The ninja were accomplished pharmacists, skilled in preparing different poisons and special powders and compounds. Ninjutsu training in yogen (pharmacy) also allowed them to prepare gunpowder and explosives, medicines and even concentrated foods as part of their ninja gear.
Ninja Gear #1: Poisons
Poisons were made from mineral, plant and animal sources. They were potent enough to kill, but could be devised for putting the enemy to sleep, paralyzing him or making him shake with laughter. Dirks, darts and arrows were tipped with poison for use in assassinations.
A poison water gun was designed to blind enemies. It consisted of a long piece of bamboo with a tiny hole at the business end. The ninja concocted the poisonous water and poured it into the hollow bamboo. A smaller piece of bamboo was slid inside the larger section and fitted with a rag at the front end. The small piece was inserted and quickly shoved home, forcing the poisoned water out through the tiny hole. The poison water was usually made from iron powder and a mixture that was ordinarily used to stain the teeth of married women.
Ninja Gear #2: Special Devices
In addition to poisons, the ninja also had a staggering array of special devices useful to them in their trade. They had all sorts of grappling hooks and ropes for scaling walls and gaining entrance to castles. Some of the more remarkable devices were those for crossing water. So adept were they at crossing moats, rivers and lakes that legend had it they could walk on water.
Actually, the ninja had a number of water-crossing devices. One was the ukidaru, or floating pots. They would encase their feet in waterproof reed pots tightly woven for the purpose and use a fan-like oar to “walk” across a moat. They might also use air-filled skins or other attachments to their feet.
Another water-crossing device was a contraption resembling a life jacket. Usually made of rabbit or horse skins and filled with air, it was divided into four parts. One section was strapped on each side of the ninja and a third at the rear. They straddled the fourth section and went to work with their trusty bamboo oar. These feudal-age “water wings” came in handy, especially when crossing an enemy’s castle moat at night.
Ninja Gear #3: The Black Costume
The trademark of the ninja was their black costume. The jacket, somewhat resembling the modern judo top, was equipped with various pockets for holding weapons and other devices. A black hood covered the face, with a pair of slits for the eyes. Black trousers and leggings covered the lower part of the body, while the feet were concealed in black tabi and sandals.
Since ninja were sometimes called upon to fight alongside soldiers on the battlefield, they were also equipped with a combat uniform. They wore a jacket and leggings of chain mail. Their wrists, hands, neck and head were also protected by mail. All in all, their combat costume was a formidable outfit.
Part Four: Ninja History 101: Ninjutsu Weapons
Part Five: Ninja History 101: Ninjutsu Training
(Discover the secret behind ninjutsu’s seemingly magical techniques by downloading our FREE guide—Ninja Gear: Master Modern Self-Defense Weapons With Ninjutsu Training. And for an in-depth look at everyone’s favorite assassins, check out our ninjutsu books and DVDs).