Friday, April 28, 2006

ZPD: Heed the last Ninja ...

Wed, Apr. 26, 2006: Associated Press' HANS GREIMEL: Last Ninja: 'Be able to kill your students'

NODA, Japan - The teachings of Grand Master Masaaki Hatsumi echo through my head as he entreats me to attack a blackbelted disciple with a practice sword. "Always be able to kill your students," he says.

Chilling words from a shockingly fit 76-year-old man who bills himself as the world's last ninja and stocks his training chamber with weapons such as throwing stars and nunchucks. Especially to a neophyte whose closest brush with martial arts was watching Bruce Lee matinees as a kid.

As I cautiously raise the sword with a taut two-handed samurai grip, my sparring partner gingerly points to Hatsumi. I avert my eyes for a split second - and WHAM! The next thing I know, I'm staring at the rafters.

Keeping your focus is just one of the lessons thumped out on the mats of the Bujinkan Dojo, a cramped school outside Tokyo that is a pilgrimage site for 100,000 worldwide followers. They revere Hatsumi as the last living master of ninjutsu - the mysterious Japanese art of war practiced by black-masked assassins of yesteryear.

"He's unlimited in body, mind and spirit," says Richard VanDonk, who flew in from California to practice body throws in the dojo's warm glow of rice-paper screens and flickering votive candles. "He's a master of change."

Hatsumi is the only living student of the last "fighting ninja," Toshitsugu Takamatsu, the so-called 33rd Grand Master who was a bodyguard to officials in Japanese-occupied Manchuria before World War II and fought - and won - 12 fights to the death. Legend says that during one battle, Takamatsu snatched an eyeball from a would-be Chinese bandit.

Today, Hatsumi's enemies are stereotypes and flagging interest in the ancient art. He seeks to leave the task to a worthy successor as speculation mounts about his retirement.

In many ways, the curly-haired, wide-eyed Hatsumi has been a victim of success: He has helped make ninja an international household name by training followers from Chile to South Africa. But he also has watched his legacy co-opted by goofy caricatures such as "Mutant Ninja Turtles" and schlocky Hollywood send-ups like "Beverly Hills Ninja."

"I think it's pathetic," Hatsumi says of the ninja's modern image.

A glance around the dojo suggests the average Japanese might agree. The vast majority of students are foreigners, often with a military background, who learned of Hatsumi overseas. That's because in Japan, ninjutsu is swept up in the wave of apathy that has sapped the ranks of traditional martial arts like sumo and judo.

Most Japanese are exposed to martial arts in school. But the number practicing judo has been declining since the 1980s as more people turn to Western sports like golf and tennis. Sumo also has fallen on hard times, forcing the Japan Sumo Association to import stars.

"Young kids might be more interested in other sports that are flashy or fashionable," concedes Makinori Matsuo, an associate professor of martial arts at Tokyo's International Budo University.

"They tend to be turned off by the image of martial arts as sweaty and smelly," he said.

Ninja is a compound word from the Japanese characters for "stealth" or "endurance" and "person," a reference to their traditional role as spies, mercenaries and assassins working for medieval warlords.

Traditional weaponry such as swords and throwing stars feature prominently is Hatsumi's lessons, as do handclaws for climbing walls, blow darts and chili pepper dust to throw in an opponent's eyes.

But true ninjutsu, Hatsumi says, is self-discipline and balance in the boardroom and the battlefield. It's about mastering one's weaknesses, including laziness and fear, and exploiting a rival's needs, such as sex and pride.

As he nimbly glides across the padded floor, Hatsumi showers students with cryptic proverbs straight out of Confucian scrolls, such as "anything can be used as a weapon" or "ninjutsu is the sum of things in the universe."

"Timing is the most difficult," he adds, while casually deflecting a gleaming metal sword swung at his neck by a veteran student. After the turning the blade on the attacker, Hatsumi gives his arm a slight twist, eliciting a baleful yelp.

Halfway through the lesson, Hatsumi takes a break to pen traditional brush paintings for students who hustle to his side with paper. Then things get serious again with the meting out of "ninja tests."

Going for his fifth-level ranking is Phil White of England, who kneels on the floor with his eyes closed. Behind him stands Hatsumi, clutching a padded wooden sword that he plans to bring down on White's head.

If White - with his eyes still closed - manages to dodge the sword, he passes; if not, he takes home some bumps.

Twice the staff cracks on White's head before he slumps out of the way on his third try - enough to satisfy the master.

"I'm still shaking," White says afterward, while being barraged by congratulatory slaps on the back. "I didn't feel like I was moving. You feel like you're being blown by the wind."

Today, hundreds of ninja schools across Europe, North America and beyond trace their roots to Hatsumi.

He has held training seminars for the FBI, CIA, the Mossad and for police in Britain, France and Germany. He has served as a martial arts adviser to films such as the James Bond thriller "You Only Live Twice" and the television miniseries "Shogun."

Hatsumi has left his mark in other ways, authoring a dozen books in English and Japanese.

He says he is not ready to sheath his sword anytime soon, but admits the question of who will succeed him as ninjutsu's world leader is a constant topic of gossip at the dojo. Only Hatsumi gets to choose the next grand master, and he's not giving any hints.

It's even possible it will be a non-Japanese for the first time, he says.

"Human beings always want to know what they cannot know," he says. "But you can never tell the future."

Associated Press writer Kana Inagaki contributed to this report from Tokyo.


