How Real Was "Ninja Assassin"?

Some friends asked me what I thought of the movie Ninja Assassin. “So how real was it?” some asked.

“Real? What can I say? It was a real movie, and it was about ninja assassins,” was all I could reply.

“No, I mean is that what ninjutsu really looks like? How real was the stuff in the movie?”

What am I supposed to say? Would you ask the CEO of Toys R Us how “real” he thinks the Nutcracker Ballet is in terms of its depiction of the way toys come alive at night and dance around under Christmas trees? What could he say?

“Yes, but, you were trained in ninjutsu in the 1970s, and you saw all the 1980s ninja movies, so how real was it?”

Well what did YOU think when you watched the movie Ninja Assassin?

Is it possible that a very old ninja tradition could become corrupted to the point where it no longer lived up to its original ideals and became something grotesque? Could that be real?

Is it possible that one of the very best students could become so disappointed with the corruption that he felt compelled to leave as a statement against the degeneration of the tradition? Could that be real?

Is it possible that the other students would feel so threatened by – and perhaps even envious of – the moral stand of the rebel, that they all banded together to eliminate the rebel lest their own degeneracy be exposed? Could that be real?

Is it possible that the students could be so blinded by their resentment of the rebel that they foolishly stuck with outmoded training that had them fighting modern assaults with antiquated defenses? Could that be real?

Is it possible that because the art was allowed to pass into the hands of degenerate students, conventional fighters in the world would be so busy snickering and eye-rolling and ridiculing “ninjuhz” that they would not recognize what an incredible martial art it was and would not appreciate the power for good that the rebel was trying to offer them? Could that be real?

How real was Ninja Assassin?

I don’t know what to say. What do you think? Real, or totally impossible?

46 comments to “How Real Was "Ninja Assassin"?”

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  1. I found the many decapitations-by-shuriken to be beyond belief and the fighting techniques were too flashy, acrobatic, etc. I also thought the spiritual aspects were downplayed too much, only given some voice by the protagonist, but in a rudimentary way. This could be due to what An-shu has said: that he was trained in a degenerate and morally corrupt form of ninjutsu, so the spiritual roots were also rotted, corrupted.

    • Concerning movie magic in the fantasy world of a ninja is not a disgrace but purly just movie magic. To find a extreme betrayal to the art is ridiculous. As a young boy ninja movies not to mention Bruce Lee movies inspired me to enter the real world of martial arts. As any real practitioner would come to see, the real art is not the flash and dance one might see in a hollywood style film. Non the less, the films are an exaggeration of the real art and are meant to entice. Even Bruce had said that what you see in films would never work in real life senarios. But to be offended or question the authenticity of such films is to be ignorant to the art. One should be proud of the fact that the mystique that has surrounded the legend of the ninja has actually perpetuated the longevity of the art in the seekers of the true way. As MMA has become a houshold event all true martial art students have seen what has come of the art or arts they have studied. There is no hollywood flash and dance but only what really works from a real world view. I thank those who have made movies that serve as inspiration to the young to seek the truth of the arts.

  2. I’m still waiting for a movie that captures the heart of true ninpo taijutsu, genuine spiritual transformation, and driven by a pure motivation of compassionate service to others. The closest we’ve gotten was the TV show Kung Fu, which hasn’t been successfully replicated or improved on.

  3. The movie was completely unrealistic, and too flashy and acrobatic to be considered Real Ninjutsu, which is common in most Ninja movies the art is sacrificed for the sake of entertainment value. I was actually waiting for AnShu to confirm what I was thinking about the movie. Alot of Hollywood Ninja movies have little or nothing to do with how Authentic Ninjutsu is practiced, and what it really stands for ;And its a shame a lot of people are misinformed and by how hollywood depicts the Ninja out of its lack of knowledge People dismiss the art as people running around in black clothes ruthlessly murdering people, and disapearing. It’s a shame people don’t get too see the value of ninjutsu because of the ignorant view of hollywood movie makers that gets perpuated in all these so called Ninja Movies

  4. I was afraid they would ruin it, and they did. All of the sensational stunts and vampire-movie like blood letting aside…the film showed a few glimmers of hope and then spoiled it soon after with…you guessed it, more blood letting. Rains character at times showed deep feelings and emotional turbulance. The stealth special effects were an unexpected treat. However, Sho Kosugis character was fun to hate but completely under developed as far as motive goes. Now The idea that scores and scores of “Ninjas” keep replenishing themselves in fights that looked like battles from Braveheart was completely insane. And of course as An-Shu and the others have already sited…nothing like real Ninjutsu, except for maybe the time when the girl assassin student tried to convince Rain that he did have a heart while she was setting the bonsais free.

