Essays From The Master

Archive for April, 2012

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The balance of shadow and substance

Face- the mask of reality: the mask is reality

Of all the symbols used for the ninja in the world one of the most prominent is that of a masked face. In practical terms the mask is used as a part of stealth and being able to remain unknown which was central to ninja as assassins. On a mental and emotional level the mask is meant to diminish the ego and allow the warrior to be a weapon in the hands of those that employ it. In the Komuso Ryu the donning of a mask symbolizes the embrace of inhumanity and the ability to do great or terrible things. The threefold mask of the Komuso Ryu of the Death’s Head mask, the cloth mask and the hood represents the self cultivated through the path the Kagejin which is seen as the true self the ninja.

This body of lore is partly shown in the belief that the ninja have nonhuman roots i.e. are descended from the Tengu which is actually an echo of the fact the ninja came from those seen as Henin or nonhuman such as the Chinese in the eyes of the Japanese. This thread of lore also refers to the fact that some Ryu or schools have some overtly Chinese elements as can be found in schools such as the Komuso and Hai Lung of Ryu of the Koga Clan.

Alongside the mask is the lore of the concept of “face” which is a form of honor largely based on how one is viewed by others. The adept of the Silent Way or Nin Do knows that reputation or face is a myth, a legend, based on things one cannot control rather than on one’s actual ideals or actions. The adept in understanding “face” knows that his visible self is the mask and by so much as changing his breathing or stance he can change his “face” at will as is taught in the Way of the Cobra as taught in the Komuso Ryu. “Face” can be manipulated by both the adept and by those in the world via gossip and contrivance; the adept knows this and that one of his tasks is to manage the amount of influence of others on his sense of “face.” To balance “face” the ninja cultivates his shadow as his substance, his Kagejin or shadow self, and builds his sense of honor around what would seem a “mask” to the world. By choosing where to invest in his sense of self the adept builds up an immunity to the arrows used to attack face because the adept’s true face is hidden, a mask.

It is one of the tasks of the adept to balance his “face” and his shadow as he cannot do without both sides in order to be a whole being. The adept cannot be in battle mode all the time nor is the adept like those of the masses. Balance is vital in living just as it in combat because one cannot deny the world and be effective in it at the same time. Effectiveness is what the ninja prizes, being able to do his job or his own will it matters not. “Face” should only be a concern in so much as it affects his ability to be effective in his chosen path. To win the adept will suffer humiliation and derision in order to get close to his foes or in order to be able to move freely by not being taken seriously. The adept must know his own worth and truth as to allow others to validate it gives others power over the adept. By valuing himself the adept takes the power of manipulation from others and through his own manipulation of his own “face” gains power over others. The power over others includes the ability to reveal to others the illusion of “face” and grant freedom to others. In combat as in life knowledge of the “face” and the mask is both shield and sword to the adept.

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