During the month of April I participated in the “A to Z Blogger Challenge,” which involved posting on a different letter of the alphabet on a daily basis. To keep myself on track, I decided to focus on ninja weapons, featuring a new weapon each day on my blog at Rebelsofthe512.com. Here, then, is the quick and dirty guide to ninja weapons from A to Z.
A is for ashiko. Ashiko are spiked foot bands, worn by ninjas to gain traction. While ashiko are used mainly as a climbing tool, the sharp spikes would also make a ninja’s foot quite a dangerous weapon during a fight!
B is for bakuhatsugama. According to the Ninjutsu website, a bakuhatsugama is “a kusarigama (sickle and chain weapon) with container for explosives.” So basically, you’ve got an already crazy-dangerous weapon (the kusarigama) which now has explosives attached to it. WOW!
C is for chigiriki, which is basically a ninja take on the whip. According to Wikipedia, the chigiriki is “a Japanese flail weapon. It consists of a solid or hollow wood (sometimes bamboo) or iron staff with an iron weight and chain on the end, sometimes retractable. […] It can be used to strike or entangle the opponent as well as to parry his blows and to capture or incapacitate an opponent’s weapon.” Instead of clubbing your opponent with the ball on the end, as you would with a mace, the chigiriki is more for strangling and/or grabbing your opponent’s weapon out of his hands from afar. Y’know, kind of like Indiana Jones’ whip! Minus the satisfying crack! of a bullwhip, of course. But still pretty damn deadly.
D is for detonation. Okay, so technically detonation isn’t a weapon, but lots of ninja weapons do detonate, and detonation itself can kill or maim, so let’s call it close enough.
Here’s a list of various ninja devices that detonate:
*poison gas bombs
*flashbombs (to blind an opponent)
* explosives packed with shrapnel
* land mines
*incendiaries (which both blind opponents and set nearby flammables on fire)
* kamikaze ninja with dynamite strapped to his chest (as if!)
If a ninja detonation device has not exploded and you are looking at it, chances are you’re just about to die. You have about half a second to say your prayers and/or run screaming before that sucker blows. Good luck and godspeed!
E is for encircling. Ever notice how, in samurai movies, the ninjas always attack by encircling the hero? There’s a hoard of ninjas, yet they only attack one at a time? Apparently it’s known as the Principle of Evil Marksmanship, and is attributed to Roger Ebert. Basically, it’s the idea that the bad guys are as incompetent as the plot needs them to be, so that the good guy looks really, really good.
Of course in a novel like mine, where the ninjas are the good guys, the ninjas kick unholy amounts of ass. And when they’re together, they are unstoppable. Unlike the “inverse ninja law,” in which large groups of ninjas are actually weaker than they are singly, my ninjas keep on keepin’ on to vanquish all that oppose them. Take that, Evil Marksmanship!
F is for fukiya, which is the ninja word for blowgun. Usually ninjas would use poison-tipped darts and, according to Wikipedia, the typical ninja fukiya is about 50 cm (~19.7″) long. Interestingly, Japan considers the fukiya part of the sport of archery, so you can blowgun stuff professionally if you join the Japan Sports Fukiya Association. How cool and weird is that?
G is for grappling. Ninjas use a wide variety of means and methods to get their point across, and usually the point comes attached to a spear, sword or other sharp blade. However, they’re also big fans of grappling, a term which refers both to climbing (as in grappling hooks) and to hand-to-hand combat.
Since we’re talking about weapons, let’s focus on the grappling hook. You’re probably more familiar with Batman’s usage of this weapon, as he’s constantly shooting one from his utility belt up to some skyscraper, and then reeling himself up to the top of a tall building though a retractable cord. Lucky for the ladies he rescues with this method, they tend to be slim enough for the device to keep working properly, despite their subtle “miscalculations” of their own weight. (See: Vicki Vale)
The other obvious benefit is that he keeps the Joker (and other enemies) guessing about where the heck he’s getting all this awesome gear. (Duh: Wayne Enterprises!)
