Japanese Ninja: myth or reality?

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Take something Martial Arts and camouflage ninjas are the unrivaled fighters of many historical movies and novels.

The Japanese ninja (忍者) or shinobi He is a mercenary who practices ancient techniques of espionage, survival, and combat called ninjutsu.

But who are these idealized Japanese spies around the world? Did they really exist or are they the result of a myth? Let’s investigate these shadow warriors.

? The truth about Japanese ninjas

ninja premiereAshikaga Mitsuuji and a ninja. Rotogravure on wood. Kunisada, 1853. Source: wikipedia

When we talk about ninjas, reality often merges with fiction and we no longer know very well whether the latter really lived. Are they real mortals or just super-warriors from the authors’ imaginations? Especially since his image seems to have evolved over time and across continents.

☝️ Did ninjas exist?

As one might suspect, the hooded ninja, dressed in black, absolute master of combat and endowed with supernatural powers, is a legendary character. On the other hand, there were Japanese spies in the Middle Ages and even the Edo era. Originally, the japanese ninja they were simple peasant mercenaries who appeared in feudal Japan and were sent on an infiltration or espionage mission. If their main role was mostly to retrieve secret information and bring it back to their base as quickly as possible while avoiding any fights, they might as well be called upon to assassination or guerrilla missions.

The relatively new word ninja became popular in novels after World War II. Ninja is made up of the kanji of (忍) meaning “resistance” or “secret” and Y (忍) which refers to the person who practices. Ninja is therefore one who practices the art of being invisible. Also, the term ninjutsu 忍術 refers to the traditional techniques and arts used by ninjas to make themselves invisible.


Ninja techniques, Hokusai seal. Source: Wikipedia

Appearing in the late Heian period in the 12th century, ninjas proved particularly useful during the Sengoku period (15th and 16th centuries). They were called ” shinobi which can be translated as “those who hide”. Indeed, the wars between the lords of the provinces (daimio) were very common in this tumultuous time. Therefore, the practice of espionage and secret missions developed to better control the adversary. Due to their confidential activity, very little is known about these spy-warriors. If we often associate the Japanese ninja with the elite of the samurai, in reality no source goes in this direction. On the contrary, the samurai they were aristocrats while the shinobi were part of the lower classes. The latter did not respect Bushido (moral rules of Japanese warriors), but had their own code of conduct. Although they lived all over Japan, the ancient provinces of Iga and Koga, the cradle of ninjutsu, are particularly famous for their ninjas.

? The true role of ninjas

One can imagine that the shinobi it had an important role in the conflicts between the local lords. These low class warriors were recruited as mercenaries to do the “dirty work”. Most of the time, the ninjas just had to report information either steal blueprints unnoticed during intelligence missions. However, they could also be entrusted with secret operations of sabotage and even assassination. Thus, they could use poisons, explosives or weapons to achieve their goals. These shadow warriors often attacked at night and used to set fire to enemy camps to initiate attacking troops. Furthermore, these practices were not reserved for men. Indeed, some ninjas were women (kunoichi) who infiltrated the castles by posing as geisha or some kitchens.

His unorthodox methods were considered dishonorable and the shinobi They were frowned upon by the people. The samurai despised them, however, in some wars they worked together. The ninjas who secretly operate outside the battlefields while the honorable warriors he fought loyally.

⛓ Weapons and equipment: all the paraphernalia of the true ninja


True masters of the ambush, the ninjas surprised the enemy with their paraphernalia and their innovative tactics. In addition to their perfect mastery of martial arts, they had all a variety of weapons. Still for the sake of camouflage, most were seized farm tools.

  • shuriken : Small metal object with sharp edges, thrown by the ninja.
  • Hectic : Star-shaped shuriken.
  • Kusarigama : Scythe attached to a chain.
  • ninjato : Kind of short saber that is carried on the back. It is Leonardo’s favorite weapon in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
  • Kanigawa : Staple attached to a rope to climb walls.
  • Kunai : Multifunction pointed dagger with ring to hold a rope.
  • tekko caki : Metal claws used in close combat or for climbing.
  • Manriki-pirates : Chain connected to two weights at its ends to hit or strangle your opponent.
  • Bo : Large wooden stick. It is Donatello’s weapon in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
  • nunchucks : Two pieces of wood or metal joined by a chain. Michelangelo’s favorite weapon in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
  • Kakute : Kind of ring with sharp spikes usually used by female ninjas.
  • the blowpipe : A simple flute-shaped bamboo tube that allows you to launch a poison dart.
  • Metsubushi : Blinding powder.
  • you know them : Kind of trident. It is Raphael’s weapon in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
  • mizu jelly bean : Footwear to float in the water.
  • makibishi : Bolts thrown by the dozens to pierce the shoes of the pursuers.

