Over the years, ninjas earned an unrivaled reputation for cunning. The Takeda family discovered their own shortcomings in comparisons far too late. When threatened by an army led by Takeda Katsuyori, the Hojo clan hired 200 ninjas, led by the famous Kazama Kataro, to assist in repulsing them. The legends say Kataro stood eight feet tall and had the physique of a wild beast. A black mustache separated his broad mouth and refined nose. Despite his intimidating appearance, he radiated intelligence. When he shouted, his voice boomed through the mountains like an avalanche and when he whispered, it flowed into ears like a gentle breeze.
The above stories are the typical legends passed down through time using exaggeration. But everyone agreed, Kataro was a man to be feared. Finding the Katsuyori army encamped along the dangerously strong currents of the Kisegawa river, Kataro went to work. He divided his 200 ninjas into four units, each led by one of his feared captains. The captains themselves, despite having backgrounds as thieves and bandits, had gained a reputation for mastery in ninjutsu and had detailed knowledge of the local terrain.
Every night, Kataro and his ninjas crossed the river and infiltrated the enemy encampment, heedless of the weather. By donning enemy armor, the ninjas would roam the camp at will to set fires, kidnap commanders, free horses, and kill men. When they finally withdrew, they left behind a dismal scene; dark clouds of smoke drifted through the camp, filling the lungs of the living with ash; tendrils of flame leapt into the night, spreading like wildfire through lines of tents; horses, eyes rolled back in terror, stampeded in every direction. Night after night, the tactics reduced the encampment to chaos until, desperate for respite, the Katsuyori’s army turned on one another, accusing each other of treachery. In the aftermath, when the exhausted survivors examined the heads of the ‘enemies’ they had slain, they realized common soldiers had taken heads of their superiors and sons the heads of fathers.
Enraged and humiliated, some of the surviving Takeda family members set into motion a plan of revenge against Kataro. Under cover of darkness, they waited in the grass along the roadside. When Kataro and his men passed the location on their way to their nightly raid, the men slipped among the ninjas and waited for an opportunity to converge on Kataro. Ten Takeda men managed to secretly infiltrate the enemy’s ranks, each one prepared to die in the attempt. But the clever, ever-vigilant Kataro foiled their plan with ease. Reaching the edge of Katsuyori’s camp, the men lit their torches in preparation for the attack and, in response to an agreed upon secret signal, the ninja suddenly leaped to their feet. Caught by surprise, Katsuyori’s men were exposed and killed.
This incident reinforced the ninjas’ image as resourceful warriors always one step ahead of their enemies. By exploiting their ninjutsu training, ninjas could bring both individual warriors and whole armies to their knees.