The Martial Art of Ninjutsu
Of all the different fields of martial arts that we have already looked at, or will look at more closely in the future, perhaps the most misunderstood one is that of ninjutsu – the art and techniques of the nearly-mythical hidden attackers known as ninjas. From its ancient roots to its explosion in popularity during the last few decades, mostly thanks to pop culture phenomena like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, the idea of what ninjutsu is and what its practitioners do has always walked the line between legend and reality.
The methods of the ninjas began centuries ago, in feudal Japan, but due to their secretive nature it is impossible to tell exactly when the discipline was truly established. However, the first ninjas – or as they were originally known, the shinobi – were not the black-clad masters that we would imagine today. Rather, they were simply poor people from the countryside and farms who became very good at infiltration and spying, and taught the same methods to their children over generations. They become renowned for their ability to blend in, do their task (whether that was assassination, information collection, sabotage, or something else), and then disappear without raising the alarm. Their guiding principles became the ideas of stealth and adaptation to any situation.
So what does that mean? The biggest thing that differentiates ninjutsu from other martial arts is that ninjas are not just focused on how to fight well. They may incorporate techniques from other arts, like karate or kung fu, but it is only a small part of true ninja training, which begins from a young age and runs through a student’s entire life. This training involves stealth practices, increasing your resourcefulness, long-distance walking or long periods of standing still, planning proper diets, knowledge of poisons and cures, using commonly-found objects as weapons, and a variety of ingenuous techniques for how to incapacitate, blind, harm, or silently kill targets.
Ninjutsu is known for its use of simple farm tools as weapons, like scythes, flails, or sickles, which not only could be used to great effect, but allowed anyone wielding such a tool to claim they were only a farmer, not a fighter. They also used hidden objects like hollowed-out eggs filled with broken glass and pepper, sharp metal throwing stars, and blades on chains to attack from a distance and catch their targets by surprise.
Though the idea of dressing in all black is a great Hollywood trope, it is more likely that they dressed in disguises that would allow them passage to their targets – monks, priests, farmers, and so on. They became so good at blending in that legends told of them being invisible, and the reputation progressed to the point that sites fearful of being infiltrated had all kinds of traps, alarms, and failsafes to prevent anyone from getting past the guards.
So where does that leave the idea of ninjas today? Unfortunately, if you’re looking for a school that teaches ninjutsu, you are likely to be out of luck – not only because it was a hereditary concept to begin with, but also because there is no such thing as a single, overarching discipline of ninjutsu. It is a mix of trainings and practices from all parts of life, and deals with a lot of ideas and methods that are obsolete in the modern world.
But it’s still interesting to look back and see how a group of poor Japanese peasants turned into some of the most feared and respected martial artists in history, by constantly practicing and using only what was available to them!
Kung Fu. Jiu Jitsu. Tae kwon do, Krav Maga, Wing Chun, Muay Thai…the list of martial arts styles is nearly endless, each one focuses on different aspects of energy, motion, and force. So why do we think Kung Fu is the best? Because were totally biased and we love Kung Fu!!!
Kung Fu is, at its core is one of the most complete martial arts you can study. Encompassing a variety of forms and at least 1,500 years of history. In this case Kung Fu could just mean Chinese Martial arts but I’m speaking more specifically about the Shaolin and the arts or practitioners that were heavily influenced by their teachings.
Kung Fu has created and absorbed many hundreds of techniques over the centuries that either influenced or came from many martial arts systems – including some techniques that originated in the Shaolin temples, were added to other systems, and came back to the temple with an entirely fresh and new perspective. Martial arts is constantly refining and upgrading its theories and practices. In some Shaolin temples, fighters can train for 10 hours a day, mastering their mind and body, and still have much to learn.
The humongous amount of knowledge led to Masters specializing in particular sets of techniques or falling into a particular style. This is where “styles” or “ways” of martial arts come from. A particular practitioner gave preferential treatment and saw great benefit to the soft style, and hence Tia Chi comes along. Another practitioner prefers to use knees, elbows, feet and fists hence Muay Thai and Karate. When the the need arose to get around undetected, you can begin to imagine how Ninjutsu was developed.
