Modern Conflict and Timeless Martial Principles

While not a conventional ‘martial art’, anyone who studies ninjutsu will find that its principles suggest the cultivation of flexibility in mind and body –in thought and action, that allows for adaption to the total circumstance. One must identify the problem and then use the ever potent salience of human cognition to create a solution rather than beat it to a pulp with one’s aggressive implements.

The maturity of ninjutsu as a self-protection method can teach us to think outside the metaphorical box of our weaponized hands and feet in creating a solution to our problems of self-defense. It can teach us to respond to our problems with tact and intelligence, and this is why the study of ninjutsu still offers something of significance, even in this modern era.

Fujibayashi states that while the specific methods or techniques of the old shinobi can be effective and are to be regarded with high-esteem, it is more important to understand that there are principles which underlie these methods that may be adapted to any circumstance.1

The principles of ninjutsu in this regard are timeless and (theoretically) infinite in their properties of adaptability. Therefore the individual who sincerely studies them is sure to find a useful application that may be incorporated into his/her ‘self-defense’ method.

For example, Shochu Kokoruzuke no Koto, is the aforementioned art of paying attention to insects in one’s environment. One may read Shigenori’s words once and feel content that an understanding of the art has been attained- ‘just watch the insects for signs of human activity’. But if one peers deeper in between the lines, it becomes clear that what the art is predicated on is a principle – in this instance, the principle of situational awareness.

By applying this principle to a modern context, paying attention to the activity within one’s environment, one may come to cultivate a knowledge of meaning behind superficially inconsequential events.

The hasty flight of birds from a wooded area is no longer perceived as an insignificant event but is recognized as a signal that a potential predator is among the trees. As one continues to pay attention to the environment, associations of objects and activity with various phenomena begin to take root in the mind, laying a depth of knowledge about one’s surroundings that the average person doesn’t have.

Now, it would be wrong to assume that one could still learn and practice true, unadulterated ninjutsu this day for, as established in previous chapters, the system was originated to fulfill the needs of warfare specific to past centuries.

Today, the warfare functions of the ninja have been replaced with the rise of electronic surveillance technologies, information dragnets, special-forces, and the variety of personnel and services of three-letter agencies (CIA, FBI, NSA, etc.). It would be wrong for one to attach the term ninjutsu to any of these examples for it would imply that true practitioners have always been active, even from the time of 17th century Japan when the skills were reportedly dying out.

No, historical ninjutsu is no longer practiced, but its principles and techniques still live on within the manuals of Natori Masazumi, Fujibayashi Yasutake, Chikamatsu Shigenori, the Hattori family and many more.

What follows below are but a few examples of how ninjutsu principles are timeless, and are therefore still applicable to modern conflict and the mundane.

Two Examples Derived from the Bansenshukai

Within Fujibayashi’s manual, ‘Shochi I’ of Volume 4 contains ’10 articles’ that convey potential benefits for commanders who utilize shinobi intelligence and their skills in formulation of battle plans against the enemy. These articles are listed within the Bansenshukai with roman numerals applied by the translator. The two titles below include the article number and a summary title of what the article contains regarding their intrinsic principles, followed by this author’s renditions of a modern day application:

1.Infiltration and  Observation/Analysis of Quantitative Information

0 The first article explains the advantageous use of shinobi in gathering intelligence of the enemy’s land, troops, fortifications, and potential points of ambush that may be quantitatively defined.

The shinobi should be deployed to the geographic region of interest prior to the inception of battle. He/she can then gather battle critical information which includes dimensions of roadways, troop number, number of fortifications, fortification integrity, geographical saliencies (i.e. forests, valleys, mountains, rivers, etc.), and more. The shinobi can map the gathered information or memorize it depending on the circumstances.2

0 Modern Application: This principle may be committed to

a variety of mundane dilemmas and conflicts given that one has the creative capacity required to apply it.

The principle is to know as much as on can about the enemy’s objective properties.

