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Did ninjas ever actually exist?
February 1, 2008 1:11 PM   Subscribe

Are ninjas bullshit?

It seems like a simple question -- did ninjas exist? At all? But lots of Googling has served to just make me more confused (the wikipedia article seems totally unsourced). Certainly, the flipping-out superpowered ninja thing is a myth, and I feel pretty sure that all modern day "ninjutsu" is made up, but I just want to know. Is there a definative debunking? Or bunking?
posted by Bookhouse to Society & Culture (12 answers total) 31 users marked this as a favorite
 
There are some interesting tidbits of history (and myth) here.
posted by katillathehun at 1:15 PM on February 1, 2008


Modern ninjutsu is certainly bullshit. No modern teacher of ninjutsu can prove a direct lineage that leads back to an actual ninja, not even the most famous one, Masaaki Hatsumi. Despite this, there are plenty of people that desperately want to believe that the collection of crappily tested techniques they are learning is ninjutsu, however.

More on that here.

As for historical ninja, there were certainly assassins and spies in feudal Japan that were called ninjas, and there were plenty of myths about their powers. However, nothing can be proven about what they could actually do, what their techniques were, or how they were trained. It's possible that they could in fact have been highly trained master of espionage, but it's also possible that they were just guys with straight swords and cool masks.
posted by ignignokt at 1:23 PM on February 1, 2008


Ninjas probably didn't use straight swords or wear masks and black clothes. The all-black thing is a cultural trope, meant to recall the outfits stage hands would use in kabuki and other dramatic productions in order to appear invisible. The same way a puppeteer might.
posted by penduluum at 1:33 PM on February 1, 2008


Mythbusters addressed this topic.
posted by quadog at 1:43 PM on February 1, 2008


Here is some fabulous Youtube footage of purported ninja Scott Morris's epic fight with kickboxer Patrick Smith at UFC 2. Morris is, of course, in the black and, as Ben Perry said, "we don't know much about him, because he is a ninja."

I desperately want to believe that the crappily tested techniques that Mr. Morris learned were not, in fact, ninjutsu.
posted by 1 at 1:51 PM on February 1, 2008 [2 favorites]


[a few comments removed - this is really not the best place for your lolninjas links]
posted by jessamyn at 2:14 PM on February 1, 2008


The general consensus here is the correct one, but I just wanted to recommend these two posts over at the Froginawellplex as further reading.
posted by No-sword at 2:32 PM on February 1, 2008 [1 favorite]


The Mental Floss Blog has 4 Truths about Ninjas Chuck Norris Doesn't Want You to Know.
posted by Pangloss at 2:32 PM on February 1, 2008


No-sword, that's a fascinating site you linked to. Thanks.

I've no idea if anybody will benefit from this information, but it just so happens that today at the OAG Hall Gethe-Institut Tokyo in Aoyama itchome in Tokyo, two films produced in the early 1960s called A Band of Assassins (13:00) and Return of the Band of Assassins (15:15) will be screened with English language subtitles. It's a part of a series presented by the Japan Foundation to promote quality Asian films, this time featuring filmmaker Satsuo Yamamoto. I've seen the first one before because I'm a huge fan of the starring actor Raizo Ichikawa, and am considering going to see the second one today. So imagine my surpise in seeing this question on AskMe just now!

The thing about these two films is that they although they were produced as popular samurai flicks, they attempt to "realistically" depict the story of a ninja caught in the middle of an era when feudal lords were warring with each other for power. "Realistically" here doesn't necessarily mean "historically accurate," but it does attempt to depict the protagonist as a "real" person with conflicting emotions, as someone who finds himself faced with some choices that he's reluctant to make. So, no Naruto-esque shooting of balls of flame from one's body, no transforming into trees, no summoning of huge frogs from the nethers of the earth, etc. The Iga school of ninjutsu is depicted as basically just another clan aiming for control of the land, and the ninjutsu they teach in their lineage is more like a "characteristic style of fighting battles" rather than the "honing of super powers." Which I thought was interesting.
posted by misozaki at 6:08 PM on February 1, 2008


a few books I've enjoyed may be of interest, James Clavell's Shogun is based in historical fact and has some excellent, believable ninja action.
Ninja AD 1460-1650, by Stephen Turnbull is a fascinating, well-illustrated pop-study of the subject.
posted by dawson at 6:49 PM on February 1, 2008


I just clicked through katillathehun's link, and found that the author has a pretty thorough review of the film I mentioned. Sorry I didn't look before posting.
posted by misozaki at 8:33 PM on February 1, 2008


No-Sword needs no second. Just want to say I read ninja books in the 70's and have been looking forever for ninjas, they're not there. No body will jump out and try to kill you with throwing stars, if they do you'll probably rush them and punch them in the face and knock them out. Sneaky sword wielders who would sneak around and kill somebody without the movie style honorable call out and standoff... sure. Mystical super secret sect of invisible killers in the night... nope.
posted by zengargoyle at 10:01 PM on February 2, 2008


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