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10 Things You Didn’t Know About Ninjas

Ninjas
Getty Images/TriStar Pictures/Thinkstock/Miramax/Lionsgate

The ninjutsu, better known as ninjas, are a bit of mystery, especially when it comes to their origins. Historians believe the practice is a mix of different cultural self-defenses and philosophies from a mix of eastern nations. We like to think it’s all part of the ninjas’ plans to make them even more feared, unseen and mysterious.

Of course, movies and TV shows have taken the legend of Japan’s secret military weapon and turned it into another legend all of its own. These are the secrets that the hooded shadows don’t want you to know.

1. They weren’t primarily used as fighters

The Spy Next Door
Lionsgate

Some films and afternoon cartoons might portray ninjas as stand-up fighters who could subdue and disarm an enemy before they knew what hit them, but history paints a much different portrait.

For instance, the ninjas that were used starting in the 15th century by Japan’s military didn’t fight on the front lines or take on a group of enemies at once. According to Military History Magazine, their primary purpose was as spies. They would use their stealth training and cunning for reconnaissance and espionage missions. They were also used to carry out quiet assassinations.

2. Shurikens weren’t used to kill

Ninja Throwing Stars
Thinkstock

The infamous “throwing stars” in the ninja’s arsenal may have looked deadly, but the best they could do was wound. The ninja’s weapons were designed to play to their strengths as quiet soldiers who were light on their feet and able to use their enemies’ weaknesses against them. The “shuriken” was no different. It was designed to create a distraction to temporarily disable an opponent so they could do them in with a sword or a “shinobi-gama,” a sharp sickle attached to a chain.

3. Their black hood and suit wasn’t their only outfit

Kill Bill
Miramax

Ninjas were skilled at stealth and they certainly would stand out dressed in their familiar black uniform. Instead, they had to learn to blend in with crowds as they traveled from town to town on reconnaissance missions. They often wore outfits such as the “komuso” and the “yamabushi” to conceal their identity without making travel more difficult.

4. Only one Japanese ninja remains in the world

The traditions and techniques of the original ninjas were passed down from generation to generation and some have been lost to the ravages of time. Jinichi Kawakami of Iga, Japan claims to be the world’s last true ninja at 63-years-old. He serves as the 21st head of the Ban clan, a sect that dates to almost 500 years. He also promised not to pass on his skills to any apprentices because he doesn’t believe the skills of the ninja fit the needs of the 21st century.

5. A lot of ninjas were women

It’s often assumed that all early ninjas were male, but that’s far from the truth. There were a number of females trained in the art of ninjutsu and they were called “kunoichi,” according to the book ‘The Ninja and Their Secret Fighting Art.’ They often posed as dancers or entertainers to gain information through covert means and could even get close to their targets by using feminine wiles.

6. A self-proclaimed ninja claims he’ll pay $10,000 to anyone who can defeat him

The myth of the ninja has been the subject of many wild claims, but one can actually earn you some big bucks if you know your stuff. Ashida Kim has made some wild claims that his ninjutsu training has not only made him a deadly weapon, but also a supernatural warrior who has discovered the secrets to achieving mind control and invisibility. Anyone who doubts his skills is invited to fight him for a $10,000 prize for defeating him.

7. Michael Ian Black dropped out of college to be a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle

teenage mutant ninja turtles michael ian black
Amy Sussman, Getty Images

The comedian, author and “State” sketch troupe member was studying acting at NYU when he got the chance of a lifetime offer that every child of the 90s dreams of: To become a Ninja Turtle. According to an interview with The Village Voice, a friend offered him a job to play one of the famous Turtles as part of one of their many live shows and he jumped at the chance to don the Turtle costume. Unfortunately, he had to drop out of school to do it. He saw it as an opportunity to start his acting career without incurring a mountain of debt. He noted, “I’m fortunate it worked out.”

8. Chris Farley hated ‘Beverly Hills Ninja’

If you felt ripped off and disappointed by the ‘SNL’ star’s 1997 comedy follow-up to ‘Tommy Boy’ and ‘Black Sheep,’ you weren’t alone. Farley himself wasn’t pleased with it either, according to an A&E ‘Biography’ about the man. His manager Bernie Brillstein watched an advanced screening of the movie with Farley who reportedly got $6 million for the goofy movie. He noted, “He actually cried after it. He hated himself on screen so much and he said, ‘I never want to do that again.’” Unfortunately, his fans grew accustomed to his over-the-top, loud persona, even though he wanted to move more serious, understated roles. He was even ready to play disgraced silent film star “Fatty” Arbuckle in a biopic written for Farley by David Mamet before his death.

9. The world’s only ninja master trained the ninjas for ‘You Only Live Twice’

The 1967 James Bond film based on Ian Fleming’s second to last James Bond story took the famed secret agent to Japan where he trained in the ways of the ninjutsu. The producers wanted the most authentic look and feel for the film as possible and they enlisted the help of the world’s only practicing ninja, Masaaki Hatsumi. He not only trained all of the ninjas who appeared in the film, but he also made a cameo as one of its instructors.

10. ‘Fruit Ninja’ was inspired by a late night infomercial

The produce slicing iPhone and Xbox Kinect game has become one of the most popular mobile franchises in history and it’s all thanks to insomnia and the terrible television that comes on once ‘Frasier’ reruns are over. Shainiel Deo, the co-founder and CEO of Halfbrick Studios and co-creator of the ‘Fruit Ninja’ series, said the inspiration came from an infomercial for some very sharp knives. “There are a lot of commercials for selling really sharp knives and there are two things they are always cutting,” Deo said in an interview. “One is shoes for some reason, just to show how sharp the knife is and the other is fruit. We thought, ‘Yeah, that’s going to make a great iPhone game.” The mobile game sold more than 6 million copies on Apple’s iTunes store and has sliced up more than 150 billion pieces of fruit to date. That’s one mighty big and expensive fruit salad.

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