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In the history of Japan, a ninja (忍者, ninja?) was someone specially trained in a variety of unorthodox arts of war. The methods used by ninja included assassination, espionage, and a variety of martial arts.
In the Japanese culture, they were usually trained for dangerous missions. Although their exact origins are still unknown, with some historians speculating about some Chinese origin or influence,it is known that they appeared in 14th century feudal Japan, and remained active from the Kamakura to the Edo period.Their roles may have included sabotage, espionage, scouting and assassination missions as a way to destabilize and cause social chaos in enemy territory or against an opposing ruler, perhaps in the service of their feudal rulers (daimyo, shogun), or an underground ninja organization waging guerilla warfare.
Ninja is the on'yomi reading of the two kanji 忍者 used to write shinobi-no-mono (忍の者), which is the native Japanese word for people who practice ninjutsu (忍術, sometimes erroneously transliterated as ninjitsu). The term shinobi (historically sino2bi2 written with the Man'yōgana 志能備), has been traced as far back as the late 8th century when Heguri Uji no Iratsume wrote a poem to Ōtomo no Yakamochi. The underlying connotation of shinobi (忍), in Sino-Japanese means "to steal away" and—by extension—"to forbear," hence its association with stealth and invisibility. Mono (者, likewise pronounced sha or ja) means "person."
The word ninja became popular in the post-World War II culture. The nin of ninjutsu is the same as that in ninja, whereas jutsu (術) means skill or art, so ninjutsu means "the skill of going unperceived" or "the art of stealth"; hence, ninja and shinobi-no-mono (as well as shinobi) may be translated as "one skilled in the art of stealth." Similarly, the pre-war word ninjutsu-zukai means "one who uses the art of remaining unperceived."
Other terms which may be used include oniwaban (お庭番 "one in the garden"), suppa, rappa, mitsumono, kusa (草 grass) and Iga-mono ("one from Iga").
In English language, the plural of ninja can be either unchanged as ninja, reflecting the Japanese language's lack of grammatical number, or the regular English plural ninjas.
Historical period of origin
The ninja use of stealth tactics against better-armed enemy samurai does not mean that they were limited to espionage and undercover work: that is simply where their actions most notably differed from the more accepted tactics of samurai. Their weapons and tactics were partially derived from the need to conceal or defend themselves quickly from samurai, which can be seen from the similarities between many of their weapons and various sickles and threshing tools used at the time.
Ninjas as a group first began to be written about in 15th century feudal Japan as martial organizations predominately in the regions of Iga and Koga of central Japan, though the practice of guerrilla warfare and undercover espionage operations goes back much further.
At this time, the conflicts between the clans of daimyo that controlled small regions of land had established guerrilla warfare and assassination as a valuable alternative to frontal assault.Since Bushido, the Samurai Code, forbade such tactics as dishonorable, a daimyo could not expect his own troops to perform the tasks required; thus, he had to buy or broker the assistance of ninja to perform selective strikes, espionage, assassination, and infiltration of enemy strongholds.
There are a few people and groups of people regarded as having been potential historical ninja from approximately the same time period. It is rumored that some of the higher-ranking daimyos and shoguns were in fact ninja, and exploited their role as ninja-hunters to deflect suspicion and obscure their participation in the 'dishonorable' ninja methods and training.
Though typically classified as assassins, many of the ninja were warriors in all senses. In Stephen K. Hayes's book, Mystic Arts of the Ninja, Hattori Hanzo, one of the most well-known ninja, is depicted in armor similar to that of a samurai. Hayes also says that those who ended up recording the history of the ninja were typically those within positions of power in the military dictatorships, and that students of history should realize that the history of the ninja was kept by observers writing about their activities as seen from the outside.
"Ninjutsu did not come into being as a specific well defined art in the first place, and many centuries passed before ninjutsu was established as an independent system of knowledge in its own right. Ninjutsu developed as a highly illegal counter culture to the ruling samurai elite, and for this reason alone, the origins of the art were shrouded by centuries of mystery, concealment, and deliberate confusion of history."
A similar account is given by Hayes: "The predecessors of Japan's ninja were so-called rebels favoring Buddhism who fled into the mountains near Kyoto as early as the 7th century A.D. to escape religious persecution and death at the hands of imperial forces."
In their history, ninja groups were small and structured around families and villages, later developing a more martial hierarchy that was able to mesh more closely with that of samurai and the daimyo. These certain ninjutsu trained groups were set in these villages for protection against raiders and robbers.
"Ninja museums" in Japan declare women to have been ninjas as well. A female ninja may be kunoichi (くノ一); the characters are derived from the strokes that make up the kanji for female (女). They were sometimes depicted as spies who learned the secrets of an enemy by seduction; though it's just as likely they were employed as household servants, putting them in a position to overhear potentially valuable information.
As a martial organization, ninja would have had many rules, and keeping secret the ninja's clan and the daimyo who gave them their orders would have been one of the most important ones.
For modern hierarchy in ninjutsu, see Ninjutsu.
Historical garb, technique, and image
There is no evidence that historical ninja limited themselves to all-black suits. In modern times, camouflage based upon dark colors such as dark red and dark blue can be used to give better concealment at night. Some cloaks may have been reversible: dark colored on the outside for concealment during the night, and white colored on the inside for concealment in the snow. Some ninja may have worn the same armor or clothing as samurai or Japanese peasants.
