Ten Thousand Rivers Flow Into the Sea

Fujibayashi’s Bansenshūkai is a compilation of the knowledge and views of dozens of Ninja-Ryū, the Iga, and Kōga regions of south-central Japan. Well-known historians consider these writings to be extremely systematic and logical in structure, both in terms of the subject areas covered and in the way in which the individual chapters are divided.

In the summer of 1676, Fujibayashi Yasuyoshi collected the material. Japan was under the rule of the fourth Tokugawa shogun during this period. Fujibayashi was a member of one of the three main Ninja-Ryū in the Iga region. At the end of the sengoku jidai, his family, along with the Hattori and the Momochi, had the greatest reputation and influence.

The Book of Ninja: The Bansenshukai – Japan’s Premier Ninja Manual


The first of ten hand-bound volumes contains an introduction, historical examples, a table of contents, and a question-and-answer section. The guiding philosophy of the Ninja is presented in this book, titled Yo, through a discussion of successful warfare. The Ninja is urged to remember that if a leader properly directs and motivates his people, large numbers of enemies can be overwhelmed. However, if the followers think differently than their commanders, then defeats and losses will not be long in coming. A single properly deployed spy or enemy agent can bring down an entire army. Therefore, the Ninja believes that one person can defeat thousands of enemies. The Bansenshūkai consistently emphasizes that Ninjutsu is the most effective method of military strategy.


The second volume is called Shoshin. It’s about honesty, motivation, and the moral willpower that a Ninja needs. Since he also employs skills that others would describe as treachery, lies, theft, or deceit—not to mention the extremely harsh uses of violence—it’s imperative to have a clear objective and overview before getting down to the purely technical questions approaches. The true Ninja is compelled to act through a sense of personal responsibility, unlike the mercenary who has a narrow perspective. The ninja’s intuitive knowledge of his fated responsibilities allows him to do his part. The first step in raising a Ninja is to remove any mental or spiritual obstacle that would interfere with the ninja’s natural awakening.


Even the most talented Ninja are helpless without the guidance and direction of a capable leader. The third book, entitled Shochi, deals with the effective management of a Ninja organization and describes the various ways of successfully operating it. In addition, preventive measures are explained, which should make it impossible for enemy agents to sneak into the organization. Thorough knowledge of the balancing concept of in and yo (yin and yang) is extremely important to properly understand the art of the Ninja.


Yonin, the fourth of the ten volumes, contains the Yo aspects, the bright sides of Ninja techniques. Using the dynamic, positive power of his intellect and creative thinking, the Ninja can get the information he needs without having to take part in a spy mission. By allowing others to collect information for them, either directly or indirectly, they have all the important data they need to carry out a successful action. His knowledge of enemy strengths and weaknesses allows him to properly face the enemy while giving himself the appearance of having nothing to do with the whole thing and taking no action in that direction.


The fifth, sixth, and seventh volumes of the Bansenshūkai are all titled Innin. Their common theme is the in-concept, the dark side of Ninja knowledge. Subterfuge, deceit, confusion tactics, and surprise attacks are just some of the techniques presented in these volumes. Since the Ninja could use methods that the Samurai considered dishonorable, despicable, even cowardly, he also made extensive use of disguises and nocturnal actions. He sneaked into the opposing camp using a ruse to kidnap or kill commanders and bribed key officials to help him achieve his goals. All variants of this unique Ninja combat system, from single combat to complete plans of surprise attacks for whole battle groups, are contained in the mentioned volumes.


Tenji, the eighth volume, contains the methods by which the Ninja can correctly assess the environmental conditions. Techniques that allow one to predict the weather, tide tables, moon phase tables, and various methods of orientation and navigation are among the knowledge presented in the Tenji volume. These are partly centuries-old experiences with systems such as the gogyō setsu (theory of the five elements), the inyōdō or the oracle eki and partly scientific observations or Indian, Tibetan, or Chinese methods to predict trends and events.


Ninki, the description of the Ninja gear, begins in volume nine and continues through volume ten, which is however labeled closing volume and not tenth volume. Perhaps this is because the Ninja saw the number 9 as a means of inspiration and enlightenment.

In the ninth volume, you will find the climbing tools of Ninjutsu under the title toki. Everything is listed here that can help the Ninja to safely climb and descend fortress walls, trees, cliffs, and ship walls. Suiki takes charge of the Ninja’s water equipment; it is based in large part on practical advice from pirates. The methods presented in this chapter allow different types of river crossing or show ways to move further underwater. Kaiki is about tools that can be used to break into closed buildings, castles, fortifications, or warehouses. Equipment is described for picking door locks, drilling holes in walls, or removing doors from their hinges. The fire techniques, kaki, complete the Bansenshūkai. Here you will find a whole range of formulas for the preparation and use of explosives, smoke bombs, medicines, narcotics, and poisons.

Ninja Disciplines

In the following disciplines, attempts are made to become a master:

  • Bōjutsu (stick fighting techniques)
  • Fukiya (blowgun and bolt)
  • Goton pō (Use of natural elements to escape)
  • Hanbōjutsu (fighting with the short stick)
  • Heihō (battle strategy)
  • Inyōdō (Daoist principles)
  • Jūnantaisō (Yoga-like body control)
  • Ka Jutsu (use of fire and explosives)
  • Kiai (harmonizing with the way things are going)
  • Kuji in (Energy Channeling)
  • Kuji Kiri (mastery of electromagnetic force fields)
  • Kusarigama (chain and sickle)
  • Kusarijutsu (fighting with short-chain weapons)
  • Kyōmon (practical education)
  • Kyoketsu shoge (rope and blade)
  • Ninja-kenpō (fighting with the Ninja sword)
    • Kenjutsu (Fencing)
    • Iai Jutsu (quick draw techniques)
  • Ninki (special Ninja gear and tools)
  • Ninpō-taijutsu (unarmed combat)
    • Taihen Jutsu (body movements and jumping techniques)
    • Daken Taijutsu (thrust and punch techniques)
    • Jū Taijutsu (choke and hold)
  • Seishin Teki kyōyō (Spiritual Purity)
    • Meisō (meditation)
    • Shinpi (Concepts of Mysticism)
  • Ninpō-mikkyō (Ninja secret knowledge about the universe)
  • Shurikenjutsu (Throwing Blades)
  • Tantōjutsu (knife fighting techniques)
  • Teppō (firearms)
  • Yarijutsu (spear techniques)
  • Yūgei (traditional arts)

However, contemporary Ninjutsu students are in no way discouraged from practicing other training aspects not included in this list. Any martial art, other than a Zen-like art, which is not at all interested in practical applications but stubbornly confines itself to a certain number of techniques, such as presenting 106 weapons and 42 chokeholds to its followers, will inflict severe damage on the students involved because they only think in methodical, orderly structures as soon as danger arises. Through mechanistic training, the mind is encouraged to compare each new situation that arises with previous training sessions and to classify it into a certain category. So it’s understandable that using items or tactics that aren’t on this list could easily be overlooked.

Text: Stefan Imhoff