Reading the Human Mind?

The powers of observation that the historical shinobi possessed may have served in functions of understanding a person’s mind through non-verbal cues. Though today considered a flawed and superstitious capacity, the shinobi of old did find enough utility in the practice of reading a person’s behavior and physical characteristics to include it in one of their manuals, the Shoninki.1 Admittedly, much of what is said about “physiognomy” by Natori Masatake may realistically be nothing more than superstition. But, considering what else is written about a ninja’s observational skills and his/her understanding of culture, custom, and human psychology, it is reasonable to state that the ninja were, to an extent, capable of reading an individual’s mind. How?

Natori Masatake says the reading of the human mind is a hard thing to do. A shinobi functioning in this capacity needs to know how to assess the mind of a target without the individual being aware and should also master the skill of kiruma ni kakuru, which is the understanding of another’s mind and attainment of information through flattery.2

One can easily see the pragmatic effect of using flattery to gain information. Seldom anyone desires to not be complimented and so, by caressing them with gestures and comments which inflate their sense of self-worth without being too obvious about it, the target may come to enjoy the presence of the shinobi. So much so that the shinobi may begin to subtly introduce questions that when answered are engineered to touch upon areas of informational interest. Also the target may become so comfortable with the shinobi’s presence that he/she may carelessly divulge mission pertinent information. Couple with intentional flattery the ability to accurately interpret non-verbal body language and the result is indeed a form of mind reading.

In support of this claim, modern research has shown that the majority of human communication and intention is in fact non-verbal in nature (some estimates indicate as much as 60%). As a practical corollary to this observation, it is well-known that criminal investigators consistently implicate assessments of non-verbal cues in determination of whether or not a suspect’s story is believable. Also, non-verbal gestures can be indicators of malicious intent, a fact that is consistently recognized as representative of reality by members of the United States Secret Service.3

But of course despite the above, there are always skeptics who remain unconvinced of the reliability in using non-verbal behavior analysis to get inside one’s mind. Concerning those today who would find the claim of non-verbal behavior reliability unpalatable and continue to mark non-verbal reading as wholly superstitious (it can be) and utterly useless, it is informative to note that modern day relevancy and applicability of this practice has been established by the Supreme Court decision of Terry v. Ohio in 1968. According to this decision, officers of the law may stop and frisk individuals without a warrant given that they have perceived non-verbal cues of criminal intent. Therefore efficacy and reliability of non-verbal reading has been established within a lawful domain along with the understanding that it is a trainable skill which can carry legal ramifications within the context of contemporary society.4


  1. Cummins, A. & Minami, Y. (2011). The True Path of the Ninja p126-128
  2. Ibid. p150
  3. U.S. Secret Service Training Guide: Characteristics of the Armed Individual. 2010. D.o.a 2/28/16.
  4. Navarro, J. (2008). What Every Body is Saying: An Ex-FBI Agent’s Guide to Speed- Reading People. p18-19

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