The Ninja

Historically, ninja were the spies, assassins, and special agents of the warrior clans - and later the Shogunate - of Japan. They were famous for their pragmatism, using whatever methods could most efficiently accomplish the task at hand. Given the nature of bushido (the Japanese warrior code) and its embrace of victory at all costs, this made them quite ruthless. They were noted for their disregard of social norms, disguising themselves as monks, the opposite sex, low-caste Japanese, and so on. They studied Ninjutsu, the art of stealth and disguise. Included in this was the martial art Taijutsu (pp. 202-203): an unarmed combat style used to disable opponents.

The ninja probably originated with the use of specialist spying troops (called shinobi) by an empress in 6th-century Japan. Several clans of ninja existed, especially in the Iga-Ueno region. A modern "Ninja Festival" is held in this area - although it focuses on ninja more as depicted in folklore than as they actually were.

Like China's Shaolin monks, the ninja are awash in myth and legend. Almost every improbable martial-arts feat appears in ninja lore! They're famous as masters of disguise, weapon use, unarmed combat, acting, and technology. Modern authors have expanded on the legend; many so-called ninja tools, garments, and gadgets are actually 20th-century inventions. Notable among these is the ninja sword, or ninja-to (p. 221). The same authors have also wrongly designated weapons often used by samurai - such as the shuriken and kusarigama - "ninja weapons," sometimes going so far as to invent myths about samurai rejecting such armaments as dishonorable.

The ubiquitous "ninja uniform" is another modern-day creation. It looks as if it was inspired by the clothing that puppeteers and stagehands wore to blend into the darkness of a theatre. Historical ninja almost certainly disguised themselves to fit in wherever they might be. They might not have donned any disguise! Many were samurai in public and agents of the Emperor in private, trained to spy on subjects and root out conspiracy, or dispatched to solve special problems.

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