History of the Koga ryu, part II

Part II (continued from Part I)

Years later, a man named Fujita Seiko announced that he was the last grandmaster of Koga ryu ninjutsu. Fujita was a fascinating man, and his story is open to great debate. There are many questions as to the validity of his story, but there is no denying that he was the last Japanese to claim to teach the Koga ryu.

According to Fujita, his grandfather was his teacher of ninjutsu. A young Fujita had sought adventure by running away and joining some Yamabushi on their pilgrimage. This may sound strange, but the Yamabushi preached a religion where they would exercise and perform religious austerities in holy places. This allowed them to store up on holy energy that they would convey onto others as they walked on their pilgrimages in exchange for donations. An indispensable part of their service was a display of their holy powers to those who were considering giving donations. Like tent side revivalist meetings these miracles tended to be flashy and impressive. Walking on hot coals, running up ladders made of swords and sticking oneself with many needles were among the many devices used by some of the practitioners. Also like some of the revivalist meetings in America, some or the practitioners were better at being flashy than holy. But it was a great show. In short, for a young Japanese boy at the time it was the closest equivalent to running away to join the circus. 

When Fujita was dragged back to his parents, his grandfather made him a deal. He would teach the boy ninjutsu if the child promised to not run away. Fujita agreed and his training began. Unfortunately it was only a few years before his grandfather died. Fujita admits that there were many things he did not get a chance to learn under his grandfather and later studied numerous ninjutsu texts as well as once again training with the yamabushi to further his training. The problem with Fujita’s story is that there is so little proof of what he says.

Since his grandfather had already decided to let his tradition die, he had destroyed the scrolls before taking on Fujita as a student. This is reasonable, but does show a lack of documentation. Also, as stated, by the end of the Edo period the Koga had lost their ninjutsu abilities. And there is the question of just how trustworthy his grandfather was. Parents lie to children, this is a fact. And a grandfather desperate to keep his grandson from running away may be excused if he did so by keeping him occupied with a little fib. The training that Fujita said he got under his grandfather raises a lot of questions. The type of training that Fujita later related were those that related to almost every type of martial art, with no real training specific to ninjutsu. He learned to control his breath, increase his endurance, walk and run great distances and toughen his hands. There is no mention of stealth. Of course, many fundamental stealth exercises are ones that test the patience of the student. This is not something young boys are known for. Fujita showed even less patience than most boys his age.

Some of the training of ninjutsu requires highly developed and supple bodies. Fujita barely had the chance to develop such a body before his grandfather died. Despite all this, there is a certain ring of truth about Fujita’s story. Despite the questions of whether his grandfather was indeed a master of Koga ryu ninjutsu, Fujita probably did go through a type of training with him. If he had made up the story he probably would have embellished it and made it sound like he studied longer than he did with his grandfather and not mentioned adding to his knowledge from outside sources. He seems to actually have believed that he had been taught Koga ryu ninjutsu. And unlike other self-proclaimed masters of Koga ryu ninjutsu, his drive and willingness to work and train is clear. Fujita had incredible skills of endurance and strength. He could walk on the upper sides of his feet, an ability most students of yoga cannot duplicate. And he assembled a huge library of books and historical works in his search for ninjutsu to add to what his grandfather taught him.

In the west, many people claiming to be masters of Koga ryu do so as a means of attracting the limelight without much effort on their part. Fujita also loved the public’s attention, but was quite willing to put in the time and effort to be worthy of it. Before being known as a master of ninjutsu, he started his own religion in which he made many predictions. He used his experiences with the yamabushi to good use at this time. Later even he admitted that his dress and behavior at the time was bizarre, but said that at that stage in his life every time he opened his mouth somebody was shoving money into it. But there is the question of what he knew was real ninjutsu. He gave several shows that he labeled ninjutsu but they consisted of feats of endurance rather than the skills the ninja were most known for of stealth and espionage. He did things like beat himself with iron rods, ate things like cups and pierced his body with needles. Tobe Shinjuro, a researcher of ninjutsu and author of many books on the subject saw one of his performances and left shaking his head. “This is ninjutsu?” he asked himself. Many of the things he did are similar to what yamabushi do during their sermons. On a television program once he was asked straight out if he could do certain things like sneak into certain buildings and the like. He said he could, but refused to demonstrate it on the grounds that to do so would be to expose his techniques-which is something a ninja must never do. Nawa Yumio, the noted researcher and author of ninjutsu books, actually knew Fujita for a while. He said that he never knew of Fujita doing anything that he would qualify as ninjutsu. In his book, Ninjutsu no Kenkyu, Nawa never refers to Fujita as a head of Koga ryu, instead referring to him only as a researcher. In the same book he refers to Hatsumi Masaaki as the head of Togakure-ryu ninpo.

