America is as fascinated with the concept of the ninja as they are with the samurai, cowboy, and other iconic figures. This is especially evident in the popularity of the show American Ninja Warrior, based off a Japanese show called Ninja Warrior. We love cheering on American ninjas on the big screen, and we even do our part to help them train with our Grand Rapids ninja warrior course. But ninjas predate America by a good couple of centuries at least. Here is a quick overview of the history of the ninja.

What makes a ninja?

In feudal Japan, a ninja was an agent of stealth who specialized in unorthodox versions of warfare, including espionage, infiltration, assassination, and sabotage. This is in stark contrast to the honorable samurai, who represented the bureaucracy of the time. The beginning of the ninja could have started anywhere from the 12th to 15th centuries, but they really gained prominence in the Sengoku period of Japan, which was the golden age of the ninja.

Most of what is known about ninja is based on myth and folklore—what else do you expect from a group of shadowy assassins? Actual historical accounts are very scarce.

Who were the ninja?

While the samurai were made up of Japanese nobles and honorable men, ninja were recruited from the dregs of society. Lower class workers and rejected samurai were recruited to fight outside the strict code of decorum samurai were subject to. They would be employed as arsonists, raiders, spies, and terrorists, and used guerrilla tactics otherwise not common for the time.

Iga and Koga Ninja

During the early 15th century, the Iga and Koga family ninja clans gained prominence, and the golden age of the ninja began. Ninjas in the clans weren’t just hired from the lower classes, but trained since childhood in the art of the ninja. They were hired by the Japanese ruling class for decades to carry out nefarious plots and orders. Each ninja would master a wide array of weapons and skills. Some common weapons used included kunai, shuriken, katana, dagger, kusarigama, and more. They would also often carry climbing tools to effectively and stealthily navigate different terrain.

Ninja Legend

Many supernatural and legendary abilities have been ascribed to the ninja over the centuries. Some old legends attribute powers of flight, shape shifting, and invisibility to them. Others give them control over the five classical elements. Even the noble kite has been said to be used as a servant of the ninja.

Their Fall

Eventually, in 1581, emperor Oda Nobunaga invaded Iga and Koga provinces and annihilated the ninja clans. However, survivors would continue to serve Japanese rulers, and were even commissioned into a secret police eventually.


Hopefully this fills you in on some of the history of the ninja. Make sure to bring your kids by our Grand Rapids ninja warrior course at our trampoline park, and get them started on their own ninja training today. Feel free to give us a call if you have any questions about our location or attractions. We look forward to seeing you!

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