Jack Hoban is one of the founding fathers of American ninjutsu. He rode the wave of ninja-mania that struck during the 1980s, and he weathered the drought that moved in when the popularity of ninjutsu training plunged. Other fads have come and gone, but still Jack Hoban is there, steadfast is his belief in his art and the ninjutsu training of Masaaki Hatsumi, its 34th-generation grandmaster. In this interview excerpt from the February 2002 issue of Black Belt, Jack Hoban comments on the art and his teacher, Masaaki Hatsumi.
Black Belt: Can you briefly describe your involvement with ninjutsu training and your teacher, Masaaki Hatsumi?
Jack Hoban: I studied some karate and escrima and was a captain in the U.S. Marines. I also boxed a little. I read about Stephen K. Hayes and went to some of his training [camps], including the Ninja Festival. It was Stephen K. Hayes who was my first sempai (senior) and who introduced me to Masaaki Hatsumi in 1981 or 1982.
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BB: What was your initial impression of Masaaki Hatsumi and his style of ninjutsu training?
Jack Hoban: Well, he was warm and friendly — very different from the image of the stern Asian martial arts master. His skills were absolutely awesome, and his approach to the martial arts was apples to the oranges I had previously studied. The breadth of his knowledge was amazing, too. He talked about all kinds of things — from swordsmanship to meteorology, from esoteric Buddhism to rope tying, from exotic healing to how to kill a horse quietly. And he had this underlying hint of mystery — like a small waft of smoke that would appear at times. Kind of like a ninja, I guess. (laughs)
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BB: Has your impression of ninjutsu training master Masaaki Hatsumi changed much since then?
Jack Hoban: Only in that I see him more as a human being now. In the beginning, he was more like a character from my imagination. I can say this: In all the time I’ve known him, he has never once done anything but support and help me in an extremely straightforward manner. I have heard other people say different things, but that has been my experience.
BB: You’ve undertaken ninjutsu training with Masaaki Hatsumi for quite a long time. How would you describe your relationship with Masaaki Hatsumi?
Jack Hoban: I think of him as a mentor and father figure. … As we both get older, I am starting to feel that I understand him better and am embarrassed at the trouble I caused him over the years by being impatient, arrogant and immature. I hope to be able to repay his kindness in future years by being more pleasant to associate with and less demanding of his time and energy — and his patience. I don’t know what he would say, but all in all, the relationship has been a wonderful one from my point of view. When I first met him, there were not so many people training, so I really got a lot of time alone with him. That is impossible now for most new members of the Bujinkan, so I was lucky. Good timing.
BB: What is the most important aspect of martial arts training — whether ninjutsu training or otherwise?
Jack Hoban: Of course, the most important aspect of the Bujinkan and the martial arts is to “keep going.” Keep going in your quest to be a good martial artist, a good person and a person dedicated to peace.
BB: What has helped you to keep going in your ninjutsu training?
Jack Hoban: Well, a sense of curiosity is one thing. I am constantly entertained by the thought of what Masaaki Hatsumi will come up with next. He once told me that to be good at martial arts, you have to practice three times as much as a normal person, spend three times as much on your training as a normal person and be three times as stupid as a normal person. Stamina, money, mule-ishness. I have at least two of those qualities. (laughs) But seriously, the Warrior Creed keeps me going — knowing I can be one of “those people” who can be counted on when the chips are down. That’s a good feeling. And I have a lot of buyu, too, who are in the same boat as me. We move forward together, but alone. We inspire each other to keep going.
About the interviewer:
Josh Sager started taking the martial arts when he was 4. Since then, he has trained in taekwondo, kali, jujutsu and wing chun kung fu.
For more information about Jack Hoban, visit his website at LivingValues.com.
For more information about ninjutsu training expert Masaaki Hatsumi, visit Bujinkan.com.