Chinese Origins of Japanese Ninjutsu



It has already been said that all Japanese martial arts were strongly influenced by the Chinese tradition at the initial stage. As for the art of espionage, by that time the Chinese had already accumulated vast experience in this field.


The origins of espionage in China, according to legend, go back to the legendary forefathers of the Chinese people Fu Yi and the Yellow Emperor Huang Ti (according to the traditional version ruled in 2696 - 2597 BC). The classic work on the art of war, Li Wei Gong Wendui, says: "According to the laws of warfare dating back to Huangdi, correct combat comes first, maneuver comes second, humanity and justice come first, cunning and deception come second.


It is believed that espionage in China reached considerable development as early as during the reign of Emperor of the Xia Dynasty (20th - 19th centuries BC) Xuan Yuan-di. And, as Sun Tzu points out in his treatise, even the reign of the Yin and following Zhou dynasties was not without spies.


The formation of the ancient kingdom of Yin, which replaced the Xia kingdom, according to the traditional chronology, refers to 1766 BC. According to the traditional historical version, Xia fell because the cruelty of its last ruler Tse-van raised the whole population against him: both people and princes. The princedom of Shang at the time ruled the wise and kind Cheng Tang. He quickly became the head of the rebels and, defeating Jie-wang, ascended the throne.


Yi Zhi, who was in the service of Jie-wang and was a highly virtuous man, in the Confucian sense, played a great role in the overthrow of Xia. These qualities so glorified him that Cheng Tang, still being a Shan prince, summoned him to himself and made him his mentor and leader. When Tang-wang rebelled, Yi was in the capital of Jie-wang, and knew the details of the situation of the enemy. That was probably why Tang-wang was able to succeed.


A similar story was repeated at the fall of the Yin dynasty, founded by Cheng Tan, and the restoration in its place of the Zhou dynasty (1144 BC). The last ruler of the Yin Dynasty - Zhou-wang - was also a rampant tyrant, in which there was nothing left of the virtuous ancestor. Again the whole country rose up against the oppressor. And again among the local rulers was a highly virtuous and brave prince - Wu-van, head of Zhou princedom, who overthrew Chou-wang and became the founder of a new dynasty.


At that time the servant of the Yin rulers was Liu Ya (Liu Shan), whom the Confucian tradition presents as a highly virtuous man. Later, under the name Tai-gong Wang, he became famous as a theorist of military art. He was not appreciated by his rightful sovereign, but was fully appreciated by Wu-wang. Even Wu-wang's father - Wen-wang - once met Lü Ya on a hunt and immediately recognized him as a wise man. And when Zhou Wu-wang rebelled, Tai-gong Wang was at Yin Zhou-wang, and he was well aware of the position of the enemy. Therefore Wu-wang easily achieved victory.


Thus, already in the ancient period, the Chinese had an excellent opportunity to assess the capabilities of spies, who at times could overthrow the state. Therefore, the Chinese began to make very active use of secret agents in order to undermine the enemy's forces from within. And sometimes they succeeded.


In 236-229 BC there was a war between the Qin and Zhao principalities. The Qin army was led by the famous general Wang Jian. The Zhao princedom's troops were commanded by Li Mu, who became famous for his skill in defending the northern borders of the princedom from attacks by Huns, and combined wit and courage. Because of him Qin troops began to suffer defeat after defeat: was decapitated one of the major military leaders - Huang Yao, and the commander of the Wang Jian was in danger. Then Wang Jian realized that in open battle he could not cope with such an enemy, and decided to act by other means.


At the court of his opponent, Zhao prince, was a certain Guo Kai. He was a favorite of the prince. Wang Jian knew that he was jealous of Li Mu's success, afraid of his influence on the governor and looking for opportunities to eliminate him. Therefore, Wang entered into a secret relationship with him, gave him a large sum of money and allegedly warned him in friendship, that Li Mu is just waiting for the end of the campaign to deal with him. Since it coincided with Guo's own assumptions, he did not hesitate to go to the prince and told him that Li Mu was planning to kill him, switch to Qin and get from the hands of the Qin prince of the Principality of Zhao. Zhao prince believed his minion, recalled Li Mu from the army and executed him. In place of Li Mu at the head of the army were placed two other, completely incompetent commander. The effects of the removal of the skillful commander quickly took their toll. And in just three months Zhao's army was utterly defeated by Qin troops.


