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Inside Kung Fu cira 1985-1990

Ninjutsu - A tainted art?

It is nearing 1:30 p.m. on a typically dreary San Francisco afternoon ? the kind of day Mark Twain talked about when he admitted, "The coldest winter I ever spent was the summer I spent in San Francisco." The sky is overcast and foreboding as a light London mist makes ou want to stretch your shoulder muscles. Too much of this and you too might find solace on the top rung of the Golden Gate Bridge. Sickly people call this the cold and flu season. Drug manufacturers call their brokers. Bones ache, muscles creak, toes get cold. In the distance, 200 martial artists, most wearing the black three?piece ensemble emblematic of their pursuit, grace a makeshift soccer field two miles from the heart of suburban San Rafael. Doubtless anyone has left his heart here. Some of the assembled are stretching, some are talking and some are playfully stabbing each other in the stomachs with rubber knives. Pervading the grounds, however, is an uneasiness as thick as the air; a feeling that each minute is 60 seconds too long. These people have not come to San Francisco for their health (although some may leave without it). They are awaiting the appearance of Dr. Masakki (pronounced Ma?Sa?AK?I) Hatsumi (pronounced "grandmaster" in the language of the shadow warrior). For only the second time since 1979. when Stephen K. Haves carried a little?known acorn called ninjutsu from Noda City, Japan. Hatsumi has crossed the Pacific Ocean to greet his followers. The waiting is unrelenting. Photographers constantly check their equipment as the god of available light giggles with glee at the ever?changing sky. Tennis players step lightly past the group. wondering maybe if their neighborhood is the setting for Red Dawn. Part II. A dog rambles carefreely through the grass, proving that at least one species has not been affected by the current ninja phenomena Suddenly a van pulls up outside the gates and the sliding metal doors open to reveal a who's who in the fraternity known as Shadows of Iga. Out steps a group of black?clad elders, ninjutsu's version of the College of Bishops. In the middle is Hatsumi short in stature, long on smile greeting the thunderous applause with waves of appreciation. His salt?and?pepper hair is combed back and perfectly coiffed. Those who are sitting quickly rise to their feet. Those standing remain motionless; only their eyes turn to catch a glimpse of the man they until now have known only through books and stories. It is like a kid magician finally meeting Houdini; a young actor standing ten feet from Gable. Hatsumi, it seems, is first taken aback by the warm greeting; but then he displays an infectious smile, which his throng would gladly catch on this trip north. True to his advanced billing, he is human. He walks under his own power. No floating. At once he pushes the mass of martial artists, assembled for four days by ninjutsu students Jack Hoban and Mark Hodel,into basic warrior techniques. Although surrounded by Japanese bodyguards, Hatsumi moves freely through the group. If he sees a technique being performed improperly, he is not above taking matters into his capable hands. He approaches a pair of white belts, bows and slowly performs the technique. His bodyguards do the same and suddenly, lower, middle and upper class are one with the art. As he speaks to the group, most of whom have paid plenty for the camp, he proves to have a sense of humour ? Which only dispels the myth that ninjutsu chiropractors can't be funny. The scene almost reminds one of Dick Gregory's dynamic presence before adorning crowds in the early 1970s. Through humour, Gregory spoke of hunger and racism, war and violence. In a way, Hatsumi has endured 7,100 miles of air-plane food for much the same reasons. Practitioners in the United States have hungered for his words since his last visit in 1982. Some have wondered about direction. They hope he'll pave an imaginary road map with real martial art philosophy. War has been a battle from within, pitting the forces of several of his students in a word-for-word confrontation carrying no-win proportions. Many hoped he was there to straighten out the mess, to pick up the enemies by their respective collars like a teacher monitoring recess and make each promise to shake hands and act like men. And he would tell each of his followers that the violence portrayed in books and on screen was not authentic ninjutsu : that only by following him would they attain true ninja peace. Well, peace came to the ninja world during the first seven days of May, 1986. How long it lasts is anyone's guess. But let it be known this visit by Hatsumi proved he was finally ready ? as much as he denied it ?to accept responsibility for fathering a child with split personalities. He was expected to pat the good one on the head and the bad one somewhere else. Soon he would have to face the media in what they hoped would be the answer to four years of curiosity. What about Hayes? What about Bussey? What about the politics? Just who is America's top ninja Has he created a monster? Where has he been all these years? Speaking through interpreter Rumiko Hays, the wife of Stephen K. Hayes, Hatsumi said he was not surprised at ninjutsu's popularity in the Western world. "People thought it was secret," he said, without expression. "And since it's so secret people have a curiosity to see more of it." But mostly the curiosity surrounds Hatsumi, . a 56?year?old physician who likes write, paint and once played steel guitar ? a Japanese band. Surprisingly he appears unaffected by those who teach a system unrelated to his He says he's not offended by the actions of others although he notes, "I don t mind it, but it doesn't taste good." It's as if the world of ninja lives inside his head and everyone else is climbing on his shoulders to peek through his ears. Some. he claims have been lucky enough to get a glimpse. "Those who have seen my movement, the actual training, they are the ones that cause that authenticity to blossom. The important thing is the enjoyment of the art." His ability to find enjoyment in the art may be at the root of his success. According to Hatsumi, those before him "didn't show the enjoyment. Subsequently, the art remained one of Japan's most closely guarded martial arts secrets. But through Hatsumi, practitioners began to see another side to ninjutsu, one that could provide inner peace as well as outer protection. "Monkeys are good at play when they're little," he relates. "But when they grow up they forget how to play. Of all the animals. only human beings remember how to enjoy themselves." And then quoting a Chinese philosopher, he says, "Enjoyment is the highest level of a human being. The media coverage, however, has not been a source of Hatsumi happiness. "I'm not satisfied," he says in what may be the harshest language he knows. "They should go back to the source . . . do some coverage on why (ninjutsu) was born, why it has survived for 900 years." But can it survive the next four years as traditional martial artists continue to predict its demise? His annual visits. he notes, will help stave the art's extinction in America. "People will learn ninjutsu is the art of peace, not to fight." Look at my movement." he later suggests. It's an art form There's only one Picasso. I am like Picasso. I'm not sure if there will be anybody like him in the future. He had great ability and was a master of art. He was not lucky . . . America will be stronger after knowing the true martial art of ninjutsu. The strength lies in the teachers of any system. yet ninjutsu has been plagued by a host of instructors who claim to have cornered the market on wisdom. A difference of opinion has caused a major split among his students. He came to America. he explains, because he wants to bandage old wounds which have festered since his last trip. I want to make them get along well, he says. referring indirectly to an ongoing and sometimes bitter rift between Hayes and former student, Robert Bussey. "I think if they get a chance to meet each other, they'll have a chance to get along . . . if they come together they'll get along well." Although he refused to rank America's top ninja authorities, his words about Hayes certainly placed him at the top of the list. "I didn't expect anything from (Hayes), I didn't expect anything from anybody," he maintains, when asked if Hayes was told to disseminate the word of ninjutsu upon his return to America in 1979. "There were many before him, but he's the only one who made it grow." But why? "There was something between us," Hatsumi explains, getting almost emotional for the first time. "Like something between married people . . . something already decided . . . fate . . . predestined." Does that mean Hayes could be next in line? A non?Japanese 35th?generation grandmaster of the togakure?ryu system? Anything is possible, Hatsumi suggests, but the title is no big deal. "To be a soke is not something great. You take the dog out, your wife shouts at you. It's nothing great."
By Dave Carter
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Ninjutsu - A tainted art?

Inside Kung Fu cira 1985-1990
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