Decades ago, when I was first on the internet I wrote a piece of conjecture called “Ninja Should Be Grey”. I may have referred to it before on this blog. That article and the website it was on have long since vanished. A friend of mine and regular reader of this blog has often expressed the wish that he could have read that article. Since the article could be considered as covering urban self-defence and survival I am going to recreate that article and include couple of updated ideas.
Ninja Should Be Grey.
Many historians of ninjitsu have claimed that what we now call a “ninja outfit” is actually derived from the costumes of Japanese stage hands. By convention the hooded and dark-clad stage hands were treated as being “invisible” by the audience. When ninja and other invisible characters began to appear in plays they were given costumes similar to the stage hands to convey that other characters in the play could not see them.
Real ninja would often wear disguises that allowed them to move about the country without arousing suspicion. Often they would be disguised as wandering priests, monks, entertainers or pedlars. If they did need to wear low-visibility clothing it probably would not be pure black. One reason for this was with the dyes available at that time creating a deep black was difficult. Another reason was that even on a dark night a pure black object would tend to stand out. Night gear was more commonly a dark shade of blue, green, red or grey. Interestingly Special Forces in Vietnam would dye their uniforms black knowing that after a few washes it would fade to a more useful charcoal-grey colour. Back in my youth I dyed a green M65 jacket black and it turned a very useful dark drab-green.
Grey itself is a quite interesting colour. The pedantic will claim that it is not a colour at all! Grey is a neutral shade and as such combines well with a variety of colours and backgrounds. We all know that the World War Two German Army wore grey uniforms. Originally “Feldgrau” seems to have had a greenish tinge or been a green-grey. As the war progressed greyer cloths became more common and some historians class some items as actually being “mouse grey”. Many animals are grey and as many of us can attest, this can often make them hard to see. The England football team once wore a grey away-strip and claimed that their poor performance was that the strip made it difficult for players to see each other. That this should also make them harder for the opposing team to see was not mentioned!
Let us think about a “modern ninja”. By “ninja” we mean someone who for any number of reasons wants to avoid attention. Dressing in black pyjamas and a hood with a sword across his back is not going to do this. Nor, for that matter, is dressing him in grey pyjamas!
Suppose instead we give our “ninja” some street clothes consisting of a grey jacket and faded blue jeans. Faded denim is effectively a light grey with a hint of blue. Our ninja looks rather dull and unremarkable. There are probably a thousand other men walking the streets in similar outfits. And this is the point entirely. Not only is he grey in colouration, but also in aspect.
Against the greys and browns of a typical city the dull greys and blues of the ninja make him fade into the background, be it night or day. People that see him tend to overlook him. Many security cameras are low resolution and often only see in black and white. Our grey ninja is also sometimes overlooked by such cameras. There is little distinctive detail about him to recall.
Let us refine this outfit a little more. A hat of some kind helps conceal the colour and the style of his hair. If the cap has a peak it is at the front, helping conceal his features from cameras and keeping the sun out of his eyes. A knitted hat may be warmer and less likely to be lost under certain conditions. Such a hat may actually be a ski-mask. If the ninja is wearing a hoodie he can wear the hood up to help conceal his hair and features. Be aware, however, that hoods can reduce your situational awareness and can be grabbed during a fight. Wearing your hoodie with hood up can also draw attention to you in some situations, so is counter-productive. A scarf or neck gaiter is a useful addition to the outfit since it can be used to conceal the features when necessary. Such an item should be of a shade/ colour that does not contrast with your skin tone so that at a distance it will not be obvious you are masked. Footwear must be something functional such as sneakers. Like the rest of the clothing items these must be unremarkable rather than distinctive. Logos, graphics and brand names on clothing are best avoided. If this cannot be achieved they should be as unremarkable and as generic as possible for the area. A “Yankees” cap will be noticed more in LA than in NY. Clothing needs to fit well while allowing freedom of movement. Excessively tight or baggy clothing will draw attention and is not desirable, despite what the fashion industry tells you. You do not want jeans hung so low and loose that they slip around your ankles as soon as you have to move fast.
There are a few more tricks our modern ninja might employ. Streetwear is often worn in layers, such as a bomber jacket over a hoodie. Swapping these over can produce a quick change of appearance. If you are wearing a baseball cap and have a watch cap or bandanna in your pocket changing headgear can also change your appearance. Reversible garments are a staple of old spy movies but this is a practical option for some hats and jackets.
Context is important in “being grey”. If you are in Hawaii an obnoxiously loud shirt may be your best camouflage. Anyone seeing you will just regard you as “just another jerk-off tourist” and immediately overlook you and forget you. If you are in an office building the streetwear described above will make you stick out like a sore thumb. In such an environment “grey” would mean an unremarkable suit and a boring tie. Something that is neither poorly fitting nor snappy.