The secrets of ninja and ninjutsu


Brief history of ninja

Equipped with greatly enhanced physical, technical, and interpersonal abilities. ninja were tough and excellent secret agents. Many historical records provide a glimpse into their performance, but the whole truth is cloaked in mystery. Now, let's explore the reality of the warriors in the darkness.

• Origin

In old Japan, there used to be a practical religious thinking which aimed to save people through supernatural forces called genriki. The disciplinants thrust into the deep, sacred mountains and dark valleys to do long, hard training to acquire genriki. In time, they incorporated the idea of Buddhism and the magical thinking of Tantric Buddhism to create a unique Japanese religion called shugendo. Shugendo was quite popular as an object of folk religion in the Heian period (794–1185) .

The disciplinants of shugendo or shugenja were good at magic, jojutsu (art using a cane staff), taijutsu (art using human body), swordplay, kajutsu (art of fire) and weather lore. They visited many countries as training, and automatically established information networks on a national scale. Shugenja, being experts of magic and martial arts as well as well-informed travelers, gradually deepened ties with central and local influential figures, paving the way for the birth of secret agents working for particular persons.

• Birth of ninjutsu

With time, people having special skills of shugendo began to settle down to local areas, and the skills of shugendo were passed to every region of the country. Those skills then made progress and got sophisticated in each area to create various schools of ninjutsu. Let's take Iga school of ninjutsu or Iga-ryu for example.

The Iga area was located to the south of Kyoto, and most of the land was owned by Todai-ji, the headquarters of the Kegon school of Buddhism. Under the wing of Todai-ji, the inhabitants were almost free from the controls of the central government, and they developed a self-governing unique culture. As time went by, the inhabitants began to rebel against even the rule of Todai-ji, and battled repeatedly with the armed priests of Todai-ji.

Since the Iga area had strong historical links with shugendo, the local ruling families developed the arts of battles, intelligence, and conspiracy during the extended wars. Those families also worked in concert with each other to create a dominion based on autonomous, territorial connections called so village. And the body of skills and knowledge they used was later called Iga-ryu ninjutsu. Koga-ryu was a school of ninjutsu that was born in the Koga area seperated from the Iga only by a single mountain.

• Ninja in Sengoku

image-ninja In the Muromachi and Sengoku periods, the local warlords recruited experts of ninjutsu and tried to organize groups of ninja for intelligence and conspiracy purposes. The ninja groups thus created had unique names like suppa of the Takeda family, nokizaru of the Uesugi, rappa of the Hojo, and kurohabaki-gumi of the Date.

One of the special features of ninja was their complete anonymity, and their performances were rarely recorded in history. And warlords were reluctant to admit the use of conspiracy. But ninja must have achieved big tasks sometimes by letting the enemy's senior retainers die an unnatural death or change sides or throwing the enemy troops in confusion by way of guerrilla tactics. Some of their perfomances compared favorably with the victory won by mobilizing a great army.

Although it is not appropriate to compare them on an equal footing, you may wonder out of curiosity which was stronger, ninja or samurai. Here is an example in point. As described above, the Iga area was the birth place of Iga-ryu and had an independent culture which tended to resist a high-handed authority. Near the end of Sengoku, the people in the Iga area stood against a relentless army of samurai, and they were defeated until nothing was left. For more details, see the article about Momochi Tanba as described later.

• Ninja in peace time

The demand for ninja dropped sharply once Tokugawa Ieyasu succeeded in putting the whole country under his control. They had to change jobs and sold talismans, medicines, merchandise, or became a farmer or tightrope walker to eke out a living. Some group of Iga-ryu and Koga-ryu ninja were lucky enough to obtain a position as a security guard in Edo Castle, or as an agent spying on the local daimyo. Most of them ended their lives in obscurity.

Secret books on ninjutsu

Ninjutsu was a collection of basic concepts and practical skills of covert operation for defeating enemies. It covered quite a wide range of activities ranging from methods for sneaking into houses to a carefully-planned conspiracy to topple a whole country. Its completeness and rational thinking made it still viable even in the modern age when space rockets were being lifted for granted.

Since ninjutsu ceased to be ninjutsu once it was known to others, it had been treated as confidential. But fortunately, valuable literature called the three major ninjutsu books still exist today. Those books were written to carry on the arts of ninjutsu to the later generation or pitch their arts to prospective employers, and, despite some exaggerations, they provide valuable information about ninjutsu and ninja.

1. Ninpiden : Secrets of Iga-ryu and Koga-ryu ninjutsu handed down to the Hattori family. Written in Sengoku.

2. Shoninki : Secrets of Kishu-ryu ninjutsu. Written in the Edo period. Oniwaban, the government-employed spies in the middle Edo period, were kishu-ryu ninja.

3. Bansen-shukai : A great book of ninjutsu which tried to upgrade ninjutsu to the level of the art of war. In fact, the descriptions about intelligence and conspiracy are superior to 'The Use of Intelligence' written by Sun Tzu.

The following is the table of contents of Bansen-shukai with occasional comments made by the webmaster.

• Principle of Ninjutsu

Always try to hit the opponent's spiritual void at the best timing with your full force. The spiritual void is produced like when your opponent is;

About to hit you in a dual or war,

Preoccupied with something,

Lost to emotion,

Fascinated with phenomenon.

In order to secure victory, never leave anything to chance. Just focus on finding, creating, and taking advantage of the voids in the enemy's mind.

• Ninja Code

Never use ninjutsu for personal gain

Never disclose your identity

Abandon the idea of shame

Never break the scheme

• Seishin or Righteous Mind

Perform your duty with Seishin, so that you can bear any kind of hardship, you can put a hand to cruel and unusual deeds. Seishin is the selfless commitment to the community you belong. Seishin is the belief that being strong is good in itself, no matter what measures he takes.

