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Michelli De Rojas
Michelli De Rojas

Shinobi Skills: How to Master the Art of Stealth and Infiltration

Shinobi: The Covert Agents of Feudal Japan

When you think of Japan, one of the images that may come to your mind is that of a ninja, a masked warrior dressed in black, wielding a sword and throwing stars, and performing amazing feats of stealth and agility. But who were these mysterious figures, and what was their role in Japanese history and culture? In this article, we will explore the fascinating world of the shinobi, the covert agents of feudal Japan, who were also known as ninja.


What is a Shinobi?

A shinobi (忍び) or ninja (忍者) was a covert agent, mercenary, or guerrilla warfare expert in feudal Japan. The functions of a shinobi included siege and infiltration, ambush, reconnaissance, espionage, deception, and later bodyguarding and their fighting skills in martial arts, including ninjutsu. Their covert methods of waging irregular warfare were deemed dishonorable and beneath the honor of the samurai. Though shinobi proper, as specially trained warriors, spies, and mercenaries, appeared in the 15th century during the Sengoku period, antecedents may have existed as early as the 12th century.

The Origin and Meaning of the Term

The word "ninja" is the on'yomi (Early Middle Chinese-influenced) reading of the two kanji "忍者". In the native kun'yomi reading, it is pronounced shinobi, a shortened form of shinobi-no-mono (忍びの者). The word shinobi appears in the written record as far back as the late 8th century in poems in the Man'yōshū. The underlying connotation of shinobi (忍) means "to steal away; to hide" andby extension"to forbear", hence its association with stealth and invisibility. Mono (者) means "a person". Historically, the word ninja was not in common use, and a variety of regional colloquialisms evolved to describe what would later be dubbed ninja. Along with shinobi, these include monomi ("one who sees"), nokizaru ("macaque on the roof"), rappa ("ruffian"), kusa ("grass") and Iga-mono ("one from Iga"). In historical documents, shinobi is almost always used. Kunoichi (くノ一is, originally, an argot which means "woman"; :p168 it supposedly comes from the characters くノ一 (respectively hiragana ku, katakana no and kanji ichi), which make up the three strokes that form the kanji for "woman" (女).

The Roles and Functions of a Shinobi

A shinobi had two main roles: as an assassin and as a spy to gather intelligence on enemy movements and plans. For both, they employed disguises and learnt the art of deception. The real identity of successful shinobi was, of course, concealed to ensure their own safety and continued usefulness in future operations. Shinobi were also used as forward scouts and to generally cause as much disruption as possible behind enemy lines during nighttime commando raids.

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Shinobi were mainly hired by territorial lords known as daimyōs or by other shinobi. How Did Shinobi Develop Their Skills and Techniques?

The skills and techniques of the shinobi, collectively known as ninjutsu, were not a single martial art, but rather a combination of various disciplines and practices that evolved over time and across regions. Ninjutsu was influenced by Chinese and Indian fighting philosophies, as well as by the native traditions of Japan.

The History of Ninjutsu

The history of ninjutsu is not well-defined, but it is believed to have originated around the 6th century BC. The skills that became ninjutsu began to develop between 600 to 900 AD, and were influenced by Chinese and Indian fighting philosophies. The first known ninja school was formalized by Daisuke Togakure and Kain Doshi around the 12th century. The ninja evolved out of a blend of different ideas and disciplines, including shinobi, the covert agents or assassins of feudal Japan.

Ninjutsu was mainly used as a means of survival and self-defense in the turbulent times of feudal Japan, especially during the Sengoku period (1467-1568), when civil wars and conflicts among warlords were rampant. Ninja were hired by various lords and factions to perform tasks such as siege and infiltration, ambush, reconnaissance, espionage, deception, and later bodyguarding. Ninja were also involved in some of the major events and battles of Japanese history, such as the assassination of Oda Nobunaga, the unification of Japan under Toyotomi Hideyoshi, and the resistance against the Tokugawa shogunate.

The Schools and Regions of Ninjutsu

Ninjutsu was not a centralized or standardized martial art, but rather a diverse and adaptable set of skills and techniques that varied according to the school, region, and individual practitioner. There were many schools (ryu) of ninjutsu, each with its own history, lineage, philosophy, and methods. Some of the most famous schools were Togakure-ryu, Koga-ryu, Iga-ryu, Gyokko-ryu, Koto-ryu, Shinden Fudo-ryu, Takagi Yoshin-ryu, Gikan-ryu, Gyokushin-ryu, and Kumogakure-ryu.

The schools of ninjutsu were often associated with certain regions or provinces of Japan, where they developed their distinctive styles and traditions. The most renowned regions for ninjutsu were Iga and Koga, located in present-day Mie and Shiga prefectures respectively. These regions were home to many ninja clans and families who formed independent confederations that resisted the authority of the central government and the samurai class. They also sold their services as mercenaries and spies to other lords and factions.

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