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The Ninja Life Value
by Jack Hoban

One of the great honors of my life was to be asked, by Contemporary Books, to edit Hatsumi Sensei's book in English, "ESSENCE OF NINJUTSU." As I worked I realized that it must have been a difficult job for the original translator, because Hatsumi Sensei's writing style is very unique: Each sentence, each kanji has many interpretations.

This is Ninja writing.

I was afraid to over-interpret what was written, so I merely helped with grammar and spelling. I left many mysterious passages for the readers to puzzle out for themselves by "reading between the lines." Yet for me, there seemed to be an essence to Hatsumi Sensei's teaching. That is that "life" is the most important value for the Ninja. I think it is significant to note that Sensei does not qualify that value. In this context, he does not say, "a life of happiness," or "a life of success," or "a life of wealth." These secondary values are all relative. He speaks of life in its most elemental and universal sense.

To support this essential viewpoint, he says several other things that we have all heard, such as "I am no country," meaning perhaps, that cultural values obscure the essence of budo; and "I have no style," which may be an admonition that style obscures the essence of taijutsu.

This issue is literally a matter of life or death, and has always been so. Even recently, in the former Yugoslavia, we see this concept of the life value being forsaken. They are obsessed, there, with notions of "country," and "culture" or "style." "Culture" has come to be considered the definitive criterion of human worth. When this occurs, it almost always follows that those not of your culture somehow have less human worth.

Then comes the "ethnic cleansing." When "culture" is treated with more importance than life, the killing begins, guaranteed. In a more general sense, this means that anyone that puts something above life: culture, money, honor, fame, prestige, etc., will kill too easily. It also means that they can be easily killed by people of other, "lesser" cultures that they treat with disrespect.

Cultural values are relative: They can be different for different people, depending on the environment. Even people who are ostensibly of the same culture can easily disagree on their values. Are all Americans the same? Are all Japanese the same? Do they think alike? Have the same experiences? No, of course not. Even the cultural or behavioral values of the same person can change. In this way, the importance of culture can be thought of as a myth; a creation of the human mind.

Robert L. Humphrey, in the book "Values For A New Millenium," states, in essence, that the only thing that may be the same about people is that they value their own lives and the lives of their loved ones. We are all equal in this regard (and no other of relative importance), regardless of culture. When this fact of human nature collides with the cultural or behavioral caprice of we imperfect human beings, conflict and violence result. This is why I believe that it is important to live as if "I am no country."

This issue is particularly pertinent for the budoka. We train as Ninja; yet as human beings we are susceptible to cultural biases like everyone else. Remember, the goal of our training is to live. Many of us train in the martial arts up to a certain level of proficiency. We become comfortable there. We "fall in love" with a martial arts style of our own creation. Even though we may train for many years after that point, we never really progress. Style, like culture, is not of importance in matters of life and death. We will not progress unless we abandon our style for mu (formlessness).

One might rationalize that it is foolish and dangerous to give up a "tried and true" method, our "style," for formlessness. But the fact is that the thing that kills you is anything except the thing that you have trained for. This is why style is useless. Again, the purpose of Ninpo is to live. There are no modifiers, no qualifiers. Live, just live. But, as Humphrey also says, this life value is a dual one: our lives and the lives of others. Protecting one's own life, of course, is self-defense. Protecting others is warriorship.

It sounds romantic or heroic to imagine ourselves, as warriors, running around the world protecting the weak and defenseless. But, this is not realistic. To live truly as a warrior, and help make peace, we must set an example of treating all persons, even those poorer and richer, dumber and smarter, better or worse, with basic respect. This is difficult and may take great courage; people who seem different can frighten or disgust us. Yet, if we don't respect the lives of others, even if we don't like or understand their behavior, conflict or violence will naturally result. Aren't there richer, smarter, better people than you in the world? Does that make their life worth more than yours? Not to you! All people are the same in this way. Our martial arts skills can give us the courage and confidence to see the life value in all persons, and support and defend that value.

Life, not culture, color, creed, or behavior, is the most important and universal value. Life is worth defending. This is the goal of our training: to protect life.