Organization of the Ryū


The Ninja developed a special system to keep their organization secret. Three distinct ranks have been developed, each with its own specialty and responsibilities.

At the head of a Ryū was a leader the head of the organization. The jōnin controlled the activities and decided what his Ninja did and at what cost. In larger Ryū, the jōnin was a wise man who was well informed about everything. He made his decisions based on a philosophical understanding of the totality of the universe. The true jōnin was a champion of harmony, aiding the oppressed without expecting great honor or great opportunity on his side.

He kept his vulnerability low by hiding his true identity from almost all of his agents. His agents were unable, even under the greatest torture, to reveal his identity or sell it to rivals.

Likewise, the jōnin could send different agents independently on the same mission to ensure success. By getting a picture of the situation from each of his agents, he was able to complete his complete picture.

This system of invisibility is used by numerous criminal organizations today for very similar reasons.


A group of middlemen works for the jōnin. It was the task of these chūnin to interpret the words of the jōnin correctly and to have the orders carried out correctly. A chūnin knew how to carry out an operation successfully, and to which agents he delegated the various tasks. He also guaranteed the anonymity and security of the jōnin.

When a client wished to employ the services of a Ninja clan, he would send a messenger to an area where chūnin were known to reside. This could be a remote area, or it could be fishing villages or entertainment districts. The chūnin then contacted the messenger, each time making contact in a different disguise. The chūnin informed the jōnin of the commission. The latter then weighed up the motives and first had background information obtained before agreeing or refusing. But even the client did not usually trust the Ninja straight away but instead had a fictitious order carried out first. Because betrayal and intrigues were the order of the day at the time. There were some Ninja Ryū who were loyal to certain houses, others who supported the house that pursued their goals, and still other clans who accepted any commission if the fee was right. These minor clans, often acting without the foresight of a jōnin, contributed greatly to Ninjutsu’s bad reputation.

As officers, the chūnin rarely took an active part in an operation. Of course, her training included combat techniques and espionage techniques, but her specialties were strategy and effective leadership.


The executive agents were called genin. It was their job to carry out the plans. It was the genin around which all the fantastical legends were woven. They were the ones who ended up doing the murder, sabotaging the bridge, or opening the gates of a fortress to their own troops. They lived in constant danger of being discovered on their missions and had to survive on their own.

They only had contact with the chūnin and usually did not know the jōnin so that his identity could be kept secret.

When not on a mission, they lived with their families in small, secret villages nestled in mountainous and swampy areas that were difficult to access. They lived there and appeared to be farmers or fishermen. They trained in secret, and not even their neighbors knew about their deadly trade. Often two groups of genin worked for the same jōnin without knowing anything about it.

Text: Stefan Imhoff