The Chinese Art of Stealth

Yin Fa 隱法 is an Art and way-of-life that was built upon the principles of penetrating enemy fortifications through stealth and guile. Historically that meant to penetrate walled cities, compounds, enemy encampments and anywhere else of strategic importance.

Training in the Art of Yin Fa includes Martial Art skills, gymnastics, stealth training and Chinese medicine practice. The student of Yin Fa trains to become skilled enough to destroy their opponent with anything at hand. That could mean a blade, a spear, or even a hair clip. Where survival is threatened, the Art includes skills of escape, evasion, hiding and concealment.

Yin Fa 隱法 means literally "hide, law" in Chinese script. Pronunciation is in the Mandarin dialect.

yin - hide, hidden, concealed
法 fa - law, method

Agents of Stealth Warfare

Tōng 通, meaning "penetrate" is a description/name found in ancient Chinese military writings. The word was used to categorize a highly skilled operative who was a specialist at penetrating the impossible. Once inside the target area, the penetrator was used for such purposes as espionage, arson, assassination and psychological warfare. The colloquial name of these operators was "Ye Ban Tou" 夜半偷 or "Midnight Thief" in the Mandarin dialect.

夜 ye - night
半 ban - half or middle
偷 tou - to steal; to pilfer; to snatch; thief; stealthily

In Summary; The Ye Ban Tou 夜半偷 (Midnight Thief) was a penetrator - that was his/her specialty - to penetrate ! The Art of Yin Fa 隱法 is a collection of physical and mental skills used by the Midnight Thief to complete his/her mission. The ideal held by the Midnight Thief was to remain undetected and unknown, both on missions and in daily life.

Carry a weapon no one else can use,
Reveal it only at the last moment,
Use it in abstract ways,
Deceive your opponent at every turn.

The Way of Ten Thousand Things 萬物之道 .
(Extract taken from the Warrior Heart 戦士心 record)

Historical Operatives

The earliest mention (that we have discovered so far) of a stealth operative in Chinese strategic warfare, is dated between 771 BC and  476 BC, with a "thief" being deployed by the military. His mission was clear and unmistakably matches the methods employed by the Japanese Ninja 2000 years later. It is also clear that his handler, a General, was well aware of this type of operative and his abilities, so we can assume these operatives were in service long before this incident was recorded.

As the historical record progresses forward in time, it becomes quite obvious that the knowledge of stealth and penetration was not an uncommon thing. It is abundantly clear that those who perfected Yin Fa 隱法 were highly prized and well compensated for their risk and effort. It is interesting to note that many of these early operatives were mercenary and not a normal part of the permanent military force - a tradition that continued on into the 1930's.

During the Ming Dynasty (1368 - 1644) the Art of stealth was used extensively on the north eastern border of China. An elite military unit known as the Ye Bu Shou 夜不收 were commissioned to protect China against the Mongol horde. They were permanent force soldiers, carefully selected and trained for this task. They operated only at night and carried out duties in espionage, long range reconnaissance, sabotage, stealth attacks and so on. Their exploits are legendary and today are the pride of Chinese military historians. Based on our research, it seems this unit greatly influenced the operations of the Ninja in Japan. There is in fact some evidence suggesting a direct connection with the Japanese Ninja may have existed.

In the two major periods under foreign control of China - the Yuan dynasty (1279–1368) and the Qing dynasty (1644 to 1911) - revolutions and gorilla warfare were constantly exacted against the foreign invaders. It was in the latter Qing period period that the art of stealth became known to many of the common people. These were the defenders of China who were fighting for the return of Chinese control. The image of black clad masked operatives, running on roofs, are still celebrated in Chinese media today although movie makers have long forgotten the history attached. By the late Qing dynasty things were happening on the rooftops at night as much as they were on the streets in the day. We know this because there was a specific unit of police that operated at night, on the rooftops only! It is to this era that we owe thanks for the preservation of many of the skills used in the art of stealth.

Over the centuries many skilled martial arts people drifted into the Jiang Hu 江湖 (lit. Rivers and lakes). The Jiang Hu originally referred to the "martial world" but since the Qing period the meaning has shifted toward meaning the "underworld" or "Triads". It is in 1926 that we find the last published report of black clad, masked operatives in the Jiang Hu 江湖.

Preserved Skills

At first, it came as a huge surprise to us, to discover many skills were still being practiced into the 90s. With that said, there was no single school practicing the entire art as one. Sadly since the late 80s the decline in Chinese martial arts as a whole has been devastating. Today we see a pathetic remnant of what used to be amazing warrior arts.

Today, Warrior Heart 戦士心 is the only school left practicing Yin Fa 隱法 as a complete art. Part has been handed down to us and part has been reconstructed with the help of the last generation of Masters outside our lineage. A deeper understanding of this Art has come from extensive historical and archeological research that was not available to past generations.