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Thursday, December 20th, 2007

Time Event
10:57p
Ninjas! ...
So, I was digging through some old boxes of "to be read" books, and looking for something to "take up the slack" at home while I finish reading that 800-page monster I'm in the midst of whilst on the train to and from work. And there it was, Secrets Of The Ninja by Ashida Kim. At a scant 152 pages, it wasn't threatening to drag into the new year (especially given that it's about half photos), so I pulled it out of its literary limbo and into the current reading mix.

Frankly, I was quite surprised to see (when logging it into my LibraryThing catalog) that there is a "new" edition of this (2000 vs. 1981) and I wonder if they shot new pictures. As noted above, this is extensively illustrated (200 photos and diagrams), but most of the shots are "so 1981", looking like production stills on a grade-D kung fu movie from the era ... giving the book, a quarter century later, an almost comical air. Of course, with 200 illustrations spread out over not quite 152 pages (discounting a half dozen blanks for chapter pagination), this leaves what amounts to a brief "pamphlet" of actual text.

However, as much as I might have approached this in a belittling manner, the material is very focused, and deadly serious, and seems to be legitimately attempting to encapsulate a dozen or more years of training into a book that could realistically be blown through in an afternoon.

The first quarter of the book is dedicated to preparatory exercises and a process of meditations, mind-focusing hand grips, and various "hypnotizing" hand movements (primarily tracing out certain Chinese characters while the hands are locked in a particular manner). It is off-handedly noted that these preparations are likely to take many years before the student is ready for any of the "practical" instruction later in the book ... yet I wonder how many of its readers pay any attention to that particular caveat.

The remainder of the book is sort of "what a Ninja should know" in various contexts, with 14 chapters covering everything from "The Art Of Hiding" to "Leaving No Trace". In between these, however, is a whole lot of killing. Ninjas, of course, "don't mess around", and most of these instructions deal with death blows, where, how, and what time one should expect to have to wait for unconsciousness and death. Details are given on how to surprise guards, how to escape from arrest, and how to wreak bloody havoc with throwing stars, nunchakus, short swords, garrotes, and even sand and dirt!

By the time I got done reading about all the ways of crushing parts of the skull, severing assorted arteries, snapping the neck, and breaking the spine, I became rather worried about how fragile the human body might be ... after all, most of the moves illustrated are not too far off from what is seen on your average wrestling broadcast (especially the spine-breaking moves), that it made me wonder just how much actual force is required for these to be harmful, with the very similar images creating a great degree of cognitive dissonance!

Again, most of this is very straight forward ... do this to kill your opponent in this situation, do that to kill your opponent in this other situation, etc. ... however, it did, on rare occasion, drift into almost a philosophical mode, with this bit striking me as particularly choice:

Keep the door on your right. This is advise from Miaymoto Musashi, who fought over two hundred duels and died of old age; it is not likely he was wrong.
... this in a discussion of "facing multiple adversaries". Practical data, if nearly into the micro-management zone (one wonders just what sort of a study could be crafted to determine why keeping the door to one's right is such a good idea).

If you feel like a quick read on meditation & carnage, this is, as noted, still in print so could be purchased from your local brick & mortar book store while the cashier snickered at you, but I'm sure it would be more comfortably obtained on-line, and Amazon's new/used vendors have "like new" copies for under a buck, were you to be so inclined. Me, I'm sort of glad to have read it (just in case I need to efficiently dispatch some latter-day Samurai on the subway), but oddly creeped out by it all the same!


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