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Things You May Wonder about the Ninja

How can you become a Ninja?
One can only become a ninja if he/she is born in a ninja family in a ninja clan. There were only two ninja clans in Japan (Iga and Koga) though hundreds of ninjas moved to Edo (Tokyo) during the Edo period. If you were born in the Ninja community, you could become a ninja. Ninja training requires a lot effort and commitment, that is why the culture of ninja gradually disappeared since there was not much need for professional ninjas in the Meiji period.

How did the Ninja train?
A lot of theories about the way ninjas trained remains a mystery because ninjas were mostly considered spies and they did not leave much written records behind them. The ninjutsu is a concept that was recently put together in 1900s.
And also in Japan there are dozens of RYU’s (an independent training way or training school) which differ from one another. The oldest ninja training Ryu is Tokagure Ryu though not all ninjas trained in the Tokagure Ryu way. Almost all ninjas trained on stealth walking, fast running and surviving in the wild, making poisons and explosives from the early childhood.

Were there female Ninja?
Yes! If you were born in the Ninja community, you can become a female ninja. Female ninjas knew how to use the ninja weapons but they also disguised as a beautiful girl to seduce the or pretended a sick girl in order to sneak into the Samurai mansion. The female ninjas were called kunaiichi, their sword was different from male ninjas’ sword (not straight and does not have a hand guard).

If a ninja and Samurai had a fight who would win?
If it is an individual fight, the samurai is likely to win though the ninja often used the weapon called kusari gama (sickle with chains) which can be quite effective to stop a samurai with two sharp blades.
1- Samurai were the only ones who carried 2 swords (katana and wakizashi). Ninja usually did not carry any swords. Some ninjas carried only 1 short sword.
2-Samurai were the only ones who traveled by a horse. A samurai with horse is more advantageous than a ninja without a horse.
3-Samurai are more experienced in combat fighting. Ninja specialized in espionage and covert fighting.
4- The samurai were not allowed to have any job except fighting (in the medieval times). Ninja were farmers who were hired as mercenaries.
If it is a small-group fight in a rugged terrain, the ninja may win. The ninja have better survival skills compared to the samurai. If it is a large-group fight, the samurai are likely win.
The ninja and the samurai usually collaborated. However, in certain occasions, they fought against each other. During the war of Tensho-Iga (1581), the ninja clans were devastated by the samurai (The forces of Oda Nobunaga). Even though the ninja were defeated, their guerrilla fighting skills impressed the samurai. The samurai started using the ninja spies after the 1580s.

Were there other warriors in feudal Japan besides the samurai and ninja?
Yes there were warrior monks who challenged the samurai clans for a long time mostly known as sohei. The most well known warrior monk group was Ikko Ikki who ruled some regions in the Northwest Japan in the 1500s. Ikko Ikkis belonged to the Jodo Shinshu Honganji sect of buddhism who used Ishiyama Honganji as their headquarter. They did not wear a helmet and mostly fought by pole arms. They caused heavy damages to the armies of Oda Nobunaga who eventually defeated them in 1580. Similar to Ikko Ikki there were also Yamabushi, the mountain hermits who practiced shuugendo (the esoteric religion that is the combination of Buddhism and shintoism). They were close to the Ikko Ikki and ninjas. Many researchers claim there are similarities between the tactics and lifestyles of yamabushi and the ninjas. Yamabushi disappeared from the history along with Ikko Ikki when Oda Nobunaga burned Ishiyama Honganji in 1580 that was located right where Osaka Castle is located today.

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Ninja

The role of Ninja in Feudal Japan

The ninjas were most active in the 1600s and 1700s being hired as spies and assassins for the daimyos. Although their image is usually associated by assassination, most of the time they were spies who could walk very silently, run very fast and make poisons and simple explosives. They usually worked as individuals or small groups.
In Japanese, ninjas are usually called “shinobi” which means spy. Spies always existed in the history of Japan. In the 12th century two clans in the central Japan area, Iga and Koga, were a little different from the other samurai clans. They did not have a typical samurai system and they had more communal lifestyles. Some families in Iga and Koga (e.g. The Mochizuki family) were in close contact with the Yamabushi (mountain hermits) who practiced shuugendo and some families in Iga and Koga practiced distinct martial arts, the most well known was Tokagure Ryu. These two societies emerged as the first ninja clans but they usually did not fight for or against the other samurai clans in battles except for defending their territories against Oda Nobunaga’s forces in 1579 and 1581. They won in 1579 but lost in 1581.

