the very name conjures up images of black-clad figures armed with
lethal weapons and magical powers stealthily engaged in
nefarious misdeeds in the dead of night. But do these mysterious
purveyors of mayhem deserve
actually exist as an institution and if so when did they come into
existence and from where?
the ninja (shinobi)
 were active in Japan from the 1100s to the 1600s is
a certainty, with the majority of Japanese historians agreeing that
they originated in the ethnic melting pots of Iga and Koga on the
island of Honshu,
a product of the various philosophies, doctrines and
fighting skills brought to that island by Chinese immigrants fleeing
Ninjas were organized into clans each with its own
traditions, weapons and style of training; instruction, begining early,
becoming increasingly more difficult as the student matured.
mythology of magical powers attributed to the ninja by their enemies
was well earned but not really magical; students were taught the art
of illusion, how to blend into the background, how to perform escapes
worthy of Houdini by dislocating shoulders or other body parts and how
to use special steps in order to walk silently and leave no trace of
weapons, many multi-purpose, were also part
of the package. The shuriken, a palm size throwing blade came in many
shapes all extremely deadly; the tekagi-shuko, comprised of spiked
bands, slipped over the hands and gave their wearer both catlike
climbing ability and the capacity to defend themselves against an
opponents weaponry; the shinobi-zue, a hollow cane in the shape of a
walking stick, could be used as an underwater breathing device, spear
or blowgun, with smaller weapons, darts and poison hidden either inside
central cavity, or alternately in the space provided by the overly long
scabbard of the ninjato (ninja short sword); and finally their was the
ninja himself, a master of unarmed combat (taijutsu), his body the most
formidable weapon of all.
was a combination of this lethal arsenal plus the skills, abilities and
philosophy behind them (ninjutsu)
that made a ninja the ultimate spy or assassin. But it was the time,
place and politics (of feudal Japan) that provided him or her  with
Feudal Japan was ruled by a military leader called
a shogun, beneath him were warlords constantly at each other throats
competing for land and power. The warrior class, called samurai, were
employed by the warlords and used for both defensive and offensive
samurai, however, lived by a strict code of honour (Bushido, meaning
"the way of the warrior") and refused to become
involved in anything disreputable, and it was here that the ninjas
entered the picture, they had no such qualms and did whatever their
political masters asked.
Times were changing
though and following the Shimabara Rebellion, after centuries of
bloody struggle, Japan found itself at peace and the ninja found
themselves unemployed their special talents no longer in demand.
The day of the ninja warrior was over.
As the years
passed, the ninja (myth) became entrenched in Japanese then western
culture their abilities embellished to the point where they
transcended reality. With the coming of the twentieth century, movies,
cartoons, comic books and video games elevated their status even
further to that of
magical beings endowed with the powers of flight and invisibility. From
ancient Japan to today's modern world it's a compliment to
these masters of
illusion that they are still relevant, still able to capture our
imagination. And though there are some that may scoff, I wouldn't be
surprised if somewhere a Ninja of old was smiling.
The word "shinobi" translates to mean "one skilled in the art of
ninjutsu (stealth)" and is used both historically and in Japan
more often than the westernized term "ninja".
 A female ninja is called a kunoichi.
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