Chasing a Rat down a Hole

After some discussion on the Historic Ninjutsu Research Facebook group regarding an image of the “shinobi” from the Wakan Sansai Zue (和漢三才図会) written in 1712, there had been some disagreement around it.

Several people got caught up on the fact that the individual who is leaping over the wall in the illustration is wearing some sort of animal costume. This had been speculated to be inferring a connection to the Katō Danzō (加藤 段蔵, c. 1503 – 1569), a shinobi who was said in folk myth to be able to transform into a rat. One source (currently unavailable for reference) states that he was a rat breeder as his main daily occupation.

Most concluded that it was some form of canine costume, however, when looking at the ears, shape of the head, and tail, it as quite evident that it is a rat, particularly a spotted rat, which was considered special or lucky in the 17th century.

Existence of Spotted Rats

There was some dispute about spotted rats in Japan at that time, as one individual claimed that the spotted pattern came form a popular breeding practice in Europe in the 19th century. However, this was easily disputed with a quick google search, where I found two manuscripts regarding rat breeding. the first, Yosotama no kakehashi (養鼠玉のかけはし), was from 1775, and the second, Chingan Sōdate Gusa (珍玩鼠育草), was from 1787. Both documents provided illustrations of spotted rats. At this point all three documents in regard to this investigation was from the 18th century.

The Wakan Sansai Zue also has a section focused on rats, in which we can see a spotted rat in the first volume as well. it has been speculated that the previous two texts drew some inspiration from this text.

Nomenclature of “Shinobi”

An interesting note regarding the term used to refer to the shinobi here has the kanji 游偵 (Yūtei), while there’s hiragana next to it saying しのびのもの (shinobi no mono). This name appears in the Bansenshūkai as one of the names the Chinese had referred to spies by. In the Bansenshūkai, however, it is written as 遊偵 (found in the Q/A section of the preface, still read as “yūtei”), but then written as 游貞 in the first volume of Seishin.

In other sources (citation unavailable at the moment), yūtei has been shown to have several variants of the first kanji, such as 斿, 游, 浮, 遊. All of which expresses a sense of floating, drifting, or roaming. And Tei (偵) means to investigate, spy or acquire protected information. Thus, yūtei means to travel or roam around gathering information.

Note: ukitei (浮偵) also suggests a principle of movement called ukimi (浮身) found in the classical martial arts, that can also be seen in the judo movements of the late Kyuzo Mifune.

Under the heading for shinobi in the Wakan Sansai Zue, there is listed a few other terms:


Wakan Sansai Zue 和漢三才図会 (1712)

Kasha (課者)

The first of these terms is kasha (課者), which was an interesting one to dig into. Dictionaries generally define this first character as “chapter; lesson; section; department; division; counter for chapters (of a book).” But when we break it down, we have “[to get] results (果) with words (言) [in order to obtain results]”; investigation. and with the second character (者), it becomes “those who investigate“.

Saisaku (細作)

The first ideogram can be read as hosoi (細) which means, “work meticulous, fine, delicate, precise,” The second ideogram, (作), means: “to manufacture, make, build, work, or harvest.” One can translate saisaku as, “One who manufactures [creates] with meticulousness [a plan]” or “One who collects what is fine, delicate [quietly perceives essential information].”

Rakō (邏候)

Some very old characters here, and digging did not get me to far; apparently this is connected to Edo period police investigations but I don’t have a reliable source for this at this moment. the first character can be broken down quite far, but for this well only divide it into 辵 “to walk or move” and 羅 “to surround like a net. This I understand to grow to refer “patrolling”, though one dictionary also suggests a borrowed definition of “concealment”. The second character, (候), means: “expectancy, make an attempt, sign, season, or time.” Breaking it apart however starts to suggest something conspicuous or clue-like. in medicine it has been used to refer to “symptoms”. Thus I understand this to mean something like “one who waits and watches clues to grasp the truth like a net.

Tanshi (探伺)

The first ideogram (探) means: “grasp, grope; deep, intense, to deepen.” the second character is made up of a “person (人) who peers through a hole (司).” Though nowadays 司 is defined as as sort of government administrator, but we can understand that to be someone who oversees things. Thus tanshi means “one who perceives deeply.

Kanchō (間諜)

One of the earliest names for a spy, the first character means a space between things, and the second character means something “flat” (葉) like a leaf, and words (言); spy ended up being a borrowed definition that has endured to today. Thus, kanchō can be understood to mean “one who acquires words by going between people.” though it also gives the image of being able to slip through small or impenetrable spaces.

