Japan may have forgotten ninjutsu, but it’s alive and kicking in Malaysia

James Lee Peek Kuan is a master at several oriental arts, but found a particular calling towards ninjutsu.

PUCHONG: The Japanese government and the royal imperial family recognise one official group, the Bujinkan, based in Japan, to teach the authentic ninja arts.

So, it was something of a surprise to find an official Bujinkan dojo in Puchong, Selangor.

James Lee Peek Kuan is a Ninjutsu Shihan, or senior ninjutsu instructor. He has been teaching Bujinkan ninjutsu for over 25 years. Some of his students are now teachers in their own right in Malaysia and Indonesia.

Ninjutsu, while having ninja roots, is not the same as ninja.

Ninjas were mercenaries hired by feudal Japanese warlords to take on their enemies. Their covert methods of waging irregular warfare were deemed dishonourable and beneath the honour of the noble samurai.

James, unsurprisingly, is quick to point out he is not a ninja. Ninjutsu today teaches a similar style of fighting as ninjas of the past, which include throws and strikes, but only uses the old ninja styles and moves for self-defence rather than attack.

James using a blowpipe at his teaching centre in Puchong, Selangor, where students learn both armed and unarmed combat and sensory training.

James, 54, spent his childhood in Perak learning oriental martial arts. By the time he left college, he was already skilled in several styles of kung fu and had a black belt in the Korean martial art of taekwondo.

He met a Dane, William Boesen, who was looking for someone to learn ninjutsu with him. Despite being a master of so many martial arts already, including silat, James said he found ninjutsu intriguing so he went along with Boesen and they started training together.

It took James two years to become a ninjutsu teacher. He has since received his 15th dan black belt, the highest ranking in ninjutsu.

“It wasn’t just throwing flying stars or kicks. It was an art form,” James told FMT at the Hachimon Budo Bujinkan Ninjutsu Dojo where he is a fulltime teacher of ninjutsu and other martial arts.

He teaches ninjutsu students both armed and unarmed combat along with sensory training to master techniques aimed at, for example, distracting their opponents and then defeating them in their split second of confusion.

James hopes more Malaysians will take up ninjutsu. His school accepts those of all ages, although some are easier to train than others.

“Older people might find it more difficult to keep up with the training, but with time and perseverance they may master ninjutsu,” he said.

“But it’s not easy to discipline primary school kids,” James laughed. “It’s difficult to get them to line up and be still. They tend to be too hyperactive,” he said.

James (middle, back row) with his students. James has been training and teaching Bujinkan ninjutsu for over 25 years.

Ninjutsu has lost popularity in its homeland of Japan, said James. It was popular in the 1980s but today most Japanese do not even know that Ninjutsu exists. 90% of its practitioners are foreign.

But there are still masters of the art to be found in Japan.

James has visited Japan several times to meet and learn from different masters, each with his own unique skills. He also takes some of his students there regularly so they can advance up the training ranks.

He sees ninjutsu as being deep-rooted in ancient eastern philosophies, and a way to connect to the divine.

He talks of ninjutsu as his guide to life, saying ninjutsu moves even follow similar principles to the natural elements.

“Ninjutsu allows us to be better equipped in life and understand everything more deeply,” he said.

“Often we don’t realise that we are actually searching for something that ninjutsu can teach us.

“It’s only a question of how far we are willing to learn.”