The Strategy of Chaos

A few quick questions to start this post:

If you were a big organization looking to maintain control, which would you prefer: a cohesive, well-run, well-integrated company, or a fragmented, mismanaged environment rife with ego-battling?

If you were a shadowy conspiracy type, do you think the powers that be would have an easier time controlling and manipulating the populace if they pitted multiple factions of the bitter, angry folks against each other or if the people were living in harmony with one another?

If you were a boxer, do you think it would be easier relying solely on a one-punch knockout, or would you rather use a series of combinations to set up your opponent for an eventual knockout shot?

In each of the above situations, the element of inducing chaos is one of the strategies that might be employed. Chaos, by its definition, is great disorder or confusion. And perhaps more than ever before, inducing chaos is a strategy being relied upon by anyone looking to control or manipulate something or someone.

The martial art of ninjutsu, which I’ve had the great fortune to study now for over twenty years, is a system of espionage and intelligence gathering as much as it is about actual physical fighting. In some respects, the importance of espionage and intelligence gathering is even more important, because if through objective observation one can determine the scenarios which might unfold, then a physical confrontation may never even be necessary. And it’s always nice to win a fight without having to fight.

The lessons within ninjutsu are both common sense and profound, but only if one sees the lessons being presented. Within the Bujinkan organization, the grandmaster Masaaki Hatsumi, is the ultimate spymaster. He knows what makes every person who walks into his dojo tick. And he often gives them exactly what they’re looking for. Back when the rest of the world was just beginning to learn about ninjutsu, Hatsumi-sensei’s organization was a small, type-knit group of core practitioners. These men were his original circle of trusted students and friends. But when “The Ninja Boom” of the 1980s happened, Hatsumi-sensei was faced with a great task: how to manage an organization that exponentially exploded almost overnight? Was it best controlled through a series of stringent guidelines that produced a cohesive student body governed by an established hierarchy?


After all, there are rules for “participation in the Bujinkan,” that spell out what is expected of the practitioner, his or her ethics, morals, etc. (And there is some degree of hierarchy, but it’s frankly rather silly. Westerners with a tenth of the time training in the art are promoted to obscenely high ranks and then attach titles like “shihan” to their names in an effort to make themselves look better than they actually are.)

But Hatsumi-sensei uses a better technique for controlling his organization: chaos.

How does he do it? Pretty easily, actually. His understanding of human nature is so refined that he knows what a little bit of disinformation will do if placed in the appropriate ear. All it takes is a few insecure individuals puppy-dog eager to consider themselves as close confidants of the grandmaster and you have all the messengers you need. Hatsumi-sensei then plants a small seed of suspicion, or an opinion, or some other statement. Then he sits back and watches it work.

Perhaps he says something like, “Teacher X doesn’t visit me that much in Japan anymore.” It’s a pretty innocuous statement. But when placed into the ear of an insecure person, it becomes much more than that. That recipient then starts spreading this nugget around. “Well, I heard Hatsumi-sensei say that he’s concerned that Teacher X doesn’t visit him in Japan anymore.” And knowing how gossip grows and spreads, the rest is history. Before you know it, the internet is abuzz with people declaring that Teacher X is no longer part of the Bujinkan or some other equally silly notion.

Consider this: if Hatsumi-sensei knows he’s got someone nearby who happens to be among the most vocal of gossipers, he might just wait until they’re getting ready to leave the dojo. Hatsumi-sensei will then ask for their help “removing some of the highest ranks name plackets from the rank board.” The student dutifully does this for Hatsumi-sensei and then leaves, already texting that he saw Hatsumi remove Teacher Y’s name stick from the board. Of course, Hatsumi-sensei may just have been dusting the board, or he may have removed it at Teacher Y’s behest. Or he may have done it to further induce chaos into his organization.

Perhaps Hatsumi-sensei has a particularly annoying visitor always hanging around his office. This guy just doesn’t know how to take a hint that Hatsumi-sensei would like some alone time. So, rather than simply telling this guy to take off, Hatsumi-sensei uses it as yet another way to control his organization. So he shows this clown some of the scrolls from one of the schools we study from and says something like, “This is the only way this kata was done.” Now the clown goes around telling practitioners that Hatsumi-sensei told him the kata was only done this particular way. Further, this clown now states that anyone training with him should only be training with him because he alone knows the true correct way to practice the art. (Of course, you’d have to be pretty stupid and naive to actually believe this, since this is a combat art and there is no ONE way to properly apply this art in the midst of combat. You do what works and what gets you home safely – if you’re bitching about whether your rear hand is properly positioned to approximate the Gyokko-ryu, you’re probably already dead – and mercifully so.)

