Get it straight, people


I don’t really pay attention to the groupie crowd anymore, given that I would rather be with my friends and family than slam my head against a concrete wall. I have a very hard head, but banging it against concrete inevitably hurts, and, in the end, groupies are uninteresting for many reasons.  

But I was recently told that an interview with Kacem Zoughari had been printed in a martial arts magazine here in Greece, an interview that has an excerpt referring to positions I have supposedly taken in the past. The related excerpts state:

So, …. may I ask you a question concerning Ninjutsu’s historical validity. Mr. Dervenis, who was one of Ninjutsu’s pioneers in our country, claims that after studies he has made he has concluded that Ninja’s never existed and that this whole story is just a manufacturing of both Hatsumi sensei’s and the movies, for merchandising (commercial, business) purposes. As an academic, what is your opinion on this?

The reader can view the whole thing here if they wish: 

but it is kind of a moot point. What I would appreciate, however, is for the author of the interview to get his facts straight regarding my position(s) and re-state what I am saying more accurately.

For the record, except in a metaphorical sense, I have never stated that the ninja did not exist as a historical phenomenon. What I stated was that their historical reality did not reflect their popular image today in almost any context, nor does the image of them portrayed by the Bujinkan reflect historical reality. In addition, and far more importantly since this is what is getting people with vested interests upset, what I have stated repeatedly is that no independent ninjutsu ryuha exists within the Bujinkan syllabus – that is to say, there is no Togakure ryu, no Kumogakure ryu, no Asakusabeerguzzling ryu or any other such ninja school to be found within Japanese history. Toshitsugu Takamatsu made it all up for his own reasons, and Masaaki Hatsumi intentionally perpetuated the myth in order to propagate the teachings of his school.  There never was a Shinryuken Masamitsu Toda; he is not an actual person.  Takamatsu was never taught “ninjutsu” – he made it all up. I have stated this position openly and repeatedly and no one has been able to rebutt it in the slightest with extant historical evidence.  (Bear in mind that I would love to see such evidence; nothing would make me happier. Unfortunately, it does not exist.)

Do the teachings of the Bujinkan have historical context? Most certainly, but only as a classical jujutsu lineage derived from the conjunction of several verified family traditions. In addition, the Kukishin ryu most certainly has esoteric elements in its syllabus that have been passed on by Takamatsu Sensei to Hatsumi Sensei, and the Bujinkan in its original format (pre-1988) most certainly had many esoteric teachings that were simply wonderful, and which they were very serious about.  But human beings are complicated creatures and reality is often mixed with falsehood to promote specific intentions and agendas; this is the rule rather than the exception in life.  

Kacem, sadik, here is my advice to you: In China, they catch monkeys by placing bananas cross-wise in narrow-necked vases. The monkeys grab hold of the bananas and cannot let go of them even to save their own lives; they want the fruit badly , but given the narrow necks of the vases, the bananas can only come out length-wise, and the monkeys lack the intelligence to figure that out. The hunters eventually come along and seize the apes with their arms up to their elbows in the vases, shrieking, unable to open their fists and escape.  That is how fresh chilled monkey brains make it to the markets in China.  The amazing thing is that all the monkeys have to do to escape, is to let go. But they cannot, and do not.

Stop being a monkey, sadik.  

If you have historical evidence as to the existence of a ninjutsu lineage within the Bujinkan, publish it in a peer-reviewed journal, as Karl Friday did for Kashima Shin ryu, and I will be the first to congratulate you. If you do NOT have historical evidence that can withstand peer review (which I am told you do not), then you must understand, your claims and your position have turned you into as much of a fraud as anyone else within the Bujinkan espousing similar claims.

Don’t get me wrong – I have seen what the koryu crowd has to offer, both from an ethical and functional standpoint, and I am not impressed; Hatsumi far outshines them as a martial artist. Hell, I outshine them as a martial artist.

But that does not mean that Hatsumi is not lying.

Hey, have I told you all about how I inherited a 2500-year-old ancient Greek tradition that dates all the way back to Timasitheus the Delphian? It’s a staggering story that I’m very proud of, full of combat, betrayal, intrigue, exotic locations, and willing women with full lips, large breasts and tight butts (think Sasha Grey with a rack). The interesting, and sad, thing is that I have far more documentation in hand to validate such a claim, than the Bujinkan has to corroborate their own history (or than many other eastern martial arts schools have, for that matter).

Be well, Kacem.


