In some documents from Japan’s Warring States period coming from the Tohoku and Kanto regions, the term “kusa-chōgi” (草調義) can be found. This roughly translates as “the wit and intelligence of the grass”. As can be expected, there was often skirmishes at the borders of all the various competing lands, each with the desire to expand their territory. Much of the fighting in these battles was done by groups of “ashigaru” (足軽) foot soldiers called “kusa” (草).
What were these “kusa” operatives and what was their purpose, you may ask. It was to cause havoc and disruption in the enemy’s ranks both before and during the battle. A standard fifty man “kusa” army was usually broken down into several three-man units when deployed. These warriors would not go by their given names and keep it secret. Instead they were to be called “Ichi-no-kusa”, “Ni-no-Kusa” and “San-no-kusa” or literally blade of grass one, blade of grass two and blade of grass three.
Evidently their typical strategy was to have one lure the enemy in while two and three lay waiting in ambush. They would also usually sneak into strategic places to plunder, pillage, destroy crops and take hostages.
An interesting note here is evidence suggests that Yamamoto Kansuke of the house of Takeda Shingen led a one hundred and fifty man “kusa-chōgi” army that only reported directly to his lord. This is the same Yamamoto Kansuke, who at the same lord’s order, studied Togakure Ryū ninjutsu from Iga shinobi commander Fujibayashi Nagato no Kami.
The famous Sanada Masayuki, who early in his career also went by the name Takefuji Kihei (武藤喜兵衛), was another leader of one of Takeda’s fifty man “kusa-chōgi” teams. His responsibilities included information gathering activities and guerilla warfare.
The “kusa-chōgi” fought their skirmishes on the boundaries where everyday life and the battlefield met. Mentions of these warriors are to be found in old documents held at the Date family estate in Sendai Japan. It seems that Date Masamune, the regional ruler who founded the city of Sendai, also placed great importance on intelligence gathering and guerilla warfare.
The Hōjō clan of the Kantō region made active use of the “Fuma-Ittō”, a “rappa” (乱波) shinobi unit whose job was to sneak into enemy territories to conduct night raids and such. They were especially crucial in the night battle at the siege of Kawagoe castle (1545-1546 CE) which triggered a leap forward in prominence and influence for the Hōjō clan. It is well known that at this battle the Hōjō used the “Fuma-Ittō” shinobi to repel the allied Uesugi and Ashikaga armies.
Takeda Shingen is said to have created an intelligence agency with more than one-thousand members that included shugenja from Mount Kaikoma (駒ヶ岳) in the province of Kai and Mount Togakushi (戸隠山) in Shinano. Allegedly he also made use of “Onshi” (御師) shrine and temple guides, wandering shrine maidens (のうのう巫女) and even merchants (商人). This new group of secret agents were termed “Mitsu-mono” (三ッ者) by Shingen and their specialization was in gathering intelligence. It seems Takeda Shingen skillfully manipulated this network to collect and spread a wide variety of types of information throughout the country. As people with long legs walk faster and with a greater stride than people with shorter legs, Shingen was nicknamed the “Sokuchō-bōzu” (足長坊主), meaning “the Buddhist monk with long legs” because he was able to gather and spread information at great speed.
Matsudaira Ietada (松平家忠), a Sengoku period samurai, known for his journal titled the “Ietada nikki” (家忠日記), which he kept for 17 years (1575 to 1594 CE), notes that this group of specialist warriors acted as Takeda’s “Kamari”.
“Kamari” is defined by the Japanese martial arts historian and author Nakabayashi Shinji (中林信二) in the Japanese World Encyclopedia (世界大百科事典) as follows:
“…their skills include traveling great distances very quickly through techniques of fast walking and running, forming the mudra seals with the hands and chanting magical mudra. They were originally schools from Iga and Koga but later developed into the Takeda style, the Togakure style, the Kishu style, the Kusunoki style, etc. Eventually there were many styles all over the country. Depending on the region these groups were called shinobi (忍び), kamari (かまり), suppa (透波), kanchō (間諜), rappa (乱波), onmitsu (隠密), etc. They had many names depending on the style and location.”
The “Daijirin” (大辞林) dictionary defines “kamari” as; shinobi/ninja scouts and soldiers who carry out reconnaissance activities.
In the 1860 CE “Bukemyomokushō” (武家名目抄), an encyclopedia of military job descriptions, it states that “they were called the Iga-shu (伊賀衆) or the soldiers of Iga. They are put in place and used as an ambush.”
So, based on these definitions, the shugenja that were being recruited at Togakushi and Kaikoma mountains were serving Takeda as a type of shinobi or ninja. Some western ninjutsu researchers may disagree with this based on their own personal definition of what a shinobi or ninja is, but the Japanese historians have decided and agreed a long time ago that Suppa, Rappa, Kamari, etc. were all various types of shinobi-no-mono or ninja.
The men who carried out the organization and training of these shinobi for Takeda Shingen were Toda Gozaemon (富田郷左衛門) and Ideura Morikio (出浦盛清). While Morikio was a local of the Shinano region, having been born and raised in Hashina-gun just a short ride by horseback from Togakushi Mountain, Gozaemon’s origins are more of a mystery. His name itself almost seems like a made-up cover. A nickname of sorts, hinting that his roots are with the Toda family of Izumo. I believe this because the first three characters of his name are 富田郷 which means Toda Township or village, the home of Gassan-Toda castle in Izumo which is famous for its shinobi called the Hachiya-shu (鉢屋衆). The rest of his name 左衛門 is a very typical name for a warrior before the Meiji period. So, his name can simply mean “the warrior from Toda village”.
As I mentioned, the Toda (富田) family, also sometimes read as “Tomita”, originate from Gassan-Toda castle in Izumo. This is the same family as Toda Hisajiro, Toda Gosuke and Toda Hisasuke – the Tokugawa Shogunate falconers that carried Togakure Ryu ninjutsu into the modern era. They were deeply involved with the Onmitsu secret intelligence agency, the Torimi spies and investigators, the Oniwaban inner castle security forces and the Kobusho military academy. When this Toda (富田) family left their homeland castle in Izumo they intermarried with the Toda-Matsudaira (戸田松平) and the Kuki (九鬼) clans and changed their characters for their last name from 富田 to 戸田. This is well recorded and documented.
Regarding the skirmishes on the borderlands, the activities of many of these historical shinobi are described in the “Kazawa-ki” (加沢記), an Edo period document recording the history of the Sanada clan and the Kōzuke lands.
To learn more about the history of the Toda family and Togakure Ryu ninjutsu please check out my book, Hidden Lineage – The Ninja of the Toda Clan and my upcoming second book, Hidden Lineage – The Fighting Art of the Imperial Tigers.
Sean Askew – 導冬 – Dōtō
Bujinkan Kokusai Renkoumyo
July 16th, 2020