Ninpo As ALifestyle
An Interview with Jack Hoban by Comba
t Magazine -1995

Combat Magazine: Is it true that you were the second American, after Stephen Hayes, to pass the 5th dan test and thus become a Shidoshi instructor of Ninjutsu under Masaaki Hatsumi?

Jack Hoban: Yes.

CM: Does that make you America's number two Ninja?

JH: No.

CM: Why not?

JH: My taking of the test was just a matter of timing. Both Bud Malmstrom and Charles Daniel passed the test, basically, within the same time frame. So did Sven Eric Bogstatter of Sweden, I believe.

CM: What is the significance of the 5th dan test [where the student must dodge a shinai attack from behind administered by Soke Hatsumi]?

JH: The test has significance because of the subconscious communication that occurs between student and teacher at the moment of the attack. I suppose that if you want to be a commercial martial arts teacher, passing the test and being awarded the Shidoshi license is a sort of necessary credential. But, in my view, the significance is different for each person who takes the test. It is a "rite of passage," I suppose, for practitioners of this warrior lifestyle. I consider Ninpo to be a lifestyle martial art.

CM: What do you mean by lifestyle martial art?

JH: Maybe I should have just stopped at lifestyle. Ninpo is a lifestyle. I mean it is a lifestyle as opposed to a sport martial art or a performance martial art. A ninja isn't something that you do, it's what you are. The purpose is to live. There are "good" ninja and "not so good" ninja. "Successful" ninja and "not so successful" ninja. Just like people everywhere. The real value of the lifestyle, for me, is a developed awareness of nature: not just Mother Nature, but our own human nature, as well, which is not the same thing at all.

CM: What is the difference?

JH: Mother Nature, if you will, is rather Darwinian. You know, survival of the fittest, and all that. Very beautiful, but very brutal - by nature. Human nature, on the other hand operates on a different principle - we are protectors of all life - weak and strong - by nature. That is why we consider Mother Theresa a saint and Hitler a monster.

CM: What is your martial arts background?

JH: I dabbled in Korean Karate in High School and college. Joined the Marines as an officer and saw all the karate and judo guys in Okinawa. I also went to Korea and the Philippines. I particularly like Escrima and Kali. But that all wound down for me when I met Steve Hayes and shortly afterward, Dr. Hatsumi.

CM: So Stephen Hayes was responsible for introducing you to Masaaki Hatsumi and the art of Ninjutsu? JH: Me and everybody else in America, not to mention just about everybody else in the world except maybe a couple of guys in Israel. Don't let anyone tell you different.

CM: Yet Stephen isn't really your teacher?

JH: It's better than that. He's my Sempai [senior] and friend. Same with Bud Malmstrom, even though I took the test before he did. Again, the test means nothing in that regard.

CM: What is your opinion of Ninjutsu in the world today ?

JH: It is a beautiful and worthwhile lifestyle being viewed as a mere - and therefore, mediocre - martial art.

CM: What do you mean by that?

JH: It is very hard to explain, but consider these questions: Who is a better fighter, a professional kickboxing champion or a Navy Seal? Apples and orange, right? Who is a more enlightened, a yogi or a happy family man with a happy wife, happy kids and a nice normal life? I could go on and on and never explain it exactly. But we're talking about the difference between a martial artist and a person who lives a warrior lifestyle - in times of peace as well as in times of war. People are trying to make a martial art out of Ninpo. Now there is absolutely nothing wrong, and a lot right about martial arts. But Ninpo isn't a martial art in the common perception of the term. Sorry, I can't explain it very well.

CM: That's O.K. What is your training like these days?

JH: Well, mostly I train the trainers. I teach a low profile class at the local YMCA and I do a seminar once a month or so for people who have to travel; that's on the east coast, New Jersey. Twice a year I go back to my old stomping grounds in California. I still have a bunch of friends there. I go to Japan once a year to see Dr. Hatsumi and visit my wife's family, they live in the Tokyo area, too.

CM: Your wife is Japanese; does she practice Ninpo, also?

JH: Everybody in my house practices Ninpo.

CM: You have written three books about Ninpo...

JH: Yes, for Contemporary In Chicago. One is on knife fighting - pretty much a takeoff on what I taught in the Marines; one is on stick fighting, one is on philosophy. I also edited two of Dr. Hatsumi's English language books - that was something! My last project was a book on values by my graduate school teacher and mentor, Dr. Robert L. Humphrey. Talk about a warrior, this guy was a Marine Rifle Platoon Commander on Iwo Jima!

CM: And do you have a "day job?"

JH: Yes, I am an executive in the health care industry.

CM: What is your focus going forward?

JH: My focus, of course, is my family and my job.

CM: How about in terms of the martial arts?

JH: Well, it's hard to say just "martial arts." I guess my spare time is dedicated to my personal training which is mostly taijutsu, yoga, long distance running and ocean swimming. I work with Dr. Humphrey a lot in connection with work he does with the Marines regarding low intensity warfare. You know there are two types of Marines: The "nuke'em till they glow" commando types, and the "win their hearts and minds" types. In this post Cold War era of cultural warfare, we need to train our Marines to be the latter type. And it's hard, you know, to have the confidence to walk into a Third World country and make friends, overcome the culture shock, and act like the warrior/knight or the protector/defender. It may take more of a man to do that than to be commando killer. And we have a great need for warriors in our society. Warriors, and those who can say and do the right thing - partly because they can't be silenced. They have the skills. Self defense is self defense; warriorship means defending others. Any so-called "warrior" training that doesn't prepare for physical defense of self and others ain't warriorship - to me.

Now, the cause of all this ethnic violence may be our over-emphasis on cultural values. Cultural values, despite what we were taught in college are relative and a shaky basis, at best, for true respect between men. It is the life value that defines our human equality.

CM: What do you mean by the life value?

JH: Well this gets back to what I was saying before about human nature. It means that my life and the life of my loved ones are as important as yours are to you. That's the life value. That's why I study the warrior skills, to uphold that value, but everybody's got that value, I don't care what their culture. Acknowledgment of that value is the first step toward peace.

CM: Thank you.

JH: You are welcome.

Jack has been involved for fifteen years and is a senior shidoshi instructor in Togakure Ryu Ninjutsu. In addition to teaching Budo Taijutsu he also teaches Warriorship and living your life as a warrior. He is a book author, musician and financial services professional living in New Jersey

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Warrior Painting By
Gregory Manchess