One of the great advantages to studying war strategy is recognizing when strategy is being acted upon you. In martial arts shallow students pretend that everything is as it seems - that noble men or women contend for victory and that there is honor. The study of deceit can seem counter to the principles we hope to instill in our youth and young students, and yet, deceit is the nature of combat. Deceit is the nature of war. No, in fact, deceit is the world. When we delve into the world of deceit as a study it does not necessarily mean when are preparing to deceive but can instead be an opportunity to prevent being deceived ourselves. The world is deceit.
When was the last time a soft drink advertisement boasted an increase in dental work needs? Do men reveal all of their qualities on the first date? “Yes my dear, I wear socks all morning with my underwear and I hate to clean dishes, and by the way I was caught cheating in my last 3 relationships.” Short term money lenders offer assistance to the burdened bill payer and in some Universe mortgages seem like a sensible thing. Gasolines magically clean your engines because a picture of a chemist hangs over the pump and bio-fuels are going to help the world because they come from a plant. Politicians are concerned for your wellbeing in general and that toy advertised on Saturday morning really will help your kids fly. Deceit.
And who is to blame for the results; the person deceiving or the person being deceived? It is our nature. It is nature. The quicker we can get past our programmed predisposition to ignore its existence and the less we hold ourselves responsible for creating it by simply seeing it, the quicker we can get to reality and destroying the illusion. We fear deceit. It is the calling card of Lucifer. And yet we use it. The only way for weak to overcome the strong within the natural or created world is through deceit. In spiritual realms I am of the opinion that brokenness and weakness is the path to power but that power is not of this material world. The world itself is deceit. Beauty. Self- perception. Gold at the rainbow’s end. Time.
And combat is of this world. Martial arts are of this world. Decisions made in segments of time immeasurably small happen and a contender gains the advantage. Feints, footwork, eyes, mere intentions lead to an improper defense and an opening arises. On the street deceit is the name of the game. Offers to help with carrying groceries, a kind stranger following someone home, a pleasant chap offering a drink, a crippled man with a limp, hidden weapons – hidden intentions. Baseball caps with lead packed in the rim, polymer knives that evade detection, body language trained through practice, stun guns disguised as cell phones - and before anyone feels slightly discomforted by the discussion I will say: this is the small time stuff. 12 year olds have figured out more complex trickery than this. But how is it that the wise parent recognizes the tricks? Because they have seen them. They have done them! They are somehow schooled in deceit. They know the consequences as well. The parent with their head in the clouds can be naïve to the point of stupidity, and stupid to the point of negligence. And negligent to the point that through poor guidance and lack of awareness great damage can come to those they are supposed to lead, protect, and raise up in wisdom. Can we learn without having to go through the consequences ourselves or compromise who we are? Of course it’s called history. Learning history is possibly the most important subject in school for developing critical thinking and social awareness skills – it is no coincidence that it is placed at the bottom of the priorities in most modern public schools.
Studying history is studying deceit between humans. Studying nature is studying deceit in the animal world. Feathers disguise, flesh hides, the benign appears dangerous and the dangerous invisible. Ah! Nature is not immune to the world of deceit. Trickery leads to success which leads to continued survival – deceit can be survival. This is why ninjutsu is a worthy art. Far from the black outfits of dark corners, smoke bombs in cartoon drawings, ninjutsu is, in addition to martial technique, an examination of human motivations, psychology, habits, fears and desires. It is more than walking techniques to disguise one’s presence, and it is more than herbs that mask scent that dogs use to track us. It is far more than using rain to cover movements and more than dressing as a different character and learning different gaits. Much more! In fact it is seeing as much as possible in a given situation and it is the study of deceit. Even greater it is recognizing that such exists in the world and yet there is a place for joy, contentment, and an eager curious heart that remains hopeful and full of idealism. Ninjutsu is being an idealist without the negligence of stupidity.
Wise men have walked on the Earth for many years, far longer than us and far wiser. These things have been pondered to such as extent that we can hardly scratch the surface. We merely note that there is a surface. But gaze into the deep! Ancient civilizations and sages have fully exposed the potential of deceit and put it to great use. By now it is an art quite refined. It is in your home, your cherished monuments, your idols and your entertainment. Al Jabr, an Arabic term, means STRATEGY. You may know it by something more common; Algebra. But Al Jabr encompasses the full scope of human workings and the role of deception in achieving ones objectives. Taqiya, used by soldiers of the Islamic war force from ancient times means the art of disguise and is an important aspect of one’s overall strategy. Kasafat in literal meaning is ‘eclipsed’, but refers to the study of stealth. Do not be impressed with stealth as a camouflage or sniper in a ghillie suit. Kasafat is a level of stealth that we read about in books, and it runs the world. This stealth infiltrates families, governments and corporations. It is long in patience and suffers immensely for success. It is sacrificial and is the very thing that so charged a word that the word strikes fear to this day and is the very meaning of ill intent in our own language – assassin. While assassination may seem to be some end-all of great stealth, disguise, and strategy, it is of course a lower level option if the greater forces fail. To vanquish an enemy without his knowledge is a much greater Al Jabr. To fix the sights of generation after generation on the skills of a single warrior, a shooter, a swordsman, a killer - is nothing more than a strategy of disarmament.
From an individual match we can see a warrior aim high and then shoot low, push and then pull, and use an opponent’s incorrect response as the source of power in his defeat. An army drawn hastily into battle beyond means of support can be cut off and overwhelmed. Likewise a nation drawn into political alliances, debt beyond hopes of balance, and a lifestyle dependent on consumption beyond sustainability can be put into compromise by a weaker force. This concept is an Arab term often used to denote an ambush, an-najash, literally means ‘drawing out’ – a similar concept to the Chinese phrase “to draw the tiger out from the mountain”. The tiger will not leave the defenses of home unless it is deceived by a bait worthy of the risk. Some scholars have translated Muhammed’s summation of war as simply: War is stratagem - الحرب هو "الجبرا كابيتال - Al Jabr.
People sometimes ask what martial arts I study. My answer varies depending on mood. Inevitably I answer ninjutsu; a willingness on my part to deal with the smirks and laughter, raised eyebrows, the connotations of delusional grandeur. I like to open the door to discussing the art of perseverance, what it means and what it is, what it can be. Often times in a moment of arrogance the martial artist will give reasons why his or her art is the greatest and why I should be quick to come join their ranks. Often they make a strong case; and that is how I have come to be a student of many styles and learn from people from all over. My favorite cases are the ones I can see and feel for truth is self-evident. But there is a question I always ask, another thing which also elevates an art for combat. Some call it sensitivity, some call it awareness. Some call it preparation or due diligence. The soldierly minded might use the term ‘tactical’, or ‘counter’. The question I always ask, even if only to myself as I observe a full spectrum system; something I see in the practitioners as they meet force and parry, slip and trick and lead into a pinning move; an ability to politely lock out a truly determined aggressor; the question I always ask is – how do you address deceit? Without it there is no strategy, and tactics are an idol of the pompous. Or in the truest words of Sun Tzu, “Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat”.
Be aware my friends. Be noble, and be true. Find honor and build trust. Discover respect and teach character. But never forget deceit is all around. The world is deceit. And deceit wins battles, wars, nations, and continents. Only with this understanding can we begin to see what is going on around us, if that only means realizing that what we see is an illusion!
“He thwarts the plans of the crafty, so that their hands achieve no success” – Job 5:12
Spencer Bolejack operates Land of the Sky Wilderness School and Full Spectrum Tactical in western North Carolina. For more information visit www.lotswild.com or www.fullspectrumtactical.org