A Most Scarce Original Koto Period Kusarigama a Ninja's Weapon of a Sickle With Weighted Chain, Somewhat Like a Claw Hilted Medieval Flail Mace
A kusarigama (Japanese: 鎖鎌, lit. "chain-sickle") is a traditional Japanese weapon that consists of a kama (the Japanese equivalent of a sickle or billhook) on a kusari-fundo – a type of metal chain (kusari) with a heavy iron weight (fundo) at the end. The sickle blade has a full tang the same as Yari pole arms, held in position within the handle by two mekugi.
The kusarigama is said to have been developed during the Muromachi period. The art of handling the kusarigama is called kusarigamajutsu.
From the 12th century, until the time of the Tokugawa shogunate, many fighters specialized in the use of the weapon. One of these fighters was Yamada Shinryukan, a man who defeated many swordsmen; he was trapped in a bamboo grove by Araki Mataemon and killed. Yamada did not have enough room in the bamboo grove to swing around the chain of his kusarigama. This weapon was used by the infamous Japanese assassins known as the ninja.
In his Buke Myōmokushō, military historian Hanawa Hokinoichi writes of the ninja:
They travelled in disguise to other territories to judge the situation of the enemy, they would inveigle their way into the midst of the enemy to discover gaps, and enter enemy castles to set them on fire, and carried out assassinations, arriving in secret.
The ninja were stealth soldiers and mercenaries hired mostly by daimyos. Their primary roles were those of espionage and sabotage, although assassinations were also attributed to ninja. In battle, the ninja could also be used to cause confusion amongst the enemy. A degree of psychological warfare in the capturing of enemy banners can be seen illustrated in the Ōu Eikei Gunki, composed between the 16th and 17th centuries:
The warlord Oda Nobunaga's notorious reputation led to several attempts on his life. In 1571, a Kōga ninja and sharpshooter by the name of Sugitani Zenjubō was hired to assassinate Nobunaga. Using two arquebuses, he fired two consecutive shots at Nobunaga, but was unable to inflict mortal injury through Nobunaga's armor. Sugitani managed to escape, but was caught four years later and put to death by torture. In 1573, Manabe Rokurō, a vassal of daimyo Hatano Hideharu, attempted to infiltrate Azuchi Castle and assassinate the sleeping Nobunaga. However, this also ended in failure, and Manabe was forced to commit suicide, after which his body was openly displayed in public. According to a document, the Iranki, when Nobunaga was inspecting Iga province — which his army had devastated — a group of three ninja shot at him with large-caliber firearms. The shots flew wide of Nobunaga, however, and instead killed seven of his surrounding companions.
The first specialized training began in the mid-15th century, when certain samurai families started to focus on covert warfare, including espionage and assassination. Like the samurai, ninja were born into the profession, where traditions were kept in, and passed down through the family. According to Turnbull, the ninja was trained from childhood, as was also common in samurai families. Outside the expected martial art disciplines, a youth studied survival and scouting techniques, as well as information regarding poisons and explosives. Physical training was also important, which involved long distance runs, climbing, stealth methods of walking63 and swimming. A certain degree of knowledge regarding common professions was also required if one was expected to take their form in disguise. Some evidence of medical training can be derived from one account, where an Iga ninja provided first-aid to Ii Naomasa, who was injured by gunfire in the Battle of Sekigahara. Here the ninja reportedly gave Naomasa a "black medicine" meant to stop bleeding.
We show in the gallery a Koto period tsuba (from one of our katana) that is decorated with a ninja’s weapons and his peasants disguise. A peasants jingasa hat, a willow fish basket, a kusarigama and a shikomezue hidden sword stick. We further show in the gallery an early woodblock print of a ninja in hand to hand combat using his identical kasurigama against the katana of a swordsman. Shown gor illustrative purposes only.
One can find modern reproductions of these in numerous martial arts stores today, especially in the States, but early, antique, original examples are simply very rarely seen indeed.
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