The Chinese perfectly mastered the subtle game of intrigue, a remarkable way to learn to calculate the intentions and moves of the enemy, and use them to their advantage. Here is an example of a very cunning operation of this kind.

It was during the war between the Jin and Shu principalities (first half of the 4th century B.C.). The Shu troops were commanded by Li Xiong. The Jin troops were led by Luo Shan. The battle was fought without any results for either side. Then Li Xiong decided to resort to cunning. He knew that Luo Shan would certainly take every opportunity to acquire a spy in the camp of the enemy, and decided to give him the opportunity. His plan was to act as a return spy was a loyal vassal of Pu Tai. One day, Li Xiong in front of all the court accused Pu Tai for various faults, and ordered the guards to severely beat him. Then bloodied dignitary dragged by the legs from the palace and thrown into a moat. Some time later, Pu Tai, who had to retire to a remote village, secretly came into contact with Luo Shan, and then he even defected to him, along with his most loyal friends, family and servants.


Luo Shan believed that Pu Tai was bent on revenge, brought him into his entourage and even appointed him Assistant Commander of the army. Under the pretext of revenge on Li Xiong, Pu Tai devised a plan to defeat the Shu army. According to this plan, Pu Tai's supporters were to kill their chief and signal Luo Shan's troops to attack with fire. Luo Shan agreed, and finally Li Xiong's camp showed fire. Immediately, 100 select soldiers Luo Shan, standing at the ready, rushed to attack. It was assumed that in the confusion, they could easily penetrate the enemy's fortifications. They were all killed, however, and Luo Shan's troops, who had moved to storm the enemy camp, were ambushed and defeated. Pu Tai himself at the critical moment of the battle, along with his companions killed Luo Shan, his heir son and commander in chief, decapitating the Jin army. After that, he ordered his warriors not to offer resistance to Li Xun, and the Principality of Jin fell without a fight.


More often than not, ambassadors acted as spies. Once in the camp of the enemy, they were able to influence the situation by bribing officials and warlords, setting them against each other.


Often the ambassadors played the role of "spies of death". They were sent to the enemy to divert his attention by pretending to negotiate peace or even to make peace. And when the enemy, having believed the peace assurances, let his guard down and became less cautious, the enemy undertook a decisive military operation. The plot was thus exposed, and the ambassador, who had been in the enemy camp for cover, was put to death.


The Chinese chronicles describe an incident that happened during the struggle of the Han emperor Gao-tszu (206-195 BC) with the Qi princedom. Gao-tszu understood that it would not be easy for him to defeat the enemy by ordinary means. Therefore he decided to pretend to enter with him peace talks, and for that purpose sent to him as ambassador a skilled diplomat Li Shi-tsu. He so skillfully conducted business, that the Qi prince not only agreed to peace, but also withdrew his troops from the borders. Gao-tsu was just waiting for this. As soon as the borders lost their protection, the Han general Han Xin invaded Qi. The ambassador was executed, but that did not save the Qi princedom from defeat.


Spy ambassadors were not required to know how to disguise themselves, sneak up and physically eliminate the enemy. More important for them was an understanding of human psychology, relationships between people, the ability to accurately assess the balance of power in the enemy camp, the military and political situation. It mainly depended on the personal qualities of a person, his talent, and not on special training. Perhaps that is why China in ancient times did not have a complete spy training system. Because of this, Chinese agents very often "sat in the puddle". For example, in the 3rd century BC, during the struggle of Qin troops against Zhao She, they sent a spy to his camp, but he could not find out anything. The spies of the Chu kingdom, sent to the camp of Gao-tszu, could find out nothing either. There are many other cases of incompetent Chinese spies.


However, it was the Chinese, or rather a Chinese man named Sun Wu (Sun Tzu), who managed for the first time in world history to create a unified theory of espionage. And not only that.


Sun Tzu created a unified concept of military art, global in scope and amazing in depth in comprehending the regularities of any encounter - be it war, battle or hand-to-hand combat. It had a defining influence on the entire Far Eastern tradition of martial art, serving as the foundation on which all other forms developed.