You probably don’t know much, and that’s the way the ninjas wanted it, because Ninjas were warriors who rely on stealth. Historian John Man has researched the Ninja’s origins and methods, and chronicled them in Ninja: 1,000 years of the Shadow Warrior: A New History. Man traveled to Japan to do his research, and the hard work definitely paid off.
The book is broken into two parts; ancient history, and the revival of the ninjas during WWII. Man is more than just an historian, however; he shows that he is also an archaeologist and travel writer when he describes not only the research he did, but how he went about doing that research. The book reads not only like an historical account of the Ninja but also like a travelogue through Japan.
Each chapter has an epigraph from the “Ninja Instructional Poem” which guides a warrior training to become a ninja. Every other chapter expands on an element of the ninja life, breaking down the elements of their training into easy-to-understand steps. These short chapters, spread between longer historical accounts of warfare, read almost like a how-to account of ninja training. Survival, observation, stealth, disguise–these are all important enough to warrant their own mini-chapters.
Perhaps the most important element of Man’s book is the debunking of classic misconceptions about the Ninja warriors and their roots. Often we think of them as silent assassins when in fact they were more like modern spies, slipping from shadow to shadow undetected in order to collect intelligence and return from whence they came undetected and, most importantly, alive. The reality may be a far cry from our favorite turtles, but it’s certainly just as bodaciously awesome.
Image Source: Brandatello’s DeviantArt