"Ninja Sword" Non-Controversy
My friend Scott W. found a 20-year old issue of a ninja magazine with a quote from Masaaki Hatsumi that supports what I have said about ninja swords for decades. I do not own a copy of the magazine, and I had long ago forgotten about the article.
A few silly people envious of the attention my work has gotten over the past 30 years have tried to use a debate over ninja swords to discredit my authority. “If you can’t beat him, at least cheat him,” might be their battle cry.
One of the “reputation-killer arguments” put out by those critics has been an attack on my reference to choku-to straight-blade shinobi-gatana ninja swords as part of the stereotypical ninja image. “No such thing existed,” some like to insist in dismissal of me.
Do I believe that all ninja of feudal Japan carried straight-blade short swords as some sort of badge of official ninja-ness? No, of course not, and I never said anything like that.
Many ninja may not have even thought of themselves as ninja. They called themselves Iga no Mono “men of Iga” and rappa “grass-roots” and the like. Many or most carried standard curved-edge swords of the times.
Nonetheless, in Iga Castle and Odawara Castle and even the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art, you can see straight-blade Japanese swords on display.
My teacher used to do public demonstrations with such straight-blade swords back in the 1970s and early 1980s (before my most severe critics were even around to see such things).
My first books in the early 1980s were an introduction to the ninja tradition of Japan. I chose not to conflict with stereotype at that stage. Later, once the practice was established, I mentioned on page 22 of my 1988 book Ninja Vol 5; Lore of the Shinobi Warrior that the straight sword was a stereotype, and that indeed many ninja did not carry such a weapon.
My original ninjutsu teacher Masaaki Hatsumi had this to say on the subject:
“The shinobi-gatana was little more than a straight slab of heavy steel with a single ground edge; the tsuba was a hammered thick steel square barren of ornamentation, but it could also be used as a prying device or by leaning the sword against a wall or tree as a booster step for climbing; the saya was usually longer than the short blade.”
by Dr. Masaaki Hatsumi
Ninja Magazine – Winter 1987
Translated by Masaru Hirai
That’s what Scott found, and here’s a comment of his own:
“I thought this was interesting. I know some people try to say that because Mr. Hayes was a ghost writer translator on the book Ninja History and Tradition by Mr. Hatsumi, that some of the stuff about swords in the book is not correct. But this article was not translated by Mr. and Mrs. Hayes. I wonder what reason Mr. Hayes’ critics would come up with to explain away this one.”
A friend asked me why this was important enough to put on my web site. He was concerned that it made me look defensive arguing back against my inferiors. Why would a master need to justify what he teaches?
I post it because the “no straight blade ninja sword” argument makes me look wrong. If you just follow the foolishness on those critical internet sites, you could assume that others who know more than I do proved me wrong. And if I were wrong, I would expect my best students to be alarmed over what else I might be teaching wrong.
This kind of educational integrity has nothing to do with loyalty. It is intelligence. If I am wrong, I expect my students to be concerned. I expect to be held accountable for the veracity of what I teach. I would certainly be the first to hold my own teacher to the same standards.
But I am not wrong, and my teacher quoted above is not wrong, and you need to be very confident in that.
You are therefore right to take strong faith in what you study in our SKH Quest Center dojos.