• Basic Arts of Ninjutsu


Art of observation

Read your and the opponent's fortune beforehand

Weigh up the geopolitical advantage of your opponent

Weigh up the moral of your opponent, learn about others by physiognomy

Art of anti-personnel tactics, appealing to five emotions* and five lusts**

*Five emotions ... Joy of being flattered; Anger & jealousy; Noble generosity; Craving for hedonism: Fear
**Five lusts ... Good meal; Power; Gambling; Greed for money & material; Lust of the flesh

Art of Anonymity

Work in complete anonymity ... affiliation, identity, name, mission, etc.

Art of spotting disguised anonymity

Art of long-term maneuvering

Art of long-term maneuvering

Induce others to do what you want without their knowing it

Art of assessing war potential (especially enemy's favorite tactics)

Art of changing tactics (same tactics bring no effect)

Art of detecting traitors and moles

Art of decentralization for organizational security and mutual surveillance

Art of localism and vocational skills

• Arts of Conspiracy ... before the war

Art of a-man-in-the-moon (send in agents to the enemy)

Art of shadowing (infiltrate many agents into the enemy position all at once)

Art of amorous net (knock them out with sex appeal)

Art of local agents (bring up agents within the enemy territory)

Art of parasites (buy over enemy's disgruntled retainers)

Art of eye-catcher (tactical use of concealed pseudograph)

Art of leverage (give an inch to get a mile)

Art of using enemy agents

Art of echo (stage a dispute to send in an agent to the enemy)

• Arts of Conspiracy ... during the war

Art of preparation (make yourself ready for close contact)

Art of proactive maneuver (like come first and sabotage an enemy camp)

Art of cross-purposes (when the enemy makes a sortie, send in agents)

Art of weak people (masquerade as weak people to let the enemy's guard down)

Art of the virtual moon (create a phantom to mislead the enemy)

Art of fake surrender (desert to the enemy as platoon and comeback as company)

Art of captives' call (let captives prompt their relatives to change sides)

Art of pacing letters (use a mixture of fake and true letters to disturb the enemy)

• Arts of Intrusion

Art of exploiting the enemy's spiritual void

Art of finding easy accesses

Art of exploiting the enemy's blind side

Art of sneaking into a house

Never be a slave to only what you see. A junior ninja fears a solid-looking castle gate, whereas an expert ninja visualizes an invisible gate and try to figure out ways to break it. This applies to all arts of ninjutsu.

• Arts of Close-combat

Art of startling ninja (startle the enemy to hit the spiritual void)

Art of rain bird (cash in on the enemy's preconceived idea)

Art of sounding (put in a probe to see a response)

Art of pretended getaway (create a spiritual void by showing your back)

Art of phony interest (if you want a gold coin, rather praise a silver coin)

Art of diversion (let your peer stand at the front door to get in from the backyard)

Art of parrying (dodge effective blows like answering off the point)

Art of coming first (previous arrangement before time of attack)

Art of arson (spread rumor, create chaos to open the gate from inside if possible)

Art of walking apart (never hang together, look to diversified investment)

Art of hiding in the uniform (lie low in the rank and file)

• Arts of Hiding and Fleeing

Art of hiding

Hide yourself behind, between, in, and on anything around you. Work out unique ways yourself.

Art of fleeing

Make use of climatic phenomenon, water, fire, wood, metal, earth, animals, and quick thinking

• Miscellaneous

Ninja equipment

Fire arms, water equipment, climbing tools, key openers, handy weapons, gismos ...

Chemicals, Drug and poison

Recipes for explosives, drugs, poisons. Ready-made meals and supplements ...

Magic, Incantation

Unexpectedly ninja, being ultra-realists, were said to pray to the gods, cast a spell before moving into action, dazzle an enemy by magic, and exercise divination. This was because ninjutsu evolved from the ancient tradition of mysticism, Taoism, and Shugendo. In addition, they knew the success of operations was affected by chance and luck, no matter how carefully the action plan was drew up. And the failure often led directly to death. They may have well sought divine protection.

Ninja also would practice "Kuji-kiri" every time they moved into action. Kuji literally means nine words which are pronounced as "Rin-Pyo-Toh-Sha-Kai-Jin-Retsu-Zai-Zen". Kiri means making nine specific forms using ten fingers, with each form corresponding to each word, while uttering the nine words. Kiji-kiri was for improving concentration, making himself immortal, and invoking divine protection. Here is a You Tube video showing exactly what the nine finger forms were like.

NINJUTSU (Kuji In #1)

• Ninjutsu Curriculum

A ninja boy studied under a ninjutsu master since childhood for the long haul every day to go through the basic arts of ninjutsu. At around fifteen years of age he started to take part in an actual duty. Since then, he was to refine his skills to become competent ninja through life-or-death work experience. But the curriculum shown below was too much overloaded for a young boy. Then, it's reasonable to think that they learned the subjects selectively according to their ability and preferences.

Mental training

Will power, Zen sitting, dialogue

Body training

Walking & running, jumping, climbing, hiding, breathing, night vision, hearing, intended dislocation, bad eating, eating much, eating little. eating poison, sword, spear, shuriken, horse, swimming, archery, blowtube, firearm, pebble throwing, judo, karate

Intellectual training

Art of war, liberal arts, code language, mnemonic, calculation

Skill training

Disguise, divination, medicine, dialects, ventriloquism, hypnosis, pseudograph, counterfeit seal, making ninja tools, using ninja tools, jail break, making up explosives, hobbies, animal taming

The next page named Masked Fighter features the actual lives of ninja. Don't pass up !