So what’s the straight dope on ninjas?

I know the black pajama look was just a theatrical convention. I know from a recent thread that throwing stars were a means of distraction and not a lethal weapon in and of themselves.

What were the real ninjas like? How did they evolve into the pop-culture epitomes of cool that they are today?

Like anyone else - they were spies, so they could be monks, merchants, whatever.

Well, ninja as we know them in popular terms only really date back to the Edo Period in Japan. Even as a real military force, they only date to the 1500s.

As for the West, I think their real prescence in pop culture dates back to the 60s, when they featured in a James Bond movie and a popular TV series, but the full flower really dates to the 80s, with Eric von Lustbader’s *Ninja *books, the *American **Ninja *movie series and *The **Master *TV series. Oh, and G.I. Joe and the TMNT, of course. Also the ninjas in Shogun. I don’t know if there was a chain of inspiration or just a coincidental popularity there, though.

The traditional term for ninja are shinobi, which means “to steal away”. Although the ninja are portrayed in Western and modern Japanese literature as secretive assassins, the shinobi were actually more like mercenaries akin to the Hessians, whose livelihoods were devoted to fighting in service–sometimes covertly–to daimyos who either couldn’t afford to maintain an army of samurai or who wanted to conduct “deniable” operations against other daimyos. Part of the service provided by shinobi was espionage, but more in the traditional sense (i.e. what would be termed today as reconnaissance) rather than spying. The weapons that they employed were often adapted from farming and carpentry implements for practical reasons (ease of acquisition, ability to conceal them) but are not the exotic, bizarre, and largely useless weapons that are associated with ninja today.


Real Ninjas were just assassins, like assassins in any culture.

Only the use of Oriental Martial Arts and Weapons made them exotic to foreign cultures like the US and post WWII Japan. (I put this as a foriegn culture compared to pre-westernized Japan)

Ninjitsu proponents will try to tell you that Ninjas have a long history in Japan…but what we would consider a ninja only existed for a short period - the age when the Samurai were being disempowered. Then you have highly trained combatants available to nefarious purposes. This was a notably brief period of time, possibly as long as 5-10 years. I doubt the word Ninja (or Ninjitsu) was ever used in that time.

Prior to that time, there were assassins, but the majority of these were no more sophisticated than the average mob hit man.

Proponents of Ninjitsu will cite records such as Togakure-ryū, but these records are mostly considered to be manufactured history.

Most of what you consider a Ninja is purely hollywood. Oriental Assassins were only considered mystical because of their exotic foreign nature.

For a real look at a mysterious cult of assassins, do some research on the Hashasheen of the arab world.

In addition to the Hashasheen, you might also research Thuggee cult of India, who supposedly preyed on caravans.

Some of the most interesting and most amazing stories about the ninja are actually true ones, though:they did develop odd tricks to confuse people, gain access to places, and leave suddenly. Since the places they were paid to enter often included fortresses and palaces, this was rather impresive.

More or less anyway. Japanese fortifications were not exactly what you’d call “advanced”. They had some well-developed sites, but n equal number where you can handily walk in or out and many more where you could handily dig through the walls in thirty minutes. guards simply tended not to expect that kind of secret entry over a large-scale assault (which the site might be quite defensible against).

Anyway, the Ninja originated in the Iga and Koga provinces, both mountainous and semi-secluded. The techniques they used spread elsewhere to some degree, but were never terribly common.

Shinobu means “to sneak”, more accurately. They’re sneakers.

Like Chuck Taylors?

I once saw a movie where the ninjas were dressed in camoflauge, and could BURROW through ground, leaving a lump-trail, like Bugs Bunny did. These were experts, and they moved as fast as those things on Tremors.

But this was a *Chinese Kung-Fu *movie, (I never knew the title, sorry).
So If Samuri, and Ninja are Japanese, what are they in Chinese? Was there such thing as Chinese Samuri? or were they all “Shaolin-my-name-is-Kane,-I’ll-hit-you-when-I’m-good-and-ready” Types?

They’re a character in Star Wars?

I kid, I kid, but that would be an awesome crossover movie. Star Ninjas. Vesus star pirates, one assumes.

Chinese Super Ninjas?

That movie is pure genius.

The way I’ve heard it about the Thuggee was that the devotees would live life in a state of perfect dissimulation, so they could be a Brahmin, or Merchant. And when called upon to act they would do so regardless of the cost. The karmic nature of Hindu belief might possibly enable this. It’s a lot easier to sacrifice yourself and your entire family if you truly believe those personalities to be illusions.

If they preyed on caravans that makes them a whole lot less interesting, lots of bandits preyed on caravans.

The history of most secret societies, is of course pretty obscure. Most of them are not like Freemasons who like to publish book after book on the subject.

Anyone who claims to speak authoritatively on what the Hashishin, Ninjas, or Thuggee did is either an idiot or is bullshitting you. That’s kind of what makes them so cool, that the real answer is lost in time.

They did pray on caravans. That was primarily what they did. The Thugee weren’t primarily religious. They were bandits.