Ninjutsu and Firecraft: The Shinobi Donohi Informs Emergency Preparedness

You won’t know how important fire-craft skills are until you are smack in the midst of an emergency situation that demands a quick fire. With knowledge of the many viable uses for fire, especially those for an emergency, one would feel compelled to at least carry around a lighter on a day by day basis. This is something I do, and it is a habit I first initiated by studying ninjutsu’s preparedness aspects.

In this post we will examine the historical ninja’s method of starting fires and then take a look at modern methods of starting fires, along with a few uses of fire that were part of a ninja’s skillset. Lets begin.


The Donohi

Not surprisingly, the ancient shinobi (ninja) were prepared to start fires at a moments notice, but their means did not at all resemble our modern ‘BIC’ lighter. The shinobi of Natori’s (Natori Sanjuro Masazumi, author of the Shoninki 1681) lineage carried a portable metallic cylinder containing charred cloth known as a donohi, which when ignited, served to start fires and even functioned as a body-warmer. Here is a video of this ninja tool in action from the Togenkan Natori Ryu:

This tool was used for a wide multitude of purposes, many of them devious and highly destructive. In fact, as evidenced by surviving ninja records, we know that the ancient shinobi was a skilled arsonist, capable of burning down entire villages or blowing up gunpowder/ potassium nitrate stores belonging to the enemy:

“The modus operandi in shinobi no jutsu is to burn down a village or town in one ‘burst’ by setting fires in many directions and from the cardinal points at the same time.” -Fujibayashi Yasutake

Source: Cummins, A. & Minami, Y. (2013). The Book of Ninja.

Steering away from the more ‘terroristic’ aspects of ninjutsu’s fire-craft, we should become more informed on the value of fire for emergencies. Consider the following list of fire uses:

  1. Smoke signals. If you are unfortunate enough to become stranded out in the middle of nowhere, and can be reasonably sure a search party will come looking for you, one way to be sure your location is identified is by stoking a fire with green vegetation to produce a massive cloud of white smoke. Or you can opt to be fancy and carry smoke flares with you on your outdoor excursions. Either way, you must have a means of starting the fire in the first place.
  2. Keeping predators at a distance. So lets say you are pretty sure some sort of predator is in the area of your camp. If you are without a weapon, another way to fend off predators is by using primitive torches or building a large fire. No animal likes to get burned. The fire is also good to keep insects away.
  3. Cooking food. This is a given.
  4. Purifying water. In an outdoors emergency, no water source should be considered safe until thoroughly boiled.
  5. Cauterizing wounds. Not a very exciting idea, but hey, if you had to?
  6. Building perimeter defense fires. This one is useful for the “bug-in” prepper or the poor guy being hunted in the wilderness by a band of head-hunters (joking….kinda) who want some additional protection. Digging trenches and filling them with flammable debris will not only cause the assailants to find another way into your perimeter (bottleneck time!), but the perimeter fires will assist you in spotting those trying to sneak in at night. Ninja fact: The Bansenshukai informs that a battle-camp can be protected against shinobi infiltrators by well placed watch-fires.
  7. Diversions. If necessary, starting fires in strategic areas can disrupt and divide enemy forces. Ninja fact: In order to blend in, gain information, and study how a population responded to emergencies, a shinobi would purposely set fires to townhouses and then take advantage of the ensuing commotion. Another stratagem used by a shinobi to make a lord believe he was loyal, involved building a dwelling that would be burned down at the direction of the lord. By doing this, the shinobi appeared to consummate his loyalty though he was a double agent.
  8. Leaving tracks. If you want to be followed and found, an extinguished fire site here and there will direct others to you.
  9. Staying warm. The all too obvious use of fire.

This is not an exhaustive list of fire uses, but it should be enough to get you thinking about the benefit of carrying a fire-tool on you for emergencies and the lessons ninjutsu can offer to the ‘preparedness’ minded.

The donohi is 1 of 6 tools that comprised a ninja’s inventory, the others being the kaginawa (grappling hook), amigasa (wide-brimmed hat), stone pencil, sanjaku tenugui (3-ft. section of cloth), and field medicine. Fortunately, we do not need to carry around the donohi. We have access to matches, lighters, batteries and steel wool, condoms (yes, you can start a fire with a condom), magnifying glasses etc. Use what is convenient for you.

Be safe out there.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s