Countless internet memes postulate the outcome of an epic battle between a ninja and a pirate. The carefree swashbuckling pirate, master of the cutlass and perpendicular tactics, and the ninja, masters of the night and silent assassins. It would make a great TV show! But what if I told you that in the annals of Japanese history there was a Ninja-Pirate who was named “the Demon of the Wind”. Legend says he was nearly 9 feet tall, as part Oni, and was one of the greatest warriors of his age. His name: Fuma Kotaro.
The legendary Fuma clan were one of the smaller groups of Ninja that operated out of Kanagawa. While the Iga and Koga (or Koka) ninja clans mostly did not take part in direct combat, preferring assassination, spy craft, and sabotage, the Fuma were horse mounted guerrilla fighters.
If you are not sure what guerrilla fighting is (no, it’s not big sword carrying monkeys) it is a style of warfare where the smaller force takes on a much larger force by means of sabotage, hit-and-run tactics, and ambushes. They tend to attack and then fade into the landscape where the much larger force is ill-equipped to follow or attack, leading to higher casualties, and lower morale.
The Fuma clan used this style, they would ride in with a small, highly trained horse-mounted force, attack the enemy at its weakest point and then fade away before reinforcements could be called to the scene. And in this role they were devastating. Not only did they practice these mounted ambushes, they also used the sea. They could also pull off devastating marine, and amphibious attacks (making them pirates!).
The name of Fuma Kotaro is actually a title, bestowed on the leader of the clan. It is similar to the title of Caesar in the Roman world. When a new leader was chosen he would give up his old name and take upon himself the title of Fuma Kotaro. The 5th Fuma lord is the most famous and the topic of our article today. Little is known of this 5th leader of the Fuma clan. Some legends say he was originally born Kazama. According to folk legend, he was the offspring of an Oni-Human coupling and that gave him his ferocity and size.
There is only one document that Kazama is mentioned in, the Hojo-Godaiki (北条五代記) which give an accounting of the history of the Hojo household. In this document it is said that he stood at a massive 2.2 meters tall, and that his bulging muscles were knotty and uneven, that his malicious grain was ringed by a thick unkempt beard, and that his mouth and cheeks were cut all the way to his ears (like the Joker), and that he had slotted eyes like a cat! Furthermore, his voice was so great that if he yelled he could be heard for 5 kilometers in any direction. Wow, this guy sounds awesome!
…and I’m all out of bubblegum.
Kazama (renamed Fuma Kortaro) personally led the special forces unit of the Fuma clan, the 200 Rappa. Rappa translates into something like, “battle interrupters”, but that does not even begin to do justice to what they did. Let’s take one of Kazama’s most famous adventures to show his tactics.
The Rappa were organized in 4 distinct groups with specified skills and jobs depending on the situation. These divisions were; brigands, pirates, burglars, and thieves. The brigands and the pirates were the fighting men, burglars were the information men, and the thieves were… Well, they were thieves.
One night in 1580, Takeda Katsuyori was on the attack. With a much larger force, things did not look good for the clan that the Fuma were allied with. In the dark of night the Rappa used an early version of a submarine (yes, ninjas in submarines!) to near into the bay where the enemy army was camped. They attacked suddenly and viciously, Kazama was master of the art of Enton-no-jutsu (炎遁の術) which was a ninja method to use fire and smoke to confuse your enemy. He attacked and tricked the army into attacking itself, and most of the soldiers killed were killed by their fellow compatriots. They then faded back into the waters to disappear, leaving a devastated army that had nearly wiped itself out.
One other great legend that comes down to us is the personal rivalry between Kazama and the other great ninja of his time Hattori Hanzo. In many works, they are often portrayed as arch-nemeses of each other. Think of it like Hattori Hanzo is Batman and Kazama is The Joker. There is even an incredibly interesting account of their final battle.
In the 1590’s the Tokugawa clan declared all-out war on the Fuma clan, and even captured their castle nearly wiping out the whole band in the process, but Kazama and his best men managed to get away. So, Tokugawa sent his best ninja, Hattori Hanzo, to put an end to the meddlesome pirate-ninja. There commended an extended battle of wits and ninja skills, as the two hunted each other for years, but it all came to a head in 1596. Hanzo tracked the remnants of the Fuma clan to a small inlet and got together a small group of boats to trap the brigands. But it was a trap. Kazama had dumped oil all through the inlet and when Hanzo’s ships sailed in to go in for the kill, the Fuma ninja lit it up like a Christmas tree. Trapped against the tide the boats succumbed to the flames. I imagine a final fiery battle between the two great ninjas on the flaming mass of a sinking ship.
Soon after defeating his greatest enemy Kazama was captured (or did he allow himself to be captured, because he had no one left to fight?) and was beheaded. While his death might seem somewhat ignominious, Fuma Kotaro has gone down in legend. He is one of the most eclectically portrayed ninjas in history. Sometimes he is the great demon villain, sometimes he is a Robin Hood-like figure. He is a legend on the grandest scale and the definitive answer to the internet’s question of who is cooler ninjas or pirates? The answer is, that neither holds a candle to Fuma Kotaro the Demon of the Wind and Master of the Flame!