Conflict Resolution

21st Century Ninja

Andrew Thomas asked:

The warrior craft of Ninjutsu aims to resolve conflict- conflicts that a 1000 years ago would have been settled on the battle field or one on one combat.

The principles of spying and gathering information through secret means was also a key part of Ninjutsu strategy. The Ninjutsu leaders through out time have realized that fighting was rarely a matter of force on force. While the shape of the battlefield has changed over the past millennia, the core concept of dealing with the conflict contained within has not. It is true that the battlefield has changed over the past 1000 years but the key principles of resolving conflict have not.

The warrior arts of Ninjutsu aims to resolve conflict – conflicts that nine hundred years ago would of been decide on the battlefield. However, unlike other conventional forms of bujutsu of the time, the concepts of espionage (shinobi iri) and information gathering through clandestine means were also key to strategy of the ninjutsu clans. The guardians of Ninjutsu knew that combat was not just a matter of force against force. While the shape of the battlefield has changed over the past millennia, the core concept of dealing with the conflict contained within has not.

In the 21st century as in previous centuries, battlefields are not just physical or political but also emotional and sociological. While the majority of us are not serving in the military, physical battles exist in the form of our own personal security or in our personal lives or the civilian occupations we have selected. However, we are frequently exposed to conflict in many other guises such as business and financial negotiations, anti-social behaviour and personal interactions.

As is presented in the quote from Sun Tzu, understanding of one’s self is vital to the successful resolution to conflict. The practice of ninjutsu provides a suitable vehicle to meet this aim as it requires us as practitioners to be self reliant and provides an environment for honest self appraisal. When you understand your own strengths and weakness you will be able to use your own strengths and avoid showing weakness. Furthermore, utilising the principles of bo ryaku (strategy) and kyojitsu (truths and falsehoods) we are able to manipulate the opponent’s concepts of our strengths and weaknesses to our advantage. As Sun Tzu states:

“When weak, appear strong and when strong, appear weak”

Like is seen in the animal kingdom, aggressors (of whatever form) appear to be driven to attack on two main stimuli – the appearance of especially weak individuals or occasionally, the presence of especially ‘strong’ individuals. By targeting the weakest individual (or an individual that has made themselves weak by nature of their current state), an easy victory can be achieved and the object of the aggressors desire is obtained. Alternatively (and seemingly more rare) there is the occasion where the ‘strongest’ appearing member of a group or situation may be targeted, presumably for the effect a victory over such an individual will have on the aggressors status with others or their own self-worth. Using skills of observation (kyoman) and awareness that are promoted in ninjutsu and our understanding of an attacker’s motivations, we as practitioners should be able to prevent ourselves being targeted by not only preventing our exposure to such dangers but also appearing neither too weak nor too strong. These ideas are modern versions of concealment and invisibility (inton no jutsu).

Should avoidance fail, or be inappropriate, and a conflict is initiated by another, we as ninjutsu practioners then have several options: To appear meek, even insignificant (henso jutsu), control our own ego and thereby facilitate our escape; to posture, appear fearless and cause capitulation in our aggressor; or as a last resort, to engage the adversary, but on our own terms. These options of course are not mutually exclusive, and it is sometimes inevitable that one course of action must evolve into another in order to regain control over the adversary in the same way that one physical technique may flow into another (nagare). Since we can make choices for ourselves, I believe that this sets us apart from the people who have only one way to react.

Self-protection, from the perspective of the protection of our physical ‘self’ in particular, like the protection of others, truly falls under the guise of Jihan no kokoro as it reflects the ability to prevent the emotional distress in those around us that may be caused by our own distress or injury. Physical self-protection is one of the most important facets of my own ninjutsu training for it is through this, that the confidence and skills to attempt other forms of conflict resolution is gained.

Once our own strengths are truly understood and we are confident of our victory in whatever battle is presented to us, we can ask ourself, what do we gain by engaging in this conflict? Truly there are some instances where we (or those around us) are in physical danger or risk being put at some other disadvantage. In these instances, we should have the skills to act and be victorious and more importantly the will and self-belief to place ourselves in this precarious position. However we should also know where we or those around us are not in real danger (or disadvantage) and not feel the need to be pulled unnecessarily into a conflict.

The possibility is that the way we approach adverse situations that we should take on is part of the ‘nin’ kanji, which means “how able we are to persevere or endure&#8221. This is generally translated as the ability to endure or persevere. In my opinion this is not just telling us to ‘put up with it’ rather to weather the storm, keep going and be prepared to push longer and further than the opponent is prepared to go.

Ninjutsu is a study that lets you rise up to the challenge if needed but also lets you step back and let events run there course which ever is most appropriate. This idea is the same as it was in the Japan that existed under the feudal system many years ago.

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