Ninja

Ninja (aka Shinobi) were the specialised assassins, saboteurs, and secret agents of medieval Japanese warfare who were highly-trained proponents of the martial arts, especially what later became known as ninjutsu or 'the art of the ninja'. These special forces were adept at disguise, deception, and assaulting enemy positions and strongholds, usually at night when they moved like shadows in their traditional dark clothing. Employed from the 15th century CE onwards, ninjas, because of their lengthy secret training in specialised schools and mysterious anonymity, have acquired a perhaps exaggerated reputation for fantastic feats and weapons play, which makes them perfect characters for many modern comic books and computer games.

Martial Arts & Ninjutsu

In medieval Japan, there were no fewer than 18 individual martial arts (bugei or bujutsu). Besides the more familiar ones which are still practised today such as judo, jujutsu and kendo, there were those involving horsemanship and swimming. One of the 18 was the art of the ninja or ninjutsu, which developed during the Edo Period (1603-1868 CE). However, ninjas as military special forces had been in operation since the 15th century CE and the Warring States Period (aka Sengoku Jidai, 1467-1568 CE) when the factious infighting that beset Japan required reconnaissance, intelligence and spying in order to ascertain who exactly one's enemies were or might be in the near future.

A ninja had two main roles: as an assassin & as a spy to gather intelligence.

A ninja, then, had two main roles: as an assassin and as a spy to gather intelligence on enemy movements and plans. For both, they employed disguises and learnt the art of deception. The real identity of successful ninjas was, of course, concealed to ensure their own safety and continued usefulness in future operations. Ninjas were also used as forward scouts and to generally cause as much disruption as possible behind enemy lines during nighttime commando raids.

Besides organised bands of ninjas, there were many freelance ninjas who offered their services to the highest bidder in the unsettled times of 15th and 16th century CE Japan. Crafty leaders sometimes employed ninjas to infiltrate the ninja bands of the enemy. In order to make sure ninjas within a group were who they should be passwords were used at random. A ninja was supposed to stand whenever they heard the password and anyone left seated was thus exposed.

The tactics of subterfuge, ambush and trickery, as well as their use of projectile weapons, meant that ninjas did not enjoy the high reputation that samurai warriors, perhaps not entirely fairly, acquired for being chivalrous and courageous. By the Edo Period and the peace which followed from the Tokugawa domination of Japan, ninjas were no longer required in such numbers and so the formal martial art of ninjutsu developed to continue their traditions. Illustrated manuals were written as guides for would-be practitioners, the most famous being the Bansen shukai, compiled by Fujibayashi Samuji in 1676 CE.

Love History?

Sign up for our free weekly email newsletter!

Training

The earliest approach to ninja training was taken by particular families of samurai warriors who passed on their skills from father or master (sensei) to son. These became the famous ninja families and explain why certain localities established long traditions of producing the specialised warriors. From childhood, a future ninja would learn to ride, swim, and handle weapons of all kinds. From the 15th century CE, ninjas were being trained in special camps which might involve entire villages. Some schools became especially famous such as the Iga and Koga schools. As leaders did not want rivals copying their tactics, all training was done orally lest written records fall into the wrong hands.

A ninja was trained to be physically fit and nimbly athletic; jumping from heights and across moats and other obstacles was a particularly useful skill and is probably the origin of the legends involving flying ninjas. In addition, they were also trained to work in acrobat-like teams so that they could use each other to climb greater heights. Ninjas could also throw grappling hooks with precision, scale up and down ropes and collapsible ladders, and enter places closed to less-skilled operatives. Ninjas could create spyholes using pocket folding saws and gouging tools. They could impede pursuers by throwing down makibishi (caltrops - metal clusters of points). Ninjas were taught such useful skills as concealing oneself in various terrains, survival skills to live off the country, how to read topography and maps, understand indications of weather changes, use explosives, securely tie up captives, mix poisons, destroy a building by fire, and, for when things did not go well on a mission, the arts of escape and medicine.