  5. Stephen, this is an interesting post- be careful, or you’ll actually make people think out here…!

    (I have not seen this movie, and based on the ads/promos I’ve seen, I will not see it- it just seems silly.)

    You have had a “tough row to hoe” as my grandfather would say – a complex path to navigate- but to OUR benefit, so thank you. Hopefully the information that you do and will pass on can be absorbed, used, and passed on again, all in an appropriate fashion.

    It is the question of, “What do I do with the seed given to ME?” that each of us have to answer… Also, “HOW will I do what I do with it?” These are very complex questions, that none of us came in thinking about when we started at this!

    You have been one of the first that we, a western audience have had the opportunity to see answer these questions – and of course your students (our teachers).

    It is unfortunate that people don’t let you be real sometimes- don’t let you have the opportunity to be human- but this is (sort of) the price of fame… You are exposed… especially with the internet (sigh) it is very easy for people to “talk trash” from the relative safety of anonymity… Frustrating.

    My teacher respects you so much that I can’t help but respect you… and there is no question in my mind that he’s the most – how can I put this… “effective” (!?!) – person I know.

  6. 😉
    Isn´t it interesting how content can be transferred by “not” talking about it?

    Saluting you!

  7. The movie was “Bread and Circus” – bloody action but out of logical reality.
    The only movie I have ever seen as close to reality (for “Ninja” movie) is “The Last Ninja”.
    Do you remember it?

  8. Ninjutsu needs a movie like ‘Kuro Obi’ so that it has the effect on the art and the perception of the art that Kuro Obi had for Karate. Best!

  9. I’m sorry about the intrusion upon your website. I’m sorry
    about my failed attempts at adopting your mindset.
    Yes, they are failed attempts. If they offended. . . well, I will
    keep my guard up. No need for you to. I’ll keep mine up though.
    I loved wrestling and boxing as a kid. As for being a Ninja, it is almost 2010. Technology has rendered the arts virtually obsolete. I say this having been robbed 3 times by a stun-gun. I’ve been robbed by a hand-gun enough times that I probably won’t piss my pants anymore.
    If I could piss my pants and have the money back, that would be great.
    Good luck with the Ninja thing.

  10. The movie is just as it should be. Hollywood has failed to get it right in the scope of historical accuracies; “shocker”.
    Hollywood never has showed ninjutsu in its true scope and never will. Until then, we choose to watch them or not.
    Mr. Hayes, in reference to your article… ouch! lol
    Hmmm, I guess it could be possible, 😉

  11. The movie, in my opinion was great! I loved the Hollywood special effects and the the fight coriography was definitely a lot of martial arts blended in together. I didn’t see a lot of Ninjutsu movements just because the art is simple, effective and not always so flashy. So a Ninja movie is never going to reflect the true art or its beautifull history and culture at least not in this country- I agree whole heartedly at what An-Shu pointed out. There are defenitely some loop holes in the concept of the Family clan. I dont think that the ruthless teacher would have had that much support and power acting the way he did. He definitely would not have the support of all his clan unwaiveringly like so either. Great movie, Not real is my verdict.