The History of Ninja

Japanese people believe that the ninja have some supernatural powers such as controlling others’ minds or walking on the river. This is perhaps because people in the Iga and Koga regions had long been practicing hypnosis and botanics that arrived from China in the 6th century when Buddhism was introduced to Japan.
• Prince Shotoku (574 ~ 622) reportedly had a famous spy named Otomono Sahito who is considered to be the fist ninja in history.
Despite the fact that the Iga and Koka towns are very close to Nara and Kyoto, the residents were not ruled by any samurai clan and commonly practiced shuugendo (esoteric Buddhism that promoted mountain training).
During the Nara period (710~794) the yamabushi (back-cap wearing mountain monks) emerged. They abstained from pleasurable things, maintained simple lives in the mountains and they were good fighters.
When the Tang Dynasty in China fell in 907, many monks and generals came to Japan and shared their knowledge of warfare and the eastern philosophy mostly around Central Japan including the towns of Iga and Koga.
In 1162, a samurai from the Genji clan moved to Iga after losing a battle against the Taira clan and renounced his samurai status. He changed his name to Daisuke Tokagure. He later met with Kain Doshi, a Chinese monk who was exiled from China to Iga. Together they developed Tokagure-ryu, the first organized practice of defense and stealth techniques. These techniques are also called ninpo-taijitsu.
Historical records indicate the existence of shinobi during the Muromachi Period. There are references to ninjas who secretly burned the Hachimanyama castle and infiltrated the Ototsu Castle during the Nanbukochu wars (1336~1392).
During the Sengoku period (1477~1615) everyone was aware of the guerrilla fighters in Iga and Koka who maintained a communal life different from other towns in feudal Japan. Oda Nobunaga’s son tried to invade the town of Iga in 1579 but got defeated badly.
In 1581, Oda Nobunaga attacked the town again with the army of 40,000 men, The ninja were vastly outnumbered and lost against the army. Oda Nobunaga reportedly killed most of the Ninja back then during the Tensha-Iga battle.
It is said that Hattori Hanzo from Iga, saved the life of Tokugawa Ieyasu in two occasions and was given the task of guarding the Shogunate in Tokyo. The district known as Hanzo-mon in Tokyo refers to the area where Hanzo’s ninja guards used to live.
During the Edo period (1603 ~ 1868) the need for ninja gradually decreased because of the peaceful political environment and the Kogi-Onmitsu, 3000 strong intelligence agents working for the shogunate.
Today there are dozens of Tokagure-ryu ninpo and ninjutsu dojos in and outside of Japan. The leader of Tokagure-ryu of Japan is Masaaki Hatsumi who is in his late 70s and the name of his organization is Bujinkan. Genbukan Dojo which also teaches ninpo techniques has been popular all around the world.

 Ninja facts

-Although some people consider ninjas as sneaky disloyal assassins, there are not many cases where ninjas were not loyal to their master while a number of times some samurai betrayed their masters (e.g. Akechi Mitsuhide).
-Since the ninja could not own horses and did not carry swords unlike the samurai, they had to run so fast in order to survive. Some ninjas could run more than 50km in one day. They trained up in the mountains to have larger lungs.
-Not being detected was one of the most important things for the ninja. That’s why they did not smoke and eat spicy stuff before the missions. They always took herbal showers in order to not to have any bad body odor that can alert the enemy.
-Ninjas mostly ate red beans and black rice believing that black food made them healthier. Ninjas ate lots of vegetables and carried cookies that are made of dried red bean paste.
-Most of what is known about ninja and ninjutsu are criticized for being fiction because the ninjas were spies who did not leave written records behind them. While there are hundreds of black and white photos of samurais from the 1800s, there is no verified ninja photo from the 1800s. What we know about the ninjas today are mostly the word of mouth.
-The concept of ninja became popular in the Western World when James Bond fought against a group of ninja in the 1967 movie titled you only live twice.
-Ninjas usually did not wear a black outfit in order to not stand out. Their preferred color was navy blue , the least visible color in the dark.
-Ninjas were mostly farmers, the influence of farming can be seen on most of their weapons, particularly the sickle and chain and the ninja knife kunai.
-Ninjas were expected to weigh less than 60 kgs, not because they may cause the roofs they are running on collapse but being lighter and nimble helped them spend less time looking for the food and run faster.
-The shuriken (ninja star) were rarely used as the ninja cannot carry many of them (heavy and makes noise) and it makes more sense to keep it and use it as a knife. Occasionally the ninja threw them in the opposing directions to distract the enemy.
-Many Japanese castles and temples have a kind of floor called nightingale floor, the ones that squeak one someone steps on. Those floors were made to hear the silent ninjas who raided castles in the middle of the night. No matter how light the intruder is , the nightingale floor makes the chirping sound (e.g. the floors at the Nijo Castle).
-For silent walking the ninja trained by walking on a large piece of rice paper and they were not sent on a mission if they could not walk without any sound.
-One of the less known weapons of ninja is the egg-shells. After making a hole underneath, they filled them with either gunpowder and ash or irritating chemicals.The ninja threw the chemical filled at their targets to either distract attention or gain time for escape.

