Hidden in plain sight
"I'm a ninja..."
"No you're not!"
"Did you see that?"
The invisible assassin, disappearing in a cloud of smoke, shadowy doorways, behind trees...I could go on, but you get the idea. Ninja were regarded as having the ability to disappear, infiltrate areas unseen, and to be masters of invisibility. As always the reality is different and in some ways more worrying.
So lets start with some basic science - no-one is able to bend light around them or allow it to pass through them and be 'invisible'. But is that what we are talking about? It would be more accurate to say they were masters of being unnoticed, overlooked and disregarded. This is where a few practical skills noted come in handy.
To be unnoticed is a combination of understanding what the opponent expects to see, what they are used to seeing and what they would consider a threat. An example would be a ninja trying to watch a particular building on a busy high-street. Now, most would agree standing on a street in full 'ninja' garb would not work, even at night! So how to be unnoticed? Well one approach would be to dress as a charity collector. Those people in the tabards with a big bucket asking for donations or trying to hand out leaflets - these are people a lot of the public avoid making eye contact with and try to ignore as best as possible. This wouldnt work at night so rough sleepers could take that watch...
The idea now is about not sneaking around in shadows, but more fitting in to the environment. In ninjutsu there are a set of skills called "Hensojutsu" This is different from other methods in that the ninja needs only to appear like someone else for a short period of time. Ninja typically must learn the character traits of another class quickly and then impersonate the members of that class. For instance, if workers were walking in large numbers toward a worksite, using this skill the ninja observes the worker, copies the same clothing and walking style of the workers, then follows the crowd in just like the other workers. A good ninja ought to be able to impersonate anybody in terms of appearance.
If a more...tactical approach was needed then distraction would be used. Using thrown objects to create noise, releasing animals such as rats, starting fire to draw the enemy and the use of metsubushi (sight removing powders) to impede the enemies ability to see what was being done, or where they concealed themselves.
The idea of running on rooftops comes from an era where lighting at night was at most burning torches held aloft or lanterns on a staff. This would mean that rooftops on rainy or cloudy nights would be difficult to survey and see an appropriately dressed ninja. These days with more modern light systems, night vision and the physical height of buildings, it is sometimes easier and more expedient to walk in the front door as someone unremarkable.
Two other skills are key to this, intent and walking. In a previous blog the use of intent has been covered, but in this instance we are now concealing it. We are not giving off any vibrations in our body language, thought patterns or gaze that would indicate we are far from harmless. With walking the footfall of the ninja should be appropriate to the expectations of the observer. If we are portraying a manual labourer we should have a shorter gait with a possibly slightly heavier step; if portraying a dancer then graceful, light steps would be in character - but take care not to over exagerate this! If the situation is tactical we would be a noiseless as possible, and may only move when a louder noise would conceal our footfall and movement.
Far from being a magical skill, 'invisibility' is more about being hidden in plain sight.