    … and ohh yeah … Jeffrey, I can see why you have been robbed multiple times on the street, That mouth can be your worst enemy! Before you learn any self defense you need to learn the humbling lesson of silence and respect. If you think that ninja are an obsolete bunch of tight wearing assassins then close your eyes and let your narrow minded view take you more and more twoard the innerside of your little boxed mind

  12. It`s a movie. If it was not flashy or have blood, sex shurikens flying like machine gun bullets, then who would watch it. The people who make movies want to make money. Of course its not real. All the movies from the 80`s were great to watch. Was it real Ninjutsu ? Of course not. Those that have studied the real art knows this. We do not have to convince the public. They will always believe the negatives and think that it is useless in todays world. Those that study and stay with it have made it their life style. Others have come and gone. Most that have gone , were not meant to be here. This style will weed out the ones who are not meant to be here.

    I think we spend to much time in the entertainment world and lose sight of whats real. I owned a 69 Dodge Charger , but it did not mean that I could jump cars, houses, trains , planes and tall buildings because one on tv could. Impossible, yes, but still entertaining none the less when your a young child. The same goes for the martial arts. When people come to study and realize that it is hard work and a slow process and that when you snap your fingers and you do not disapper then they are disapointed and move on. We do not want them anyhow. Those that stay are meant to.

    An-Shu answered the question very accuratly. Life is difficult at times, then their are those that make it more so. It`s a movie people, meant to entertain you. If you went to see this movie and hoped it would portray real Ninjutsu, then you must not have seen the commercial for it. If you went because it looked like a good kick ass movie then great. Anything else, then I`m sure you were unhappy.

    An-Shu, you have been a great inspiration to me since the early 80`s and I want to take the time to Thank You. Keep up the great work that you and your wife do. Ed

  13. As far as the Ninja Assassin movie; enjoy it for what it is, entertainment.

  14. I feel I should make a comment here, being a stage combat professional, but I hesitate to join this particular conversation.

    Ah well, too late. 🙂

    The art of stage combat (stunt fighting) and the martial arts are different animals. Being trained in one can be a good complement to the other, but they do completely different things. They’re made for different purposes. As such, they should not be compared. A martial artist shouldn’t “diss” a movie for being unrealistic any more than a fight director should criticize a real self-defense move as not being cool-looking enough. The comparison is moot.

    For two well-written articles on the “martial arts/theatrical combat dichotomy” see:

  15. I thought this would come up, and I did leave a comment on the facebook page as well. It’s a good action movie. I can’t imagine it as anything more or less than that. Very wushu movie. CG ninja weapons. But still a good ride in the vein of a hundred other movies just like it. I just hope this doesn’t cause a lot of people to show up at dojo trying to learn how to rip someone’s face off with a kusari gama. But maybe some very nice people will decide to stay and train, and that would be a great bonus from the movie.

    Anyone seen the Shinobi movie? A ninja love story does get my attention. You don’t see that every day.

  16. I have not seen the movie and don’t care to. The true essence of Ninjutsu will never be portrayed in movies. It is something that we must personally experience. Never feel as if you have to justify our art to anyone based on their opinion of what they see in movies. Be true to yourselves and strive to continually grow spiritually, mentally, and physically. Through our everyday actions we can inform people of the true essence.

  17. Could it be that this post is nothing more than a clever dig at the Bujinkan?

    As for the movie, well, it seems to be little more than a video game inspired guilt-trip – avenge this, honour that, remember this, never forget that…

  18. Utterly real. (I’m taking for granted you’re not asking about the CGI)

    As to the blood and gore–yeah, there could have been less. But that didn’t seem to be the movie’s basis. I chalk the violence up as poetic license. It was just too in-credible to take seriously, like Nutcracker’s parade of dancing dolls.

    The movie’s demonstration of ninpo itself was elegant, and real. The main character’s evolution in purpose was authentic, soulful and touching in a simple, raw way. How many of us have had our beliefs challenged like that? How many of us have exercised that kind of internal courage? I found it to be very inspiring.

    I’m personally glad the movie didn’t define the villain’s motive. Corruption can take a variety of forms, and isn’t limited to a specific Person X or Situation Y. I was glad the movie sacrificed a more textured villain for the sake of a more universal message. Just a matter of my personal taste.

    As to the inaccurate recreation of mechanical technique–that seemed beside the point of the movie. For what it’s worth… well, I guess the villains could have bent their knees more. I’m sticking with Quest DVDs for instruction in mechanical technique.

