Skip to Content

Were Ninjas Real?

Were Ninjas Real?

Japanese Ninjas are famous characters in today’s world. During the Halloween season, you will definitely see kids wearing Ninja costumes. There are even TV shows, movies, and books written about them. But did Ninjas ever exist? Were they ever associated with martial arts?

Ninjas were real, they worked as secret agents who worked on getting the enemy’s plans revealed to the authorities.

If you’re enthusiastic about ninjas, it will interest you to know they did exist. This article will discuss ninjas, their origins, and more. Let’s dive in!

Were Ninjas Real? Infographic.

What Is a Ninja? 

Ninjas were secret agents who authorities hired to sneak into enemy territories to eavesdrop on their plans. Most times, a professional Ninja dressed in black to improve stealth and had sharp athletic abilities that enabled him to invade heavily secured territories easily.

Historic Ninja Illustration 18th Century.
Historic Ninja Illustration18th Century
Unknown, artwork is from the Meiwa era., Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

When and Where Did They Originate? 

Ninjas were said to be often hired from among the lower class, so they had little or no literary interest. According to certain beliefs, their low class and criminal background made them offer their service for money without glory and honour.

Ninjas were specially trained and recruited for their purposes during the 15th century. The word “Shinobi” appeared during that time

Even Koga Ninjas were hired as raiders and spies in the enemy territory. They use secret passwords to get their message across to their masters. (1)

Ninja Ranks 

There were three standard ninja ranks:

  • The Highest ninja rank was called “Jōnin,” which means “upper person,” representing the group and recruiting mercenaries. 
  • Next is the “Chūnin,” meaning “middle person,” and there were assistants to the jōnin. 
  • The lowest rank was called the genin, also called “lower person,” and they were field agents recruited from the lower class and hired to carry out real missions.

The training of ninjas was done majorly by villages in two main regions. In the northern part of the modern mie prefecture is the Iga clan, and there’s the Kōga clan, previously known as Koka, in the southern region of the modern Shiga prefecture. 

They were also trained in martial arts by the best martial artists at that time. Hardly would one find an unemployed ninja, as they were all hired once they passed through training.

Clans of Ninjas

Steep mountains surrounded the Kōga and Iga clan in remote places, and access was very difficult. There were also “hidden villages, ” which played a part in the mysteriousness of the nature.

The plains of Iga, nested in secluded mountains, gave rise to villages specialized in the training of ninjas.
The plains of Iga, nested in secluded mountains, gave rise to villages specialized in the training of ninjas.
Outside147~commonswiki assumed (based on copyright claims)., CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Several people facing challenges would run to these clans. They took them in, and irrespective of the Ninja’s separation from the world in the mountains, they came to know outside information and learned the knowledge of religion and the art of medicine and drugs.

A typical Iga ninja and a Koga ninja differed uniquely from the samurai commoners recruited as spies. The Koga ninja band and Iga clan bred and produced skilled ninjas, strictly trained for their designated roles.

The Daimyōs actively hired professional ninjas, including females from these clans, between 1485 -1581 and were mighty feudal Japanese lords that ruled a great part of Japan until the Meiji period. About eighty Koga ninja bodyguards were hired. However, Oda Nobunaga later annihilated the clans when he raided the Igo Province.

Survivors of the raid had to flee, and several settled before Tokugawa Ieyasu and were well catered for. Later on, some of the former Iga clan members became either hired ninjas or Tokugawa’s bodyguards. 

Ninja Skills 

Let’s now discuss the Ninja weapons and skills they were taught in Ninja schools to execute their activities. (2)

Walking and Running : Ashinami jū-hō

Ninjas had a unique way of walking without any noise. They took wide side steps while keeping their bodies at a low level. It is said that the purpose of their walking style was to reduce lower back strain and to walk longer distances.

Ninja Hashiri

Ninjas ran, placing their upper trunk forward, one hand in front and another behind, with nearly no arm swing. This style is to prevent their hands from touching any obstacles.

Ninja Ninjutsu

Let’s look at Ninja Ninjutsu skills and techniques.

Suiton 水遁

This technique involved taking a tube-like object and using it to aid breathing underwater, similar to snorkeling. They made use of bamboo tubes for this technique.


Legends have it that the ninjas were great at using fire. The fire escape technique means escaping from the enemy by tactfully manipulating the fire to trick the enemy.

Kinto 金遁

In this technique, ninjas used metals to escape from enemies. It is said that the main method was to scatter money or ring a bell. By scattering money, enemies or bystanders would get distracted and pick it up while ninjas escape.

Mizugumo, Water Spider 水蜘蛛

This technique was for ninjas to move on water using a tool called a water spider, which is made of wood. According to beliefs, Mizugimo was originally invented as a means for ninjas to walk on uneven roads. [3]


In this technique, ninjas gave off smoke and hid from attackers. The term “wrapping in smoke,” often used in different movie scenes, is an exact definition of this technique.

Mokuton 木遁

It was a technique that a ninja employed to shield themselves using wheat, trees, grass, rice, or other natural objects. They were good at using their environment to hide, and using nature as a means to camouflage was a common way to disappear. A ninja disguised using any of these mediums was said to use Mokuton.

Altercation 分身の術

The altercation is said to be a technique to trick the enemy’s vision by generating an afterimage with high-speed movements. Although this technique is heavily exaggerated, it was successful with speed and deception.

The End of the Ninja History and Ninjutsu

At the end of the Edo period, there was no proof that being a ninja was once a profession. The Meiji period modernization, feudalism’s fall, and military advancements made them obsolete. During this period, it was assumed that kōga ninjas infiltrated the clan and made them extinct. (4)

However, a visit to the Iga ryu ninja museum proves that Ninjas once existed.

Ninja Museum of Igaryu.
Ninja Museum of Igaryu.
z tanuki, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Remember that this profession depends on feudalism structure and frequent warfare, and in the absence of these, it won’t exist.

Final Thoughts

Several people feel that ninjas still currently exist in Japan. However, there are no “real” ninjas anymore in this modern age. Jinichi Kawakami, commonly called “the last Ninja,” is the 21st family member of the Kōga clan, whose history dates back about 500 years.

Although Jinichi was trained by his family, and he has the knowledge passed down from generations before him, he doesn’t have plans of taking in any more disciples and believes that Ninja art is unsuitable for this era.