If one is aware of say, an upcoming camping experience in an area one knows little about, he/she may apply the above principle to effect a better plan for the trip. For example, a modern rendition of this principle would include visiting the area in advance and scoping it out with a video camera taking note of indicators of potential predators, water sources, the type and extent of vegetation, and locations of various other useful facilities or resources. The more information gathered, the better. This information can then be integrated into the plan for the trip. Agreed this is a mundane example, but remember that the potential applications are innumerable.

  1. Infiltration and Observation/Analysis of Qualitative Information

0 Like the previous article, this one speaks of infiltrating an area of interest prior to battle. The article differs from the first though in delineating what type of information could be gathered. Instead of focusing on predominantly objective/quantitative information, the historical shinobi may also be used in acquiring information of a subjective/qualitative value. The shinobi can return to the allied commander with details of the enemy’s internal atmosphere (emotions, level of thinking, etc.) along with other troop attributes of the enemy that can thereafter be exploited. Specifically, the shinobi can observe for the enemy’s quality of training, moral disposition, diplomatic connections, and capacities for valor/bravery.3

0 Modern Application: Utilizing modern surveillance technologies, one may covertly monitor and analyze any given target for an idea of his/her psychological attributes.

Psychological Operations

The espionage aspects of shinobi-no-jutsu have roots in a careful study of Sun Tzu’s Art of War, a text that continues to be of service to modern military tacticians. Chikamatsu Shigenori relates to his readers that Iga and Koka traditions of Shinobi-no-jutsu put an emphasis on thoroughly studying Sun Tzu’s work, in particular his exposition on spying and spies.4

This specific section of The Art of War is rather short, consisting of merely a few pages within the translation available to this author. Admittedly though, this compactness can be deceptive, allowing for its inner secrets to be ever elusive to the one who does not read between the lines and recognize the potential applications of principles rather than specific techniques.

Respecting this section, what is of special interest for any individual investigating the connection between shinobi operatives and modern day psychological operations is Sun Tzu’s instruction to utilize “expendable” spies to effect the dissemination of false information among the enemy.5 The principle of spreading disinformation or misinformation against an enemy is contemporarily classified as “propaganda”, and is a principle that has been accoutered with the equipment and precision of modern day armies for psychological operations.

Harkening to Sun Tzu’s directive for manipulation of the enemy through information, FM 3-05.301 titled Psychological Operations Tactics, Techniques, and Procedures declares that the purpose of a psychological operation (PYSOP) is to “convey selected information and indicators to foreign target audiences…to influence their emotions, motives, objective reasoning, and ultimately the behavior of foreign governments, organizations, groups, and individuals.”6 Adding even more contemporary semblance to Sun Tzu’s principle of utilizing expendable spies for propaganda dissemination, it has been remarked that media of modern day psychological operations, depending on the situation, “may have to be disseminated by covert means, such as agents who risk their lives to transport and distribute the materials.”7

In contrast to “psychological operations” of the time period wherein shinobi operatives were likely participant, contemporary PSYOPs are amplified in effectiveness and technical span by the emergence of unprecedented advancements in “mass communication” of the electronic and print type.8 Rather than relying on Yabumi 9 letter drops or the oration of a chosen spy or group of spies to disseminate propaganda, one could imagine that modernized principles of shinobi-no-jutsu would now be colored with particular techniques that incorporate leaflet drops from airplanes, radio/cable/ internet broadcasts, and various other complex mediums of message dissemination.

Respecting single agents engaged in a massive PSYOP, a modern technique for spreading information conducive to military objectives calls for the utilization of mannerisms, apparel, linguistic colloquialisms, and comportment that reflects the image of a “common man” which superficially seems to identify with the particular audience that is being targeted.10 The principle of this ‘chameleon effect’, for gaining rapport with a target population for eventual manipulation through understanding it, can be derived from ancient manuals. For example, Fujibayashi discloses in the Bansenshukai the importance of learning, for intelligence purposes, the ways of the people of a given region including their habits of language and dress.11 The Shinobi Hiden advises the same12 and Chikamatsu Shigenori expatiates on a Koka ninja tradition that duly advises a shinobi to understand the “character” of a people for infiltration purposes13, and one might add, the effective dissemination of propaganda along with casual intelligence gathering activities.