Hiroo Onoda, the Last Ninja (1922 ~ 2014)

Onoda was trained in the Nagano Spy school which is considered as a modern day ninja school in Japan. He was dispatched to Lubang Island in the Philippines on December 26, 1944. The Island was taken by the US forces in August, 1945 and they announced the end of the war by leaving thousands of leaflets in the mountains for commandos to turn themselves in.
Onoda and his three friends thought the leaflets were a trick and did not surrender. Over the years, Onoda’s friends died and he managed to survive on the hills of the remote Pilipino Island. He was found by a Japanese traveler who told him the war was over. He did not believe him and refused to surrender. Finally the Japanese government found the man who was the commanding officer of Onoda. The officer, who back then was a bookseller in Tokyo, ordered him to surrender. Onoda returned his weapons including a samurai sword and a dagger that he should have used if he was to be captured. Being trained as an intelligence officer at a spy school and surviving 29 years in the wild perhaps gives him the title of the last ninja.

 

The Ninja Training Techniques

Nyudaki no-jutsu – Locating the weakest staff
Yogi Gakure – Using an object for distraction
Joei-on jutsu – The way of concealing the sounds
Bajutsu – Horsemanship
Sui-ren – Water skills
Bo-ryaku – Strategy. The ninja were trained to think strategically. Not only defeating one enemy but also how to overcome a group and sometimes how to defeat the enemy without fighting (acting politically etc.).
Choho – Espionage. The ninja studied the techniques of how to gain trust and how not to look or act suspicious.
Inton-jutsu – Escape techniques
Ten-mon – Meteorology
Chi-mon – Geography
Seizon-jutsu – Survival skills. Surving in the wild, hunting and gathering skills, tracking skills.
Spiritual training – Seishin teki kyoyo
Know yourself, your needs and desires
Know the nature, environment and the universe
Understand the importance of destiny
Be in harmony with the nature and society (harmony)
Understand others and have empathy (heart)
See and observe your environment (eye)
Love yourself and others (love)
Tai Jutsu – Combat Training. Fighting with no weapons
Daken-taijutsu – Punching, kicking, blocking
Jutai-jatsu – Close fighting, grappling, submission holds and escape holds
Taihen-jutsu – Silent movement, leaping, falling, rolling and tumbling
Kenjutsu – Swordmanship
Bojutsu– Staff fighting (Using Bo (Long stick))
Shurikenjutsu– Throwing blades- Throwing shuriken stars
Yarijutsu – Spear fighting. The ninja trained with the spears commonly used by the samurai as follow:
Te-yari – A short spear
Naga-yari – A long spear
Tetsu-yari – A metal spear
Sanbon-yari – A three bladed spear
Kama-yari – A spear with an additional half moon blade
Naginatajutsu (Spear with a katana ending/Polearm)
Kusarigamajutsu – Chain and sickle weapon
Kayakujutsu – Fire and explosives
Hensojutsu – Disguise Techniques . The ninja were trained to be able to impersonated at least 7 different characters as a monk, a samurai, a merchant, a craftsman, a farmer, a performer and an ordinary peasant. The ninja used to carry at least 2 costumes with them and the colors of their outfit was different inside and outside (so that they can reverse their clothes after the mission).
Shinobi-iri – Sneaking in and stealth techniques
Nyukyo no-jutsu – The correct timing
Monomi no-jutsu – Locating the weakest point

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The Ninja Memory

Ninjas were spies,they had to remember all the detailed information they acquired on a mission sometimes for weeks or months. So they developed a few techniques to easily remember things

  • Numbers associated with body parts: Each body part represent a number from 0 to 9 (1 eyes, 2 nose , 3 mouth, 4 throat, 5 elbow, 6 hair, …). This made it easier for ninja to remember any particular number (e.g. 431=throat-mouth-eyes)
  • Scars on the body: This sounds painful but the ninja used to lightly carve the important info on their skin by using sharp objects like shuriken.
  • Hidden paper notes in bamboo sandals: To look normal the ninja often wore sandals made out of bamboo leaves. After writing the notes on tiny pieces of paper they used to roll it tighty and attach it to their sandal as if its a bamboo straw.
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Ninjas and Meteorology

