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Real Ninja Secrets Recently Uncovered

December 4, 2012

From Enter the Dragon to Kill Bill, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles to Naruto, and Mortal Kombat to Onimusha, the ninja figure has thoroughly cemented itself in 20 and 21st-century pop culture. Countless numbers of children dress up as ninjas for Halloween every year, and it’s not uncommon to run into products like the Ninja blender at the grocery store.

After decades of representation in film, television, video games, product branding and even rap music (I’m looking at you, Wu-Tang), portrayal of the ninja has ranged far and wide. These days, they’re mostly out of the shadows, pursuing vengeance or set on a tournament-style warpath for glory. The historic shinobi agent—defined by his stealth, cunning, and undying allegiance to the kingdom—has been transformed.

Seeking to take contemporary ninja-obsession back to its roots, explorer–historian Antony Cummins has uncovered a wealth of fresh ninja secrets with three never-before-translated ninja scrolls from ancient Japan.

Published together in his new book, The Secret Traditions of the Shinobi, the scrolls shed new light on the secret practices, techniques, and lifestyles of real ninjas. In the book, fire carrying, throwing torches, floating bridges, sleeping powders, floor tacks, basket elevators, and more are explained in full detail alongside esoteric mantras and other ninjutsu training philosophies. Dating back to the twelfth century—making it the oldest collection of written ninjutsu information in the world—one of the scrolls offers a hundred ninja poems, and another, the Shinobi Hiden, is widely attributed to one of the most famous ninjas of all time, Hattori Hanzo.

In the book, shinobi agents are of the utmost inconspicuousness in terms of appearance and lifestyle. They are never recognized because of their many disguises, embodying the lives of those they impersonate. Some of their best include monkey trainers, sake merchants, craftsman, and medicine peddlers. Because of their unwavering commitment to each unique mission, ninjas never carry anything of distinct value that could trace back to their lords or families. They are instructed that, “Those who go on shinobi missions should sacrifice their lives, attach importance to honor, value honor above life, be loyal to their lord, and throw themselves away for loyalty.”

Their lives are put on the line for whomever they serve, and no evidence is to ever be revealed about their allies and allegiances. Concealment in all aspects is vital, and during night attacks, masks are worn to not only shroud appearances, but to decipher allies from enemy troops. This book tames some of the more fantastical misconceptions of ninjas portrayed in modern culture, and reveals in their stead a vast amount of real-life secrets that add to the mysterious allure of the long-revered shinobi.

(Featured Image: By Sidharta-999 (done by a friend) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons)

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