In 1957, young Yoshiaki Hatsumi was an avid martial artist working as a bone doctor in Chiba Prefecture, roughly two hours outside of Tokyo, the capital of Japan. Since childhood, martial arts had held his fascination, leading him to study various styles under several teachers. But Hatsumi was looking for something special and found himself drawn to an ideal that continually eluded him no matter how many teachers he studied with. He wished to explore real martial arts – the art of war – ancestor of modern sport versions.
He was told about an aging master of martial arts named Toshitsugu Takamatsu. The scant details of Takamatsu’s life sounded like an adventure novel as he had spent 12 years as a young man inside a chaotic China instructing martial arts, eventually becoming a personal bodyguard of Pu Yi, the last emperor of China. His prowess as a master of Budo, the martial way, led him to be known as “Moko no Tora,” or the “Mongolian Tiger.” At the height of his notoriety in China, he was said to have thousands of students. The article enthralled Hatsumi, who immediately set out to journey the half-day train ride south to the ancient city of Kashihara, in Nara Prefecture, to meet this remarkable man.
Little did Hatsumi realize exactly who he was seeking out. Takamatsu was in fact the world’s last “combat ninja,” trained since childhood in the ancient teachings of the legendary ninja warrior tradition. Incredibly, many of Takamatsu’s exploits are still secret to this day, lest they challenge the accepted version of history in modern China.
Upon first meeting Upon first meeting Takamatsu, Hatsumi had a match with him. Takamatsu, in his 70s and the owner of a small, unassuming tea house, tossed young Hatsumi around like a child and he experienced what he called “hot pain,” a feeling like he would explode. Takamatsu, who was not accepting any students, agreed to begin teaching Hatsumi. Thus began a 15-year odyssey between master and disciple.
Each weekend during that time, Hatsumi made the half-day journey from his home to study with Takamatsu, who initiated him into Ninpo Taijutsu, ninja techniques and strategies passed down for generations. After many years under Takamatsu’s tutelage, Hatsumi was becoming a strong Budoka, student
One weekend, as Hatsumi sat sipping tea with Takamatsu, the old master quietly left the room without explanation. Hatsumi waited patiently for his return – his back to the doorway. Suddenly, Hatsumi felt the need to duck. As he slipped to his side, a live sword blade passed through the space his body had occupied only a moment before. Takamatsu had approached unnoticed from behind and given his student one final test. Shortly after, Takamatsu granted Hatsumi the title of 34th generational Soke, “head of the family,” of Togakure Ryu Ninpo Taijutsu, one of the last surviving schools of Ninjutsu dating back nearly 900-years. Eventually, Hatsumi would inherit eight more ancient traditions, comprising all of Takamatsu’s collective knowledge.
The nine schools:
• Togakure Ryu Ninpo
• Kumogakure Ryu Ninpo
• Gyokushin Ryu Ninpo
• Gyokko Ryu Kosshijutsu
• Koto Ryu Koppojutsu
• Gikan Ryu Koppojutsu
• Shinden Fudo Ryu Dakentaijutsu
• Takagi Yoshin Ryu Jutaijutsu
• Kukishinden Ryu Happo Hiken
Takamatsu died on April 2nd, 1972. Yoshiaki Hatsumi, who had changed his name to Masaaki on Takamatsu’s advice, founded the Bujinkan Dojo, or “warrior god training hall,” to honor his teacher. Hatsumi then spent the next 10 years studying the teachings of his master, with a small group of dedicated Japanese and foreign students
In 1982, he traveled to America for a series of seminars where his skills, energy, and message reached thousands of people and helped fuel the “ninja boom.” This explosion of popularity consisting of television, movies, and magazines was a double-edged sword, granting Hatsumi a media platform for his wisdom and experience, but also gave opportunists – inexperienced or unlicensed instructors as well as outright frauds – bait to lure eager students into negative, costly, or even dangerous training. In time, these charlatans and false teachings succumbed to the legitimate skills and dedication of serious practitioners, who had quietly kept training around the world, maintaining ties with Hatsumi and his Shihan, top instructors, in Japan. Slowly, they formed strong groups and eventually their own schools.
Today, the Bujinkan flourishes, having matured with tens of thousands of students around the world. Long-time students have come to realize that the ideals, skills, and philosophy of this once secret and enigmatic art are not learned simply for self-defense, but rather personal growth. The physical lessons of Taijutsu forge the heart, mind, and spirit into tools to live a sincere and just life.