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The Neglected Gate

December 30, 2019

After all these years, I FINALLY understood the Yugei.

When I came across the Ninja Hachimon (8 gates of Ninja study) as an insecure teenager hoping the way of the ninja would take away my fears, Yugei (number 7 in the list) struck me as weird. Here’s the list I had:

1, Ninja Kiai (“Breath harmony”?)
2. Taijutsu (“Body skills” – unarmed combat)
3. Kenjutsu (Sword skills)
4. Yarijutsu (Spear skills)
5. Shuriken-jutsu (Hidden-blade skills)
6. Kajutsu (Fire skills)
7. Yugei (Artistic pursuits such as music and art)
8. Kyomon (Religious studies)

I could not understand where did music, art and such fit into the pragmatic, survival-oriented philosophy of the ancient ninja. The only explanations I came across said it was for personal development and helped in providing a cover for disguises. Seriously? If I lived during the war-torn eras of Japanese history, unsure of whether I would even make it through the next year without dying from battle, disease or starvation, I doubt I was going to spend any of my limited time on learning how to paint or make music. Surely there were other more important and pressing priorities!

But after going through a lot of life ever since my teenage years, I realized that a large part of survival was giving people a reason to survive, the desire to live. (If you ever tried counseling suicidal people before, you’ll know what I mean).

Why live? Just for the sake of living?

Or for the sake of the next generation? If creating and nurturing the next generation was your only motivation, why bring children into a world of evil, death and suffering, into a life that was nasty, brutish and short?

The Yugei give us a reason to live. Through the arts we encounter beauty, and we are given the opportunity to participate in, to partake of and to create beauty. And as we create beauty, our lives become a part of that expression.

This urge, this drive to create beauty, is something inherent within us as humans. The Japanese have carried that expression into new heights and in their own unique ways. Check out this Instagram photo from Carean Oh.

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Those of us who have travelled to Japan before know firsthand how much thought and effort they put into presenting food, creating a harmony and an aesthetic that is meant to be consumed, to be a temporal, momentary beauty. I suspect that when the very natural environment they live in is so beautiful, it inspires them to express that beauty in other areas too, such as their architecture and arts.

To participate in
To partake of
and to create
Beauty

That is why Hatsumi Sensei paints and creates calligraphy

That is why my sensei does photography

This is why I play music

That is why Carean travels and writes

Conclusion

Yes, I know the Yugei can be intimidating. I’ve seen CEOs of banks and large businesses (who are responsible for millions and maybe billions as their annual turnover) cowed at the thought of playing a music instrument in front of their employees and colleagues. In spite of how thick-skinned I am in music, I will be just as jittery at the thought of painting or calligraphy.

So I get it, I really do.

But if the muse strikes, if a family member (maybe your own kid?) asks you to join them for an art class, if a music school opens nearby and you always wanted to play the guitar, why not go for it? You don’t have to become an expert at any of the Yugei. As long as your life has been made more beautiful in some way, and you have the chance to share of that beauty with others, you have gained, have you not?

 

Junjie 俊傑
(Shunketsu)
Bujinkan Ninjutsu
Singapore

From → bujinkan

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