  19. Loved the movie! Of course non of it was accurate, but I never expected it to be, I also loved red shadow, a cute movie, and shinobi heart under blade (I think that was the title) great movies but obviously not accurate. But that’s what makes it entertaining and fantasy. Just my two cents. Also I have a question for stephen hayes or one of his instructors that I think is inappropriate to voice in an open forum but I can’t seem to locate a “contact us” link or email, if someone could point me in the right direction I’d greatly appreciate it, thanks. -Justin

    [Editor – You can send an email to An-shu Stephen K. Hayes and his Hombu staff at Please be aware that his travel schedule often makes it difficult for a right-away reply.]

  20. I’d like to make myself a little more clear here. As others have said, you shouldnt have gone to this expecting to see real Ninjutsu. I certainly did not, and of course I realized I was going to see a “popcorn” movie with more flash than substance. That being said, as far as an action flick goes, I still think they ruined it. Entertainment or not, for me to enjoy it I would still like it to have at least a shred of credibility and this movie did not. It eventually became tiresome to watch and even though I didnt expect them to portray anything close to a believable version of Ninjas, I would have prefered them to not go the other way and get stupid about it. I’m sorry folks, I guess I demand a little more intelligence behind my entertainment.

  21. But film fighting is so different from real fighting. It’s completely different. Even a fight that’s supposed to show a style is not going to look “authentic” at all no matter what. This is the main idea I keep struggling to express to both my stage combat and real martial arts students. It’s a completely different monster.

  22. Interesting and insightful commentary by Mr. Hayes!

  23. Kind of sad that we are asking Stephen Hayes for his verdict on
    an action film. Was it ninja enough? is that real? could that happen?

    People are still curious about the origins of the ninja.
    My question is then why doesn’t someone get a screenplay up that is authentic, a film that will answer and satisfy all the curious ninja
    out there.

    If some venture capitalists can make bucket loads of cash from
    action style ninja flicks, imagine what a gritty hard hitting snapshot of Japan with Ninja’s might make.
    My Hayes feeling directorial?



  24. Hey, I’m ready to start production on the ultra-real ultra-entertaining ultra-iconic and ultra-profitable ninja movie. I have the story written. I have the locations all set. We just need a screenwriter to get the lines down for the actors.

    And, oh, yeah… I guess we will need a few of those financial angels, too.

    Let me know when you’re ready, adventurous movie-makers of the world!

    Stephen K. Hayes

  25. What is the plot of your movie Mr Hayes?

  26. I’ll write the script.

  27. You want a real Ninja movie? How about a story about an idealistic young man who runs off to Japan in his youth and against all odds ends up training with the last authentic Grandmaster of an ancient Ninja art? We could even throw in a little romance for the ladies, and have him meet and marry a beautiful young Japanese woman while he’s there!

    Seriously, why hasn’t *that* movie been made?

  28. An associate sent me this amusing link to a “Ninja Assassin” video review:

    Hey, what more can you expect?

    – Stephen K. Hayes

  29. An-Shu…I think an idea has been proffered. What a film it would make. Of course you are humble, but think of the good it would do. A real film about a real western student discovering real Ninjutsu! Don’t let the hate-mongers put this flame out. You are the true story.

  30. WOW I have to hand it to you. I didn’t realize just how great of a writer you truly are! It takes a master with a real degree such as your own to post more innuendo then conceivably possible in one blog then anyone else ever has! YOU ROCK!

  31. LOL I love the video review! Excellent!!!

  32. I hope you get lots of your real students to act in your movie Mr. Hayes! I would love too! 🙂

  33. James Glendenning says: -#1

    I have not seen the movie in question YET. However, I do plan on it. Either the movie is successful or not, It is what it is “entertainment”. To all of us who have had the chance to learn what truly ninpo is; We understand its greater value,of how the mind will interpret what the individual has chosen to believe. Every instance of life in the daily grind,has its inspirational moments, just as a movie can have an idea to exchange. Just as this post was created by a director, whos script is being played out through the posting of an idea with ties to an emotion. Have a Blessed Day….. Mr. Hayes
    and SHUKRAN…..

