Little Known Facts About The Mysterious Ninja Revealed.
Let me tell you, it wasn't easy to put together this list. Ninjas have been hiding their secret techniques for hundreds of years, that's what makes them so feared and cool.
Here are 17 facts and legends about the mysterious shinobi. Enjoy! And make sure to check out the sources for more.
1. The eye of the tiger.
Ninjas had a knack for thinking outside the box, and one of the most important things they needed to keep track of during missions was time. In absence of a sundial or sandglass, a ninja trained in nekome-jutsu could actually tell the time by finding a common house-cat and looking into its eyes to tell the hour by how open the aperture was. A cats eyes are fully round in the twilight hours, and reduce in size to an oval and eventually a slit as the sun moves higher in the sky.
2. With all the force of a raging current.
While the records of ninjas during the warring states period are quite scant, by the time peace arrived in the 1600s ninjas started to record their skills and tools in manuals. There are an estimated 400-500 of these manuals across Japan, but the most famous is the ninja bible known as the Bansenshukai, written in 1676. The title means Ten Thousand Rivers Flow Into the Sea, which is a metaphor for the plethora of skills and knowledge contained in the book coming from many sources.
The Bansenshukai isnt just a book about the most efficient way to kill people either. The book contains two volumes on thought and philosophy, four volumes on leadership and two volumes on astrology. Ninja skills are divided into three volumes on Yo-nin open disguise, In-nin hidden infiltration and five volumes on tools and weapons.
3. The many ways of the sword.
While ninja and samurai are often made out to be mortal enemies in fiction, this is mostly due to their different approach to combat rather than a historical rivalry. Samurai werent just a type of warrior, but a martial social class that was a part of the nobility. They served their lord for status rather than money and were deeply ingrained in the political structure of Japan. Ninja by contrast didnt come from fixed social classes and while they were certainly philosophical, their work was treated more like a profession than a way of life by medieval Japanese society.
A samurais bushido training put more emphasis on face to face combat with heavy armour, favouring weapons like swords, spears and bows. Ninjustu required little to no armour and rarely required using weaponry as often as samurai, making them more like special forces than fighters. A good daimyo knew there was equal need for both kinds of warriors, so he made sure his samurai were well respected and his shinobi mercenaries were well paid.
4. On the outside of society.
A popular myth is that the ninja ranks were made of humble peasants. In truth a ninja could come from both samurai and commoner classes, but it was this lack of defined status that made preserving their order difficult during peacetime. (Story continues..)
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Lucky ninjas could join police forces like the rogue samurai-hunter doshin or even become samurai themselves. As time progressed the ninja became even lower in status, but remained in a higher position that most actual peasants.
5. Paint it blue.
The black colour of the stereotypical ninja clothing is also a matter of some contention. According to experts most ninja greatly favoured dark blue over black, though there are many reasons this might be the case. Using plants native to Japan, indigo dye was much cheaper and more available than black dye. It was also a more common colour among commoners and allowed the ninja to blend more easily into crowds. However some ninja manuals like the Yoshimori Hyakushu give the following advice; On a moonlit night, wearing white is unobtrusive. While on a moonless night you should be dressed in black.
Another popular misconception of the classic ninja outfit that should be understood in its historical context is the mask. In Edo-era Japan, masks were actually quite common and were used by people who didnt want to be identified when they visited illicit parts of the city. The association with ninja might also come from the masks of nusubito (bandits), who often crossed paths with shinobi and were sometimes known to have them in their ranks as well.
6. The Age of the Ninja.
The ninja craft thrived during Japans Sengoku period. The samurai lords, known as Daimyo, had broken the island of Japan into individual states that were constantly plotting and warring with each other. As such, espionage, infiltration and murder were highly in-demand skills for the medieval Japanese job market. After 1600, Japan became unified by the Tokugawa shogunate and the need for ninja declined with the relative peace.
7. Ninjas don't wish on stars, they throw them.
Shuriken have less historical connection to ninjas than movies and video games make it seem. Meaning sword hidden in users hand, it was a tactical throwing weapon that was also used by samurai to supplement their main bladed weapons. (Story continues..)
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Coming in many forms, including the classic four pointed star as well as a straight blade that resembled a dart. The idea was to maim or divert an enemy charging in on the offensive. Besides their use in battle, shuriken were easily concealed, which was likely where their association with ninjas comes from.