Many of the Martial Arts that exist today arose out of a need, a desire or a philosophy of a just a single practitioner. These individuals are commonly known as Grandmasters. These people changed world and their names are honored throughout history. As a Grandmaster aged he would often name his most dedicated and proven disciple to be the new Grandmaster in order to see over the students and carry on the ways and the style of the art form.
Getting to why we think Kung Fu is the best (and of course we are totally biased), this is Kung Fu for Life after all... Let’s look at some of the Martial Arts you may be considering getting involved in.
Karate - is an excellent martial art, but it’s nearly all hardstyle and very energy-intensive – how long can you last in a real fight if you have the pedal to the floor the whole time? Kung Fu for Life often receives some criticism for taking some influence from this wonderful art and is hence “not real Kung Fu” but if you talk to any Karate practitioner they will tell you that the two systems are not the same. We teach to meet hardness with softness wherever possible, this saves on energy and perhaps could be used as a combative advantage. Also using softer techniques reduces injuries like bruising and bone fractures.
Wing Chun - designed specifically for the defense of women. Truly one of the noblest of goals and a credit to the practitioners and teachers who carry it forward. This system is technically Kung Fu and is, at least of women in legend, derived from the Shaolin arts. There is no merit in criticizing this or any other martial arts system except to say that perhaps Shaolin Kung Fu incorporates a larger variety of techniques that may be of more benefit.
Boxing - (which may not be a “martial” art) teaches you to fight with your hands, block with your arms and bob and weave through punches. It’s not very useful if you are on the ground, or if your opponent knows how to kick. It’s a blast for young men and other sport enthusiast but the love tends wear off (for most, at least) after a few hard punches to the face.
Muay Thai – The King of Martial Arts - at least that’s what it always says in the posters. People love the fitness aspect of this art, they tell us that it’s fun and a great way to stay in shape. The only complaints that here about this is that it’s not a super forgiving sport and can be potentially dangerous. It may not the best sport if you have injuries or limitations. We're not sure what the mental aspect of the training is but we've always been told never to underestimate a Thai Fighter.
The list and the discussion could potentially go on forever. We don’t have that much time, but we can tell you that if you train with Kung Fu for Life we will do everything we can to make sure that you become the best possible version of yourself.
Kung Fu will help you embrace and incorporate the mind/body connection. We will help you train your reflexes, accuracy, timing, control, reaction speed and more. Mental discipline and focus will become your ally as you take regular fighting moves and combine them with chi and pure effort. In fact, there is potential in our school for some of the highest-level practitioners to train thousands techniques in the various forms and patterns taught in this system. When you are ready we will give the tools you need to help pass down this great art on to the next generation and lay bricks in this continuously built art form.
Kung Fu is the birthplace of many other martial arts. So many systems are derived directly from it – but they tend to focus and simplify complex sets of movements in order to make them easier to master. The wide variety of moves in our system tends to require more study and more skill but usually has an advantage over the simplified form, as it can accommodate for more situations. For example, some systems will only teach attack or defense from one angle or one distance, but our training gives you multiple ways to either attack or defend from a variety of distances and angles. This allows you to appreciate how details like footing or hand placement can affect the outcome of a fight.
Our system is designed to help you progress and move at your own pace – not requiring you, but giving you the opportunity to master each individual step fully before moving on to the next!
We view Kung Fu as an art form, which means you can combine the moves in your own unique way, like creating a painting out of the component colours. In a combination of both hard and soft style, you will learn which is most useful to you in a combat situation. You will be allowed to make extensive use of your body to gain leverage and give you the most efficient way to deal with an adversary.
The admitted drawback to this kind of extensive training, is that it takes longer than most people are willing to commit – as is true with most of high quality and form. In our school it is much more about focus, and form, and full understanding of each technique, than it is about being fast and forceful. It is about the details, the fine-tuning, the exact knowledge of what you are capable of, and how to go a little bit further every time you practice. It’s about the little things, like controlling your breathe so you can conserve energy and react effectively. It’s about training your mind through meditation and mindfulness to be as sharp as your physical skills.