Ninjas, however, tend to have to do things the “hard” or “old-fashioned” way, and rely on the grappling hook to support their weight while climbing.
So, the moral of the story is: if you’re in danger and need to be rescued, you’d better hope Batman’s nearby with his utility belt, and not a gang of ninjas with their old-school grappling hooks!
H is for hitsuke, which is just one of the ninja’s tools of distraction. Hitsuke involves starting a fire to create chaos. The fire is the distraction that enables the ninja to enter an area unobserved.
I is for inton-jutsu, aka the art of escape and concealment. A mixture of camouflage to hide in plain sight and a bit of the ninja’s famed ability to cloud minds, inton-jutsu is basically what ninjas are known for. They’re stealthy, tricky, cunning. They can blend into the shadows, become part of a tree, sneak into your lair without your knowledge, and otherwise spy on you by using these tricks. Ninjas are also fond of using smoke screens to cloud people’s vision and “disappear” into a chosen hiding spot. Some people describe inton-jutsu as being similar to an army’s special forces techniques of escape and evasion. Since the main function of the ninja was as a spy, this is probably a good parallel. Ninjas never get caught—and if they do, they fight to the death!
J is for jukenjutsu, or the art of the bayonet, which is a pre-WWII fighting style. The modern version (reintroduced after a period of banishment) is called jukendo, and uses a wooden “rifle” and kendo-style armor. Kind of an unwieldy weapon, if you ask me, but I guess you work with what you’ve got. Shovel, hoe, iron fans… you know, just stuff lying around the average Japanese countryside or imperial palace. Additionally, you might be interested in the jutte, a specialized substitute for a sword. Jutte means “ten-hand,” and the weapon is so-called because it offers the utility of 10 weapons in one. It’s also good at subduing people with swords, because of its hook. All jutte have at least one hook, though some have two or three, and some also have blades hidden in their shafts. I wouldn’t want to mess with a palace guard carrying one of these… nor a ninja who’d relieved the guard of this weapon!
K is for katana, kaginawa, kakuta, kama and kusari-fundo. The letter K is at the start of many ninja weapons, including the katana (the standard ninja sword), kaginawa (previously discussed under G for grappling hook), kakute (iron rings with spikes, sometimes dipped in poison for maximum damage), kama (scythe) and kusari-fundo (hand-held weighted chain). Talk about doing some damage! But perhaps the most dangerous weapon in the K arsenal is the kunoichi, or female ninja! There’s a 2011 historical martial arts film called The Kunoichi that features Japanese karate champion Rina Takeda. It’s slated for an American digital release on July 24, so keep your eyes peeled for that one, but if you can’t wait until then, my book also features a high school history teacher turned female ninja!
L is for lightning strike operation. The lightning strike operation is a mission that employs the element of surprise for a quick in-and-out hit, and (like any good ninja operation) lots of explosives.
M is for metsubushi, a sight remover. The ninja has a variety of these blinding weapons, which include mixtures of powdered pepper, dust, ashes, flour or even finely-ground glass (for doing some permanent damage). The powder itself would have been contained in a bamboo tube or egg shell, making it easy to blow, throw or smash it into someone’s eyes. Sort of an early precursor to pepper spray, the ninja would fling the metsubushi into the eyes of his attacker, temporarily blinding him. This would either enable the ninja to escape or to place a deadly blow.
N is for nunchaku, or what we Americans typically call “nunchuks.” Or, if you’re being silly, “numchucks.” Some claim these weapons were originally used for threshing rice or soybeans, which sounds plausible, since peasants weren’t allowed to have weapons but certainly had plenty of tools. And, as we all know, every tool is a weapon if you hold it right. Or, more precisely, every tool is a weapon if a ninja’s holding it! More N weapons of note include the naginata (a pole-mounted weapon with a curved blade) and the neko-te (cat claws). MEOW!