8. Silk hiding steel.
Female ninjas were known as kunoichi and trained mostly in lightweight, easily concealed weapons unavailable to their male counterparts. Most famous of these was the kanzashi, a sharpened ornamental hairpin that could be coated in poison and easily hidden in ones hair-do. Banded metal or bamboo claws known as neko-te were also popular.
9. The name of the shadow.
The origins of the word ninja come from medieval Chinese reading of the original Japanese ideogram meaning shinobi no mono. In Japanese, Shinobi can be interpreted as a verb meaning to hide/steal away and Mono is read as a person. Historically the word ninja was not used very often, but became popular due to being easier for Western speakers to pronounce than shinobi. Some other common names used for ninja in the past include monomi one who sees, nokizaru macaque on the roof, rappa ruffian, kusa grass and Iga-mono one from Iga.
10. Tools of the trade.
While the smoke bomb is easily the most recognizable explosive in the ninjas arsenal, most were trained in the usage of many incendiary weapons. Like a feudal MI6, ninja manuals contain all kinds of high tech blueprints for tools like land mines, hand grenades and waterproof torches. (Story continues...)
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Ninjas were also some of the first warriors in Japan to adopt firearms, first making them out of bamboo and later using Portuguese guns for purposes of distracting the enemy.
11. Honor for the clan.
While there were many groups of ninja throughout Japan, the most famous and sought after were the Koga and Iga clans. The Iga clan was descended from Buddhist monks and masterless samurai known as ronin who formed their own independent region after the desecration of their temples. They were masters of asymmetrical warfare and stealth. Frequently finding themselves in the employment of the imperial family.
Meanwhile the Koga clan rose to prominence after Mochizuki Saburo Kenie proved his valour in battle and awarded part of the Omi province. The Koga clan became experts in political maneuvering and espionage, forming false armies to throw off suspicion and playing on all sides as double or even triple agents.
12. You've gotta hand it to them.
Ninja hand gestures are actually an adoption of Buddhist meditation techniques known as kuji. The fast gestures served as a way to clear the mind and focus it towards a specific intention. Though it later became associated with the use of magic powers, the hand seals may have actually worked to give the ninja confidence and calm in a chaotic situation.
13. The ninja war.
Wary of their growing reputation and connection to the imperial family, legendary warlord Oda Nobunaga sent ten-thousand trained samurai led by his son Oda Nobukatsu to attack the Iga clan in 1579. With their intimate knowledge of their surroundings and fortified defences, the Iga ninja handily defeated Nobukatsu while suffering minimal casualties of their own. (Story continues...)
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Enraged that his son was defeated by a group of lowly ninja, Nobunaga sent a second force of 60,000 samurai in 1581 for a battle that became known as the Tenshou Iga Rebellion. While they fought bravely, the Iga ninja were pushed back to only two castles and both sides were forced to negotiate a ceasefire due to heavy casualties.
14. The last ninja.
Although the claim is disputed, the last living ninja to have learned the traditional arts directly is a man named Jinichi Kawakami. Becoming the 21st head of the Ban clan at the age of nineteen, Kawakami was trained to hear a pin drop on a wooden floor and meditate on a candle alongside training in martial arts and spycraft. Also an engineer by trade, Kawakami runs the Iga-ryu Ninja Museum and helps to study the history of shinobi at Mie University.
He has decided to let the lineage end with him and refuses to take on an apprentice, citing the fact that ninjas simply dont fit with the modern day.
15. From where you least suspect them.
The iconic black garb of the ninja is actually a fictional invention of Bunraku puppet theatre. Puppeteers would dress in all black as not to distract the audience from the show. However, in an interesting bit of meta-theatre these puppeteers would sometimes intervene in the action to represent an invisible ninja assassin.
16. The most secret of service.
The most famous ninja of the Iga clan was the Devil of Iga Hattori Hanzo. During the warring states period, Hanzo offered a secret passage through Iga and Koga to future Shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu after the assassination of Oda Nobunaga. In gratitude, Ieyasu made two hundred Iga warriors into the elite guard for his capital in Edo (now modern Tokyo). (Story continues...)
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The Iga ninjas were responsible for spying and protecting key entrances to the Edo castle.
