The classical martial arts of Japan have always been recognized for their swordsmanship, spearmanship, grappling, etc. Very little has been said, and for obvious reasons, about the concealed weapons of the old traditions. Even in Japan there are many traditions around today that simply are not aware that their own history included teachings on the use of throwing blades, weapons the attached to the palm of the hand, chains, and so on. In many cases even the terminology, appearance, construction, and use of these weapons were hidden to even the practitioners of the particular tradition.
Terminology and Idea
While there are examples of illustrations in various scrolls and manuscripts of martial traditions, by majority these items were not written about at all. When they were written of, it could be brief and in code. For example, the term “(So)to no mono” (外之物), which means an “item which is out[side]” of view, or outside of your thoughts. This implies the attitude used with such an item, something that is not on your mind, “outside of conscious thought.” What this attitude does is allows for the body language to not unconsciously give away the knowledge that you are carrying a weapon. While the term “Te no Uchi” (手之内), refers to something being “[concealed] Inside the Hand,” which could be just about anything, and leaves room to consider improvised weapons.
There are also Kakushi Buki (隠武器), which are weapons (buki; 武器) that are designed to disguise (kakushi; 隠) it’s purpose. This comes in infinite forms and could be anything from a sword with a dagger hidden inside it’s handle, to a staff with an extendable chain or rope for containing an assailant.
These types of categorizations, items, and ideas were usually reserved for the upper (or deeper) levels of the koryu traditions, such as levels known as ogiden (Transmission of the Inner Teachings奥義伝), gokui (quintessence; 極意), ura waza (Reverse Skills; 裏技). The method of transmission was often through oral instruction, but occasionally was written down (as in Figure 1). For obvious reasons, secrecy was of utmost importance, as for the enemy to know what secrets one’s practice included, would render the techniques all but null and void; requiring an even greater degree of trickery to implement.
Appearance and design
Because the use of concealed and improvised weapons is an idea, it would be erroneous to say that this item or that item is a “kakushi buki”, “soto no mono”, or “te no uchi.” After all, how concealed is a weapon when held up to the sun? However there are items that are more suitable than others for concealment, and items that are downright designed for it.
For example, the featured image at the top of this article is an example of the Kakute (角手) – an iron ring with a number of horns on it that, when worn one way, can be used for enhancing one’s strikes with the hands (see figure 4). When worn another, it enhances, and even makes dangerous grabbing techniques and grappling methods.
While there are tools such as the kunai (宮内 – See Figure 2), initially a farming implement and mentioned in various ninja manuscripts such as the Shinobi Hiden (忍秘傳) and Bansenshukai (萬川集海). This is essentially a gardening trowel (those small hand shovels used in gardening), though it has been used for far more. This is also a prime example of an item that like a knife, is easily concealable by it’s very nature. In fact, as the story’s have it kunai were made famous by the ninja as a utilitarian accessory that could be carried in certain disguises.
And finally the items of every day use that, by the demands of the moment, become a deadly weapon. In a general sense, this can be done with any item and without special training. However, in many of the classical schools of jujutsu what can be done unarmed can be done armed, and vice-verse. In some traditions there are curricula of exercises and techniques particularly for developing the ability to pick up any item and already having a complete range of familiarity with it.
Use and Manipulation
It’s easy to see traces of how weapons fit into unarmed methods of fighting techniques in almost every martial art from Karate and Aikido, to Brazilian Jiujitsu and Muay Thai. That happens to be a common quality of many koryu, but on purpose instead of a by-accident quality. Here the movements that may be performed unarmed are demonstrated in a way that appears stylized when empty-handed yet, makes much more sense and appears less flashy when done with a spear, throwing blade, or other such utensil.
On the flip side, there may be techniques, strikes, and even entire systems of movement built around the use of a item that is hard to see, such as the Shuko (手鉤) of Togakure-ryu ninjutsu (戸隠流忍術) (see figure 3). The methods of striking and grappling in this current were largely devised around wearing these spiked bands around the hands. This changed how to strike as the conventional ways of holding a weapon or clenching a fist was inhibited by the steel bands. This can be seen in the Santo Tonko Gata (鼠逃遁甲型) of the tradition, while methods of striking and other stratagems can be found in it’s Ukemi Gata (受身型).
Then there were also techniques for concealing what would be considered a large weapon – particular ways to walk, angles of moving to disguise length, and even the presence of weapons in combat or casual life. Among all of the ways of carrying and implementing these items is to move and act as though you are not carrying any such device. However, anyone can act, but that’s not enough in the face of an expert or professional; it must be deeper. One must not be dependent on their weapon of choice, or have favorites, and to be completely unattached to you preferred approach of subduing your assailant. This is where one develops the ability to attack and defend freely – without hindrance (Kobo Jizai; 攻防自在). This is like something I translated once:
“Kōbō (Kūkai Shōnin*) would not choose where he painted nor the brush he would use. A slip of the brush is not easily forgiven on the battlefield.”
-Masaaki Hatsumi, (2008), Unarmed fighting Techniques of the Samurai
In the arts of Soto no mono, Kakushi buki, Te no Uchi, and so on, the bottom line teaching here is that you need to make due with what you have, whatever falls into your hand at that moment; It’s not always what you carry concealed on your person, but sometimes it’s what’s concealed from looking like a weapon in your environment.
*Holy Priest Kūkai 空海上人 774-835
I have been recently reminded on a Facebook forum that in the tradition of Togakure-ryu ninpo taijutsu, one of the terms that is used in reference to these types of implements and the methods that bring them to bear is “Tonki” (tools of escape; 遁器). The “Ton” is made up of the two radicals “tate” (to move behind a shield; 盾), and “chaku” (movement, beginning with the legs; 辵). Thus, Tonki can be thought of as and implement (器) that is deployed as a shield suddenly and at the last second.”
Tonki can include any small concealable object, or item that is implemented suddenly as a shield or to interfere with the enemy’s attack. Often times shuko, jutte, tonbo, etc. are used. But the methodology can also be performed with larger items. Kinda like how Hatsumi sensei was performing the Juppo Sessho gata back in 2003 with a kunai instead of a jutte. If I recall, he had frequently done it with various other implements as well.
Hatsumi speaks briefly about the theory of this in Unarmed Fighting Techniques of the Samurai in the Togakure-ryu chapter. I don’t have the book with me so I’ll provide my translation:
“[. . .]When the dōjō is full of students, I have said the following. “Kōbō (Kūkai Shōnin) would not choose where he painted nor the brush he would use. A slip of the brush is not easily forgiven on the battlefield.” Thus, one should perform keiko with many people packed together. Whether it is the body mechanics, sword, staff techniques, or anything. Attack and defend freely. Consider the brush (fude; 筆) to be the hand of fortune (fude; 富手).”
And again in Essence of Budo (again my translation) from the jutte section:
“[. . .]Make the kata of the jutte come alive through the unconscious, and couple that with things you must not miss. In addition, you can find tetsubane, Tetsu-gatana, metezashi, and kakushibushi hidden everywhere in normal everyday life[. . .]“
Of course this all is a mesh-mash of stuff, but the primary thing is concealable items that you deploy as a shield suddenly and at the last second, whether it be a weapon, tool, or everyday implement.