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How To Become A Ninja
Being handed a nifty costume that is as black as night, and a set of exotic weapons does not qualify you as a Ninja (or more aptly perhaps “Shinobi”). Nor is a ninja a kind of super-hero who keeps his set of moral ethics as keen as his sword. Historically, Ninjas were a sort of one-man navy seal team that were used primarily as scouts and front-line infiltrators. Their job was to steal, report and do a good job of staying hidden, and only occasionally were they allowed to tear stuff up (usually by causing confusion, setting things on fire or just generally annoying the hell out of the opposition).
The first origins of ninjas arise from feudal Japan during the 15th to the 17th century during the Sengoku period. Beyond this, Shinobis have something of a mythical nature, and fittingly, their legacy remains shrouded in a veil of shadow.
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Training - Foundations
The first real training for Ninjas began during the 15th century when large Samurai families began covert wars, with an emphasis on espionage and sabotage. The emphasis then, lies heavily on being stealthy and deadly.
Firstly, Ninjas were required to be physically fit. And by fit, I mean fit. Ninjas are required to live off the land for extended periods of time, be able to swim,climb, run and survive almost indefinitely. Along with physical prowess and martial arts, Ninjas needed to accumulate knowledge in many different fields such as explosives and medicine.
The martial art of Ninjutsu is commonly held to be the martial art used by Ninjas. Ninjustsu lists a number of useful techniques that Ninjas mastered in order to be able to perform their roles. Some examples, as detailed by wikipedia, as are follows:
- Hitsuke - The practice of distracting guards by starting a fire away from the ninja's planned point of entry. Falls under "fire techniques" (katon-no-jutsu).
- Tanuki-gakure - The practice of climbing a tree and camouflaging oneself within the foliage. Falls under "wood techniques" (mokuton-no-jutsu).
- Ukigusa-gakure - The practice of throwing duckweed over water in order to conceal underwater movement. Falls under "water techniques" (suiton-no-jutsu).
- Uzura-gakure - The practice of curling into a ball and remaining motionless in order to appear like a stone. Falls under "earth techniques" (doton-no-jutsu).
Another tactic used by Ninjas is that of disguising themselves in order to pass unobserved. From this standpoint, the idea that a ninja is man dressed in light-fitting black fabric seems a little comical. Remember, subterfuge is the essence of a Ninja, and hoping around in the 21st century in a "Ninja outfit" is not my idea of being inconspicuous.
Ninjutsu (Ninjitsu) techniques
The Blade Of Choice
Training - Weaponry (Oh, yes!)
Ninjas used a vast array of weapons. The Katana was the blade of choice however, as it served more than just a single purpose. It was easy to carry on the back, it could be held against a wall and used to gain a foothold, and its flat side made it easy to conceal in the darkness.
Shuriken, an array of deadly projective objects, are also the staple of the Ninja's cultural heritage. Darts, knives, stars and more, were used with deadly precision from a remarkable distance.
Later on, with the introduction of explosives during the Chinese invasion of Mongolia, Ninjas adapted to this new art form and began to incorporate explosives into their routines (perhaps giving rise to myths about their superhuman powers).
Beyond this three staples of Ninja weaponry, Shinobis also used other alternative techniques such as land mines, blow darts and other terrifyingly deadly things that still haunt fugitives and special forces to this day. The main thing to realize about ninjas is that while they were flexible in their ability use the right weapon for the right job, they tended to master few weapons to a great degree.
Training - Tools
Tools are where the geek within truly begins to shine, hence the reason for leaving this section until the last of the training sections.
Simply put, a Ninja comes equipped. Ropes, grappling hooks, hammers, chisels and even a collapsible ladder that can be carried on your back. But the creme of them all are the Mizugumo, a pair of wooden shoes that are said to have made Ninjas able to walk on water. Yes, please.
The list is almost endlessly fun; breathing tubes, small saws, all manners of knives and inflatable skins. Despite all of this however, a notorious ninja manual, the "Bansenshukai" (1677) warns the Ninja not to become overburdened.
"...a successful ninja is one who uses but one tool for multiple tasks"
Becoming a modern-day ninja should not involve subscribing to the current cultural ninja trend. The tools and philosophies are timeless and should be observed (unless you're comic relief at a birthday party).
Despite the super-hero appeal, the ability to perform magic, handly explosives and threaten "evil-doers" with a mean Katana, there is a downside. Rooted deep within Shinobi philosophy lies humility. In the same way stealth is employed in order to defeat enemies, you're status as a ninja relies on your ego being stealthed as well. You cannot tell people you are a ninja -- for obvious reasons.
If the lack of fame is palatable for you, feel free and take-up Ninjitsu classes and wrap your head around the "Bansenshukai". Oh, that and send me a pair of water-walking sandals!