be seen as more or less appropriate in some given situations. This is in contrast to the stress-causing Western notion that there are appropriate and inappropriate norms governing emotions and reactions.

There are, however, those times when a particular emotion may be regarded as negative or positive based on its effectiveness in a particular situation. Appropriateness in the situation is not only determined by one's mood (element of influence), but also by the behavior used to express the mood.

In Ninjutsu, fighting is utilizing the five elements in harmoniously dealing with danger. To reach this level of ku requires much training and discipline.

Here and Now

The immensely popular Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), Narcotics Anonymous (NA), and twelve step groups, believe that one reason people become hopelessly obsessive-compulsive is that they worry too much about the future. They "project," or place unwarranted expectations on the days ahead. In doing so, they live in constant fear, rendering them unable to deal with the here and now. In AA, recovering alcoholics practice living "one day at a time." Recovering addicts in NA live "just for today."

This same idea is found in famous Western literature as far back as the 16th Century. Shakespeare's and others' works resonate with the idea of "Carpé Diem," or seize the day. Live in the Now. Life cannot be enjoyed to the fullest if you project into the future or dwell on the past.

To master martial arts physical techniques, one must learn to clear his or her mind of clutter and unnecessary noise. Total concentration on the task at hand is required. This approach is the most conducive to tranquility, harmony and a lack of stress caused by our Western rush-to-get-ahead lifestyles.

Martial arts is a way to achieve harmony through introspection and discipline. The physical and psychological benefits are immeasurable. We'll explore them in the next chapter.

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