Ninja Costume

Although no medieval texts actually describe in detail a ninja's outfit, the most usual depiction in Japanese art from the early 19th century CE has them clad all in black. This would seem to be the most obvious colour choice because most of their work was done at night. It is also a convention of Japanese performance arts that a character wears black to show the audience that he or she is invisible. However, ninjas did sometimes wear chain mail or armour of metal plates sewn onto fabric and, as they were meant to blend into their surroundings, they sometimes wore camouflage, disguises (as beggars, monks or wandering musicians, for example) and even the costume of their enemies when required. The classic ninja outfit consists of trousers, gaiters, a jacket, a belt, a head cover and a face cover all in soft material that did not impede movement and which had no dangling parts that might catch on anything. Soft shoes were worn which were more like socks (tabi) with the big toe divided from the rest of the toes and a reinforced sole; simple knotted-rope sandals (waraji) might be worn over these to provide a better grip for climbing.

So as not to impede his movements a ninja typically wore his sword not at the belt but diagonally across his back.

Ninja Weapons

The main weapon of a ninja was his sword or katana, perhaps a little shorter and less curved than those used by other warriors as a ninja might find himself in a restricted space like a narrow castle corridor. So as not to impede his movements a ninja typically wore his sword not at the belt but diagonally across his back. The handle guard (tsuba) was useful because if one leaned the sword against a wall it could be used as a step, and, by putting a foot through the customary cord of the scabbard, the sword could then be lifted up and not left behind.

Besides being adept at using the more usual weapons of Japanese warfare - the sword, spear, halberd and bow - ninjas had their own particular and highly specialised weapons. Throwing knives were a common weapon in medieval Japan and ranged from daggers to curved blades, but the most frequently associated with the ninja is the multibladed steel throwing star or shuriken. The typical shuriken was 20 cm in diameter and had at least four points which made them useful, light weapons which did not impede movement. There were even ninja schools which specialised in the use of throwing stars such as those in the regions of Sendai, Aizu, and Mito.

Ninjas were especially associated with the kusarigama or crescent-shaped sickle. The sickle blade was attached to a wooden pole which had a 2-3 metre (6.5-10 ft) long chain with a weight at the other end. The ninja version, the shinobigama, had a much shorter pole and a smaller blade than usual, which was kept in a scabbard when not in use. The ninja would hold the end of the chain and swing it so that he could damage the weapon of his opponent or knock it from his hands or trip him up with the chain.

Another specialised weapon was small metal pins (fumibari or fukumibari) which a ninja placed in their mouth and spat at the enemy, aiming for their eyes. Some of the more personalised weapons included metal knuckledusters (tekagi) and hand claws (hokode) which could be useful for climbing, too.

The bombs used by ninjas were of two main types - a paper- or wicker-covered package which could release smoke or poisonous gas when lit and a hard-cased bomb with an iron or ceramic cover. Both types used gunpowder and might include shrapnel; both were also small enough to be used as hand grenades. They were lit using cord fuses and a tinder box which was typically lacquered to make it waterproof.

When they did not have weapons, a ninja could resort to their formidable martial arts skills such as aikido which uses an opponent's momentum to throw and disable them by applying pressure at key weak points such as wrists and elbows. And they learnt kendo which uses a bamboo sword (although in ancient Japan it more often had a metal blade) so that even a wooden pole could become a deadly weapon in the skilled hands of a ninja.

Legacy

In the myths and legends which have been written about ninjas since the medieval period, these highly-trained professionals are often given extraordinary, even superhuman abilities. Some writers believed ninjas could fly or transform themselves into creatures like spiders and rats - significantly, those sorts of pests admired for their agility but not much-loved by anyone. They were credited with other incredible feats which ranged from removing the pillow from beneath a sleeping enemy or assassinating a warlord from below while he sat on his toilet. These stories are likely exaggerations, but it is true that many a careful warlord protected himself from any would-be assassin by providing their castle with anti-ninja devices like terribly creaking floorboards, confusing layouts, revolving walls, and hidden trapdoors.

Ninjas remain a popular character element in films, comic books, and computer games in Japan, and the martial art of ninjutsu is still practised today. There are, too, many museums devoted entirely to the history of ninjas, particularly, of course, in Japan, and chief amongst these being the castle of Iga-Ueno in Mie Prefecture, one of the ancestral homes of the ninja warriors.


The 7 Most Famous Ninjas of Feudal Japan

In feudal Japan, two types of warriors emerged: the samurai, nobles who ruled the country in the name of the Emperor and ninjas, often from the lower classes, who carried out espionage and assassination missions.

