Stuff You Should Know: Ninjas

Ninja GirlFact: no matter what the internet may want you to believe, it’s incredibly unlikely that ninjas have ever been the cause of a homeless person’s troubles. We at The Smoking Jacket think it’s high time we get to the bottom of who ninjas are, what they do, and why down-on-their-luck types keep insisting on raising money to fight them. Hadouken!

1. Ninjutsu is the Japanese Art of Stealth

Beverly Hills NinjaAnd since Chris Farley is about as stealthy as a brontosaurus and as Japanese as a taco, we can definitely conclude that he is failing at ninjutsu.

The origin of the ninja is murky, but we do know that ninjas have been around since the 14th century, and functioned as spies, saboteurs and assassins. And they weren’t called ‘ninjas’ at all, but ‘shinobi’ which meant ‘to steal away.’ It wasn’t until after World War II that Westerners caught on to this whole ninja thing, and ‘shinobi’ was apparently too hard for the Western tongue. I can see why, since I can’t say the word without thinking ‘Chernobyl.’ How scary would it be to have ‘Chernobyls’ spying on you? Super scary.

2. Never Mix Up Your Samurais with Your Ninjas

SamuraiBecause they’re complete opposites. Samurais were like knights; they came from the nobility, they were trained in a certain code, they fought out in the open for honor. Ninjas often came from the lower classes and preferred covert operations. Plus…

3. Ninjas Were Also Like the Hillbillies of their Time

hillbillyThe first people who were trained as dedicated, professional ninjas were raised in traditions perfected by isolated mountain villages in the 14th century. These mountain clans were resistant to government or feudal interference, unfair taxes and religious persecution, so they developed ninja techniques to use in their own defense. And also to spy on their enemies. By the 1500s the Iga and Kōga clans were so good at training their ninja kids that feudal lords actually started hiring them for secret missions and for personal protection.

In other words, we need to start taking these Tea Party militia groups seriously. Because they could totally go ninja on the rest of us any day.

4. Ninjas Were Born to be Ninjas

Ninja Halloween CostumeLike their samurai counterparts, ninjas were born into their roles and were trained for ninja-ing from the get-go. So while Europe was raising kids to be cobblers and bloodletters and town storytellers or whatever, Japan was raising a whole caste of ninja babies. Make fun of them all you want, but this fact alone means the rest of the world will never ever be more awesome than Japan.

5. Ninja Training is Serious Business

ninja trainingSo how do you train a baby ninja? You start them off like a Boy Scout…they first learn survival skills, scouting techniques and how to recognize poisons in the wild and whatnot. Next, they get physical; running, swimming, rope climbing, walking quietly. And then they learned their weapons. Naturally, all of this training is infused with spirituality, because the last thing anyone wants is an emotionally unbalanced ninja.

6. And Speaking of Weapons…

KusarigamaOh, man. Ninjas love weapons like Tim Allen loves grunting and light washed jeans. Here’s a quick rundown of some of the killing tools used by our Japanese assassin friends:

  • Katana – the same kind of backsword commonly used by samurai
  • Shuriken – concealed dagger, blade or ninja star. These were mostly used for throwing, ninja style
  • The chain and sickle – it’s exactly what it sounds like. A chain, with a ball attached to its end, stuck to a hooked blade. At the end of the blade is a revolver. Just kidding.
  • Not to mention darts, explosives, cane swords, proto-landmines, grenades, bombs and blowdarts.

7. Ninjas Are the Original MacGyvers

ninja toyEven though ninjas traveled light, they were required to carry six essentials on short term missions: the sedge hat, rope, pencil, medicine, a towel, and a fire starter. But they also had access to specialized tools for certain tasks; stuff like like grappling hooks, rope ladders, metal claws, inflatable skins and breathing tubes for hanging out underwater were all part of the ninja arsenal. At one point, people believed ninjas could even walk on water using special mizugumo shoes.

mizugumoUnfortunately, the fellas at Mythbusters proved water walking shoes were impossible. But we can still dream, right?

8. You Could be Surrounded by Ninjas Right Now

crowded streetBecause it turns out head to toe black pajama wear is kind of conspicuous in a village full of ragged peasants. So, the most likely uniform of a ninja is what everyone else is wearing. Unless they really were sneaking around at night, when dark clothes would be advantageous. But even then, experts think ninjas just wore typical samurai uniforms, but with loose bits tucked into boots and belts, so as not to snag on roofs or trees or enemies or whatever.

Some people think the notion of the all black ninja ensemble was borrowed from the puppeteers of bunraku theater. Apparently, puppet shows were huge back in the day, and the puppet masters always wore black to keep the audience focused on the puppets. But wouldn’t it be cool if the puppet masters were also ninjas?

ninja puppets

9. There’s No Such Thing as a Famous Ninja

Teenage Mutant Ninja TurtlesNinjas are kind of like Spanx. If they’re good at their jobs, you don’t know they exist. The best you can hope for is to learn about people who were rumored to be ninjas. Ishikawa Goemon, for example, was sort of a legendary Robin Hood type figure in Japanese folklore. He was best known for stealing from the rich and giving to the poor, and also for being boiled alive after a failed assassination attempt. For all we know, this could literally be the only way to kill a real ninja.

Another famous ninja, Sarutobi Sasuke, was best known for his monkey-ish agility; even the name ‘Sarutobi’ means ‘monkey jump.’ Unfortunately, Sarutobi was probably not a real person at all, but a character based on a real guy named Kouzuki Sasuke, which sucks, because that guy doesn’t have ‘monkey jump’ anywhere in his name. And Kouzuki probably didn’t amputate his own foot after jumping into a bear trap, like the legendary Sarutobi did, either. It’s like finding out about Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy all over again, isn’t it?

10. You, Too, Can Totally Be a Ninja

Real NinjaJust google ‘ninja school’ and all sorts of totally legitimate, completely serious sites come up, all of them promising to equip you with all the skills necessary to be a wildly successful ninja. Or, better yet, skip the rigmarole of ‘training’ and ‘safety’ and just follow this guy’s advice:

He’s going to get you to Ninjatown in seconds flat.

Speaking of ninjas, check out and download wallpapers and pics from Hiromi Oshima’s recent photo shoot featuring weapons from “The Warrior’s Way”, a sure-to-be-incredible ninja vs. cowboys action flick which opens in theaters this Friday, December 3rd.