☝️ Do ninjas still exist?

And here is the question that everyone asks… Are there still real ninjas today? Well, the answer is yes.” In the 17th century, the unification of Japan under the Tokugawa shogunate marked the end of the feudal wars and results in the disappearance of the ninjas. However, there are probably descendants of shinobi even if they remain low key. In Japan, a 60-year-old man named Jinichi Kawakami claims to be the best ninja.

? Jinichi Kawakami, a true Japanese ninja

Jinichi KawakamiJinichi Kawakami, June 29, 2012 at the Iga Ninja Museum, Japan. Credit: KAZUHIRO NOGI / AFP

Called the last ninja, Jinichi Kawakami is the heir to the traditional ninjutsu techniques of ancient Japan. The retired engineer would be the clan’s 21st chief Prohibition, a family of spies dating back more than 500 years. As a child, Jinichi Kawakami was trained in Ninja art by buddhist teacher Masazo Ishida. Since then, he has never stopped practicing ninjutsu, which he has been teaching for twenty years. At the same time, the director of the Iga-ryū ninja museum gives lectures and participates in research on shinobi story at the University Wed. Jinichi Kawakami did not wish to perpetuate his lineage, believing that these practices no longer made sense in our current society. If he will not train a successor, he still wishes to pass on the tradition by opening an online ninja school.

? How to train to become a ninja?

Do you secretly dream of becoming a ninja? Know that it is not impossible, however, one does not become a ninja that easily. For this, a hard training is necessary.

? Learn ninjutsu, the martial art of the ninja

In the past, Japanese ninjas underwent intensive training from childhood under the supervision of their clan. So they learned Survival techniquesof defendingof breathing Y stealth movement. During their training, they were taught martial arts, unarmed combat (taijutsu), the use of weapons as well as climbing and other sports practices.

To be a true shadow warrior, you will need to learn many techniques specific to the art of the ninja, such as ground anchor, the circulation of energies and all methods to defend yourself with your body (movement, positions, launch, hit, etc.). In addition, you will have to know how to handle weapons and practice to survive in various situations. So are you ready?

? Train in a ninja school

This is how this 45-year-old Japanese named mitsuashi genichi. The first Master of Ninja Studies graduate, this enthusiastic shinobi trained at Mie University. He learned history, martial arts and all the ninja techniques. He today he lives in Iga like the ninjas of feudal Japan. His goal: to pass on the tradition of ninjutsu.

? The myth of the ninja in popular culture

The image of the ninja, although leaning on historical realities has been greatly distorted: from scorned bandit, he rises to the rank of mysterious and invincible super warrior. Furthermore, he gives superhuman powers such as invisibility and walking on water.

The lawless mercenary, driven by profit and expert in combat, has become an essential character in japanese popular culture. Additionally, martial arts movies, novels, and video games have greatly contributed to this fanciful image of the ninja.

In 1962, the movie Secretaries of the Ninja » (shinobi no monkey) based on the novel of the same name tells the iga rebellion against the ruthless warlord Oda Nobunaga. In 1967, in the British film ” you only live twice James Bond meets ninjas sponsored by Japanese intelligence services. In the 1980s, the actor shō kosugi he was known for his dark roles. In this same period, the comic Ninja Turtles, and its four pizza-loving heroes are all the rage. later the naruto which chronicles the adventures of a young ninja apprentice makes sales explode. Finally, the shinobi movie adapted from a book written in 1958 is a real success in Japan. The latter describes the moving story of the Member of Iga et Koga under the rule of the shoguns.



Now that we have clarified the myth of the japanese ninja and discovered who really hides behind this black hood, know that it’s not too late to become the ninja master that sleeps in you.

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