Ninja: Japan's Elite Warriors

More by this author
Ninja were an elite warrior class important to Japan. If you want to learn about their tactics and techniques, then you’re in the right place. But if you’re expecting yelling and screaming, or all-out attacks, you should take a look at Vince’s report on samurai. That’s because ninja were SILENT warriors, trained in Ninjutsu, an anything-goes martial art.

-Part One: Ninja Philosophy-

If there’s one thing all Ninja had in common, it was their philosophy. It was derived from Sun Tzu’s book, The Art of War. For example, Sun Tzu said “All warfare is based on deception…Hold out baits to entice the enemy. Feign disorder and crush him” (Ch.1, sections 18 and 20). That may have led to a Ninja’s belief in spying and getting things done by any means necessary.

In a way, Ninjutsu was more organized than Bushido, the art of the Samurai. For example, Ninjutsu was based off a book. Can’t get much simpler than that. On the other hand, Bushido had a long, complicated code of honor. For example, a Samurai’s code of honor stated that he had to select a single opponent, declare his challenge, list his family pedigree, and then attack. In that amount of time, a skilled chunin (Journeyman Ninja) could defeat one, maybe two fully armed soldiers.
Still, being a Ninja did have downsides. For example, a Ninja couldn’t afford to wear Samurai armor; it was noisy and heavy. Ninja might have been masters of deception, but they weren’t invincible. Even a jonin (master Ninja) could get caught if he made the wrong move. Even so, an on-the-spot decision wouldn’t hurt in a pinch.
Since Ninja were anything-goes martial artists, they included women (female Ninja were called Kunoichi) and had freedom of religion, although at the time Shinto (In which Tusukyomi, Ameterisu, and Susano’o are three major deities) and Buddhism were popular religions. Ninja were also trained in a variety of tactics. Ninja usually used sneak attacks, but in the 1700’s, toward the end of Ninjutsu, some adapted to the use of large, noisy muskets. Some Ninja could easily handle these new weapons, but others stuck with their old weapons.

-End of Part One-




-Part Two: Ninja Techniques-

Ninja were trained to defend from attacks such as a punch, kick, grab, choke, or an attack from a weapon. Attacking was only a Ninja’s last resort, but they had devastating weapons such as shuriken (more commonly known as ninja stars), kunai (multi-purpose throwing knives), or a katana (ninja sword). Other, less common weapons included tetsu bishi (spikes that were meant to subdue an enemy), claw-like weapons for climbing or slashing, or an occasional longbow.
Lastly, some Ninja tools were used for evasion. Many Ninja could get out of a tough situation just by using a smoke bomb and a trusty fold-up ladder. So as you can see (hopefully, just be careful not to step on a smoke bomb), Ninja tools could really give you an edge in a fight.

As well as weapons and physical attacks, Ninja often used hand signs to amplify their power. In a certain meditative state, these hand signs could actually give a Ninja a helping hand in a future journey or conflict (just try not to break a finger). According to Dr. Haha Lung’s book, Mind Fist, such hand signs are listed below.

Sign name
Hardness* (1-5)
Rin (power fist)
Promotes strength

Zen (the great sun)
Promotes enlightenment
I dare you to find an easier one. You won’t.

Pyo (the great diamond)
Promotes focus

Sha (the pure wind)
Promotes healing

Jin (the hidden hand)
Promotes perception
Almost as easy as the second one.

Toh (the watercourse hand)
Promotes balance
Ironically, this one’s pretty hard (4-5).
Kai (the dragon’s hand)
Promotes adaptability

*This is only the author’s opinion, and was not derived from a source.

