Nov 7, 2011

Weapons & Warriors: The Shuriken of the Ninja

Art by TL Jeffcoat
Ninja were known for carrying many small weapons. One of the most famous Ninja weapons in America is often inaccurately called a Chinese Star. I'm not sure where the misplaced title comes from but the Shuriken was primarily a Japanese weapon. What many people don’t realize is that although designed for throwing, there were many masters that learned a technique where they wielded them like knives.

There are literally dozens of designs to the Shuriken. They could be made from virtually anything that a ninja could get his hands on. Many Shuriken where made from coins, washers and other scraps of metal. They were not all just flat pieces of sharp metal. One design was called a Bo Shuriken and it was not round or flat at all. It was a long piece of metal resembling a smooth spike, usually somewhere around a half foot long. These were one the most deadly of the Shuriken as well. The small flat razor types you usually see in Hollywood often created more flesh wounds than fatalities. Without any real weight behind the projectile it would not always dig as deep and therefore not pierce vital organs unless it was a perfect throw and imbedded into the neck or face. The Bo Shuriken however, was long pointed and heavy enough that when it was thrown, it was very capable of achieving the depth of penetration in the chest needed to kill a man. Some Ninja even found ways to hide Bo Shuriken inside the handle of their katana and some Shuriken were designed to be thrown over forty feet accurately.

Shuriken were never really designed to be the primary weapon for killing, but were actually meant to be a complimentary weapon to the sword. Ninja could conceal them throughout their clothing with loops, pockets and belts designed to hook them in. This way they would not just fall out while the Ninja did his martial arts magic or was sneaking around a Samurai house. Although quite deadly when confronted, Ninja were farmers and smiths by day, and the last thing they ever wanted was to be caught by an armed Samurai without something to the balance the fight. Samurai spent their entire lives training in combat, they were privileged by society and nobility to master their arts and die for their nation. This life of training virtually eliminated any chance of a balanced fight using only a katana. Ninja could not afford to be so noble, nor had time to spend years training or their neglect of responsibility would cause their family to starve.

With a Shuriken in hand, a ninja could either slash in close or throw the metal piece. The art of using the Shuriken is known as Shurikenjutsu. This specialized training taught how to effectively use anything that could be thrown as a weapon and how to use that same item up close like a knife. Naturally the Shuriken either evolved from this style of martial arts or encouraged the style’s development. I have not found which came first through histories that I've found because it appears much of it was lost when Japan modernized their military and the art of Shurikenjutsu was almost forgotten completely.

I hope you enjoyed this edition of Weapons and Warriors, click here to view the entire catalog of weapons and cultures. Thank you, see you next week.

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