Tegumi: A Glance at Coordinated Teamwork

Troop formation and group strategies are an interesting topic for those who enjoy studying how wars and battles were conducted from historical documents. Taking a look what texts and illustrations are left behind from medieval Japan, such topics are presented either in a sophisticated manner that leaves a lot to desire in terms of effectiveness, or are heavily-coded that usually those who are privy to the unspoken details can decipher it thoroughly. One of the more popular of these are how specific warlords used certain famous formations with their army, which are normally labeled as “jinkei” (陣形).

In this article, examples of coordinated teams or squads called “tegumi” (手組) will be reviewed. Before this, we’ll look at some background info of the source from where it comes from.


There are many sources that speak on the topic of military practices, some more obscure than others. In 2017, an Edo-period collection of family-owned manuscripts were reproduced, compiled into one book, and presented to the public. This book is titled, “Watanabe Toshinobu kemonjo – Owari-han Kōkamon Kankei Shiryō” (渡辺俊経家文書-尾張藩甲賀者関係史料).

Book featuring manuscripts from the Watanabe collection
Front cover of the book.

The specifics on these manuscripts are that they were of the Watanabe clan, who were an influential family for several generations within the Kōka region located in present-day Shiga Prefecture, Japan. Within this collection are important info for whoever was head of the family, which includes lineage, contract-like documentation, military-related strategies, combat-related skills, and shinobi-related practices. Warriors of Kōka are especially renown for their expertise in shinobi no jutsu, which is popularly known under the modern label ninjutsu.

Within the book is a section on the military strategies referred to as “Kōka Gunpō”. Here we see a manuscript called “Inyō Yōkan no maki” (陰陽用間の巻). This appears to have been written for intended use by those who engaged in shinobi activities, for the opening statement includes a point that ninjutsu is a pivotal part of the military strategies of Kōka.


Below will be the text and diagrams from the book. Presentation of source material is very simple, so manually typing the text and drawing the diagrams digitally is the route I’ve taken to make formatting the content easily in this article.

The 1st part of this section is the introduction of a formation which consists of 4 different patterns of formation, and are color-coded.

TEGUMI NO HŌ (手組法, Strategy of Group Operation)


五行一段 Gogyo ichidan (5 Methods – 1st level)


Ao (Blue)
Aka (Red)
Kiiro (Yellow)
Shiro (White)
Kuro (Black)


五行二段Gogyo nidan (5 Methods – 2nd level)

Ao (Blue)
Shiro (White)


五行三段 Gogyo sandan (5 Methods – 3rd level)

Ao (Blue)
Shiro (White)
Kuro (Black)


五行四面法Gogyo yonmenpō (5 Methods – 4 sides trick)

Ao (Blue)
Aka (Red)
Shiro (White)
Kuro (Black)

Taking a guess, there are different teams within each level, each color-coded. Since we are dealing with troop formations, this makes the most logical sense, especially when you compare with other documentations on like subject. It is even possible that number of members distributed within each team are evenly proportional. The following information below leans toward this.

A team of 20+ members to the right

Were these intended for infiltration purposes or battlefield engagement? Possibly for raiding an enemy fort? It’s possible with a small number of troops, especially during the night. Unfortunately, the use of Tegumi no hō is not stated in the text, so we can only speculate. Let’s move on for more clues.

Next in the section we get our 1st visual troop formation coupled with a diagram. Here’s a digital recreation of both the diagram and the troop formation.

ICHIKUMI YONMENBI (一組四面備, 4-sided arranged team)

cardinal directions

English Translation:


東/East       西/West


4-sided arranged team

This formation gives an example of tactical application. Visually we can see there are four teams made up with 5 lines each, which are determined based on the simple use of cardinal directions north, south, east, and west. There is also one more group, which, assuming it follows the directions style in the manuscript, is positioned in the north-west. Considering how the northern team is positioned, it’s possible that there is someone of importance there, such as a field commander, and the 5th team is added security from a flank. Unfortunately, there’s not enough information to verify this or the purpose of the 5th team.

Something worth mentioning is this is possibly related to the previous Tegumi no hō, for different teams color-coded can easily be applied to this 4-way pattern.

After this 4-way pattern is the following label.

Army of 100-troop divisions

Here, the number of troops in this formation is 100. Should this number be taken as a literal count? It’s possible, but it could be another case where it represents an estimate of a large brigade with individuals operating in groups. If this numerical value is to be taken as accurate, then each team is made up of 20 troops, with each line represent 4 soldiers.

The next insert follows in suit with having  4 teams.

ITTE YONMEN NO ZU (一手四面之図, Diagram of a 4-sided division)

Cardinal directions and colors

English Translation:


東/East        西/West



青/blue  黄/yellow  白/white



Once again we get a description of some form of formation according to the cardinal directions, along with the use of color labels from the Gogyo Tegumi no hō. However, this formation may not be for the army itself, for in the diagram we see long rectangle-like structures. It’s possible that these are obstacles like barricades positioned in a way to make advancement for the opposition difficult, while the defending side takes up advantageous positioning to rout them from whichever side they emerge from. Unfortunately, there are no descriptions of how to use this.

Along with the diagrams we get the following text.

Four teams that are made up of an army of 400 soldiers.

If we take the number literally, this could mean that 400 soldiers are broken into 4 teams, possibly with each made up of an even number of 100.

Now we look at the final diagram.

GOGYO HACHIDAN-ZU (五行八段図, Diagram of 5 Methods 8th-level)

8 teams 1000 troops

English Translation:

same  125 soldiers  same

125 soldiers Castle 125 soldiers

same  125 soldiers  same

Along with this, follows the text below.  

To the right¹, formation consisting of 1000 soldiers

Here we get the implication of the Gogyo Tegumi no hō pattern used on a much larger scale. We can assume that the color labels are applied to each team, making up the north-south-east-west pattern. However, what about the other 4 teams at the diagonals? Seeing how 4-way pattern has been the main theme so far, this methodology can be doubled by applying another 4 teams at the diagonals as well.

At the center of this formation is yet again a point of interest. In the diagram we get a label that stands for “castle”. Could the formation be a defensive one, or an offensive one?


This concludes our look into a surviving manuscript with group teamwork recorded. It’s a shame that the diagrams do not come with more descriptions in order to get a better understand, but this is to be expected with content that could be compromised if it fell in the hands of a rival. This article is the 1st on the topic of troop strategies from medieval Japan, as there are more I have plan to cover soon.

1) The manuscript originally follows the old-fashioned reading style of right-to-left, top-to-bottom, with the text essentially coming after the diagram. Thus, the reason why the text refers to the diagram “to the right”.

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