18 Responses

  1. Chris  •  November 3, 2010 @2:53 pm

    Hay Kosta,
    that’s why I have always loved you so dearly. Nice to know that you are still the very guy I used to know (as contact has been sparse these past years). All the best for you and family, hope sincerely that we will meet again.
    Take care,
    Chris, o Avstriakos

  2. Kostas Dervenis  •  November 3, 2010 @5:32 pm

    Hey Mr. Christian! Nice to hear from you, Kushok, and I hope that all is well with you.

  3. Νikos. p  •  November 5, 2010 @1:49 pm

    καλημέρα και καλή δύναμη . Απ’ ότι βλέπω… είσαι μεσα στα νεύρα .

  4. Georgios Kalafatis  •  November 5, 2010 @11:22 pm

    Hi Mr Dervenis,
    You write well and make excellent points of the missing proof about the history of the ninjutsu teachings in the Bujinkan system. However I was wondering how you were able to have such a strong opinion that it was Takamatsu who made up these claims and that Hatsumi knowingly continued this fabrication. Not being able to provide proof of the historical lineage does not mean your accusations against these gentlemen are true. It certainly creates scientific doubt in the claims of the Bujinkan and its ‘groupies’ as you call them. But are your claims any more verifiable? Perhaps Toda did exist and he made the system up even if he was found to really exist, the possibilities are endless.
    Unless we have proof of anything we can only point out the absence of proof. Absence of proof does not guarantee that the claim is a lie, just that it is not verifiable. Ultimately anyone interested in the subject may never know the truth, claiming to know either is currently is speculation.

  5. Kostas Dervenis  •  November 6, 2010 @10:09 am

    Γεια σου Νίκο. Όχι ιδιαίτερα. Από τα πράγματα που με απασχολούν αυτή τη στιγμή, το συγκεκριμένο δεν με “νευριάζει” σχεδόν καθόλου.

  6. Kostas Dervenis  •  November 6, 2010 @10:27 am

    Dear Giorgos,

    There are two reasons:

    1. An issue that is often overlooked is the ten years Takamatsu spent in China working as a bouncer during the years of the Japanese occupation. Hatsumi has tried to portray him as a bodyguard or teacher to the Emperor – we know this is not the case. But Takamatsu did “watch” or “study” or “observe” or “learn from” Chinese martial arts during that decade – these became his later Bujinkan arts in my opinion.

    It’s not only my opinion, by the way: this is from Wikipedia:

    01:18, 12 October 2010 HJ Mitchell deleted “Kotō-ryū” ‎ (Expired PROD, concern was: no indication of notability and no independent sources)

    People can’t seem to let go of the banana; take the case of Toda for example. The supporters keep trying to come up with reasons why they have found no trace of him, all the while neglecting an important point (to keep using Koto ryu as an example): the Bujinkan claims not one Toda, but many:

    9. Toda, Seiryu Nobutsuna -Kwanyei era (1624)
    10. Toda, Fudo Nobuchika -Manji era (1658)
    11. Toda, Kangoro Nobuyasu -Tenna era (1681)
    12. Toda, Eisaburo Nobumasa -Hoyei era (1704)
    13. Toda, Shingoro Masayoshi -Shotoku era (1711)
    14. Toda, Daigoro Masayoshi -Gembun era(1736)
    15. Toda, Daisaburo Chikashige -Bunkwa era (1804)
    16. Toda, Shinryuken Masamitsu (Kobe) 1824-1908

    Surely the existence of 300 years of Todas would have made its presence felt or known somewhere, in a records-crazy culture like Japan? Anyone who has even tried to get a Japanese driver’s license, knows this must be so.

    Occam’s razor, son – when presented with a complex situation, make the simplest choices. Takamatsu made everything up as a “business plan”; it worked too, but not for him.

    2. Regarding Hatsumi’s knowledge of same; you forget, I was a Bujinkan old-timer, and a weapon of choice for Hatsumi in the 80s. Who knows what I may have heard or what he may have told me? But the point of the matter is, you can see Hatsumi having his doubts in the course of his writings. The stick fighting book and the white gis in same are an excellent example of this; only Kukishin ryu is mentioned in that book, and with good reason.

  7. Giorgios Kalafatis  •  November 7, 2010 @8:53 pm

    Dear Mr Dervenis,

    Thank you very much for replying to me and taking the time to explain these points. I very much appreciate your insight.