Masaaki Hatsumi

Masaaki Hatsumi (初見良昭 Hatsumi Masaaki, born December 2, 1931) is the founder and current headteacher of Bujinkan Dojo martial arts organization.

He graduated from Meiji University in Tokyo with a major in theater production, and later opened his own chiropractic clinic in Noda city.

From his childhood he studied many martial arts, including judo and western boxing. During this time, he was instructing American soldiers in the art of judo, and noticed because of size and strength superior to his Japanese comrades, they were learning in months what typically took a Japanese judoka years to master. In this, he began to question himself and his training. It was after this time, he began studying ancient kobudo weaponry under Toshitsugu Takamatsu.

In 1957 he began making his weekly trips to train with his new teacher in Kashiwabara, taking a train ride some several hours one way. He did this every weekend, and was able to train as often as possible with his sensei.

From Takamatsu he inherited the position of sōke (headmaster) of 9 ryū (schools of martial arts):

Masaaki Hatsumi first came to the attention of the western world when his student Stephen K. Hayes began appearing in martial art magazines in the late 1970s. The techniques that Hayes demonstrated in these magazines were then referred to simply as the techniques of the Ninja. Westerners craving knowledge about these ancient systems of self defense saught out the teacher of Hayes and, thus, Hatsumi-sensei was introduced to the west. He first came to the United States in 1983. He later traveled and taught throughout Europe.

In the 1990s Hatsumi-sensei began teaching the nine schools under the banner of Bujinkan Budo Taijutsu. His training began to move from the pre-arranged kata and henkas, to teaching to grasp the feeling of a technique instead, to try to feel what makes a technique work under the most dire of situations. This principle is called shinkengata, and represents life/death situations.

His Bujinkan system is comprised of the nine ryū (schools) listed above, and has a ranking system as follows:

Mukyu (commonly called 10th kyu) - White Belt 9th - 1st Kyu - Green Belt (Red and White Patch) 1st - 4th Dan - Black Belt, Shidoshi-ho (Black and Red Patch with Stars) 5th - 9th Dan - Black Belt, Shidoshi (Black and Red Patch with White Border, and Stars) 10th - 15th Dan - Black Belt, Shihan (Green and Orange Patch, with Stars)

Some of his more well-known senior students include:

Wheee! I can do that - ZPD

Friday, April 21, 2006

ZPD: Fear and Loathing of Washington Lunacy

Ted Rall: Don't Impeach Bush. Commit Him - A Maniacal Messianic Prepares to Fulfill His Destiny :

From ICH - "I have fulfilled my destiny," the president says manically. He has just entered the nuclear launch codes that will trigger World War III. Seconds later, he emerges from a bunker. The Secretary of State squeezes between two soldiers. "Mr. President!" he shouts. "We have a diplomatic solution!"

He smiles. "It's too late," he replies. "The missiles are flying. Alleluia. Alleluia."

The above scene, from David Cronenberg's 1983 adaptation of the horror novel "The Dead Zone," is a classic if slightly preposterous nightmare of a world destroyed by a demented demagogue. Now, incredibly, a lunatic out of a Stephen King movie has brought the United States to the brink of Armageddon.

Until I read Seymour Hersh's expose in The New Yorker and subsequent follow-up coverage by other journalists about the Bush Administration's plans to start a war against Iran, I had dismissed talk of George W. Bush's messianism as so much Beltway chatter. True, he hears voices, even claiming that God and Jesus Christ talk to him. "I believe God wants me to run for president," he told a friend in Texas. Eschewing mainstream religion, he routinely parrots the apocalyptic ravings of fringe Christianist cults: "And the light [America] has shone in the darkness [the enemies of America], and the darkness will not overcome it [America shall conquer its enemies]," he said during his fevered campaign for war against Iraq. He mimics Old Testament cadences: "God told me to strike at Al Qaeda and I struck them," Bush told the Palestinian prime minister in 2003, "and then he instructed me to strike at Saddam, which I did, and now I am determined to solve the problem in the Middle East."


Despite the man's wacky religiosity, I have been giving Bush the benefit of a small amount of remaining doubt after five years of the most disastrous rule this nation has ever suffered. I believed that he was breathtakingly bigoted, stupid and ignorant. But I didn't think he was out of his mind. Until now.

"Current and former American military and intelligence officials" tell Hersh "that President Bush is determined to deny the Iranian regime the opportunity to begin a pilot program, planned for this spring, to enrich uranium." Of course, uranium enrichment for peaceful atomic energy is permitted by the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, to which Iran is a signatory. Which is what the Iranians say they're doing. But the Bush Administration, which knows a little about lying, doesn't believe them.

Fair enough: One only has to consider the risk of nuclear conflagration between India and Pakistan to see why the fewer countries have nukes, the better. Not every country can be trusted with such terrifying weapons. So how does the trustworthy United States plan to make its stand against nuclear proliferation?

By nuking Iran. ...”


From Tim Sloan/AFP/Getty Images cite fair use

The NY Times today reported that Chinese officials were outraged over the White House accrediting a reporter who screamed at Mr. Hu from the stands, and mistakenly referring to China by the name of its archrival Taiwan. Adding insult to injury, here’s a picture of Vice President Dick Cheney sleeping during Mr. Hu’s press conference.

He's dreaming of the death count of American boys - many suspect he needs them for medical reasons...

Also in the news -