The Mysteries of the Ninja
Nature of the Ninja
Ninjas are mysterious. They appear in movies, videogames and comic books as superhuman killing machines. They are also portrayed as having the aid of magic, mind control, invisibility, and super strength and agility. In these portrayals, ninjas frequently fight other ninjas, they can disappear without a trace, and leap tall buildings in a single bound. These perceptions about ninjas, their origins, and art are completely fictitious. This is an excellent example if the art of ninja, a psychological trick which, though the ninja died out in the nineteenth century, is still at work. The ninja arts were secret, and those who practiced them were devoted to keeping it that way, and this included the use of a vital psychological attack: misinformation. Ninjas used this to their advantage centuries ago, and apparently, they still do. Ninja are not superhuman. They cannot leap tall buildings in a single bound, they cannot disappear without a trace, and they do not fight other ninjas. Even in ancient Japan, many people thought they had the strength of ten men, the ability to transform into animals, the ability to turn invisible at will, walk on water, and fly. While none of these attributes are realistic or even possible, ninjas could create the illusion. Ninjas were not so much soldiers as they were spies. Most people find this reality of ninjutsu to be boring. It's not what people want to see, it doesn't sell movies, videogames or comic books, and what was once a reality is now stretched into the realm of fiction. Even ancient Japanese stories exaggerated the abilities of the ninja. The result is widespread misinformation. Fear not, as ninjas might turn out to be cooler in reality than they are in movies.
The ninja arts are secret, and those who practiced them were devoted to keeping it that way. Ninjas themselves kept few records of their existence. The actual fighting art of the ninja was scantily documented, but it was written down in a way so as to confuse anyone who did not write it. If someone were to steal a scroll of ninja techniques, he would have been able to learn the art, and would have been able to defend against it. For this reason, the art could not be put faithfully to paper, and ninjas could not keep records of their existence. As a result, there is little factual information on ninjas and their practices. Most of what is known has been passed down from grandmaster to grandmaster, even to this day, or has been taken from other records of the time period. Needless to say, those who know the art now do not use it in their everyday lives, and they do not use it for purposes of espionage. There are many different stories of how the ninja arts were created. Most of these stories stick to the story that it was pioneered and developed by monks for self-defense as early as 522 a.d. The monks supposedly gathered and shared information about the ruling classes of Japan. At this stage, ninjutsu was still developing. Around 645 a.d., the monks perfected their fighting skills, and ninjutsu had become a system of knowledge in the traditional sense, a true martial art. But throughout its development, it was never really a mainstream martial art. While other martial arts emphasized open combat using traditional movement and weaponry, ninjutsu was a set of skills based around stealth. It was an alternative set of tactics designed for a select few. One staple of ninjutsu, which I'll discuss in depth later, was the diversity of their weaponry. While traditional weapons were naturally very effective, many ninja weapons were far from traditional, ranging from simple to grandiose. This is thought to be due to the pioneering monks improvising, turning whatever they had into whatever they could use to defend themselves if they had to. They lived in secrecy, had little money, and therefore, few resources. After about 800 a.d., Japan's central...
Bibliography: Hatsumi, M. & Hayes, S. (1987). Ninja Secrets from the Grandmaster. NTC Publishing
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