Dec 6, 2011

Weapons & Warriors: The Ninja, The Truth of the Shinobi

Art by Steven DeVon Jones
They were once known as the Shinobi, but just saying the word Ninja usually makes people conjure images of ghostlike black clothed figures sneaking around and killing people without ever being seen. Believe it or not, that is the Hollywood ninja. The true Ninja is shrouded in mystery plenty enough by their own myths and legends that Hollywood has virtually deluded their existence to being magicians with weapons and martial arts. In reality, most ninja started out as farmers and labors. They made their weapons from the tools they used and learned martial arts from monks that had been influenced by Chinese refuges from generations before.

The victim of a real ninja probably looked right into the Ninja’s eyes as he died. More often than not, the Ninja would be so inconspicuous that they could waltz right up to their target and kill him without anyone realizing what was happening until he had already slipped away. They didn’t wear black pajamas. They wore what everyone else in the room was wearing. Blending in like a covert spy. Essentially, that’s what a Ninja really was, a spy who had been trained in sabotage, espionage, and assassination as well as combat.

Samurai were usually the enemies of the Ninja, and Samurai despised the Ninja who did not honor the Bushido code. A Samurai had to face his enemy and state his intentions before fighting honorably, even on a battlefield. A Ninja had no such limitations and because of this, Samurai were often known to hire local Ninja to sow chaos with their enemies and gain the edge without actually getting their own hands dirty and hurting their own honor.

The first ninja school began after the 1100’s when a fallen Samurai who had renounced his belief in bushido and met a Chinese monk and they came up with a standard version for Ninjutsu where before it had been whatever the villagers could learn. His descendants built a school and eventually entire villages would exist where everyone was practiced in Ninjutsu. These villages made their money by not only growing crops and raising animals but by selling their services to Samurai and other nobles who needed something done quietly.

Ninja were the perfect mercenary for infiltrating enemy territory and exploiting their weaknesses. Often dressed like citizens, or even as the enemy guards, and collected all kinds of intelligence. They would report back to their employer anything that they were asked about. How much food, weapons, number of troops, where the leader was, what kind of defenses are in place and how to beat them, etc. Not only were they spies, but they made wonderful scouts.

Despite their lack of honor when it came to combat and tactics, Ninja were not completely without it. They were loyal to their Ninja family and they did not play sides against each other or switch sides. If their side was losing, once the payments stopped, they would depart. Slipping away through the crowds before anyone would even realize it. They were excellent businessmen in this sense. If you played those types of counter espionage games and were caught, it could ruin the reputation of the entire Ryu and then there would be no more business. Most often however, the side that paid the Ninja is the side that ended up victorious.

At one point in history, a Samurai actually declared war on the Ninja and attacked one of their more prominent villages. The Ninja were nearly wiped out. In the end though, he was eventually toppled in power by another Samurai, who had taken the surviving Ninja under his wing. Once again, Ninja were the deciding factor in victory.

Ninja were amazingly talented people shrouded in myths and legends, but history showed that having these types of individuals on your side helped more than hurt. This is why every major nation in the world today has a special agency that trains in espionage.

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.


  1. I thoroughly enjoyed this entire series. All the weapons, all the background and research you did, it was all fantastic. Definitely something I looked forward to reading every week.

  2. Thanks! I'm happy that people are enjoying these posts and I'll keep going as long as people are interested. Maybe even if their not. I just love doing these.