If there was one group of warriors that produced more myth and exaggeration and shrouded in so much mystery, it would be the ninja. The word ninja（忍者, or its alternative name shinobi, appears throughout historical accounts in the context of secret intelligence gathering or stealthy assassinations carried out by martial-arts experts. Many opportune deaths may be a result of clandestine activities by ninjas but because they work in so much secrecy it is impossible to prove them. The ways of the ninja are an unavoidable part of samurai warfare, and no samurai can ignore the utility and fear that they represented. However, ninjas were despised because of how they contradicted the samurai code due to their use of secretive and underhanded methods.
In the mid 15th century onward, certain samurai families began to develop particular skills in intelligence gathering during feudal warfare. These were the ninja families. Like so many martial arts traditions in Japan, their skills were passed down from father to son or more usually from sensei (master) to chosen pupil, who may not always have been a relative.
The most celebrated “professional” ninjas were leaders of the provinces in Iga and Koga. They were minor landowners who, just like any daimyo of any size, emphasized the value of family and loyalty.
Ninja Training (Photo Credit: Ninja by Stephen Turnbull)
1 – Learning to balance exceptionally well