What Is Ninjutsu?

The famous Ninja master Momochi Sandayu, who led the Iga-Ryū in the Middle Ages as one of the three great leaders, put it in a clear, unmistakable sentence like this:

Ninjutsu is not intended for the gratification of personal desires. The Ninja engages in his art because he is compelled to protect his country, leaders, or family. If you only practice Ninjutsu for the fulfillment of personal desires, your techniques will not benefit you.

Momochi Sandayu

Explanation of the Characters

The word describing the mysterious shadow warriors cannot be directly translated into non-Japanese languages.


The nin part of the word, which is also found in Ninja and Ninjutsu, is pronounced shinobu. It means perseverance, perseverance and omission all in one. Nin has a dictionary meaning and can mean stealth, secretiveness or concealment. Jutsu in Ninjutsu means art, ja in Ninja means person.


The character nin consists of two other characters. The upper part of the character is yaiba, which means blade.


And the bottom part is kokoro, which is the Japanese word for heart.


The construction of the character indicates that the heart, or will, is directed in paths that bring mastery over the blade as a tool. In a broader sense it means being in control of one’s body, soul and sense of what is right and what is wrong.

A Historical Misunderstanding

Arguably no art in the history of the earth has been so misunderstood as Ninjutsu. Little truth is to be found, and historians have to search long to find sources about Ninjustu that are not excessive propaganda, slander, or tall tales.

All of this is hardly surprising, since the official historians of the time were always part of the military dictatorship. Therefore, the resistance of the families of Iga (central Japan region) or Kōga (central Japan region) provinces has always been disparagingly mentioned in history. They have been recorded in history as criminals, insurgents or assassins.

History Is Always Subjective

A similar example of subjective historiography can be found also in the history of the United States.

Little is written in the history books of the brutal murders of the continent’s indigenous people, of the Founding Fathers, most of whom were slave owners. Their reputation remains that of heroes, champions of freedom and progress. The actual victims, namely the Native Americans (and the people abducted from Africa), were rewritten by historians as perpetrators.

These facts should not be disregarded when studying history books, because a story always sounds different depending on who wrote it.

One can look at the case of the Ninja in a similar way to the example of the Christian church: This also does not exist on the basis of the priestly brutality of the hellish days of the Inquisition of the Middle Ages, but on the basic Jewish thought of a carpenter from Israel.

Unfortunately, little has survived about the Ninja for posterity, and for many the Ninja will probably always be those hooded people who slit the throats of their enemies on moonless nights in black suits and face masks, brutal fighting techniques, murderous weapons and hidden tools.

Ninjutsu and Modern Media

Unfortunately, the modern media and traditionalists of Asian combat have further tarnished Ninjutsu’s reputation.

Numerous videos, comics and books by self-proclaimed Ninja flooded the market, and in the 1970s there was a real boom in Ninjutsu. Many climbed from tree to tree through the forests believing they were true Ninja.

Thank God the hoped-for happened:

I hope that after this tide, those few who seek the true essence of Ninjutsu will stay behind and help restore the reputation of this ancient art.

Hatsumi Masaaki

The media gradually stopped promoting Ninja as an interesting subject and lost interest – even the American Fighter series finally ended after five episodes.

Today, those who want to preserve the true essence of Ninjutsu have united in Hatsumi Masaaki’s Bujinkan (Divine Warrior) Budō (Martial Art) Dōjō (Training Hall) and spread all over the world.

Text: Stefan Imhoff