Because the ninja (or shinobi) was supposed to be a secretive, stealthy agent who fought only when absolutely necessary, their names and deeds have made much less of a mark on the historical record than those of the samurai. However, it's known that their largest clans were based in the Iga and Koga domains.


Ninja the brand vs. Ninja the person

Blevins has been a professional gamer since 2009, when he first competed in a "Halo 3" tournament and has quickly become one of the most highly-recognized gamers in the world. He started streaming in 2011, becoming highly-successful in shooters like "H1Z1" and "PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds." In late 2017, he started streaming Fortnite and his popularity took off at the same time as the game.

With Fortnite's success, Blevins, who has 16.7 million Twitch followers, became the poster child for gamers to non-obsessives. He's appeared on Ellen, danced in Times Square on television on New Year's Eve, and drove the Fortnite's Battle Bus with Will Smith during YouTube Rewind 2018. He has his own line of Adidas sneakers, underwear, and an "official gameplay headband." For awhile, he wasn't just another Twitch streamer — he was the face of the culture.

This consumer-friendly version of the Ninja brand was in direct contrast to how Blevins can sometimes act on stream. Clips of Ninja berating or taunting other players in a video game are not hard to find. In February 2017, while playing the shooter H1Z1 and taking down another player who says a few slurs at him, Blevins yells "what did you say to me you little sh--. How are you not in f--- school, do you kiss your mother with that mouth?" This clip has become one of his most infamous and wide-spread, becoming a popular meme in the gaming community.

In August 2018, Blevins told Polygon that he disliked streaming with women, saying "the only way to avoid [the rumors] is to not play with them at all." He's expressed that playing with a woman can spark rumors among his fans and it's not something he wants to see. This became a massive story and Blevins' reiterated his point in the Times interview, causing criticism to flow once again.

In April 2020 Blevins sparked controversy again when talking about players who mock him being on Mixer, saying "I can literally purchase the bank that your house is being loaned out to you and f--- foreclose."

While playing "Valorant" with his esports team of T1 players in July 2020 Blevins said, "you're seriously the stupidest person on the planet," as one of his teammates played a baby crying sound in the background. Sonii, The player deemed "stupid" was then subsequently removed from the team.


Ninja

Ninjas may seem mysterious, but the origin of their name is not. The word ninja derives from the Japanese characters "nin" and "ja." "Nin" initially meant "persevere," but over time it developed the extended meanings "conceal" and "move stealthily." In Japanese, "ja" is the combining form of sha, meaning "person." Ninjas originated in the mountains of Japan over 800 years ago as practitioners of ninjutsu, a martial art sometimes called "the art of stealth" or "the art of invisibility." They often served as military spies and were trained in disguise, concealment, geography, meteorology, medicine, and also other martial arts. Popular legends still associate them with espionage and assassinations, but modern ninjas are most likely to study ninjutsu to improve their physical fitness and self-defense skills.


During the Nanbokucho (1336-1392) and Onin Wars (1467-1477), ninja's played an active role, but they didn't hit their peak until the Sengoku Period (1467-1568).

In this era, they functioned as scouts, spies, and agitators for the different warring factions, and were particularly skilled at breaching castles. Once behind the walls, they distracted enemy soldiers while their &ldquoclients&rdquo charged in from the outside.


Ninja Clothing and Equipment

It tends to be thought that a ninja usually wore black clothes which helped him to hide in the dark, however, they wore dark blue, red, or brown clothes, which are more quiet than black at night. Ώ] In usual days, a ninja never wore showy dress and pretended to be another job, for example, a merchant, a traveling monk, a monkey showman and so on. If they had to fight on the battlefield, they put on a light armor, which protected them, but also allowed easy movement. On their feet they wore Japanese socks which separated the big toe (the socks were called tabi). The ninja outfit had many pockets for helpful gear. ΐ] Chain armor was normally beneath their cloak in-case danger came their way like an ambush. Α]

The diversity of ninja weapons and attributes is much wider than that of the samurai. The main weapon of ninja was the sword. Ninja swords were usually shorter than samurai katana and had a straight blade. When they climbed, the sword was put on the left shoulder, putting the handle of the sword was close to the left ear. Ninja also used different types of throwing knives, and a weapon for their fists called tagaki. They used metallic claws on their feet which helped them to climb and made their kicks more dangerous.

They are also very close to the other form of Japanese killer, a samurai.

