Holistic History Extra: F*** Yeah, Ninjas

Goddammit, ninjas. I devote a full paragraph to how awesome you are and weeks afterwards I’m still finding out that yes, there is more to say and yes, people reading this are definitely interested to hear it. This is Holistic History Extra – the first one, if you’re keeping track – and it’s going to be where all the useless (but still interesting) facts go. This time, it’s the Jut Su (techniques) of the Ninja – in particular, the amazing feats and strange tactics that made their mercenaries a symbol not only in pop culture, but in Japanese history. They’re amazing, they’re a little bizarre and I’d like to think I’ve picked out the best for you here:

Kageshin – “The Quiet Mind” technique should probably be known as the “badass clause”. The idea is that the body can only reflect the mind, so a nervous mind makes for a loud and obvious body. If you want to stay hidden, the idea is to keep yourself at Alan Rickman levels of excitement, and, as important research has shown, keeping a straight face while you’re doing your dirty work does make you look like a bit of a badass.

Ryohebi no jutsu – The “Serpent Crawl” doesn’t sound too dramatic: you crawl on all fours with your stomach to the ground. What’s amazing is the speed – this is actually supposed to be faster than walking, and almost as fast as running. On all fours. In the dark. Completely silently. Now discuss for a moment why some warlords would find the idea of ninjas so terrifying.

Dobutsujutsu – The imaginatively named “Using Animals” technique does what it says on the tin, but this goes a little further than riding horses and using sniffer dogs. I quote as my example the Bee Bomb – a pouch of venomous bees that you literally keep around your belt, then shake, open and throw at an enemy. It’s a grenade, but it can see you and sting you. Mostly used for distraction, using animals might be the first example of allergen warfare.

Hitsuke – The “Arson” technique was maybe a little more basic. Want to sneak into one village? Light a fire in the next one along, and the people run there to put it out. You’re left with an abandoned village and free reign…if not a clear conscience.

Hensojutsu – Finally, the technique of “Disguise”. And it’s probably the most diverse and important, because different occasions needed different disguises. The ninja had seven – for example priests who could cross borders freely, samurai who were the ruling class and commanded respect, farmers who…well, who paid attention to lowly farmers in the 1600s? It extended even further than people – my favourite on the list are “Rock disguise” and “Duckweed disguise” because making a person look like either one is a success in my book. And if your footprints need covering? Wear flat-soled shoes…flat soled shoes that leave the impression of wolves’ footprints to scare off anyone tracking you.

So the ninjas in conclusion. Long-lasting? No. Iconic? Sort of. And creative?

I think that’s a yes.

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