Cameras and Counter-Surveillance

In modern society, technology has given criminals new options of approach in targeting a victim for violent, extortive, or other types of crime.

For this reason, it is important for the individual interested in self-defense to expand one’s awareness of real and potential vulnerabilities that could be exploited by the technologically savvy criminal.

For instance, surveillance technologies take many unexpected forms which can afford the user significant advantages over the selected target. These technologies are likely to be simple respecting their components, consisting of nothing more than a microphone with some sort of camera. But what is important to remember about surveillance systems is that they can be disguised to look like any other mundane, innocuous item.

The two pictures below depict a personal computer carrying bag that has been modified to contain a camera which has been discreetly installed into one of its side panels. The contained camera is hooked up to its own battery supply and a portable recording device for digital video (DVR).

A system like this may be bought or made by any willing individual and then planted within the vicinity of a target to gather data without arousing suspicion. Private detectives, for instance, often use such covert systems.


The selected guise of a hidden camera can come from an infinite variety of possibilities, and so the system can be constructed to look like a tree, a pen, a coffee mug, an electrical outlet, etc. Because the number and form of surveillance systems cannot be reliably predicted, a potential victim would be better off simply expanding his/her awareness of the possibility that at any given time one could be the target of some sort of covert surveillance.

Along with this awareness, one should resolve to make feckless the very function of surveillance systems by exhibiting unpredictable behavior. This can include breaking patterns of coming and going, leaving home at arbitrary times, and even setting up counter-surveillance (deploy your own system to watch for suspicious activity). Whatever resolution one chooses, the essential point here is to know the tricks and tools of the enemy (difficult to do without proper intelligence), for only by knowing what technologies exist can one construct effective counter-measures against those who would maliciously use them.

How might someone use surveillance technology for malicious ends?

In general, surveillance methods are used to gather information on the intended target of interest which would inform future tactical decisions. In protecting oneself against surveillance it is important to note that adequate surveillance prior to an assault or an attack is a patient procedure that does not owe allegiance to any side of a conflict.

For example, a major topic of public debate as of late has been what to do about terrorism, as the army of ISIS has been receiving recruits from the U.S. Some think an attack can happen here any day now. And as a deterrent against such potentiality, the Boston Police Department has promulgated a brochure on behaviors and actions designated as indications of terroristic activities and intentions.14 These indicators include specific surveillance behaviors such as:

  1. Deliberately initiating activity which elicits a response from law enforcement in order to take note of “response times”.
  2. Photography and video recording of specific places and events.
  3. Graphing a map of the area.

Unfortunately, as evidenced above, terrorists employ the same sorts of warfare principles as the shinobi of history. Therefore by studying ninjutsu, one can come to develop a counter to terrorism in that the potential victims of terroristic activities are, to a degree, educated on the tactics of terrorism (know the enemy). In other words, you can better protect yourself and your loved ones by sharpening your own claws and mental attributes.

Take care all and Merry Christmas!


  1. Cummins A, & Minami, Y.(2013). The Book of Ninja: the First Complete Translation of the Bansenshukai. p100
  2. Ibid. p56
  3. Ibid. p57
  4. Sawyer, R. (1993). The Seven Military Classics of Ancient China. p136-137
  5. Ibid. p186
  6. FM 3-05.301. (2003). Psychological Operations: Tactics, Techniques, and Procedures. p1-1
  7. Golstein, F. & Findley, B. (1996). Psychological Operations: Principles and Case Studies. p6
  8. Ibid. p7
  9. Cummins, A. & Minami, Y. (2014). Iga and Koka Ninja Skills. p76
  10. FM 3-05.301. (2003). Psychological Operations: Tactics, Techniques, and Procedures. p5-11 psyOP
  11. (2013). The Book of Ninja: the First Complete Translation of the Bansenshukai. p103
  12. Cummins, A. & Minami, Y. (2012). The Secret Traditions of the Shinobi. p41
  13. Cummins, A. & Minami, Y. (2014). Iga and Koka Ninja Skills. p51
  14. Boston Police Dep. (2016). Suspicious Activity Behavior & Indicators For Public Sector Partners.

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