Togakure-ryū Connection

It should also be noted that the “San”(of Togakure-ryū’s Santō Tonkō Gata (鼠逃遁甲型) can be read as “nezumi” and means rat. This isn’t the first time that I’ve heard of ninja being referred to as rats, in 2008, I was looking into how these kata could be expressed in a “squirmy” way like a fleeing rat. And then Takamatsu Toshitsugu’s favorite story was said (by Masaaki Hatsumi) to be “Neko no Myōjutsu” (猫之妙術), a story about a rat that fought off all cats except an old cat that had nothing left to live for.

The Santō Tonkō gata consists of twelve techniques in response to being grabbed by the arms, back of the neck, and when your cornered or surrounded by enemy (picture a rat being cornered by a cat, and just the same this is depicted in Neko no Myōjutsu). Each of these techniques finish with the statements of using one of the goton (五遁) of escaping using fire, earth, water, wood, or metal, as well as that of blinding powder, throwing blades and so on. True to the teachings of the tradition, they strive to avoid killing, aiming to only distract, escape and hide. As such none of these techniques describe lethal techniques – though they can certainly be made to be.

Yet another interesting connection is the depiction of a falconer just before (to the right) of the entry for shinobi. It has been established rather thoroughly by Sean Askew that the Toda family that had been the head of the Togakure-ryū tradition of ninjutsu for generations, were also well known for their falconry. So within this text we can see three correlations to the same tradition of ninjutsu:
1) Falconry – the trade of the Toda family
2) Connecting rats and ninjutsu
3) Reference to the Goton used by this tradition (see next section).

Chinese Link

The above entry about Yūtei, describes another text called Wǔ zá zǔ (五雜組), written sometime between 1567‐1624 by Xie Zhaozhe, with an additional preface added in 1616, that talks about Tonkeijutsu (遁形术), methods of hiding the form, just like we see in books such as Ito Gingetsu’s Ninjutsu no Gokui. Both these writings describe Tonkei/Tonko (遁形/遁甲) as using the five phases of wood, water, metal, earth, and fire (Ch: Wu Xing, Ja: Gogyo; 五行).


What has been presented here is my own collective knowledge on this subject based on historic primary sources. We can see that the depiction in the Wakan Sansai Zue is quite evidently that of a man in a rat costume (for what reason, I’m not at all sure), the existence of spotted rats and specialized breeding methods go back at least as far as the 16th century (and the same document hints at “ancient times”). w can also see that the author of the same document had a comprehensive grasp of obscure names for spies. We can also see clear correlation to the Togakure-ryū tradition of ninjutsu, and even its hints at a relationship with falconry. And the connection to Goton no jutsu was traced at least as far back as the early 16th century, and surely traces further back.

Sources referenced (chronological)

  • Wǔ zá zǔ 五雜組 (1616~), by Xie Zhaozhe
  • Bansenshūkai 萬川集海 (1676), by Fujibayashi Sabuji
  • Wakan Sansai Zue 和漢三才図会 (1712), by Terajima Ryōan
  • Neko no Myōjutsu 猫之妙術 (1727), by Niwa Jurozaemon Tadaaki
  • Yosotama no kakehasi 養鼠玉のかけはし (1775 ), unknown author
  • Chingan Sōdate Gusa 珍玩鼠育草 (1787), susposedly by “Tei-en-shi”
  • Ninjutsu no Gokui 忍術の極意 (early 1900~), by Ito Gingetsu
  • Togakure-ryū Shinjin Ichinyo no Maki 戸隠流神人一如の巻 (mid 1900~), by Masaaki Hatsumi

The Shukō of Togakure-ryū


In the Bujinkan organization’s vast collection of teachings, techniques, and tools, there are a wide assortment of unusual weapons and tools that have been adopted, adapted, and re-purposed to fit new needs and intentions. This isn’t new for the martial arts, a tertiary glance at Okinawan martial arts will illustrate that. However, one of the more exotic and supposedly specialized tools has a great wealth of mystery and misconceptions – the shukō.

This is a highly misunderstood tool that has had much of it’s qualities exaggerated, and even it’s place in history re-shaped to fit many people’s conceptions and ideals of farmer-warriors and the ninja. Some of the things that are misunderstood:

  • The shukō are unique to ninjutsu,[1]
  • The name means “tiger hands” (手虎),[1]
  • The shukō were designed for climbing trees,
  • and so on…

In regards to these things, they aren’t always easy to source, but they do tend to have a certain logic about them so I’ll peel them off quickly: The notion that the shukō are unique to the ninja don’t generally make much sense as anything visibly unique to the ninja would simply give up one’s cover; as such, like many such interesting tools, they originate in agricultural practices (elaborated on later).

