Nakashima Atsumi, author of the most comprehensive modern Japanese version of the Shoninki, thus making this English translation the closest to the original scrolls. The information and insights found in this translation are invaluable for understanding the skills, techniques and mentality of the historical shinobi. Whether it involved tips for surviving in the wild, advice on intelligence-gathering techniques, or methods for creating chaos in the enemy camp, this ninja book unveils secrets long lost. Along with its practical applications, this book is an important guide to the mental discipline that ninjas must have to ensure success in accomplishing their mission. True Path of the Ninja covers the following topics: What a ninja is and what equipment he needs The skills of infiltration and information gathering How to disrupt and distract the enemy How to be mentally prepared to carry out ninja missions In addition to the translation of the Shoninki, this book also includes the first written record of the oral tradition "Defense Against a Ninja" taught by Otake Risuke, the revered sensei of the legendary Katori Shinto Ryu school of swordsmanship. Sensei reveals for the first time these ancient and traditional teachings on how the samurai can protect himself from the cunning wiles of a ninja.
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Yet, I faced an initial dilemma with how I ought to approach the review. Upon reading the introduction chapters that were meant to prepare the reader to understand the Shoninki, my dilemma over whose work I was reviewing evaporated. Since the original Shoninki was written in the Edo period, the nuances in Japanese language and cultural context differ vastly from that of modern Japan. It follows then that a mere translation of the Shoninki without interpreting and taking into account the historical, cultural and language context would be utterly useless for the average modern reader.
Hence, as much as the concepts of the Shoninki belong to Natori Masatake and all the ninjas before him, the translators interpretations and contextual knowledge are important in guiding the reader into the world of the ninja. Note: This review does not determine the accuracy of the translation or interpretations. But I may update this review in the future when I get my hands on other Shoninki translations. And to clarify, the Shoninki focuses on the espionage techniques and strategies of Kishu-Ryu, not the martial arts.
Here, you will learn about Natori Masatake, the Kishu-Ryu Ninjutsu School and how the Shoninki is applicable to Ninjutsu practitioners, enthusiasts and martial artists alike. In addition, the introduction devotes a few pages on the challenges with translating the Shoninki, which enables the reader to appreciate the importance of historical and cultural context.
Since society, language and culture evolve over time, it would be ludicrous to judge and interpret translations set in Edo Japan based on modern-day values, ethics and mindset. Understanding this allows you to truly immerse into the ninja world, and see through the eyes of Natori with awareness of the cultural norms unique to his time.
It turns out that the assumption that samurai and ninja were at opposite spectrum and mortal enemies was inaccurate. Herein is the rare opportunity to explore the perceptions and relationship between ninja and samurai.
He goes further to distinguish ninja from nusubito thieves , with -it seems to me- a hint of contempt for having the ninja being confused as nusubito. Where the preface and part one focuses on laying the groundwork and definitions of ninja, the opening provides information on the foundational espionage techniques, outlining basic tools, weapons, infiltration and teamwork. The Shoninki Middle Chapters In the Shoninki Middle Chapters, Natori goes into detail as to specific techniques on evading capture, infiltration, and manipulating and hiding within an unfamiliar environment.
Also, in this section are physiognomy, ninja magic and divination. Counting the number of teeth. Similar to meditation and prayer, when you truly believe something will happen, your behaviour and action subtly changes to make things happen. I will go into examples in the last section on my final thoughts abour the book. For now, the below are some examples of what I learnt about the ninja that surprised me.
Samurai respected the ninja and did employ them for work that goes against their code As briefly mentioned earlier, I was surprised about the preface being written by a samurai, which hinted at the respectful perceptions samurai had of ninja. Furthermore, what I found interesting was the idea that deception in historical Japan could be seen as courageous or cowardly depending on the situation.
And it is based on my surmise that the samurai did distinguish deception against evil and deception against the innocents; the ninja were associated with the former. Shinobi were respected for their discipline to employ espionage techniques honourably, unlike nusubito and other criminals. Ninja knowledge was based on shockingly detailed observations, experience through application and sophisticated deductions from several bodies of knowledge What shocked me when reading the Shoninki was how intuitive the espionage techniques were, and yet without knowing the bodies of knowledge from which they were derived, a normal person is unlikely to know how the ninja operated.
I would liken reading the Shoninki to learning the secrets of the modern magician; it is amazing how one can combine a few simple concepts to build a complex theory, especially in the historical age of the ninja.
I could only imagine how much observation, experience and deductive reasoning it took to accumulate such intuitive techniques. Skill in conversation, psychology and emotional intelligence were more useful than skills in combat This brings me to the next point, conversational skills, emotional intelligence and an intuitive understanding of psychology was more important to a ninja than combat skills itself.
The purpose of a ninja is to gather intelligence; fighting almost guarantees that the ninja has failed. There have been some chapters where I found the concepts of the Shoninki quite abstract and unclear. Another thing I liked about the author and translator was their efforts to verify the plausibility of certain Shoninki techniques with the modern-day headmaster of Tenshinsho-den Katori Shinto-Ryu, one of the oldest schools in Japan still in existence that still taught Ninjutsu as a sub-art.
Yet, there are a few notes by the translator that I feel can be much better explained. I acknowledge that with any translation work that needs significant contextual inferences, such as the Shoninki, there are many ways the text can be interpreted.
Here is one of the introductory text that I initially found confusing and poorly explained. Historically and culturally, Japan was male-dominated and was accepting of homosexuality, namely within samurai culture. When you add these two together, you can reasonably assume that Natori includes same gender sexual activity as part of luring, even if Natori has not explicitly mentioned it.
The Appeal To Ninja Enthusiasts and Martial Artists Just like other ninja enthusiasts, the prospect of reviving the way of ninja sounds appealing to me. Yet, the modern revivals of the ninja way has almost always been represented in form rather than essence; we are obsessed with replicating the look and history of the ninja but not the essence.
Techniques are merely techniques. Costumes are just costumes. Techniques and clothes change over time. Do not mistake the form for the essence of ninja. It is the mindset and essence of what a ninja is that is important to replicate. This book presents the fundamental ideals of the ninja and reveals the core or essence of the ninja implicitly.
By studying the Shoninki, we can apply the fundamental mindset of the ninja and navigate through life with discipline towards our goals, adapting and blending with situations as they arise, doing our best, so that at the end we can become detached from the outcome. This is at least how I see its relevance to the modern world. The ninja of old would have done the same and are taught to read between the lines. Not everything is going to be clear, and there may sometimes be more questions than answers.
And it would be good for any ninja enthusiast to own a translated copy of one of the three major ninja manuals. Please share your thoughts about the book and the review! Special thanks to Tuttle Publishing.
I have not and will not give dishonest reviews for monetary or other benefits, as it is against what Way Of Ninja and I represent.
True Path of the Ninja: The Definitive Translation of the Shoninki