So now, the grandmaster of ninjutsu has an organization that functions exactly the way he wants it to. There are rival factions, massive egos belied by even more massive insecurity, and rampant silliness that produces a mockery not seen before in the martial arts world. The vast majority of students fall for this manipulation because they forget what the nature of the art is. And this is perhaps the biggest lesson of all: Hatsumi-sensei isn’t doing this maliciously, per se, (although he is most certainly interested in keeping things under control) but he’s offering students of ninjutsu a tremendous opportunity to learn how they might ensure they aren’t manipulated by others in this fashion. And how to include this technique in their own arsenal.

Of course, you’ve got to be able to see it and most of these people never will. Which is fine. And even though some of the people this article speaks of will read this, they will just as quickly shake their heads and discount it. Because if they acknowledge the theory that this might be true, then the foundation of lies they’ve built their shaky house of fantasy on comes toppling down and what they’re left with will be a truth too brutal to bear.

But what if you don’t practice ninjutsu? Does this concept hold true elsewhere?

Let’s look at the political world. We’re less than one week away from midterm elections and the airwaves are filled with more attack ads then ever before.

Ignore your own political leanings for a moment and consider this: when President Obama was swept into the presidency, there was a real groundswell of optimism brewing in a significant chunk of the population. Those who voted for him were enraptured, to some extent, by his promises of a brighter future, change, and prosperity. He had the charisma, the ideas, and the oratory skills to make his case for occupying the highest office in the land. And he won.

If you agree with the idea that the real power in this world isn’t held by politicians at all – but by various consortia, corporations, dynastic types, the ghost of Elvis, whatever – then can you imagine what they must have felt seeing that emerging sense of unity and optimism? I’d wager they saw a significant amount of their control slipping away. After all, a unified people are much harder to control, much harder to sway. So what to do?

The Tea Party.


No longer do we have a political landscape dominated by two parties (some might argue this, but both parties have been endangered by the emergence of these new players). The Republicans and the Democrats now have other things to worry about from both a new third party wanna-be and disgruntled members of both parties going Independent. An undercurrent of fear – which the previous administration used so adeptly to finagle nefarious legislation through Congress – percolated until it was ready. Now we have a nation that is being subjected to the most divisive extremist thought being espoused by candidates in decades. We have long-time incumbents being accused of ethical violations. We have a voter body so exhausted by the continuous mud-slinging that many of them don’t know who to vote for, just so long as the advertisements and robo-calls stop. And nowhere in this election cycle do we have candidates actually fielding solid plans for making things better. Every one of them is engaged in countering attacks, redirecting attacks, ducking the mud, and just trying to not look as bad as the other guy long enough for Tuesday to get here.

And you know what? That hope and optimism that endangered the control of this country is now gone. It’s been replaced by fear and division.


Those in control know that the vast majority of people won’t take the time to actually get the truth about things. They know that a whispered snippet of suspicion, that a sound bite that hits a primal fear, or that just the right look of contempt, are all the majority have time for. “President Obama is a Muslim.” “Christine O’Donnell is a witch.” “Sarah Palin is an idiot.” “Nancy Pelosi cohabitates with a transvestite koala bear named Zippy Garlin.” So that’s exactly what they give us. They don’t want one party in command because that’s simply too dangerous. They want a divided union; one easier to sway and manipulate and bend to their own actual agendas.

For the boxer who relies on the single knockout, it can be a dangerous road to victory. He’s got to bob and weave and jab and position himself just so perfectly in order to unleash that one single juggernaut shot that will end the fight. While some have the skill to make it look easy, it’s anything but.

Most boxers work combinations. And for good reason. A series of shots to various parts of the body overloads the nervous system, inducing chaos within the opponent. As the opponent’s nervous system struggles to catalog and address all the impulses flooding it (registering the hit, the pain it causes, the physiological reaction to the shot, etc. etc.) the boxer sees other openings – other targets to attack. And the tidal wave crashes down on the opponent again and again until a knockout is achieved or the fight is stopped. The boxer divides the body of the opponent; he breaks up the harmony that his opponent has trained so hard to achieve; and he uses that to ultimately control the opponent with a KO.

The inducement of chaos is brilliant strategy for controlling and manipulating situations and it’s literally all around us. What makes it so hard to defend against is our own human nature.

In the case of the ninja grandmaster, he knows that people want to feel like he’s confiding in them, that they are “special” or that they need to be “protectors of the lineage.” The truth is the lineage doesn’t need them; it’s been around for a thousand years and will be long after they’re gone.

In the case of politics, those really in control understand that most people are easily swayed by that which requires the least effort on their part to understand. The truth is they don’t care how we vote, provided no one party/ideal/attitude has too much sway. A divided union is an easily controlled one.

In the case of the boxer, he knows that a string of hits is going to be harder to defend than a single KO shot. The truth is if he can overload his opponent, then the KO shot will come naturally.

Using chaos to control a situation, a body of people, or even a nation is a pretty fascinating concept and by studying it, it allows us to objectively understand how others might be trying to employ it on us. Then we can take steps to make sure we don’t fall prey to its incredible power.

Thanks for reading!

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