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The name means “hand hooks” (手鉤) not “tiger hands” (手虎), though a viable homonym, there are literally no reputable sources for this way of writing the name. One may take some artistic license in regards to such things, and the connection is an easy one to make, but neither the history of the tool, nor any prevalent sources support this. One source that we can look to is in Takamatsu Toshitsugu‘s own writing, one of the densho of the Togakure-ryū (see the above slideshow), where by his hand, it is written 手鉤. This kanji is also reproduced in Masaaki Hatsumi‘s “Way of the Ninja” (page 48).


The foundation and evolution of the shukō begins in the agricultural fields of ancient Japan around the Kofun period (c. 250 CE – 538 CE), when the establishment of iron tools really started to take hold in rural Japan. At this time, the source tools we can find is that of the Asakagi (fiber hook; 麻鉤), also called the tekagi (with the same spelling as shukō; 手鉤), used for hooking bails of straw, hay, wheat, and in early times, bundles of rice, for manual moving and transportation.

There was also the Asanō (shallow agriculture; 浅農), a three-to-five pronged claw on a shaft, used for hand plowing gardens and smaller crops. This could also be used for the same purpose as the above mentioned asakagi in moving bails of various horticulture product.

Quite a while later, during the Heian period (794 – 1185 CE), there was a certain merger to this tool in certain regions of Japan[2]. At this point, the development of the tekkō kagi (claws that cover the hand; 手甲鉤) can be seen (source waiting for release [3]). This was used similar to that of a pitch-fork, a tool used for scooping up hay, straw, and wheat manually.

Sometime in the Sengoku period (1467 – c. 1603) certain regions developed a variation of the tekkō kagi, but with the hooks worn on the inside of the palms, often with cloth or leather sleeves similar in use to chaps in order to protect the bare skin from whatever produce was being handled (see figure 3). This allowed better leverage and handling when lifting and moving bails (koku; 石) of rice by hand. The version made popular by Togakure-ryū ninjutsu is made of a metal band that wraps the palm, and a wrist band. The hooks are located on the inside of the palm (see figure 2).

(Figure 2) Evolution of the shukō

(Figure 3) The use of shukō and manipulation of rice bails by Katsushika Hokusai (葛飾 北斎, 1760 – 1849).


Within the martial arts of Togakure-ryū ninjutsu, there are three particular ways to go about it:

  1. Applying this to augment one’s unarmed fighting (taijutsu; 体術),
  2. Usage for fleeing techniques (Taijutsu Ukemi Gata; 体術受身型),
  3. Kata that are specifically made to utilize shukō (Santō Tonkō Gata; 鼠逃遁甲型)

With Taijutsu

The first approach, and most common one it seems, is to explore one’s taijutsu while wearing shukō. This, however, requires that you understand the qualities of the tool. For example, one can assume that you could simply slap the enemy with the claws and have some exciting results. However, what then happens when the claws get stuck in bone? Now this slows you down; this is also where one can quickly see where this was a tool before it was a weapon – the hooks are designed for fibrous produce, not human… consumption.

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Instead, one uses the weight of the metal band and the shape of it in various ways, while moving in an exceptionally light way[4], including changing how one delivers strikes. the forms of boshiken (thumb fist; 拇指拳), shutō (edge of hand; 手刀), and even fudoken (clenched fist; 不動拳) are forced to change to accommodate the shape of the shukō. As such the following gokui is relevant:

Sutemi also contains a sense of moving as though empty handed,
even while holding a tool.

– Masaaki Hatsumi

Ukemi Gata

The second way draws from the more acrobatic section of Togakure-ryū, from the Togakure-ryū ninjutsu hidensho (戸隠流忍術秘傳書), which is shown in Figure 1 above. This details some vague forms of evading sword attacks and takes into account matters such as striking the opponents vitals with the metal band of the shukō as well as using it to catch a sword blade in the hands and hoist the weapon away from the enemy.