As with Robin Hood or King Arthur, the ongoing presence of ninja in pop culture movies and manga often differs widely from their true origins. Β]


The Hitman's Wife's Bodyguard: How to Hoodwink Martial Arts Fight-Loving Audiences

Dr. Craig's Martial Arts Movie Lounge

When I watch action films that have martial arts in them, which most action films do these days, including Godzilla vs. King Kong (2021) that used martial arts inspired fights on the monster level, there are three things I always do: within five minutes, take note of my initial impression after the movie ends, create a short emotional expression and finally develop an overall view of the action. This sentence reflects the importance of chemistry in a film, three ions. And when it's comedy, my brain goes into overdrive.

Ryan Reynolds broke into Hollywood starring as the namby-pamby Michael Berg who created chaos for his friends in the 1990s cotton candy sitcom, Two Guys and a Girl (TGG). Twenty years later, the of Scottish ancestry Reynolds relives TGG as the derelict, father issue-loaded, bodyguard Michael Bryce in the rugged haggis bladder, whacked out, bullet-riddled, action comedy The Hitman's Wife's Bodyguard (HWB). This time around, the other guy and the girl he's creating chaos for are the homicidal hitman, Kincaid (Samuel L. Jackson), and his frightful, brick house, con-artist wife, Sonia (Salma Hayek), a mother wannabe who uses more fowl language than a coop full of deranged chickens.

As the frenzy builds and the exorbitant symbols of blood, rupture, squirt, artery, good guys, bad guys, explosions, chases and ultra-violent doom splatters the screen, this trio of friends and the triage of dead bodies left in their wake are trying to prevent the psycho Aristotle from destroying Europe with a computer virus. What are my three ions?

Since HWB opens in Greece, I'm reminded of Greek mythology's unsolved Cyclops question of is he winking or blinking. The film is a winking rampage of abject ardor loaded with flirtatious cacophony with the emotional premise chaotic insanity with psychotic profanity, which led me to conclude that HWB is good illustration of how to make a flashy martial arts film without martial arts.

To me, that sounds wackier than a British Knight testing cardboard armor in battle where Bryce is the kind of dude that would already bring a proverbial knife to a gunfight.

This film dynamically shows how to shoot a fight scene where even a simple punch, which I'll call the one-two since sometimes there's a block, that in the opening fight is a single punch Bryce throws when he and Sonia rescue Kincaid from the clutches of evildoers. The one-two is shot with crazy chaos cam moves from an extreme close up, with shaky camera tilts that weave around the whole punch in close to medium shots with loud sound effects. That's the fight, and it works great for the film.

Combining other one-two combative skill with chaos cam during a scene makes for an interesting group of what appears to be separate highly stylized fights. This holds true for most non-firearm exchanges in HWB. There are two main fight scenes of particular note.

While Bryce and Kincaid escape Aristotle's dungeon prison that is rife with underground corridors, the two find a mace, an ax and a sword. As the escape alarm blares and they're running through corridors using each weapon as one-two strike fight scenes, it seems the duels are a nod to Bruce Lee's pole, escrima and nunchaku fight against Han's guards near the underground radio headquarters in Enter the Dragon (1973).

There's six separate fights occurring at the same time within the tight set confines of a yacht that are presented by interacting and intercutting all six fights together. Perhaps because audiences will probably recognize the established one-two non-ballistic chaos cam process, viewers won't get lost as to what's going on during each fight.

Which comes to the most crucial component that sells the simplicity of the one-two fights. Director Patrick Hughes' brainy way of once again psychologically manipulating the audience. He did something similar with The Hitman's Bodyguard (2017).

Einstein once noted that everyone's a genius, but if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it'll believe it's stupid. When Sylvester Stallone made the cops and mobbers Cop Land (1997), he was determined to prove he could do award winning acting without being an action hero and climb that proverbial tree. After all, dolphins and whales are mammalian fish, so to speak. Each time he's getting beaten or roughed up by the baddies, you're waiting for Stallone to come to his senses and go Rambo/Rocky on them. It doesn't happen, he looked like a fish out of water and the film flopped.

Hong Kong filmmakers are genius when it comes to shooting fights using actors who don't know kung fu or how to fight, so they don't need to waste time and money training an actor for three months. It's about using actors whose characters are known to do good fights and knowing how to tap into the audiences' psychology of that expectation.