    You are right it is strange that no Toda can be found and I can see that if we are going to speculate then doing so using Occam’s razor principle is as good a guide as any. I have never tried to research the existence of a Japanese person before so I must currently take you at your word for how complex a task this would be. However, regarding wikipedia I did find an interesting article:
    One item that caught my attention was the references to Japanese authors/historians who suggested that the Togakure Ryu system was authentic. However, again, there was no details whatsoever about how they came to this conclusion and no verification of the Toda family.

    I definitely did not forget about your old-timer status, my mind was wandering about this fact when I first saw your blog. I guessed that you may have seen and heard things during those early years. From what I gather, there is nothing specific, just lots of experiences which lend towards your deductions.

    Well I thank you for explaining your position on this. I still personally have no conclusion, but you definitely taught me a lot about your perspective. I am grateful for this conversation.


  8. Kostas Dervenis  •  November 8, 2010 @9:29 am

    Dear Giorgi,

    Thank you for posting the link; it’s a good article. Please note the opening sentence however:

    Several martial arts schools purporting to teach Ninjutsu exist.

    I am not a professional historian – I have been a professional scientist and engineer, however, and the academic method is not foreign to me. In addition, a professional historian (Bettany Hughes), and the US Army War College, have both either referenced or accepted as a reference, the one history book I put out there in my spare time. In Bettany’s case, the reference is very interesting in that she took things a step further to corroborate the conclusions, as every good scientist should; as it turns out, anatomical studies of Bronze Age remains seem to verify the hypotheses I made in Martial Arts of the Mediterranean (and for that link in the chain, I am very grateful to her).

    In short, I am an amateur, but so was Schliemann. Does that mean I can go searching for chronicles in Japanese libraries? Of course not – I no longer speak even the broken Japanese I used to get by with. Can I tell if the suppositions put forth by people who can do such research, are awash with faeces? Most likely; I used to rewrite research papers for the professors of a university for a living.

    Everything is a matter of intention. For everyone involved in this situation, I would ask, what is their intention? What needs are served?

    Then I would make a decision.

  9. just a nobody  •  November 29, 2010 @10:57 am

    Hi mr Dervenis.
    While i like the information contained in this post, i cannot understand the intention behind it. The very few years i ‘ve had the privilege of living on this earth has taught me that people either share your opinions or not, and rarely does anyone change their minds.
    So if you believe they live in ignorance, let them be, your efforts to correct them will only make them more stubborn in their pursuit of evidence. Objective truth is the most scarce resource in this universe, very rare and hard to recognize.

  10. Kostas Dervenis  •  November 29, 2010 @12:49 pm


    I am a Cold War baby, and grew up in the 60s in the States. When I recall what was achieved throughout the 60s, I do not believe that objective truth is hard to recognize – I believe that it can be made obvious through diligent effort. I am capable of sustaining that effort.

    There are only two kinds of people in the world: those who think of others and those who think only of themselves. There is no reason to look beyond this axiom. I have found that personable frauds and predators are often the most well-liked by their prey, for the simple reason that a central component of their modus operandi is to stroke the ego of their prey before consuming them. You might think that X is the greatest guy in the world because he’s personable and talking to you, when really all he’s interested in doing, is lightening your wallet – or worse.

    I have also found that frauds tend to stick together; one covers the other’s butt because they all know where they are coming from – and where they are going if the truth gets out. And the truth does, inevitably get out – sometimes centuries later, but it does get out.

    My intention then is threefold: 1) I want people who can see the truth, to see it. 2) I want to put egg on the face of those who in the end are predators, because I can, and 3) I want those who in the end are victims of fraud, to re-evaluate their position, in hopes that perhaps, some of them, will take off their blinders.

    The rest? Cattle will wind up in the slaughterhouse eventually, unless they understand that they can roam free and survive.

  11. ARMAJohn  •  January 26, 2011 @2:05 am

    Always enjoyable and educational reading here, Kostas.
    I appreciate the effort on this in particular.
    Encounters with invented traditions, supposed “authentic” masters, and secret lineages is something I encounter with depressing frequently within the emerging field of historical fencing studies / the modern reconstruction of MARE (the martial arts of Renaissance Europe).



  12. Re. S  •  January 28, 2011 @12:56 pm

    Interview with Laszlo Abel (1&2)

    about old and modern ninjutsu, hatsumi et al. – among other things


  13. Brian Jeffery  •  January 29, 2013 @4:15 am

    Mr. Dervenis,
    I enjoyed reading your blog. Have you heard that Toda supposedly went under a different name and that either revealing his real name( or also in the case of a certain Gyokko ryu scroll that Mr. Kacem has been showing but not willingly wanting to show the lineage list due to the same reason) there would be some unsavory connection? Also what have you heard on Takamatsu’s connections in karate and opimum with Ueno Takashi?