O is for oh-gama. According to the ninja weapons page, the oh-gama is a battlefield version of kusarigama, which we mentioned under B for bakuhatsugama. To refresh your memory, the bakuhatsugama is a kusarigama with a container for explosives. Therefore, the oh-gama is a sickle and chain weapon, minus the explosives. If you’re getting the idea that the kusarigama is a favorite ninja weapon, you’d be correct. This thing is crazy dangerous, and it’s also another weapon derived from a tool (the sickle being primarily a grain-harvesting tool).
P is for pyrotechnics! Things that blow up, smoke or create distracting explosions are another ninja favorite, as we’ve already learned from detonation. As per Wikipedia, Chinese explosives were introduced in Japan during the 13th century, but hand-held bombs or grenades were also used by the crafty ninja, often in concert with poison darts, throwing stars and assorted naughty little weapons to stun, blind and disorient opponents. Of course, Wikipedia makes a good point, noting “Despite the large array of tools available to the ninja, the Bansenshukai [the ninja training manual] warns one not to be overburdened with equipment, stating ‘… a successful ninja is one who uses but one tool for multiple tasks.’” Indeed, P also covers physical training, i.e. martial arts, in which the ninja would be trained from a young age. Much like the samurai, ninjas were born into families that passed the profession down from one generation to the next, so running, climbing and swimming were taught, along with hand-to-hand combat techniques. POW!
Q is the only letter for which I couldn’t find a legitimate ninja weapon. Although I suppose if there were any quicksand around, a ninja would throw some leaves over it to make it look like solid ground and then trick some idiot into falling right into its sucky, sandy morass!
R is for Ronin knife, a particular type of 21st century ninja weapon designed by Michael Janich and executed by Mike Snody. The weapon is a neck knife, which means that it’s a small, single-edged knife with a fixed blade usually worn on a chain around the owner’s neck. Since you want to be able to get at your knife easily, it’s worn outside your clothing, and it’s usually used for more utility work than ninja-style combat, but could be used as such in a pinch. Though Janich describes it as “a design that incorporates all the design features that I feel are critical to a functional defensive knife,” the blade of this particular knife is somewhere in the 3 to 4-inch range and wouldn’t be nearly as effective in a fight for the ninja’s purposes as a katana. But if you’re not allowed to walk around town with a 2-foot blade strapped to your body like most of us in the concealed weapon law-having real world, then the neck knife is certainly a fine substitute for those apt to be lurking in dark alleys and engaging in ninja spying missions.
Here in Texas, just FYI, you’re not allowed to carry around any blades larger than 5.5 inches, nor any type of throwing knives, daggers, dirks, stilettos or poniards, nor even our state’s beloved Bowie knives, and certainly not any type of swords or spears. Tomahawks are also illegal, though I suppose this applies more to the Native American ninja than the traditional Japanese ninja you’re likely picturing. (You can also find out further details concerning concealed weapons of all kinds in Texas here.)
Oh, and if you’re wondering what “ronin” refers to, ronin were samurai that had lost their masters. During the Edo period, many samurai were in this position, and while some roamed the earth in search of new masters to serve, others turned to lives of crime or took up mercenary work, making them a kind of brother to the ninja.
If you want to get into way more detail on the technical specs of this particular weapon, definitely check out Janich’s page on “Martial Blade Concepts” here.
S is for shuriken, aka throwing stars. These are the classic ninja weapon. They’re sharp, they’re small, they’re going to cause a lot of damage (though they’re not usually fatal), and they’re easy to whip at an unsuspecting target’s eye. No wonder they’re illegal! (At least in Texas.) Like most other blades, shuriken were also dipped in poison for maximum damage. The ninja is quite the fan of poison and sharp objects combined, no?
T is for taijutsu. Despite having massive arsenals of insane weapons, ninja are also adept at taijutsu or unarmed combat. Most taijutsu is usually referred to by a more specific name to describe the style of fighting. For instance, you have your jujutsu (grappling and striking), your aikido (throwing and joint locks) and your judo (throwing and grappling).
