Ninjas are frequently depicted in movies, TV shows, comic books and other forms of movies. Normally, they are portrayed as a stealthy warriors who conceal themselves in dark clothing while carrying weapons such as throwing stars and a sword. While most people have heard of ninjas before, few know the true story behind them.
Shinobi: Origins of the Modern-Day Ninja
The origins of the modern-day ninja can be traced back to feudal Japan, during which covert warriors known as shinobi would perform similar infiltration, sabotage and over covert operations on behalf of their daimyo. As powerful ruling lords, daimyo would hire shinobi -- many of whom served as mercenaries -- to attack their secretively attack opposing daimyo. Shinobi didn't carry out these tasks directly on an open battlefield. Rather, they used stealth to sneak behind enemy lines undetected.
Prior to the rise of shinobi, attacks were performed in the open. As daimyos built up their defenses and grew the size of their armies, though, these open attacks became less effective. Therefore, some daimyos would hire highly trained and skilled merceneries to secretively attack opposing daimyos.
Documents show that the word "shinobi" was first used in Japanese literature around the end of the 8th century. Back then, it was used to describe the act of "hiding." Eventually, the word "shinobi" would become synonymous with ninjas who perform covert operations.
Shinobi and Ninjutsu
Shinobi would often train extensively in swordsmanship, hand-to-hand combat and stealth so that they could carry out their duties more effectively. This led to the development of a new style of Japanese martial art focusing specifically on skills used by shinobi. Known as ninjutsu, it teaches practitioners essential skills used by shinobi, including guerrilla warfare, espionage and infiltration.
Several martial arts schools in Japan have taught ninjutsu, including Togakure-ryu. These schools were often considered critical in becoming a true shinobi. And by enrolling in a ninjutsu school, shinobi could make themselves more appealing to prospective daimyos when selling their services.
Today, most people recognize the stealthy assassins depicted in movies, TV shows and other forms of media as ninjas. However, they were originally called shinobi -- and they played an important role in Japan's history by carrying out duties on behalf of their daimyos. Neither daimyos nor true mercenary shinobi are still around, though there are schools that continue to teach the martial art of ninjutsu.