I must preface this post with a disclaimer. After much research, I have found that what does and does not qualify as a “traditional” or “true” ninja weapon is the topic of much heated debate on the internet.
I know, right? Imagine that: People on the internet can’t agree. Shocker.
As I can make no claim as a ninja historian and was not (at least to my knowledge) a ninja in a past life, I have elected to present what I consider to be a ninja’s seven best weapons….at least as far as popular culture and what I could glean as probably accurate history is concerned.
I included that last bit for fear that proponent’s for both sides of the internet’s debates about what is and is not accurate have hired ninjas to assassinate me to stop the spread of whatever their particular side considers bad propaganda and they are currently hiding in the shadow that my recliner casts; just waiting for the perfect time to strike.
If they’re there, here’s how I’d imagine they’re equipped!
The 7 Best Ninja Weapons
1. Stealth. Some might balk at the idea of qualifying stealth as a weapon, but I stand by it.
While pop culture would love to have you believe that all Ninja operated in black pajamas with a balaclava or similar face-obscuring head gear, the truth likely lies closer to the disguise-oriented approach of today’s popular spy movies. Where ever the truth lies, the end goal is the same: Ninja strove to go unnoticed.
Ninja stealth was necessary in part because unlike their samurai compatriots, ninja tended to operate without much – if any – armor. Their garb – be it the easily recalled black get up made popular by modern media or situationally appropriate disguises – enabled them to get close undetected, make an unsuspected kill, and slip back into obscurity.
Stealth might be the absolute best ninja weapon.
Detection or confrontation, particularly by multiple enemies, could mean big trouble for the ninja. But beyond training in the art of disappearing, the ninja came equipped with all manner of tools and weaponry to help maintain their low profile.
2. Caltrops. Even the best trained ninja might occasionally encounter an unexpected set of eyes or ears.
The ninja’s primary objective in those moments of detection: Quickly neutralize the threat before the alarm is raised, break line of sight through evasion to regain the shadows and the much-needed element of surprise, or beat a hasty, if only temporary, retreat. In the event of the latter two, caltrops are invaluable. [Editor’s Note: Especially if they are evading Stormtroopers.]
Derived from the Latin calcitrapa, or “foot trap,” caltrops are simple yet amazingly effective. With absolutely no special training required, caltrops can be deployed and incapacitate humans, animals (including mounts), and even vehicles. In fact, our modern day police and armed forces’ spike strips are direct decedents from this tiny titan of passive-aggression.
We fear stepping on a LEGO in the dark…imagine treading upon one of these bad boys; let alone a veritable minefield of them and while in lead-footed pursuit or retreat. Ouchies.
3. Sword. Ah, the subject of most of the previously mentioned internet disputes. Was it curved or straight? With a tsuba (crossguard) or sans-tsuba?
Was the blade less than two feet long (called a wakizashi) or more than two feet long (and therefore a katana)?
The katana certainly has the upper hand in popular culture, but best I can tell they were used primarily by the samurai. Samurai actually carried two bladed weapons, collectively referred to as daishō, which means “big-little.” The longer of the two blades, the katana, is the daitō (long sword) while the shorter wakizashi is the shōtō, or short sword.
In fact: Have you ever noticed that many sword displays like the one pictured have two and sometimes even three blades? The longest is the katana, the next shortest is the wakizashi, and the shortest is called the tantō. Now you know!
As sexy as the katana is, I’d be willing to bet that the shorter wakizashi made the best ninja weapon for two reasons:
- The shorter length made it better fitted for indoor combat as opposed to the more open field or battlefield combat samurai experienced.
- Whereas katanas were carried by only the samurai or those who looted a dead samurai, the wakizashi was an everyman’s weapon – permitted for lawful carry by Joe Townsperson. Its availability makes it a more likely suspect.
4. Kunai. This implement has been somewhat misrepresented in modern ninja media incarnations such as the popular Naruto in which the kunai is shown to be much more like a throwing knife than its namesake and predecessor. Believed to be descended from a common masonry trowel, the kunai was the ninja’s Swiss Army knife. It could pry, dig, provide purchase, and even be utilized in combat if necessary.
The Kunai’s design lends itself to all manner of climbing and scaling, with the extended handle and ring through which rope could be fed to allow for grappling and repelling. Coupled with the ashiko, no wooden wall (the primary building material of choice during the ninja’s heyday) could not be scaled with relative ease.
5. Bō (Staff). My research revealed many more variations in this weapon than I anticipated.
When I think bō, I think six feet of hardwood akin to what Donatello of Ninja Turtles fame wields, but I found that the staff could also be partially hollow to permit for all kinds of surprises.
- A staff might, for instance, conceal a tanto, dagger, or other short-bladed weapon.
- Others concealed a poisonous dart in a hollowed end so that with a quick and expert flick of the wrist, a deathblow might be dealt from afar.
- I also discovered accounts of lengths of chain secretly residing within the end of a bō that could entangle opponents’ weapons or limbs, creating an opening for counterattack.
The beauty of the bō is its simplicity and availability. Anyone could conceivably fashion one out of hardwood or even bamboo and, with practice, become proficient with the resulting device. To become an expert or deadly with one was another matter.
The secret to the effectiveness of a bō staff is leverage. A small movement with the wrist at one end translates into amplified power at the other. Combine that flick of the wrist with contortions of the torso and drive from the feet, and you’ve got six feet of death-dealing fury to contend with.
Not to mention the fact that proficiency with the bō minimized trouble when weapons like the naginata or a spear broke. One weapon just simply becomes another!
6. Bow and Arrows. My last two submissions incorporate a bit more range.
Bows and arrows predate recorded history as weapons, are comprised of the simplest materials, and maintain the stealth element even with a ranged attack.
Little known about ninja history is that the ninja were among the early adopters of firearms, but the bow and arrow combo never fell out of favor.
Ninja would often dip their arrowheads in various poisons to increase their lethality as well, making an off-the-mark shot deadly nonetheless. We’re all familiar enough with how this weapon works!
7. Kusarigama. Literally “chain-sickle,” this tethered weapon permitted for both close-quarters and mid-range combat. Attacks with the weapon generally began with the iron weight being swung in lasso-like circles above the head before sending it flying at an opponent to entangle his weapon or his limbs and permitting the kusarigama‘s wielder to step in close and finish the opponent off with the sickle.
While a little bit more unwieldy than the more widely known nunchaku, I think this weapon has a bit more utility in its makeup.
Interestingly enough, the most recent animated incarnation of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles has Michelangelo sporting a kusarigama in place of his traditional nunchaku!
Far from encompassing the deadly ninja’s entire arsenal, this list of the best ninja weapons hopefully enlightens you to a bit of history, expands your understanding of these weapons’ utilities, or introduces you to an altogether new implement of devastation and demise.
Plus, the ninja is a weapon even when unarmed, so there’s that!
Which is the most deadly? Someone once asked the Ask a Ninja Youtube channel that question in one of his omnibus videos. His answer: “The one that kills you.” Here’s hoping you never actually find out the answer to this question.
And let’s be honest: If you did, you wouldn’t even know it had happened.
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