About 400 B.C. a boy named “Takei” became an orphan and was adopted and raised by a small group of these healer/priests. They taught him some simple anatomy, what they knew of spirituality (not much then), and what they knew of herbs & antidotes, astrology and elements of the Earth, as well as a few simple exercises and breathing methods. Takei became their leader and had an unquenchable thirst for more knowledge and more precise methods of doing things, he was a near perfectionist. He was the one who used the word “Nin” to mean quest for or to strive for excellence or perfection (definitions have been altered over the centuries).
The smart tacticians realized that if the Japanese were to slaughter themselves in a civil war, then all of Japan would be exposed and be conquered by China or Korea (again) and this was undesirable. The people and the roughly 400,000 soldiers did not want to kill each other. A large of organized individuals were well trusted and looked upon as the “keepers of knowledge,” so many of the low ranking individuals as well as commoners begged them (today called Ninja) for help in an effort to end the violence and save the lives of the many. To do this,Tanaka conspired with Tokugawa and they sent a few Ninja and trainedSamurai warriors to assassinate the few leaders, thereby saving the soldiers and allowing the new leaders to unite under the new Shogun and the Emperor. Throughout the centuries, the given name to this illustrious warrior has been changed many times over; and although, the current name is only a few hundred years old, the style itself goes way back about three thousand years to a time when there was not even a systemized less organized fighting style; just a few helpful medicinal herbs, knowledge of a few poisons and their antidotes, knowledge of the stars and few unorthodox strategies. At a time when early Japanese Shinto religion was still being formed, the founders of the Tanaka-Ryu style were Japan’s earliest healers and priests.
Over the centuries, the style went through many changes as several masters would travel around Asia trading lessons with masters from all over. They gradually developed stealth and combat skills to protect their very valuable medicinal herbs they carried and to help them as they taught peace and their type of morality to villages.
When the unification period came to medieval Japan, there were 36 city states that had brutal, greedy, warmongering leaders who all wanted be in charge of a united Japan, and they all wanted their soldiers to fight to the death, beat all the other cities, and become the leader of the nation. But only the 36 city leaders wanted the civil war.
After thousands of years of being trusted, the Ninja face was no longer honored as healers/priests, for the Japanese people witness, first hand, the slaughter of their leaders. Over time, the people shunned the Ninja because they had broken one of their most sacred vows … until then, no Ninja within that style had ever killed another human; life was sacred and they had vowed to protect and help, not kill.
When the Emperor realized that the Ninja healers and priests now had soldiers that could sneak in and assassinate even the best defended leader, he feared being assassinated, so he banned the Ninja, ordered them to disband, and outlawed their training.
This is where the Ninja were splintered, scattered, and changed yet again. They refused to abandon their ways and lessons; so many retreated to obscure mountainous places yet others went “underground” and joined secret criminal gangs for protection and help to hide. Of course, the gangs wanted something in return, so they were taught some of the Ninja skills. The gangs were given training for body guards, spies, smugglers, enforcers, and even assassins. These partially trained criminals are what Hollywood and most of the popular culture now know as Ninja, but the “real” Ninja are still healers, priests, protectors of truth and knowledge, not killers. There are still few living masters of the true Ninja way who take pride in upholding the ways of the benevolent warrior – the Ninja.
The current reigning Grand Master of the Tanaka-Ryu family style of Ninjutsu is a 50-year-old tiny Japanese woman named Emiko Tanaka. She still runs their very old family school in what is now Nag-Omuru, Japan, on the coast, just outside of Nagasaki.