The ninja knew that successfully forecasting rain and the wind could give them strategic advantages against the enemy. They studied the weather and this was called “tenmon.” Ninjas believed that

  • If there are dew drops on spider nets, it would be a clear weather
  • If there is a large ring around the moon, it is likely to rain
  • If the mountains seem close, it is likely to rain
  • If the stars are twinkling, the next day will be rainy
  • If it is cloudy but not windy, it is not going to rain (fall season only)
  • Ninjas also often set a fire to ablaze the enemy territory. It is very important to know when there will be a smooth dry wind called the “foehn effect” to accelerate the fire. The ninjas used kites in the morning to predict the dry wind in the afternoon.
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Ninja Survival and Plants

  • Water Chestnuts

This fruit has many spikes covering the skin and the samurai used the spikes as maki-bishi (caltrop). The ninja used to carry a handful of makibishi and drop them when they are chased in a narrow path so that the pursuers can step on them and hurt themselves.

  • Bamboo Leaves

These leaves have an antibacterial effect so the ninja used them to preserve their food especially rice. After boiling the rice they wrapped them in these leaves.

  • Red Bean Paste

Since it is difficult to hunt animals in certain seasons and buddhists tend to refrain eating meat, the ninja had to find ways to keep them going. The beans have lots of protein and the ninja boiled them and made dried bean pastes that can be eaten on the go.

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Ninja Survival and Animals

  • Cats

The ninja knew that the pupils of cats’ eyes  shrink when there is light and expand when there is no light. They could easily tell the time by looking at the cats’ eyes. This was necessary if they had to hide indoors for a long time and if they needed to know exactly the middle of the day. The pupils of cats’ eyes shrink the most and become like a needle right around the noon.

  • Dogs

Ninjas often faced watch dogs when they were on a mission. To distract them, they used the same kind opposite sex dogs. If they had a time to prepare for the mission, then they repeatedly gave the the dogs treats and got them familiarized with the smell of the ninja.

  • Rabbits

The ninja released rabbits or similar small animals in front of the target building they are trying to sneak in which would confuse and distract the guards.

  • Crows

Ninja used the feather of the crow to attach the arrows of the blowgun (Fukiya-dutsu). The ninja also observed the crows in the river. A swimming crow means it will rain.

  • Blowfish

Ninja often used poison by putting it on the sharp edges of the shuriken (ninja stars). They often extracted the poison from blowfish, commonly found in Japan.

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Musashi Miyamoto’s Teachings (1584~1645)

  • Musashi did not have a master daimyo so he was a ronin.
  • He had more than 60 sword duels, the highest number recorded. He is said to have killed 17 people in his battles. His first battle was when he was 13.
  • He was very strong and a skilled carpenter, architect and an artist. He was about 180 cm while an avg. samurai was 150 cm tall.
  • He is famous for his technique of using two swords in his two hands as usually the katana is held with both hands.
  • He wrote a book to train the samurais and the swordsmen. The book is recommended to everyone including martial arts practitioners and business leaders.
  • Miyamoto emphasized that the techniques are less important than the overall goal. The same fighting principles apply to not only one-on-one conflicts but also army battles. The 5 rings represent the five episodes Musashi wrote: The book of earth: martial arts, leadership and the importance of training. The book of water: Swordmanship techniques. The book of fire: the importance of timing. The book of wind: the most common fighting errors. The book of void: strong mindset, mindfulness and zen.
  • In his book, he stated:
  1. “Do nothing that is of no use”
  2. “If you wish to control others you must first control yourself”
  3. “From one thing, know ten thousand things”
  4. “It is difficult to understand the universe if you only study one planet”
  5. “In battle, if you you make your opponent flinch, you have already won.”
  6. “Do not regret what you have done”
  7. “If you do not control the enemy, the enemy will control you”
  8. “Respect Buddha and the gods without counting on their help”
  9. “The important thing in strategy is not to suppress the enemy’s useful actions but allow his useless actions”
  10. “Perception is strong and sight weak. In strategy it is important to see distant things as if they were close and to take a distanced view of close things.”
  11. “Accept everything just the way it is.”
  12. “Never let yourself be saddened by a separation.”
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The 18 Major Ninja Training Techniques Spiritual training -Seishin teki kyoyo