17. The shinobi curriculum.
Modern ninjutsu is often thought of as a form of hand to hand combat, but this is mostly a modern invention exported to the West due to interest in martial arts. Instead of simply focusing on combat, most forms of ninjutsu focused on developing the wide variety of skills shinobi would need to complete their missions. The Togakure ryu, written almost eight hundred years ago, trains its adherents in eighteen psychological and practical skills in particular;
Seishin Teki Kyoyo (Spiritual Refinement): The goal was to give the ninja a deep and accurate understanding of himself, his strengths and weakness and how his presence would affect the battle. Personality traits could mean the difference between life or death in how a compromising situation was handled. So the ninja would be required to understand clearly his intentions, commitments and personal motivations through philosophy and self development. A warrior-philosopher of the Tokagure school would therefore be motivated by love or reverence rather than a desire to commit violence or attain personal wealth.
Tai Jutsu (Unarmed Combat): Skills of striking and blocking, especially grappling, choking and escaping the grabs of others. Tai Jutsu also included non-combat exercises like silent movement, rolling, leaping and tumbling.
Ninja Ken (Sword Combat): The ninjas primary fighting tool was a short single edged blade called the hada. This training was divided into two distinct skills of equal importance. The ability to fast draw, revealing the weapon and striking simultaneously as well as fencing with other armed attackers.
Bo Jutsu (Staff Combat): Fighting with the traditional bo long staff and hand half staff, which were about six and three feet long respectively. This training could be especially useful as staves were easy to conceal weapons inside of and could be carried in public without much trouble.
Shuriken Jutsu (Throwing Blade Combat): Not only shuriken, but darts and spikes constructed for throwing as well. The shuriken used by the Togakure was a special four pointed star, thrown with a flat spinning motion that hit the target with a sawing effect.
Yari Jutsu and Naginata Jutsu (Spear and Halberd Combat): Tokagure ninja were taught to use standard Japanese spears for piercing attacks against heavily armed opponents, but also used a type of spear called a kami-yari. This sickle-lance used a hook at the base of the spear to snag enemies or their weapons with ease. The naginata and larger bisen-to on the other hand were more like spears with a short blade attached for slashing rather than stabbing. This made it more proficient at knocking down attackers and grounding mounted samurai.
Kusari Gama (Chain and Sickle Combat): A chain roughly six to nine feet in length and weighted at one end was attached to the handle of a traditional grain cutting tool. The combination of these two devices made for an extremely powerful defensive weapon. The chain would be used to block or ensnare the enemies weapon, and follow up with a swift blow from the blade.
Kayaku Jutsu (Fire and Explosives): Ninjas were experts in timing, placing and rigging the finicky explosives of the time. While these skills mostly centred around demolition and distraction, black powder and the strategic application of firearms were later included.
Henso Jutsu (Disguise and Impersonation): For purposes of infiltration and hiding, ninjas of the Tokagure school were experts in assuming false identities. This didnt just mean putting on a costume, but adopting the mannerisms, knowledge and even personality of the character they were impersonating. Popular disguises included monks, craftsmen or wandering entertainers.
Shinobi Iri (Stealth and Entering Techniques): Silently moving towards and gaining access to the inaccessible areas they needed to were pivotal to the ninjas purpose. Special walking and running techniques were developed for long and short distances, as well as passing over floors quietly and staying in the shadows. All while having a keen awareness of ones surroundings and potential entrances/exits.
Ba Jutsu (Horsemanship): Riding skills were essential for all elite military forces, and was imperative that ninjas knew how to fight from horseback.
Sui Rea (Water Training): Silent swimming, emerging from and disappearing from bodies of water without a sound. Togakure ninjas also learned the use of special boats and underwater combat techniques.
Bo Ryaku (Strategy): Along with traditional military tactics of battle and deception, ninja also learned how to use propaganda, political plots and current events against their enemy. Sometimes the best battle is one you dont even have to fight, and by influencing or employing outside factors a ninja could bend the situation to their will without drawing attention to themselves.
Cho Ho (Espionage): True believers that knowledge was power, Togakure ninja were taught how to locate and recruit potential spies within the enemy ranks.
Inton Jutsu (Escape and Concealment): The secret to the ninjas seemingly supernatural ability to disappear is due to the intense awareness of how they can use their surroundings for an escape. The goton-po elements of escape are based on familiarizing the ninja with creative uses of the five elements (earth, water, fire, metal and wood) to facilitate their escape.
Ten-Mon (Meteorology): Knowing the conditions of an upcoming battle is key to success. Ninja were trained to observe subtle signals in the environment so they could better predict and take advantage of the weather.
Chi-Mon (Geography): Just like the weather, knowing your terrain could mean the difference between a swift escape and getting tangled in the woods.
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