Other Ninja techniques included disguising themselves as mystics or shamans. A flute could be used as a blowgun or snorkel, and samurai guards never arrested mystics for fear of curses. Mystics also wore simple clothing, so a disguising as a shaman was very easy. Lastly, shamans and mystics were often traveling or meditating, making a mystic a versatile disguise.
Yet another menacing Ninja tactic was… um… using cat-clocks. In other words, Ninja could tell the time by looking into the eyes of a cat. For example, cat’s eyes would be fully dilated but barely open at 1:00 in the morning. On the other hand, in the same amount of light, cat’s eyes would stay the same, so cat-clocks were not always reliable. Still, watches weren’t invented until much later, so if a Ninja needed to tell the time, there you have it. Cat-clocks.
Well, amidst all of these techniques, there’s one that really stands out, and that’s how Ninja could see in the dark easily, but remain unseen. They stayed in the dark for up to forty minutes, letting their vision improve by up to 300,000 times! Then, at nightfall, they were fully prepared. Unfortunately for the Ninja, they couldn’t just let themselves be seen. They’d be sent to prison or even be executed. Luckily, Ninja were masters of disguise, so they had different colored outfits for different situations or areas. Black was the most common, but Ninja also wore orange or purple for sunset, gray for urban areas like villages, and blue for daytime missions. Green was a good color for riverside missions. THAT’S how complicated disguising yourself could be.

-End of Part Two-

-Part Three: Ninja Myths-

As you probably know, there are many myths based on Ninja. For example, many people thought Ninja could fly, and one actually tried to! Unluckily, he was arrested for, um, flying. Now people think ninja assassinated samurai, and they’re half right. Ninja sometimes did assassinate Samurai, but sometimes Ninja and Samurai were allied. Lastly, Ninja hand signs work, don’t get me wrong, but some people thought they could summon demons. NOT. EVEN. CLOSE.
Even more than myths, Ninja are often the subjects of cartoons, movies, and Manga or Anime (Japanese comics or animation). Ninja turtles is a Ninja cartoon, but it isn’t that realistic. Naruto is a pretty reliable Manga series, and there are a few anime about Ninja. Lastly, Ninja Assassin is a very popular movie on Ninja.
So if you like silent warriors that use the night to their advantage, you’ve read the right report. If you want to read more, take a look at my epic epilogue.

-The End…

…. Or is it?-

(Epic Epilogue)
Want to be a modern Ninja? Then read on. I’ll give you information on how to handle the basics. I’m afraid that’s all I can tell you or you’d probably kill yourself.
So… You’ll need adequate clothing. I mentioned colors on page two, but though modern clothes look different, you’ll still need clothes that meet the standards of strength, lightness, and durability.
For starters, you’ll need a good pair of water shoes. They’re light and durable, and you can still feel what you’re walking on. You can get them for about twenty dollars at Target (not that it matters). If you can’t find water shoes, use tennis shoes.
You’ll also need a good T-shirt. The brand doesn’t matter as long as it’s durable. For cold days, you should probably put on a dark-colored scarf with it. I also recommend arm or wristbands.

-What to Bring-
You should probably have a small-to-medium sized backpack. Bring a tarp and sleeping bag for long missions, but for shorter missions bring only what you need. You’ll need a clear water vial or thermos, as most poisons, or obviously silt, have colors. Lastly, you will need matches for wilderness missions. Boiling water for 30-60 minutes helps purify it.

For training, you could make paper shuriken to throw and set up targets such as paper swans to hit. Some actual Ninja swung bamboo rods on cord around them and tried to hit them before one touched them. Use your imagination!
? (the end)

Craven, Jerry, and Jean L. Dixon. Ninja. Vero Beach, FL: Rourke, 1994. Print.
Hayes, Stephen K. The Ninja and Their Secret Fighting Art. Rutland, Vt.: C.E. Tuttle, 1987. Print.

Lung, Haha. Mind Fist: the Asian Art of the Ninja Masters. N.p.: Citadel, 2008. Print.

Turnbull, Stephen R., and James Field. Real Ninja: over 20 True Stories of Japan's Secret Assassins. New York: Enchanted Lion, 2008. Print.

Join the Discussion

This article has 3 comments. Post your own now!

Christi said...
Jun. 14, 2010 at 10:49 am

Wow, interesting. I had no idea. Informative, and thorough, loved it!


meanteachinmachine said...
Jun. 11, 2010 at 3:51 pm


What a great article! Very well written.  I am so proud of you.  I'll be on the look out for anyone walking around in water shoes and a new T-shirt!

author replied...
Jun. 13, 2010 at 11:07 am
=P hehehehe
bRealTime banner ad on the left side
Site Feedback