U is also mysteriously lacking in ninja weaponry, though there’s a website offering university training in ninja weapons. Seems bogus to me, so I won’t include a link, but I like the idea of a degree in ninja!
V is for violence, vigilante and vendetta. Violence is one of the ninja’s main weapons. Lashing out with their many sharp-edged and explosive weapons, the ninja commits plenty of acts of violence, and while some might argue these are necessary evils, others will always view the ninja as a terrorist or purely malevolent persona. Which brings us to vigilante. The ninja takes matters of justice into his (or her) own hands. Indeed, my ninjas in Rebels of the 512 are proponents of vigilante justice. They believe the system that keeps good and evil balanced is broken, and that evil envelopes our political leaders. Hence, they declare war on so-called law-abiding society and overthrow the government in a very violent coup. Which leads us to vendetta. Surely no one has written a better tale on the subject than Alan Moore in V for Vendetta, so I won’t rehash his intriguing storyline. However, here’s a very interesting quote from Moore, regarding his character, V: “The central question is, is this guy right? Or is he mad? What do you, the reader, think about this? Which struck me as a properly anarchist solution. I didn’t want to tell people what to think, I just wanted to tell people to think and consider some of these admittedly extreme little elements, which nevertheless do recur fairly regularly throughout human history.” Moore notes that V’s character is open to interpretation, depending on whether you prefer facism or anarchism, whether you agree or disagree with killing others for some higher cause… or if you find yourself somewhere in the middle, grappling with the many grey areas that we call Life. My ninjas have a vendetta, but so does my fictional Governor Nick Harry. Whose side is the right side? Could both sides be right? My story is much more black and white, but I like Moore’s way of leaving his story open-ended.
W is for wakizashi, which is the basis for the standard ninja sword, or shinobigatana. Indeed, the wakizashi has been on my mind for years, ever since I heard a funny story about a guy whose girlfriend’s father gifted him with one as a Christmas present, the subtext being “Fuck you for fucking my daughter.” The wakizashi, you see, is also the sword that samurai traditionally used to commit ritual suicide. You might know this practice as hara kiri, though it’s actually called seppuku in Japan. I wrote a short story about this little sword fuck-you message called, cleverly, “Wakizashi.” You can read it at Powder Burn Flash if you’re curious. It’s kind of a take on the “Luca Brasi sleeps with the fishes” scene in The Godfather. Anyway, the shinobigatana or ninjato is based on the samurai’s wakizashi, probably because the ninja really, really wanted to steal all the strengths of the samurai in order to cut him down with his own weapons. Poetic justice, no?
X is for X-Claw Triple Blade Dagger. That’s right: it’s basically the same weaponry your favorite X-Man, Wolverine, has stashed in his adamantium skeleton, only detachable. Wicked. You can also find Weapon-X Hand Blades and Combat X-Claws at the same site. I’m pretty sure your average ninja is more apt to be packing the aforementioned wakizashi than any of these puppies, but they sure do look intimidating. If the idea is more to scare your opponent off than fight him, these would be just the ticket, don’t you think? I certainly wouldn’t want to tangle with the X-Men and their X blades!
Y is for yari, yumi and ya. A yari is a Japanese spear. Indeed, Wikipedia boats quite a variety of yari, from the straight spear to long pikes, with many different types of blades. Yumi and ya work together as bow and arrow.
Z is for zombie ninjas. The fast-moving shadow menace that wants to eat your brains! You can watch a video of these guys in action here: http://youtu.be/CsqOSyDoi4M
Got a tip on any ninja weapons I missed? Hit me up in the comments!
Laura Roberts is the editor of the sassy literary magazine, Black Heart, with a license to kill your darlings. A former sex columnist in Montreal, she is currently writing a second novel loosely based on her days in the Sin City of the North. To ward off ninja assassins, she resides in a post-apocalyptic bunker in Austin with her husband and literary kitty, Nedward Carlos Nedwards. Connect with Laura online at her website, Buttontapper.com, or follow her on Twitter @originaloflaura for up-to-the-minute details on her latest work and assorted silliness.