The “Ninja” Thing 


Forget the black pajamas, folks. That’s right out of the Edo period. Or, perhaps more accurately, right out of the Japanese equivalent of Hollywood. Do scuba divers wear their frogman gear on the street? No? Then why should a professional sneak and assassin walk around advertising his career like that?

Remember that shinobi — to give them the more common period form of the term — were supposed to be master spies. How well concealed is someone walking around in a night suit in the middle of the day? If you are interested in doing a shinobi persona, and doing it right, there are a few things you will need to know.

First, you will dress like a normal Japanese person. Preferably a non-descript one. An itinerant priest. A commoner. A merchant, or a pilgrim. Maybe a low-ranking bushi. You would not be caught dead wearing a night suit, because in the real world that’s exactly how you’d be caught in one. It may be an interesting exercise as an armorer to make a suit of padded and silenced shinobi mail armour, but when and where could you wear it? How could you use the nifty Iga army knife (to borrow a name from the Swiss) and maintain any semblance of "cover"?

Lurk, lurk, skulk, skulk.

It doesn’t work that way.

You may be from either Iga or Koga (and, by the way, locals there prefer to say “Koka”) if you want, but you should never ever fess up to being a shinobi no mono. People may wonder, but you should not make it obvious.

Never carry an arsenal of strange weapons or gear designed for sinister purposes. First, you could never use them (legally or politely, anyway) at an event, and second, you might as well wear a sign taped to your back — or better yet, a sandwich sign-board — saying “Shhhh. I’m a ninja. Don’t tell anyone.”

Give up being anything but really late period. Granted, shinobi and their roots were earlier than the Edo period, but it’s Edo that gives us all the really juicy ninja legends.

Do I have anything against shinobi? No, not really. Not if it’s done right. But I’ve yet to see it done right. The trouble is, most of the literature on ninja in English is less than trustworthy, and much is the product of martial arts schools wanting to cash in on something more exotic and “cool” than karate or aikidô.

One of the key things with shinobi is fitting in with one’s surroundings. Given that the SCA is primarily a Western organization, what better way to disguise yourself than to dress like a European? I’m thinking of a particular shinobi who has a European name. He has rank, titles, and lots of friends. No one knows that deep down, his “real” persona is Japanese (he never dresses that way, how could they?) but considers himself Japanese, and a shinobi.

That is how you do a ninja.