  • Spiritual training -Seishin teki kyoyo
  1. Know yourself, your needs and desires
  2. Know the nature, environment and the universe
  3. Understand the importance of destiny
  4. Be in harmony with the nature and society (harmony)
  5. Understand others and have empathy (heart)
  6. See and observe your environment (eye)
  7. Love yourself and others (love)
  • Tai Jutsu – Combat Training. Fighting with no weapons
  • Daken-taijutsu – Punching, kicking, blocking
  • Jutai-jatsu – Close fighting, grappling, submission holds and escape holds
  • Taihen-jutsu – Silent movement, leaping, falling, rolling and tumbling
  • Kenjutsu – Swordmanship
  • Bojutsu- Staff fighting (Using Bo (Long stick))
  • Shurikenjutsu- Throwing blades- Throwing shuriken stars
  • Yarijutsu – Spear fighting. The ninja trained with the spears commonly used by the samurai as follow:
  1. Te-yari – A short spear
  2. Naga-yari – A long spear
  3. Tetsu-yari – A metal spear
  4. Sanbon-yari – A three bladed spear
  5. Kama-yari – A spear with an additional half moon blade
  • Naginatajutsu (Spear with a katana ending/Polearm)
  • Kusarigamajutsu – Chain and sickle weapon
  • Kayakujutsu – Fire and explosives
  • Hensojutsu – Disguise Techniques . The ninja were trained to be able to impersonated at least 7 different characters as a monk, a samurai, a merchant, a craftsmen, a farmer, a performer and an ordinary peasant. The ninja used to carry at least 2 costumes with them.
  • Shinobi-iri – Sneaking in and stealth techniques
  • Nyukyo no-jutsu – The correct timing
  • Monomi no-jutsu – Locating the weakest point
  • Nyudaki no-jutsu – Locating the weakest staff
  • Yogi Gakure – Using an object for distraction
  • Joei-on jutsu – The way of concealing the sounds
  • Bajutsu – Horsemanship
  • Sui-ren – Water skills
  • Bo-ryaku – Strategy. The ninja were trained to think strategically. Not only defeating one enemy but also how to overcome a group and sometimes how to defeat the enemy without fighting (acting politically etc.).
  • Choho – Espionage. The ninja studied the techniques of how to gain trust and how not to look or act suspicious.
  • Inton-jutsu – Escape techniques
  • Ten-mon – Meteorology
  • Chi-mon – Geography
  • Seizon-jutsu – Survival skills. Surving in the wild, hunting and gathering skills, tracking skills.
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The Stealth Techniques of the Ninja

  • Running: The ninja used to run leaning front. Starting with the right foot and right hand. The samurai were also trained to run the same way believing that the weight at the belly (sword etc.) naturally helped them get faster and also forced them to run faster and faster in order to keep their balance. The Ninja used to train up in the hills to get larger lungs and some ninja could run 200km a day.
  • Breathing: The ninja had to quietly wait hours and hours on the rooftop or a basement of a house they are trying to sneak in. They had to learn to hold their breath for a longer period of time and breath so silently. For silent breathing practice they used to put a feather on the tip of their nose and make sure it doesn’t fall off when they are breathing their mouth shot. The ninja also learned how to control their breathe by holding it first short durations (e.g. 15 seconds) and then gradually increasing that duration to 2-3 minutes).
  • The Ninja walk (shinobi aruki):
  1. Ninjas had to be very quiet when walking and often trained by walking on the sand and gravel to test their silent and trace-less walking skills. They had 3 main principles when walking
  2. Lower your body to the ground by bending your knees, if you stand tall you are more likely to be spotted.
  3. Start walking by simultaneously moving your right foot and right arm followed by the left foot and left arm.
  4. Step on the floor by the outer edges (sides) of your feet. This reduces the sound. Some major stealth walking techniques require you to step on your tiptoe first or your heel first but the ninja used to step on by the outer sides of their feet first.
  • The ninja always followed basic stealth techniques such as
  1. Distract the enemy (creating sounds in the opposite direction, modern day phone call)
  2. Reduce the light and visibility for the enemy (act at night without the moonlight, turn the lights off)
  3. Observe and take advantage of the weak points of the enemy (pretend seeking help)
  4. Conceal the sounds you are making (use animal companions or animal sounds)
  5. Conceal your traces (walk on a piece of cloth)
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The weapons of Ninja

  • Sickle and chain (kusarigama): Used to entangle the opponent’s sword or spear or body and then attacking with the sharp blade.
  • Grappling hook (kaginawa): Commonly used by not only ninja but also the samurai during the sieges of Japanese castles at night.
  • Throwing stars (shuriken): Usually used by placing on the ground or throwing in a different direction to distract the opponent. Sometimes poison is put on the edges of the shuriken.
  • Ninja Sword (a.k.a. Ninjato, Shinobikatana, Chokuto). Short, single edged straight sword. The scabbard tends to be long to hide things like poison and the hand grip is relatively larger. The cover can be used to breath under the water or listen to the people talking in the next room.