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  • Writer's pictureDave Giddings

Masked intent

Updated: Mar 21, 2022

This iconic piece of ‘ninja’ apparel has been done in so many ways. If we want to understand the form and function of this simple concept, then we need to do some research. Firstly, we need to look at why anyone would want to cover their face? Well, to hide their identity I hear you cry – ok fair enough but is that all?

The ninja were very mission orientated and understood that anything they carried had to have multiple applications. So lets look at their ‘mission objectives’ so to speak. They were primarily used as information gatherers, to promote disinformation, and to sabotage supplies and infrastructure. To be clear, they were not primarily assassins. To insert these agents in place took not inconsiderable resources and planning, so to jeopardise that with a high-risk assassination that could lead back to those who commissioned it would be foolhardy.

So, they could not carry a purpose made head covering as its discovery would lead to some awkward questions for the agent in place – and those questions could be quite painful. This piece of cloth had to have multiple uses and appear incidental on an inspection or search. So what uses were there? Well a face covering, but that had to have a few functions. The mask should be easy to apply, be secure when stressed (fights and running), and act as a smoke filter. One of the primary tools used for destruction of supplies was arson. The cloth would be soaked in water and then the ninja could work in the smoky area of the fire that was being set and be able to breathe with little effect from the smoke.

So, what else could this strip of cloth be used for? They were also used to bind wounds, and various poultices and healing herbs could be applied to the cloth. They could be used to carry items. They could be used to restrain enemies, to blindfold, and to stifle breathing. Like so many other items of the ninja equipment the uses were only limited by the imagination of the ninja.

So, what form did this ninja hood or Zukin take? There are so many options – according to the internet anyway. You can convert a t shirt:

you can buy underarmour headovers, you can use ski headgear, and use motorbike headovers:

Another option would be to wear a facemask that filters smoke, and add a hood of some sort, at the moment this would be a lot more socially acceptable...

or follow a more traditional approach:

While all of those would work, they are not in keeping with the utility of the original. The simplest version is to take a piece of black cotton two meters long and thirty centimetres wide. This is placed on the forehead with one side shorter than the other. After tying the ends behind there should be quite a long end left which is wrapped around the face and then tied behind the head. This can also be done with two pieces of fabric. This is a good video to see this method:

The main point is to remember the reason why this was needed, and adapt to your environment.

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