The stereotypical ninja that continually wears easily identifiable black outfits (shinobi shozoku) comes from the Kabuki theater. Prop handlers would dress in black and move props around on the stage. The audience would obviously see the prop handlers, but would pretend they were invisible. Building on that willing suspension of disbelief, ninja characters also came to be portrayed in the theater as wearing similar all-black suits. This either implied to the audience that the ninja were also invisible, or simply made the audience unable to tell a ninja character from many prop handlers until the ninja character distinguished himself from the other stagehands with a scripted attack or assassination.
Ninja boots (jika-tabi), like much of the rest of Japanese footwear from the time, have a split-toe design that improves gripping and wall/rope climbing. They are soft enough to be virtually silent. Ninja also attached special spikes to the bottoms of the boots called ashiko.
The actual head covering suggested by Sōke Masaaki Hatsumi (in his book The Way of the Ninja: Secret Techniques) utilizes what is referred to as sanjaku-tenugui, (three-foot cloths). It involves the tying of two three-foot cloths around the head in such a way as to make the mask flexible in configuration but securely bound. Some wear a long robe, most of the time dark blue (紺色 kon'iro) for stealth.
The assassination, espionage, and infiltration tasks of the ninja led to the development of specialized technology in concealable weapons and infiltration tools.
Specialized weapons and tactics
Ninja also employed a variety of weapons and tricks using gunpowder. Smoke bombs and firecrackers were widely used to aid an escape or create a diversion for an attack. They used timed fuses to delay explosions. Ōzutsu (cannons) they constructed could be used to launch fiery sparks as well as projectiles at a target. Small "bombs" called metsubushi (目潰し, "eye closers") were filled with sand and sometimes metal dust. This sand would be carried in bamboo segments or in hollowed eggs and thrown at someone, the shell would crack, and the assailant would be blinded. Even land mines were constructed that used a mechanical fuse or a lit, oil-soaked string. Secrets of making desirable mixes of gunpowder were strictly guarded in many ninja clans.
Other forms of trickery were said to be used for escaping and combat. Ashiaro are wooden pads attached to the ninja's tabi (thick socks with a separate "toe" for bigger toe; used with sandals). The ashiaro would be carved to look like an animal's paw, or a child's foot, allowing the ninja to leave tracks that most likely would not be noticed.
Also a small ring worn on a ninja's finger called a shobo would be used for hand-to-hand combat. The shobo (or as known in many styles of ninjutsu, the shabo) would have a small notch of wood used to hit assailant's pressure points for sharp pain, sometimes causing temporary paralysis. A suntetsu is very similar to a shobo. It could be a small oval shaped piece of wood affixed to the finger by a small strap. The suntetsu would be held against a finger (mostly middle) on the palm-side and when the hand was thrust at an opponent using the longer piece of wood to target pressure points such as the solar plexus.
Ninja also used special short swords called ninjaken, or shinobigatana. Ninjaken are smaller than katana but larger than wakizashi. The ninjaken was often more of a utilitarian tool than a weapon, not having the complex heat treatment of a usual weapon. Another version of the ninja sword was the shikoro ken (saw sword). The shikoro ken was said to be used to gain entry into buildings, and could also have a double use by cutting (or slashing in this case) opponents.
In popular culture
Main article: Ninja in popular culture
Ninja appear in both Japanese and Western fiction. Depictions range from realistic to the fantastically exaggerated.
* In the mid-1960s the Japanese TV series The Samurai created a major wave of popularity for the ninja in Japan, and this was replicated in several other countries where the series was screened, most notably in Australia, where the program's popularity rivaled its following in Japan among children.
* In Masashi Kishimoto's popular manga/anime Naruto, ninja are the main focus and ruling power.
* Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (TMNT) originally was intended to satirize the characterizations of ninja in the Western comics, primarily drawing on the fictionalized representations created by Frank Miller in Marvel's Daredevil comics of the late 1970s and early 1980s.
* Many sources, including books, television, movies, and websites are portraying ninja in non-factual ways, often for humor or entertainment. Popular examples include the Real Ultimate Power website and book, the Ninja Spirit parody video series, and the Ask a Ninja podcast and website which are satirically written, feigning obsessive over-enthusiasm for ninja. Ninja Burger presents a fiction in which Ninja can be hired to deliver fast food in 30 minutes or less without being seen, or, on failure, commit seppuku.
* More popular western fictional ninja have appeared in the popular 1980's ninja-oriented films of Japanese actor and martial artist Sho Kosugi, the American Ninja series, and the TMNT franchise, among others.
* Ninja frequently appear in videogames (i.e. Tenchu, Ninja Gaiden, Shinobi, Shinobido), where they have gained as strong a following among gamers as they have among movie-goers.
* In the movie You Only Live Twice, James Bond is brought to a government ninja training camp by the head of the Japanese secret service, Tiger Tanaka, and survives several assassination attempts there.
* Kawasaki Heavy Industries adopted the name "Ninja" for one of their lines of sportsbikes. (See Kawasaki Ninja.)
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