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The History Of Ninjas

This Program Is Rebroadcast From Februrary 5, 2013.

Japan’s old politics by other means — the real, thousand-year history of the ninja.

Sketches by Hokusai, 1817 (Wikimedia Commons)

Sketches by Hokusai, 1817 (Wikimedia Commons)

The world, our imaginations, can’t seem to get enough of ninja. The original men in black.

We see them skittering over rooftops in the night. Unknowable. Unstoppable. Or maybe as teenage mutant turtles. Whipping nunchuks. Righting wrongs.

The real history of the ninja has had a hard time keeping up with the lore. It goes back to medieval Japan, and poor villagers using stealth and guile to thwart powerful warlords. They were the anti-samurai. Homegrown guardians of a proto-democracy. Of ninjutsu.

This hour, On Point: the real history of the ninja.

-Tom Ashbrook

Guest

John Man, author of “Ninja: 1,000 Years Of The Shadow Warrior.”

From Tom’s Reading List

Asian Review of Books “Like sumo wrestlers, samurai, shogun, and other Japanese archetypes, ninja are known outside Japan mostly by exaggerated and often fictionalized characteristics. The exaggerations include their black hooded uniforms and superhuman abilities like walking on water or scaling vertical walls. Ninja have been made even more cartoonish because of the popularity of the comic book and animation series Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. John Man helps rectify the misunderstandings about ninja, which is not an easy task as their origins and practices are in the shadows of Japanese history.”

BBC News “Japan’s era of shoguns and samurai is long over, but the country does have one, or maybe two, surviving ninjas. Experts in the dark arts of espionage and silent assassination, ninjas passed skills from father to son – but today’s say they will be the last.”

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  • Mark Davis

    Mr. Ashbrook – thank you for initiating a conversation about Ninjitsu based on your most recent interview which aired on
    February 5, 2013. I would like to introduce some basic points about the Ninja of old Japan, who had a diverse set of skills and training methods. There were some ninja’s that had ‘martial skill’ referred to as Ninpo Taijutsu and some that
    did not. The Ninpo Taijutsu skill set that we see today is a moving reference of notes for modern self-defense – as well as history lessons. Within the study of Ninpo Taijutsu (of today) we can also see how one would have moved and
    fought with old school Japanese armor. However, the art itself teaches flexibility in that we learn how to move our body in a natural manner which would be effective in a changing environment of today. If one were looking for
    notes on Ninpo Taijutsu from old Japan one would be hard pressed to find a first-hand step by step handbook on the subject, as it was highly illegal to ‘spy’ in old Japan. Today such traditions have been passed on by generational
    teachers and they currently sit with Dr. Hatsumi or his student Stephen K.Hayes, who has published extensively. I have had the honor of training with both of them and have known them for over 30 years. Additionally, here are some
    basic areas of study that a ninja would look at:

    Seishin Teki Kyoyo (Spiritual Refinement)

    -meso

    -Kuji-kiri

    -Kuji-in

    Ryu-Tai Dragon body Yoga

    TaiJutsu (Unarmed Combat)

    Ninpo Bikenjutsu (Ninja Sword)

    BoJutsu (Stick and Staff Fighting)

    Shuriken-Jutsu (Throwing Blades)

    YariJutsu(Spear Fighting)

    NaginataJutsu (Halberd Fighting)

    KayakuJutsu (Fire and firework,Smoke)

    HensoJutsu (Disguise and Impersonation)

    ShinobiIri (Stealth and Entering Methods)

    Bajutsu (Horsemanship)

    SuiRen (Water Training)

    Heiho (Strategy)

    ChoHo (Espionage)

    IntonJutsu (Escape and Concealment)

    TenMon (Meteorology)

    ChiMon (Geography)

  • http://neilblanchard.blogspot.com/ Neil Blanchard

    I am all for covering a broad and diverse range of topics, but this hour feels like so many of the second hours of On Point – that they are not really on point. I wish that both hours were more consistently relevant.

    I started listening to this, and I stuck it out about halfway through, and then switched over to Radio Paradise.

    • nkandersen

      Neil,

      Sorry to hear you weren’t pleased with this hour — we re-broadcast this episode from earlier in the year specifically because many listeners were big fans. Hope to have you stick around for both hours in 2014!

      -nick andersen
      web producer | on point radio

      • http://neilblanchard.blogspot.com/ Neil Blanchard

        Nick,

        I am a hardcore listener to On Point and a contributor to WBUR. I’m not going away! I just like the “heavier” topics you tend to do in the first hours more than some of the “lighter” topics in the typical second hours.

        • Matthew J Hall

          As a long term resident of Japan similar to Tom, I found this second 1/2, “lighter” topic totally interesting and thrilling to listen to. I’m always on the lookout for learning something more about Japan and this was a very enlightening interview. I look forward to reading the book now.

          I’m happy that Tom includes all sorts of topics and not just those that discuss world threatening/ending society as we know it types of scenarios. Thanks, @nkandersen:disqus and looking forward to all kinds of great segments in 2014!

    • Tom

      Niel, the 2nd hour is for more nuanced and in-depth topics, including history, for those with a deep intellect and broad comprehension. You might want to stick to Paradise Radio ;-)

  • http://www.avclub.com/users/incurable-ennui,70820/ Incurable Ennui

    To be fair – the author spent most of his time during the hour debunking the idea of “ninjas as we know them” and the hour ended with an observation you both share – that there is no authentic historical lineage of ninjutsu. It appeared to me that he was invited to discuss the topic of his book, which is part of doing a press tour to promote his book. Of course, I could be wrong – all I did was listen to the show.

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