Reynolds' Bryce is a fish that swims and acts within the waters of his Deadpool character and that connection is made even stronger as Bryce also taunts with gaslighting insults, wisecrack threats and trash talking. Audiences are subconsciously aware of this and all we need to see is a hint of that fighting accessibility to be bamboozled into thinking that Bryce has also made the Deadpool connection on screen. At that point our minds translate that Bryce has become the mammal fish in the martial arts fight tree, even though it's not martial arts. It's the power of transference and Psych. 101.


5 Ishikawa Goemon


Although neither the Iga nor the Koga would accept him as one of them, no list of real-life ninjas would ever be complete without Ishikawa Goemon. Born in 1558, Ishikawa Goemon was an outlaw who stole from the rich and gave to the poor&mdashJapan&rsquos version of Robin Hood. Although there is no factual verification, according to legend, Goemon was originally a genin (ninja apprentice) of the Iga under Sandayu Mochizuki before becoming a nukenin (runaway ninja).

He became the leader of a group of bandits in Kansai and continuously robbed rich feudal lords, clerics, and merchants and would share that wealth with oppressed peasants. Supposedly he was caught after a failed assassination attempt on Toyotomi Hideyoshi and was publicly boiled alive in 1594. Legend tells how he held his young son over his head while being boiled, although there are conflicting accounts on whether his son survived or not.


Kids Web Japan

Ninja were professional spies during the age of the samurai . Their origins go back to the twelfth century, when the samurai class began to gain power. When the scale of fighting increased in the fourteenth century, it became necessary to conduct espionage activities against enemy forces, and ninja became even more active.

Ninja were called upon by their feudal lords to gather information, plunder the enemy's food and weapon supplies, and lead the way in nighttime attacks. They received specialized training and were given special duties. Ninja remained active until the beginning of the Edo period (1603-1867), when social order was restored by the government in Edo (now Tokyo).

It was from the latter half of the eighteenth century that ninja became popular subjects of books and dramas. In the twentieth century ninja have been depicted in films using special effects and comics as imaginary characters with superhuman powers.

Recently ninja have become popular in the United States and other countries through comics and films, such as Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Ninja are also popular as cartoon characters among Japanese children.


Kusarigama

The kusarigama was essentially a sickle(kama) with a metal weighted chain attached to it(kusari). This relatively simple looking weapon took real skill to master well, and even had it’s own specialised art known at kurarigamajutsu. The sickle was short enough to wield effectively with one hand and the other could be used to handle the chain. It was even common for some ninja to wield two kursarigama.

A single ninja Kusarigama, a sickle with a weighted metal chain attached.

The benefit of this weapon was that it afforded the user some security in edged weapon combat. The ninja could swing the chain at their foe, with the goal of wrapping up an arm, a wrist, or disabling a weapon like a sword or blade. Once their foe was somewhat entangled, the ninja could move forward to attack with the sickle.

The Bo was a long staff, typically just under 2 metres long and was typically made of a local hard wood. Like many other weapons, the ninja would wield the bo using bojutsu, the special art dedicated to this weapon.

The range of attack and defence moves were plentiful with the bo, and it actually shares many moves with other common staff weapons like the spear or the glaive.


1. Jinichi Kawakami & Masaaki Hatsumi

Lastly, there is only one thing left to wonder – are there ninjas still left? Well, the answer is “yes, sort of.” You won’t find any trying to assassinate Japanese lords or burn down castles anymore, but there are still one or two who not only teach the art of ninjutsu, but also claim lineage to the shinobi clans of old.

One of them is Jinichi Kawakami, identified by the Iga-Ryu Ninja Museum as the “last ninja.” He is the grandmaster or soke of the Ban Clan which traces its lineage to the Koga-ryu. He started training in ninjutsu when he was six years old and, when he turned 18, he inherited the ancient scrolls which contain the secrets and history of his clan.

Whether or not he is alone, however, is a bone of contention with Masaaki Hatsumi, an 88-year-old grandmaster who also claims leadership of another historical clan, the aforementioned Togakure-ryu.

Both men do agree on one point , though – neither one intends to name a successor. Kawakami feels that there is no more room for the ninja in the modern world, while Hatsumi believes that being the grandmaster of a clan is a destiny you’re born with, one which none of his students have.