The ninja has reached cult status in America due to its portrayal in modern pop culture, much like the samurai. But remember, these iterations are based on actual historical groups of people with a rich and storied history. If you’re a fan of American Ninja Warrior (we are!), you may be interested in learning a little bit about the history of the ninja. Here, we’d like to go over a quick history of ninjas in Japan. And if it pumps you up to learn that these figures actually existed, try your hand at our Edison ninja warrior course here at Rebounderz!
Before there were ninjas, there was Yamato Takeru. He was a 4th century prince mentioned in the Kokiji, the oldest still existing written chronicle from Japan. In it, legend has it that Yamato disguised himself as a charming and attractive maiden in order to assassinate two rival chiefs. Yamato has retroactively been dubbed a ninja, although the term did not exist back then.
It wasn’t until the 15th century, known in Japan as the Sengoku period, that actual records of ninjas trained specifically for espionage came into existence. This is also when the word ninja (shinobi) came to refer to this group of people. While there isn’t concrete historical data of ninja training for this period, later manuals often appear to co opt many Chinese military tactics, like those found in Sun Tzu’s The Art of War.
While the definition of ninja itself is broad, and could include many people, there were actually places where ninjas were professionally trained in the art of the shinobi. Credit for this goes to two distinct family clans: the Iga and KŌga. Both of these clans made their home in remote provinces, which might have contributed to their secret development. They even had a role system, including jonin (top rank), ChŪnin (middle rank), and gēnin (lower rank).
In the tail end of the 15th century, Oda Nobunaga, a powerful feudal lord, raided the Iga province and destroyed both clans. Survivors fled into the mountains, and some made it to a benefactor, Tokugawa Ieyasu, who treated them well. Hattori Hanzō (a famed historical ninja) even went on to become one of Tokugawa’s bodyguards.
Even as late as the 18th century, ninjas were used as part of an intelligence agency by shogun Tokugawa Yoshimune.
Not only did ninjas have ranks among them, they had specific roles as well. These roles included everything from spy (kancho), to agitator (konran), to ambush attacker (kishu).
Hopefully this quick overview about ninjas proved interesting. But remember, the ninja legacy lives on! If you’re interested in training to become the next American Ninja Warrior, we have our very own Edison ninja warrior course at our trampoline park. With four different difficulty levels, you’re sure to meet the ultimate challenge to test your skills as a ninja. We also have a host of other fun activities, including trampoline basketball and a foam pit. Drop by today or give us a call for more info!