Keep in mind, though, that if we have criticized another martial art, it is only about the worst example of them. Each discipline will have fantastic students and teachers, as well as terrible ones. To be very clear the definition of a terrible student or teacher is firstly determined by attitude and respect, everything else is secondary.
Speaking specifically of Kung Fu, we know for sure how well-rounded and useful it is – not just physically, but mentally as well.
Kung Fu for Life is open 6 days a week, and we make custom made programs for each student at a reasonable cost. Our school is designed to allow you to work around injuries, and busy schedules. So don’t be afraid to drop by today or you can call us at (403) 243-5433
We've heard people say that the “style” is not as important as the as the student who studies it. It follows that saying is also true for teachers and we hope it is. As our students and professional teachers are some the best people that we have ever found.
Our system is tough when it needs to be, but is carried forward by some of the most kind-hearted and caring individuals you will ever meet. We're very proud family that we’ve built here.
How is Kung Fu different from other Martial Arts?
When you hear the words “kung fu”, your first thought might be about a series of movies featuring a fighting panda – but many people assume that kung fu is interchangeable with all the other fighting styles you hear about. While these styles are all related, the differences actually go much further than that!
Kung fu, as we think of it today, began more than 1,500 years ago in China as a method of training, in honour of the Buddha, designed to strengthen the connection between the body and the mind. To the monks who created it, this connection between the spirit and the physical body was the most important part of the entire practice, and they developed exercises over the years, decades, and centuries that enhanced this aspect – noticing the many health benefits in the process.
Focusing on meaningful actions that trained the body and the mind to work together, and to improve reactions and perception, the martial art of kung fu emerged over time, but that was only one expression of the discipline – and not even the main one, at that! The emphasis on unity and feeling “at one” with oneself was, and still is, the underlying goal, and following meditative physical techniques bridges that gap. As the fighting form developed, the organized system created many off-shoot versions as well, which you have more than likely heard of: tae kwon do, karate, jujitsu, judo, wing chun, and many others. That means that kung fu is the ancestor of all of these, which focused on and tweaked specific philosophies of movement and attacking/defending to form the new styles.
Kung fu, which can be roughly translated as “skill and art”, is a term that describes a dedication to doing something to the very best of your ability. In fact, this doesn’t even have to be fighting at all – if you engage your whole body and mind towards any art form, be it painting, writing, or anything else, you can confidently say that this, too, is kung fu. The self-defense version that most people envision with these words is, more specifically, “wushu kung fu”, or “military skills and art”. Beyond that, our training style is what’s called “Moh Pai”, a.k.a Shaolin Kempo – an ancient Eastern self-defense philosophy that has been tailored to a North American lifestyle. (One such change is the coloured belt system as you progress in skill, which in its original Chinese form is a new sash every ten years!)
So why is the fighting style still called “kung fu” if it has all these other aspects? Well, it comes down to the healthy mind/body connection and expression. You must use and practice with your body, and be well in control of it in order to have a strong spiritual connection to it. You must be able to defend it against harm, and that is where the self-defense comes in. It is hard to explain, but kung fu is even more so about being ready – physically and mentally – for every situation, than it is about actually fighting.
Our main goal at Kung Fu for Life is not to create fighters that can deal out excessive damage. It is to foster awareness of one’s self, to improve the health of each of our students, and to individually work with them one-on-one so that they get a personalized path to success as they learn more about our techniques. We give our students confidence in every situation – not simply physical confrontations – because they know and trust themselves and their instincts. Even when things escalate, our primary ideal is to defend rather than attack, to protect ourselves rather than harm others. That is the true spirit of kung fu: to highlight how everything is connected and that we should all work towards being better, together.
When it comes to martial arts, there’s no such thing as “the best”: they are, after all, art forms, and those are always subjective, like a painting or a poem. As long as they are done safely and to the very best of one’s ability, that is all that matters – and at Kung Fu for Life, that is what our tenets are based on.
If you are interested in learning more about our kung fu classes, don’t be afraid to ask! You can contact us through our site or even visit our studio, conveniently located beside the 39 Ave C-Train station. We look forward to meeting you!
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