  34. Have you ever considered adding more videos to your blog posts to keep the readers more entertained? I mean I just read through the entire article of yours and it was quite good but since I’m more of a visual learner

  35. It was as real as the “flying moves” in the Chinese martial arts movies.
    The ninja were real, deadly and misportrayed in almost every sense.
    That said, I’d not have liked to be on their bad side.

  36. I would hate to be on their ‘good’ side.

  37. I say movies are for entertainment, documentaries are for knowledge.
    did you watch to be entertained or enlightened?

  38. This post wasn’t about a movie but more about An-shu’s struggle with Hatsumi Sensei and the Bujinkan. I am in the Bujinkan, and I while I disagree to a point that the old ways are not sufficient to meet new threats, I admit Ninpo should evolve and grow. However, I have come to find, in agreement with Mr. Hayes, that the Hatsumi Bujinkan is watered down significantly and focuses just on taijutsu and not on the plethora of other knowledge encompassing ninjutsu. Thanks Mr. Hayes for getting me into budo via your books when I was a kid. It was sad when I was at the BJK hombu to see your shihan name placard taken down – that shameful behavior is the thanks the Noda people give to the man who made the international Bujinkan possible? Keep up the good work!

  39. Jeff Nash says: -#1

    I have to eat a little crow here. When the DVD released I did buy a copy and have watched it many times. I guess I liked it more than I really knew. Well, OK then. On some points, I stabbed too soon. If I have watched it this many times, there is something I accept and enjoy. Sorry Rain, and everyone else involved.

  40. Will anyone be ready to smell a smoke smell on me?

  41. An-Shu, your point is well taken and I hope everyone read between the lines. I have been following you for almost 30 years so I saw everything you described as it happened.

  42. I think the person asking the original question simply wanted to know if any of the fight scenes contained any real technique. The simple answer of course is no and most of us that have trained in this art can spend all day pointing out the weaknesses of such a flashy and acrobatic fighting style.

    The important thing to remember is very few Hollywood movies portray any combat arts accurately (with the exception of Borne Identity) since most real life or death fights are close quarters and over fast. This isn’t just restricted to ninjas portrayal in Hollywood look at any movie involving Special Forces or the CIA.

    The over the top interpretation of ninjas isn’t restricted to Hollywood or modern times. There are many old legends of ninjas having mystical powers and some of this misinformation was spread by ninjas themselves as a form of psychological warfare. I’m just glad that the final fight scene in ninja assassin didn’t have them riding into battle on giant toads while holding a scroll in their mouths.

    The point I’m trying to make is as real ninjas we cannot let ourselves become too sensitive about the way this art is portrayed in Hollywood because Hollywood is just doing what it does best. Taking a historical legendary art that has already had some over the top elements added to it in old legends and putting it on steroids. When I go see a ninja movie I’m not expecting a historical or even remotely accurate portrayal of ninjutsu I’m expecting to see Rambo meets the Terminator with a hint of Spawn since that’s the Hollywood standard.

  43. While I never expected Ninja Assassin to be more than a throwback to the 1980s Ninj movie genre that has me grinning from ear to ear BECAUSE those movies are so unreal, I have seen this movie in a whole new light and love it for even more reasons ever since the first time I read this post.

    Besides, it’s much more entertaining than my stories of following Mr. Hayes’ advice of, “If you feel endangered, just leave. Get out of there when things turn suspicious, creepy, or threatening,” and, “Go where it is safe and sane and you are welcomed and appreciated.” To be fair, movies like that would only last as long as the shorts before the beginning of a Pixar film and most general audiences wouldn’t see the Ninjutsu at work.

    I guess that’s a good thing, though.

  44. I have not taken any formal tainnrig through Quest or through Shinobi martial arts, but I can say a couple things with some experience in the Martial Arts world. The tainnrig makes sense. I have read some of Mister Hayes books, and I have seen some of the tainnrig. It works, and it is well taught and simple. Martial arts is about mind over matter. Its about enlightenment. I have seen such posts myself. I simply pay them no mind.

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