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Ancient Ninja Stealth Skills Serve Santa Claus Well in Modern Times

The ninja called it ongyo-jutsu, the art of escape. It gave them an unrivaled command of trickery and stealth and earned them a reputation for being superhuman. They were said to be able to disappear through walls, turn themselves into trees or rocks, and even live underwater like a fish — all of which offers undeniable proof that the martial art that enables Santa Claus to do his thing on Christmas Eve is ninjutsu.

In ancient Japan, ongyo-jutsu was divided into two categories: skills for hiding and skills for disappearing. The hiding skills made use of the art of camouflage. The ninja learned how to control their movements and hold static positions for long periods, often taking on the appearance of a small tree or bush in the moonlight. In essence, they practiced giving up their identity as human beings and becoming one with the object they were trying to imitate.

Although his work environment is different, Santa also makes use of these skills. On Christmas Eve, he must sneak into house after house, slipping past sleeping children and the occasional curious parent without being noticed. How does he manage? By blending in with the background.


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Another intriguing aspect of the ninja’s training was controlled breathing. They could reduce their respiration rate so they appeared dead during a hasty inspection. This skill also allowed them to stay underwater for long periods while breathing through reeds or bamboo shoots.

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Santa, of course, seldom has a need to play dead. For him, breath control mostly serves as a means to avoid waking sleeping dogs. Because so many houses around the world have a canine on the premises, it pays big dividends in the form of bite prevention. When controlled breathing doesn’t do the trick, Santa takes another cue from the ancient ninja, who were known to blow powder into their enemies’ eyes to create a diversion that permitted their escape. Modern technology has enabled Santa to update the chemical composition of the powder; it now harmlessly obscures one’s vision and induces a dream state for 20 to 30 seconds, which is all the time he needs to scoot back up the chimney.

The ninja skill of hiding was sometimes taken to extremes. For instance, during the war of the Imperial Restoration of 1867, a ninja hid his wife and mother from enemy troops by concealing them in a place where nobody would dream of looking: He buried them up to their noses in sunken pots full of manure, then covered them with compost straw.

Because of the nature of his occupation, Santa wisely avoids such desperate measures. He knows that the resulting odor would hamper him for the rest of the night — and probably for weeks to come when he’s back at the North Pole.

Without their complement of gadgets and devices, the ninja could not have accomplished their missions in battle. In particular, they relied on a pair of iron claws that were strapped to their palms. Although many have hypothesized that they were used for hand-to-hand combat, their real purpose is evidenced by the fact that Santa carries exactly the same implement.

That purpose? Climbing. It’s the only way an overweight man could hope to make his way up the featureless interior of a brick chimney. The realization that the long line of men who’ve worn the red suit depend so heavily on these ninja claws has prompted more than a few historians to suggest that the origin of the name “Santa Claus” might, in fact, be “Santa Claws.”

The Black Belt staff wishes you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

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