Henso Jutsu Is Not What You Think It Is

Invisibility is hensô jutsu

Yesterday Hatsumi sensei referred to hensô jutsu indirectly when he spoke about the seven ways (of disguise) or shichi hô de.

Those seven disguises allowed the spies to blend in the daily lives of ordinary people and to gather information or pass undetected.

Here is one of the list of these 7 disguises:

  1. 出家 shukke – buddhist monk
  2. 虚無僧 komuso – itinerant priest
  3. 浪士  ronin (or tsunegata) – wandering samurai
  4. 商人 akindo – merchant, tradesman
  5. 楽士 gakushi – musician
  6. 山伏 yamabushi – mountain warrior
  7. 旅芸人 sarugaku (or tabigeinin) – performer, entertainer

Those disguises might have been very helpful in feudal Japan, but I honestly doubt they would be of any use today in modern Japan. What is interesting is that sensei referred to that in a “gyaku way” during the class. We are used to see those lists of “ninja fields of expertise”. But to me this is the omote of our art.

The ura side is more interesting. What sensei wanted us to understand yesterday was not to disguise ourselves for some james bond kind of mission but to be aware of the type of clothes the attacker is wearing and to adapt our techniques accordingly.

Today this list would be more like: businessman, delivery guy, mailman, police officer, young gothic or rasta, electricity company employee, thug, etc. And this list is not limited to seven. Each one of these persons is wearing different clothes and accessories making the fighting more difficult (or easier) depending on those “uniforms”. One of my student who is now jûgodan once fought a rasta guy with dreadlocks, the rasta guy was nearly bald at he end of the fight.

The same would happen if you had to fight someone wearing a heavy leather jacket, a backpack, or a bathing suit. How do you find a kyûsho 急所 on a leather jacket? how would you deal with close distance against someone with a backpack or even a bike? how would you grab naked skin? Obviously the written technique of yore would not be sufficient.

Sensei’s budô is about adaptation and a tie, a pen, a phone, a backpack or a coffee mug can become tools to deflect or launch an attack. When we train in the dôjô the possibilities are limited as we are all dressed in the same way. This is why the introduction of the yoroi kumiuchi in 2003 was such an important evolution in the bujinkan system because once you understand the multiple possibilities of fighting the yoroi (with or against it) you develop new skills not relying on a specific technique but based upon your level of consciousness.

Techniques are useless if you are not able to adapt your movements to the opponent’s actions. And this is why sensei keeps reminding us to use  hanpa (半端) or unfinished techniques to be in tune with the flow of things.

You begin a movement and let uke’s reactions and intention dictate the emergence of your next move.

Author: kumablog

I share here on a regular basis my thoughts about the Bujinkan martial arts, training in Japan and all over the world, and

3 thoughts on “Henso Jutsu Is Not What You Think It Is”

  1. Arnaud,

    very intersting post as usual. Thank you for this present.

    Just one question : you talk about a multiple way of being dressed for the attacker

    Why don’t you talk about a multiple way of being dressed for us ? Why just for the opponent ?


  2. This does evoke a lot of thought about appropriateness.

    The sense to “dress appropriate” for the occasion, climate and environment can be very difficult to judge.

    I found the Yoroi training good because it made me aware of the need for balance between protection and mobility.

    In “shichi hode”, ultimately you would have to dress in a way that it is easy for you to fight while not appearing as someone who was a capable fighter.

    Dress for success!


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