THE NEW YORK NINPOKAI
By David T. Suzuki
Three months ago I sat, as you are now, reading the then-current edition of Realfighting.com. Over the course of many evenings I scrolled and read through the different sections of the e-zine, eventually coming to a training review by the publisher that moved me from reading to acting. Actually, re-acting is more appropriate, as I'll explain.
The review was on the handgun and knife disarming classes offered in NYC. More significantly, the instructor was James Loriega, whom I had trained with extensively during the 80s and early 90s (before marriage, children, and changing workplaces forced me into inactive status.) I visited the weapons disarm class the following Friday and realized how much I had missed my former training. It was then I found out of the recent expansion of the training hall where I had been an active member of for a dozen years
From the beginning of the decades-long ninja boom, James Loriega's New York Ninpokai was regarded as "New York's premiere ninjutsu training facility" by David Weiss, editor-in-chief of NINJA magazine. It was a time of Ninja Summits, Shinobi Training Camps, Tai Kais, and innumerable other ninjutsu-related events that spanned the globe.
Despite the predictable petty politics, everything was fine for a long time until, inevitably, Hollywood media whores and greedy martial artists combined forces to impugn the credibility, and end the growth, of ninjutsu. Golan-Globus studios, for example, produced opportunistic films that earned their owners untold wealth while trivializing the concepts of the ninja's art. Illiterate writers, such as Eric Von Lustbader and Ashida Kim, hacked out reams of gibberish while "revealing" to the world their (grossly misinformed) understanding of ninjutsu.
Ninjutsu's downward spiral was not helped by the fact that one Grandmaster, Masaaki Hatsumi, began evaluating black belt candidates via video and awarding elevated ranks as quickly as the checks came in and the assembly line could crank the credentials out. Nor by te fact that one of his senior students, Richard Van Dork, currently sells a "Black Belt Home Study Course for only $379.95." These and other damning commercial practices bring a new meaning to the idea of a ninja as "the enemy within."
Of course (as I well know) over time, trends, goals, and priorities change. Stephen Hayes, once the American spokesman for the Bujinkan system, diverged from ninjutsu to pursue Peyton Quinn-type training. Robert Bussey, another former boojie, first reinvented himself as the head of Warrior International, and more recently works for an organization that offers protective services. Other less-known but similarly prominent ninjutsu instructors have likewise hung up their hoods to pursue alternate directions. (I find it darkly ironic that they all purported to practice "the art of perseverance," a common translation of the term "ninjutsu.") All this is why I was pleased to discover that Loriega-sensei has persevered and continued expanding in art of ninjutsu.
What sets the Ninpokai training halls apart from other ninja dojo is the comprehensive curriculum it provides. Ninety-nine percent of the dojo that claim to teach ninjutsu in fact only offer classes in taijutsu -- yet taijutsu is only a small (albeit important) facet of the art of ninjutsu. Many do not even teach a student weaponry until he has advanced to the dan level. (This happens because either the instructor lacks the knowledge or is deliberately withholding it to prolong the student's training.) The dojo places too much importance on fighting techniques and hardly any on strategy and tactics. They forget, or never learned, that if a ninja finds himself in a situation where he's compelled to fight, he has failed as a ninja.
The Ninpokai, whose hombu (main dojo) is located at 2620 East 18th Street in Brooklyn, New York, offers traditional ninjutsu instruction through an exhaustive curriculum that integrates physical techniques, mental strategies, and psychological tactics. The entire system is structured into nine concurrent tiers of instruction. In other words, at each rank level, beginning with white belt, the student is guided through their requirements in every one of the following skill areas. As rank and ability increase, so does the complexity in each of the areas.
- Taijutsu, similar to jujutsu, focuses on forging the body into a weapon. Strikes, kicks, joint-locks, throws, and chokes are some of it techniques.
- Taihenjutsu, similar to ukemi-waza, teaches the student how to hit the ground safely. Unlike ukemi, it incorporates real-life skills for falling or rolling out of chairs, windows, roofs, and even moving vehicles.
- Shinobi Aruki teaches the students different and sophisticated ways of walking, crawling, climbing, and moving in an unobstructed and silent manner. He learns to negotiate treacherous terrain, impediments, obstacles, and barriers.
- Goshinjutsu addresses the traditional methods of physical self-defense from unarmed and armed opponents. Training begins at the basic level of garment holds and extends to tactics against multiple armed attackers.
- Bukijutsu exposes the student to the proper handling of traditional ninja weaponry. Beginning with the shobo, a small yawara-stick type weapon, the student progresses in line with his rank to steel and flexible weapons, projectile weapons, poisons, powders, and chemicals, and ultimately teppo, (or firearms.)
- Ninso, an advanced form of physiognomy, teaches the student to read faces, assess character, and size up an opponent. Standard English texts written by Japanese instructors are used extensively for ninso.
- Shinri Gakku focuses on the function of the mind in manipulating oneself and others. Beginning with simple meditation, exercises proceed to include auto-suggestion, hypnosis, seduction, and other forms of psychological control. Apart from those listed, there are another two basic tiers that cannot be described here.
Given this variety of instruction, it is little surprise that accomplished blacks belts from other systems (who may not necessarily be interested in ninjutsu) enroll in training to round out their unarmed combat skills. Jujutsu black belts in particular have found that our training with weapons, often parallel to those used by samurai, is an excellent complement to their empty-hand arts.
I am thus happy to announce, as I was happy to discover, that traditional ninjutsu is not dead. All that has died is the commitment and discipline of those who lacked the endurance to practice The Art of … Endurance.