The Escape Forms

Finally, there is the Santō Tonkō gata (鼠逃遁甲型) found in the Shinjin Ichinyo no maki (神人一如之巻)[5]. This writing lays out the primary techniques of the shukō, shuriken (throwing blades; 手裏剣), and metsubushi (blinding powder; 目潰し). These forms are derived from Hajutsu (破術)[6], and deal with dire situations where one is detected and forced into combat. This is different from conventional kata dealing with the defeat of the enemy in that these kata detail how to escape from various grabs, stun or weaken the enemy and flee or hide.

the second section deals with being unarmed (or with shukō and various other tools) while facing an armed assailant. These techniques again don’t necessarily deal with killing the enemy, but stunning or disabling, and then fleeing or hiding.

The third section is regarding situations where you are discovered, cornered, and outnumbered. Then things like stones, metsubushi, and misdirection is deployed in order to survive and escape.

Figure 4. Shinjin Ichinyo no Maki (神人一如), containing the Togakure-ryū Santo Tonko Gata – including usage of the Shukō, Shuriken, and mitsubishi.


As can be seen above, although certain groups have weaponized this uncommon farm implement, it is not inherently a weapon. Shukō are not weapons for war, they are soto no mono (improvised weapons; 外の物), but before being a weapon, it was a tool for carrying things on the back. So a warrior or samurai who is working in the fields is suddenly attacked by somebody and he used the tools by accident. That is to say the shukō wasn’t something you necessarily carried (though see the photos at the end of this article to see how they were carried), unless that was a planned thing.

And the techniques involved further exemplify this, as well as a very important gokui of Togakure-ryū:


Win without drawing; if you must draw, don’t cut. Just forebear. Know that it is a grave thing to take a life.



[1] It has been stated in other sources across the Internet, but here is an example where a notable amount of misinformation has been cast. I don’t know where this information comes from, but according the “About” page, it is linked to To-shin-do. I emphasize that this is not a slight against Stephen Hayes at all, but the information has been clearly inaccurate.

[2] Even in North America, though notably later (circa 16th century), I personally can attest to seeing tools similar to the Tekkō kagi for the purpose of moving handfuls of hay and straw before the bundling of hay bails with large scooping movements, having grown up on a horse farm in an French Acadian family (the initial European settlers of the country to be known as Canada).

[3] I have translated several primary sources on commission, and this is one such one that is under a confidentiality clause; it is regarding agricultural tools and their usage during the Kamakura (1185–1333) or Muromachi (1336–1573) periods. I can say that this is a long gap in history, and there was tremendous developments and improvements in metallurgy during this time as there has always been two major influences in historical development: military, and entertainment – in this case the Sengoku jidai (warring states period) stretched from 1467 to 1603; a very long time, but a very scientifically influential time.

[4] “Smooth is slow; slow is hidden.” (滑らかさは遅いです、遅いが隠されている。)

[5] This particular scroll teaches not only the fighting techniques of the tradition, but also the philosophical principles of “harmonizing with nature”, that is to say, Shinjin Ichinyo. As I have explained elsewhere, the notion of the kami (神) in the Shinto faith, are like the manifestations of the elements of nature; and like that, this scroll teaches how to escape and hide with the five phases (gogyo; 五行) as inspiration. As such, learning to rely on and harmonize (become one with) the phases of nature is becoming one with the kami.

[6] “Hajutsu no hō is a very violent method of combat, which requires a deep understanding of the human anatomy as well as the ability to move with fluidity. Hajutsu no hō allows the practitioner, among other things, to incorporate the use of the various types of weapons. It encompasses the likes of kosshi-jutsu and koppō jutsu, the art of kyūsho (急所) and kyūsho (求所 or 救所). Here, the two words have the same sound, but the characters are different. They are complementary sciences, which shows why kosshi-jutsu and koppō-justsu were always transmitted together.” (Zoughari pp 77)

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And here’s the TL;DR version:

The correlation between Kukishin-ryu, Shoshin-ryu, and Muso-ryu Hayanawajutsu

In the upper tiers of many classical Japanese composite martial arts (sogobujutsu; 綜合武術) there exists the practice of arresting a prisoner with a length of rope for the purpose of presenting to authorities or interrogation. The skill itself is called hayanawajutsu, and is considered quite a difficult technique to master and thus, few learn it and fewer still teach it. Though not clearly revealed or explicitly coupled, a hypothesis has been formulated that connects the elusive hayanawa techniques of Kukishin-ryū with the more readily available techniques of Shōshin-ryū and Musō-ryū.

For the rest of the paper, visit my ResearchGate page here.

You can also get pre-conditioned hemp arresting rope and the manual on the discussed arresting techniques.

Shoshin-ryu Mawashinawa マワシ縄

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