    There are so many questions such as this and in Ninjutsu in general such as the book by Ito Gingetsu, Ninjutsu no gokui that was written when Takamatsu was a child that shows pictures that are identical to the Koto and Togakure ryu scrolls and a book called Kumogakure ryu. A lot of weird stuff that needs to break loose publically in regards to this lineage.

  14. Kostas Dervenis  •  January 29, 2013 @11:59 am

    Dear Brian,

    Todas, not Toda. We are concentrating on one man when according to the claim there was a whole bunch of them.

    As far as the rest, there are so many assumptions that I don´t want to get into them, and I have no interest in defaming the dead, only protecting the living. I have no doubt that Takamatsu was an incredible martial artist (as is Hatsumi) with a background in historic martial arts; what I see no need for is the continued misrepresentation associated with the presentation. Takamatsu was never, for example, the bodyguard of the last emperor of China.

    To be honest, I am very disappointed with Kacem. His methods and conclusions do not reflect proper academic standards. Moreover, I can see from the line of his research that he is, still, not yet a martial artist (though I have hope). If I were researching the historicity of Bujinkan techniques, for example, I would begin by examining why ichimonji no kamae is such a suitable stance for archers – it is in fact, an archer´s stance, specifically for hankyu, which make more sense from a tactical perspective for anyone engaged in guerilla warfare.

  15. Vivek Patel  •  May 24, 2014 @11:26 pm

    I am curious, have you actually read Kacem’s book and his thesis?
    And if you have, have you followed up on every reference given therein?

  16. dervenis  •  May 25, 2014 @9:27 am

    Dear Vivek,

    Please see my latest post. You are to blame.


  17. Pimin Konstantin Kefaloukos  •  December 4, 2014 @7:42 am

    Dear Dervenis

    I write, not to counter, but to praise your un-biased and well-argued position on the matter: is the Bujinkan claim of lineage authentic. You invocation of Occam’s razor is indeed appropriate!

    Furthermore, I appreciate how you clear separate the things we known from the things we don’t known about Bujinkan. Like you, I fully acknowledge that some members of Bujinkan are great martial arts practitioners, in fact I’m deeply impressed. I have not seen Hatsumi in real life, but I have attended training with some of his highly graduated students in Denmark. Like you, I acknowledge that no peer-reviewed evidence has been presented that can substantiate the claim of lineage in Bujinkan. To me, that is curious, but somewhat unimportant, since it does not diminish the actual skill-level of any Bujinkan member. I can make assumptions about why there is such a narrative, but again, better to leave assumptions alone.

    I am currently visiting Japan to write the final chapters for my PhD (computer science), and it was inspiring to read your well-reflected post. Thank you.


  18. Jigatoshu  •  January 17, 2015 @11:20 am

    Dear Dervenis

    I totally agree with your point of view, your conclusions and posts are awesome. There is a tendency for Bujinkan students to see Masaaki Hatsumi as a God. Ive trained in different seminars with Kacem and he isba true promotor of the cause. He can not proof the lineages of the Ninja Ryuha as well. And i am also very dissapointed with Kacem.

    Some Bujinkan teachers seem to be very good martial artists, even some students are awesome. But their awesomeness is found in the fact that the Bujinkan is: ” the art of keeping your hand out “.

    The “nordic walking punch” fudo ken is used as something to defend against all the time, and many high graded people can not even do proper ukemi.

    The grading system is lacking and many pepple became high grades just for going to Japan all the time, but it is not a reflection of true skill and dedication.
    Many Bujinkan people attack questionable modern ninjitsu schools like those of Frank Dux, Ashida Kim, Bryce Dallas and maybe they have not a proven lineage.

    The Bujinkan Organisation has the same lineage problems at least with the 3 Ninja Ryu Ha existing in the system. Many of the Bujinkan people are blind believers and followers of the “God” Hatsumi. They do not think for themselves and are blind followers.

    Ninja Ninjutsu in these days are a joke and i truly doubt their selfdefense capabilities. Many times in a bujinkan class teachers say: mma is a sport we are a warrior art for life or death. The techniqies are too deadly to use in a sparring fight. (Yet nonsense claims, they can only defend against a nordic walking punch)

    Keep on going! Your posts are awesome!

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