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What Is Japanese Ninjutsu?

April 16, 2018

What Is Japanese Ninjutsu?

Ninjutsu, also known as ninpo, is a traditional Japanese methodology involving the use of unconventional warfare and guerilla tactics by the shinobi. In feudal Japan, there were two key professions responsible for protecting and defending the country against invaders: samurai warriors and shinobi, the latter of which focused specifically on the arts of espionage, infiltration and assassinations. The term "ninjutsu" refers to these practices performed by the shinobi.

Origins of Ninjutsu

It's unknown exactly who invented ninjutsu or when it was created. However, reports suggest that spying in Japan originated during the reign of Prince Shotoku (572 to 622). Back then, Shotoku assigned shinobi to spy on his rivals, keeping tabs on their movement and behaviors. In the years to follow, other high-ranking Japanese officials followed in his footsteps, also hiring shinobi for espionage and infiltration purposes.

While the exact origins of ninjutsu are open to debate, the first known usage of the term "ninjutsu" occurred during Japan's Genpei War. Occurring in the 1100s, Japanese military commander Minamoto no Yoshitsune of Minamoto clan selected a group of esteemed and highly skilled warriors to attack the invading forces using guerilla warfare tactics.

Ninjutsu in Feudal Japan

Ninjutsu later become a fundamental methodology of survival in feudal Japan, especially during the region's warring state period. Shinobi used their guerilla warfare tactics to survive in otherwise delicate period in which feuding clans were constantly attacking one another. Principles of ninjutsu included running, stealth, disguise, evasion, archery, medicine and, of course, combat.

Perhaps the most important skill mastered by shinobi, however, was espionage. While samurai warriors were on the front lines of battle, shinobi were tasked with infiltrating the enemy lines undetected so that they could gather intelligence and report back to their masters.

Ninjutsu Weapons

Like their samurai counterparts, shinobi used a wide variety of weapons to perform their respective duties. This included traditional swords like the katana, wakizashi, tanto and ninjato, as well as stealth tools like the kaginawa (grappling hook) and hatchet.

Shinobi also used a variety of projectile weapons. The fukiya, for instance, was a blowgun that fired darts, many of which were made lethal by dipping the tip in poison. Some shinobi used a bow and arrow known as the yumi and ya.

Even with these unique weapons, however, the primary weapon of choice among shinobi was the katana. Its curved blade allowed shinobi to quickly draw their sword, engaging opponents before they could defend.

Photo credit: Akban Martial arts academy

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