Ninja

The Ninja have been the subject of a great deal of popular interest in recent years, the vast majority of which has been fanciful. Aside from the fantasy idea of the almost magical martial art wielding assassin, Ninjas did exist and served a key military function in medieval Japan. The best way to describe the Ninja, sometimes referred to as Shinobi no mono or men of secrecy, is as the equivalent of modern special forces. Their role was to act as spies, assassins, saboteurs, and secret agents operating behind enemy lines, sometimes within an enemy castle under siege. As a military concept they were far ahead of anything seen in the West at the time, even making use of camouflaged clothing to aid in surprise attacks although the popular image of them dressed all in black has no contemporary evidence. Although many of the modern myths surrounding the Ninja can be rejected there are numerous reports of them in action, scaling the walls of castles or fortified camps to carry out assassinations or sabotage. Other authentic reports illustrate Ninja being used as spies during sieges such as the siege of Hara castle in 1638 and being used to spread confusion in an enemy camp before an attack. It is clear that these medieval Special Forces existed and were a marked contrast to their honour bound Samurai masters.
Turnbull, NinjaNinja AD 1460-1650, Stephen Turnbull, Osprey, 2003, 64 pages. A fascinating book from Osprey 64 pages long and full of interesting stuff on the real ninja, Japan's medieval Special Forces. Great colour plates in the middle of the book illustrate ninja in action, in training and equipment. [see more]
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A Book of Five Rings, Miyamoto Musashi. Translated by Victor Harris. An excellent and fascinating short book and a must have for any serious student of Samurai history. The book has an excellent historical introduction and the section on the life of the author is as good as the book itself. The focus of book is the way of the warrior, especially the swordsman and has much thought provoking text for the careful and diligent reader. Detailed footnotes add to the translation and the text is very interesting for any interested in Kendo or the martial arts, mixing philosophy with strategy, giving a real insight into the life and beliefs of a samurai.
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How to cite this article: Dugdale-Pointon, TDP. (28 September 2002), Ninja, http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/concepts_ninja.html
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