Ninja (shinobi)-history of ninja warriors. Ultimate ninja guide. Ninja training and abilities, weapons of the ninja, shinobi clans. Japanese warriors, assassins and spies.


Out of all the warrior clans that operated during the medieval ages, few have managed to capture the imagination of the public as the Shinobi. Also known as the Ninja, these warriors have become a part of folklore. Today, they are believed to have had legendary and unbelievable skills. This has come about due to the incredible secrecy with which they carried out their tasks which included infiltration, assassination and espionage. Their mysterious aura has resulted in the mixing of legends and facts making it hard to know the truth.


Who Were the Ninja?

First it is important to know that the ninja is a comparatively recent word. The warriors were originally known as shinobi.
In the feudal age of Japan, there were two warrior groups. One was the aristocratic samurai and the other was the shinobi. The formation of the shinobi can be said to have come about as an opposing force to the samurai. While the samurai were nobles and members of the upper class, the shinobi were from the lower class.

Unlike the samurai, the shinobi preferred stealth over honor and guerilla tactics as opposed to conventional warfare. The shinobi did not serve any master and, instead, offered their services to those who could afford them. They were the feudal equivalent of the modern mercenary. At the same time, they were covert agents like modern spies.

The History of the Ninja

During their time, the ninja were never given importance by the historians or literary artists due to their secrecy and unconventional means of combat. Instead, the samurai were popular due to their Bushido code. The ninja also preferred this situation as they were trained to remain secretive about their existence and actions. As a result, there is a dearth of reliable information about their history.

The origins of the shinobi have been attributed retrospectively to a semi-legendary prince Yamato Takeru of the 4th century. However, as the accounts take place in early Japanese history, it is unlikely that the prince was the actual origin. The first actual use of a spy in Japanese history to be recorded took place in the 6th century.

However, it wasn’t until the 15th century that ninjas began to be trained specifically. It was also around this time that the world shinobi began to be used to define a group of secret agents. The word ninja came much later. In the 15th century, the shinobi were used as spies, arsonists and raiders. In some cases, they were even employed as terrorists. The shinobi families began to be organized into larger guilds, each of which had its own territory.  

This led to the rise of the famed Iga and Kōga clans. These clans lived in the province of Iga and Kōka where shinobi training began to be provided in earnest. The remoteness of these regions only helped the secrecy of the clans and their development. The shinobi produced by these clans were utter professionals unlike other shinobi who were mainly made up of commoners or hired samurai. The shinobi from the Iga and Kōga clans were hired actively till their villages were destroyed by Oda Nobunaga.

However, many shinobi remained. Some of them even served as bodyguards of later shoguns such as Tokugawa Ieyasu. Ninjas also took part in many battles in the coming years. Their last known battle was the Shimabara Rebellion in the years 1637 to 1638 after which there has not been any mention of their participation in wars.

Ninjutsu: The Training

Ninjutsu is the name given to the tactics and strategy practiced by the shinobi. Like some other martial arts, ninjutsu has several styles and forms. Many of them have been lost over the ages. The oldest known form of ninjutsu that still exists is Togakure-ryū.

Ninjutsu is uniquely suited to the needs of the shinobi who had to perform roles such as assassins, spies and scouts. As a result, it was developed as a combination of basic survivalist techniques that were required in the war-prone feudal age of Japan. This art was used by the shinobi to ensure their survival in a time that was filled with political turmoil and violence.

Ninjutsu taught the shinobi the information gathering methods. They learnt the techniques of avoidance, misdirection and non-detection. The shinobi trained in abilities such as disguise, concealment, archery, escape, free running and even medicine. These skills were essential to survive and for the shinobi to carry out their trade. Over the years, these skills began to be collected under one umbrella and become ninjutsu.

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Ninja Abilities

According to the Bujikan, the international martial arts organization that oversees ninjutsu, there are 18 disciplines in which a shinobi must be proficient. These skills were first taught in Togakure-ryū but were later incorporated into all ninjutsu schools. These 18 abilities are given below.

- Bajutsu or horsemanship.
- Bōjutsu or techniques of the stick and staff.
- Bōryaku or tactics.
- Chi-mon or geography.
- Chōhō or espionage.
- Hensōjutsu or disguise and impersonation.
- Intonjutsu or escaping and concealment.
- Kayakujutsu or pyrotechnics.
- Kenjutsu or sword techniques.
- Kusarigamajutsu or techniques of the kusarigama, the chain-sickle weapon.
- Naginatajutsu or techniques of the naginata, the polearm weapon.
- Seishinteki kyōyō or spiritual refinement.
- Shinobi-iri or stealth and infiltration.
- Shurikenjutsu or throwing weapons techniques.
- Sōjutsu or spear techniques.
- Sui-ren or water training.
- Taijutsu or unarmed combat.
- Tenmon or meteorology.

Ninjas Weapons

The shinobi were trained in a variety of weapons and combat styles. Contrary to popular belief, ninjas used different weapons most of which are not exclusive to them. Their weapons ranged from swords to projectiles to fist weapons. Some of the more common ones are given below.

Kakute are rings that look like wedding bands but have a concealed spine which was often tipped with poison. Shuriken are small weapons which could be thrown or used for stabbing and slashing. Examples of shuriken include darts and throwing stars. Kunai is a dagger but was used for multiple purposes. Bows and arrows were common and the shinobi were also known to use fire arrows on occasion. Fukiya is a Japanese blowgun which was used by the Shinobi to fire poison darts.

While shinobi could wield the katana, they rarely did so. Instead, they were mainly used by the ninja who were disguised as samurai. Wakizashi, a short sword, was used as well. Shinobi were also known for using Tanto, a dagger. The shinobi may or may not have used Ninjatō as conclusive evidence cannot be found for each. Bokken is the wooden version of a katana and seemed to have been popular among the ninjas.

Different types of grenades and poison were also used by the ninjas. The ashiko was a common part of their equipment. This contraption contained metal spikes and were worn on the foot. A similar contraption existed for the hands. With them, the shiobi were able to scale up walls quickly and even slash their enemies when required.

Ninjas are an incredibly popular warrior clan. However, there are so many stories and legends surrounding them that the abilities and skills of the shinobi have become highly exaggerated. It is important to separate truth from fiction so that their skills can be appreciated as they actually were.

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