Who were the ninjas?

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Who were the ninjas? Did they really exist? You might think it's a silly question to ask, but some people actually believe they're just a myth. And in some ways it's true. But don't get too upset or confused! The ninjas did very much exist and they were actually a very important part of Japanese history. But the ninjas that you know and hear about today might not match up perfectly with who they actually were. Maybe what you know about ninjas is from movies, comics or even the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

While these sources are definitely entertaining, they're not the most historically accurate. But from looking at the different depictions of who the ninja were, it's not hard to see why people think they're mythical people. In many movies, ninjas seem magical and unstoppable. They're able to escape and defeat the enemy no matter what the situation and every time ninjas escape, they vanish into thin air and cannot be traced (isn't that why you always wanted to be a ninja?).

Another reason why so many myths have spread about the ninjas, and why the legends started spreading in the first place, is because there aren't that many historical records about them. They were, after all, very secretive!

So who were the ninja? From what we do know, ninjas were like secret agents and in the 15th and 16th centuries, their skills were needed because there was constant warfare during this time in Japan. The ninjas were hired by the ruling class and others to carry out dirty deeds in what was thought to be unorthodox styles. Ninjas, however, were human, which means that no matter how skilled they were, they didn't always achieve victory and there was definitely no magic involved.

But myths start for a reason. The ninjas were very secretive and performed many of their tasks discreetly, which probably gave them the illusion of being magical. Ninjas practiced the martial art of Ninjutsu, otherwise known as "the art of stealth", and their specialties were spying, espionage, sabotage, infiltration and assassination. Many of the ninjas' strategy involved confusing the enemy and learning their habits, which then gave them an advantage.

To perform their missions, ninjas often dressed in disguises, sometimes as farmers, priests, samurais or whoever they needed to be to blend in. When they needed to escape, they would create diversions (remember how they seemed to vanish into thin air?). And in order to better defeat the enemy, ninjas would spy and learn their target's patterns and behaviors.

All of these strategies allowed the ninjas to remain secretive, which was unusual at the time because many Japanese warriors, like the samurai, were more upfront about their fighting and it made the ninjas' fighting style unique.

While the ninjas might not be exactly how they have been portrayed in pop culture. But they're still pretty awesome and real! To learn more about the facts, check out Antony Cummins' Ninja Documentary.

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