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Ninjutsu (忍術) sometimes used interchangeably with the modern term ninpō (忍法) is the martial art, strategy, and tactics of unconventional warfare and guerrilla warfare as well as the art of espionage purportedly practiced by the shinobi (commonly known outside of Japan as ninja). Ninjutsu was more an art of tricks, than a martial art. Ninjutsu was a separate discipline in some traditional Japanese schools, which integrated study of more conventional martial arts along with shurikenjutsu, kenjutsu, sojutsu, bōjutsu, battlefield grappling kumi-uchi (an old form jujutsu) and others.

While there are several styles of modern ninjutsu, the historical lineage of these styles is disputed. Some schools and masters claim to be the only legitimate heir of the art, but ninjutsu is not centralized like modernized martial arts such as judo or karate. Togakure-ryū claims to be the oldest recorded form of ninjutsu, and claims to have survived past the 1500s.


Spying in Japan dates as far back as Prince Shōtoku (572–622), although the origins of the Ninja date much earlier. According to Shōninki, the first open usage of ninjutsu during a military campaign was in the Gempei War, when Minamoto no Kuro Yoshitsune chose warriors to serve as shinobi during a battle; this manuscript goes on to say that, during the Kenmu era, Kusonoki Masashige used ninjutsu frequently. According to footnotes in this manuscript, the Gempei war lasted from 1180 to 1185, and the Kenmu Restoration occurred between 1333 and 1336. Ninjutsu was developed by groups of people mainly from the Iga Province and Kōka, Shiga of Japan.[citation needed] Throughout history the shinobi have been seen as assassins, scouts and spies who were hired mostly by territorial lords known as the Daimyo. They conducted operations that the samurai were forbidden to partake in. They are mainly noted for their use of stealth and deception. Throughout history many different schools (ryū) have taught their unique versions of ninjutsu. An example of these is the Togakure-ryū. This ryū was developed after a defeated samurai warrior called Daisuke Togakure escaped to the region of Iga. Later he came in contact with the warrior-monk Kain Doshi who taught him a new way of viewing life and the means of survival (ninjutsu).

Ninjutsu was developed as a collection of fundamental survivalist techniques in the warring state of feudal Japan. The ninja used their art to ensure their survival in a time of violent political turmoil. Ninjutsu included methods of gathering information, and techniques of non-detection, avoidance, and misdirection. Ninjutsu can also involve training in free running, disguise, escape, concealment, archery, and medicine.

Skills relating to espionage and assassination were highly useful to warring factions in feudal Japan. These persons were literally called "non-humans" (非人 hinin). At some point the skills of espionage became known collectively as ninjutsu, and the people who specialized in these tasks were called shinobi no mono.

The eighteen skills[]

Ninjutsu as depicted in a 19th-century sketch

According to Bujinkan members, Ninja Jūhakkei ("the eighteen disciplines") were first stated in the scrolls of Togakure-ryū. They became definitive for all ninjutsu schools.

Ninja jūhakkei was often studied along with Bugei Jūhappan (the "eighteen samurai fighting art skills"). Though some are used in the same way by both samurai and ninja, other techniques were used differently by the two groups (ninja martial arts was adaptation to surprise attacks at night, in the back or ambush and at espionage to stun the enemy for escape in case of detection). Ninja fought in the lack of space (thicket bush in the forest, narrow corridors and low rooms locks).

The 18 disciplines are;

  1. Seishinteki kyōyō – spiritual refinement
  2. Taijutsu – unarmed combat
  3. Kenjutsu – sword techniques
  4. Bōjutsu – stick and staff techniques
  5. Sōjutsu – spear techniques
  6. Naginatajutsu – naginata techniques
  7. Kusarigamajutsu – kusarigama techniques
  8. Shurikenjutsu – throwing weapons techniques
  9. Kayakujutsu – pyrotechnics
  10. Hensōjutsu – disguise and impersonation
  11. Shinobi-iri – stealth and entering methods
  12. Bajutsu – horsemanship
  13. Sui-ren – water training
  14. Bōryaku – tactics
  15. Chōhō – espionage
  16. Intonjutsu – escaping and concealment
  17. Tenmon – meteorology
  18. Chi-mon – geography

The name of the discipline of taijutsu (体術?), literally means "body skill" or "body art". Historically, the word taijutsu is often (in Japan) used interchangeably with jujutsu (as well as many other terms) to refer to a range of grappling skills. The term is also used in the martial art of aikido to distinguish the unarmed fighting techniques from other (e.g., stick fighting) techniques. In ninjutsu, especially since the emergence of the ninja movie genre in the '80s, it is also used to avoid the undesired bravado of explicitly referring to ninja combat techniques.