Fujita did glean a lot from the books and scrolls he laid his hands on. His level of research is incredible. He has written several great books that describe and explain sections of works such as the Bansenshukai. In fact that work was the basis for almost all that he taught. Later he did teach several things that can be traced to historical works such as this, but there is no record nor witness to him displaying anything that could be called ninjutsu that could only come from personal instruction. He taught and commented on things like range estimation, weather prediction and strategy, but nothing physical. When one looks at works on kenjutsu from before the modern age one finds no reference to how to hold a sword. This is because this was something that was only taught in a dojo before the books were made available to the student. It is these little types of things that is missing from the works of Fujita. Nakashima Atsumi is an author of books on ninjutsu and a member of a budo research group started by Fujita, and in his work “Ninjutsu Hiden no Sho” he stated that there was no surviving examples of Fujita’s ninja fighting techniques. If anyone should know, it would be Nawa and Nakashima.

Fujita’s record during the war has been perverted in the west. Some say thing like that he was an assassin for Japan with over 200 kills. This is simply untrue. Assassination is against the Geneva convention and the Allies were quite persistent in their persecution of war criminals. The assassination squad the Germans sent to kill the mayor of Aachen ended up on trial, but Fujita never was arrested or investigated. His biggest contribution to the war effort was to teach sections of strategy taken from the Bansenshukai at some of the military academies. On the day the war ended he was still safe in Japan.

After the war, Fujita remained a patriot in his heart to the older ideals that had led Japan to war. When the Allies banned martial arts practice he thought it the first stage in an attempt to destroy the Japanese culture. He resisted by gathering as much information as he could on Japanese martial arts and encouraging others in their practice. Later he went on to be very influential in the forming and administration of many martial arts organizations. He himself had learned a form of kenpo before the war. He learned other arts and helped to teach a few of them, but there is no record in Japan of him teaching Koga style ninjutsu. He even wrote several books on different martial arts like Shinden Muso ryu jojutsu and different styles of hojojutsu (the art of binding a prisoner) and even a book on shurikenjutsu. In it he gives examples of several styles of throwing taken from different schools, but fails to demonstrate any from Koga ryu ninjutsu. In the martial arts community of Japan Fujita is still spoken of with reverence. He was very influential in the saving of many arts and was helpful in the formation of many organizations that still exist today. It is strange that few serious researchers of ninjutsu history take him as a credible source, but his praises are sung in the martial arts world. To most martial artists in Japan who have never taken a close look at the history of the ninja there is no reason not to believe that he was the last master of the Koga ryu. He had incredible abilities and had no need to rely on claims like ninjutsu, so there is little reason to doubt them.

But there are problems when one looks close enough. Tragically, Fujita died suddenly and left no successors to his style of ninjutsu. Indeed, there is no one in Japan that has claimed to have learned any physical skills such as stealth from him. Most of his books that he took so much time to assemble can now be seen at the ninjutsu museum in Ueno. Instead of being passed on to a new master of the Koga ryu they rot in their display cases, only occasionally being lent out to researchers. Today, many people try to lay claim to the Koga ryu. Some try to do so with truly bizarre stories, but some try to do so by claiming to have been taught by Fujita Seiko, or having their teacher being taught by Fujita. Their claims are given no credit in Japan. The Bugei Ryuha Daijiten lists Fujita’s school under the Koga style, and even refers to it by is proper name of Koga-ryu XXXX-ha. No one I have seen in the west who had laid claim to his art even seem aware of the proper name of the -ha that Fujita laid claim to. His books on the art are great and of interest to anyone who is truly serious about researching ninjutsu. But aside from what can be found in these books, little else of his art seems to have survived.

In closing, I apologize for some of the gaps I have left in this work. Considering the amount of frauds that now wish to profit off of the Koga name and Fujita’s art, I decided to try to be as informative as I could without giving away information that could possibly allow someone to create a story to fool the unwary. Thus I have not given out pieces of information such as the particular -ha that Fujita taught, the particular name that the surviving Iga ninja were known as, nor the names of some of the ryuha that sprang from the Koga. These bits of information are commonly available in Japanese sources, but I am reasonably certain that most of the people that seek to make a quick jump to fame by use of the Koga name will not be willing to put in the effort to learn the language and do the searching themselves. Some of the works that helped make this work possible are, Fujita, Seiko-“Doron Doron, Saigo no Ninja” Nihon Shuhousha, Tokyo 1958 Fujita Seiko-“Ninjutsu Hiroku” Soushinsha, Tokyo 1937 Shimizu, Yukata-“Fujita Seiko-Ninpo no Kyou to Jitsu” Hiden Koryu Bujutsu issue #11, pages 12-Ishikawa, Masatomo-“Shinobi no Sato no Kiroku” Suiyousha, Tokyo 1982 Nawa, Yumio-“Ninjutsu no Kenkyu” Japan Publications Inc. Tokyo, 1972 Okuse, Hichiro-“Ninjutsu, Sono Rekishi to Ninja” Shinjinbutsu Juraisha, 1995 (reprint) Tobe, Shinjuro-“Ninja, Sengoku Kage no Gundan” PHP Business library, Tokyo 1995 Watatani, Kiyoshi-“Bugei Ryuha Hyakusen” Akita Shoten, Tokyo 1972


(Author retains all copyrights.)

Scroll to Top