Lasting Tradition By Tatsuya Sakamoto

A black-clad ninja with swords in both hands appeared from behind a cloud of smoke. It could have been a scene from the Warring States period of the 15th and 16th centuries, but instead it was 71-year-old Masaaki Hatsumi, a world-famous ninja master.

A ninja was originally a samurai warrior engaged in espionage activities in feudal Japan, who utilized the ninpo martial arts system of combat and noncombat techniques and philosophies.

Hatsumi is the 34th grandmaster of the Togakure Ryu, a school of Iga-style ninpo and other martial arts based on the teachings of a vassal of Kiso Yoshinaka, a famous 12th-century samurai.

Hatsumi became a disciple of the late Hisatsugu Takamatsu, former grandmaster of the Togakure Ryu, when he was 27. After 15 years of rigorous training, during which he used real swords, he succeeded Takamatsu as grandmaster of the school.

The famous ninja later compiled ninpo and eight other martial arts that he had learned to form his own style--the Bujinkan Ryu. Hatsumi currently teaches martial art techniques mainly for self-defense purposes.

Hatsumi is known the world over as an expert ninja, with friends in both the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation and Britain's Special Air Service. As he has traveled around the world for more than 20 years, Hatsumi has a countless number of disciples abroad.

Among them, Hatsumi said the most impressive person he had ever met was the late SAS Maj. Joe Vaughan. Hatsumi said he could feel the warrior qualities of a soldier who lived in constant danger when he shook hands with the major.

When I visited his dojo (training hall), about two-thirds of the 40 students practicing there were from overseas. Most of them were making short-term trips to Japan for about 10 days or so to undertake training from the ninja master.

Hatsumi's foreign disciples challenged him with wooden swords, but in just a second, the he had them pinned on the floor.

Hatsumi said he tried to read his opponents' minds to counteract their attacks.

"Ninpo has forms, but don't be bound by them," the grandmaster told his students in a resonant voice.

"You cannot survive only with technique. Forget the techniques you have learned and listen to your senses. Move economically and use your space to the full.

"A hardy spirit and discipline are the most essential things you need to acquire through martial arts training," the modern-day ninja stressed.