To be sure, the ninja of films and comic books—a stealthy assassin in black robes with supernatural talents in the arts of concealment and murder—is tremendously appealing. However, the historical actuality of the ninja is a little different. Ninjas were a lower class of warriors in feudal Japan who were frequently recruited as spies by samurai and governments. It is impossible to pinpoint the birth of the first ninja, also known as shinobi—after all, people all across the globe have long deployed spies and assassins. According to Japanese tradition, theninja descended from a monster that was half man and half crow. However, it appears that the ninja gradually formed as a counter-force to their upper-class colleagues, the samurai, in early medieval Japan.
What Were the Ninjas Like?
Some ninja commanders are exiled samurai, such as Daisuke Togakure, who’d been defeated in battle or disowned by their daimyo and fled, but instead of committing cultural suicide. However, the majority of common ninjas were not from the nobility. Instead, low-ranking ninjas were villagers and farmers who learned to fight by whatever means required for their survival, including an assassination by stealth and poison. As a result, the Iga and Koga Provinces noted for their bucolic farmlands and peaceful villages became the most famous ninja strongholds. Women were also used in ninja fighting. Female ninja, or kunoichi, penetrated enemy castles disguised as dancers, concubines, or servants, and were exceptionally successful spies and assassins.
The Clans of Iga and Koga
Before the founding of the Iga and Koga ninja clans, it is believed that ninjas were frequently lower-class commoners with little to no formal training, recruited as mercenaries by strong samurai to perform duties judged too dishonorable for them to conduct themselves. Iga province and the adjoining village of Koga entrenched themselves as centers for teaching the art of “Ninjutsu,” generating expert ninjas who were particularly prepared for the responsibilities that they were supposed to do.
The term “Ninja”
Contrary to popular perception, the term “ninja” was not often used at the time when ninjas were active. The most frequent moniker for people engaging in ninja activities is considered to have been “Shinobi no mono,” reduced to “Shinobi,” which was recently recognized in Western culture through the video game series of the same name. The name “Ninja” is derived from an alternative reading of the same Chinese letters, which translates to “One who endures.” There is evidence of numerous additional names used to address ninjas throughout the Sengoku period, one of which being “Iga mono,” which translates as “He from Iga.”
The Ninjutsu art:
Contrary to popular belief, Ninjutsu was not an art form. As per the Ninja Gallery of Igaryu, “An individual who utilizes Ninjutsu is a ninja.” Ninjutsu is not a form of combat sports. “Ninjutsu is a Japanese autonomous combat sport that developed primarily in the regions of Iga in Mie Prefecture and Koka in Shiga Prefecture.” Ninjutsu appeared to rely largely on espionage and stealth, and while martial arts instruction was a component of it, it was by no means its primary focus. Ninjutsu taught ninjas skills such as espionage, code-breaking, disseminating disinformation, and sabotage. Within the three major original ninja manuals that are still in existence today, There is no mention of unarmed fighting, implying that any modern-day “Ninjutsu” martial arts schools are not legitimately tied to any actual practices or methods.