"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. However, when exploring the historical context of weaponry during that era, it’s essential to delve into the diverse array of weapons used, including the various Types of Medieval Swords that played a crucial role in shaping combat practices.

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.

30 comments to “"Ninja Sword" Non-Controversy”

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  1. thank you sir!!!! finally the real deal…now if we can just get you to make the stealth tape doing some of the stuff you guys did im the mystic arts of the ninja…there are ninja wars going on now any way ,mr hayes due to jinichi kawakami and the like and the english traslations comin of the old ninja tomes… and they are proving your theories and a lot of what soke said true back in the day as well…budo taijutsu people dont like it..not one bit..i wish soke hatsumi would just go back and put a video out on his iga NINJA training so much of what they are getting now is the combination of schools and no thats not ninjutsu !!! some of it is but not all of it and they are all walking around confused and the people that really learnt ninjutsu are confused by that ,and so are the budo taijutsu people…they need to do there research…mr hayes has told the truth as it was presented to him (and other shihan at the time as well!! ask them!!?)and alot of people cant deal with it. ninjutsu is not dead. that would be saying budo is dead as well only those who judge can say this. sorry budo taijutsu guys but all of us old time guys trained outside and did real ninja type training like it or not..and there is alot more than just straight swords to be concerned with..how about the fact there really was a shinobi shozuk? hahahaha..yep thats true to…thanx for this anshu!!!!much love!!!

  2. Thanks for the posting Mr. Hayes. I have read a lot of back and forth on this subject…even argued a bit in the past on some of the forums before I gave most of them up. Nice to see this flash from the past!

  3. As far as I am concerned, An-shu, you were the first. You were the first American to get the inside view of ninjutsu. You were the first American to train with Hatsumi Sensei. You were the first American to get close to Hatsumi Sensei; and you were the first American to bring ninjutsu to the United States. Society today, sadly enough, wants to discard any kind of information that someone who is not 23 years old has to offer. It is the folly of youth, and people will surely fail without the wisdom of experience. Young envious “critics” will not last, but you have endured the test of time. I’m sure that there were probably some Ninja that used a strait sword and some used a curved sword just as I am sure there were probably some Ninja that were honorable and loyal just as there were those Ninja that were less than honorable and hired themselves out as merely assassins. It’s time we become open minded to history and to not try and make every one in a certain group be one thing or the other. Much like the false idea that all Germans in WWII were Nazis – I know for a fact that this is not true.
    An-shu Hayes, you never cease to amaze me with knowledge and insight. I am 47 years old and I hope that as I age I can become half the martial artist you are. Thank you again for your training and instruction in things physical and intellectual.

  4. Scott Workman says: -#1

    I feel honored that you used what I found in your blog Mr. Hayes, I am glad you were able to use it to show that there are alot of people who say wrong things about you and try to dicredit you.
    Thank You
    Scott Workman

  5. I was always told the straight blade was easier to make. Many of the “Ninja” were people who could not go to a master sword maker to obtain the preferred curved cutting blade. The straight blade was more like the machete us westerners are used to.

  6. It is great to see the use of the phurba dagger to pierce the haze created by rumors to reveal the truth.

    Thank you Mr Hayes for shining light upon this ~

    Stationed Overseas

  7. Daniel L Dunn says: -#1

    Im happy to see the social impurities being pounded from the steel historical authenticity.

    Thank you for keeping the sword of truth burning bright!

    All the best,

    Daniel L Dunn

  8. I just taught on the ninja straight sword in class last Friday. This is a very timely note. Thank you, An Shu.

  9. Martin Dooley says: -#1

    People need to remember one thing;we are not important.What we do for others and that which comes from our hearts is.Who was first,who was right,who was best…Who cares?Mr. Hayes,YOU know your truth and that’s all that is important.I spend alot of time with Native American elders and at pow-wows and gatherings and the like .The same arguments are there as well.We round eyes have to think its all about us and thats just sad.On the North American continent there were 500+/- native nations.Are we realy so blind as to think they ALL had the same teachings and traditions?How many ruy-ha we’re there?And yet they/we are still ready to draw blood to be proven right.All I know is that my teacher is your student and yours is Hatsumi.The gifts that Hatsumi, you and Mr.Davis gave me/us are AMAZING!What ever happend to “understand?good,play.”
    Thank you Mr.Hayes for teachimg my teacher.Thank you Mr.Davis for teaching me.

  10. Thanks for the posting the article An-shu and I am sorry for the need you have to do it. I really do not know why such a detail becomes a controversy. Anyone that has bothered to listen know that you An-shu and your knowledge about this is extensive and is not contradictory to the historical data in any way if it was you would change what you taught and let us know what you found.

    The curve of the blade is an act of the steel differential hardening technology they used and that was common for the time. It stands to reason that most who could afford to commission a blade would have blades that were curved.

    As survivalist type grass roots resistance fighters I imagine they would have also “collected” as many of the finely made swords they could along the way I know I would have. I could also see in the tools and devices they made a serious ingenuity and thought to what was needed for the work they had to do. Whatever the mission was. In blacksmithing and manufacturing some of these very tools it is apparent in their design the ingenuity and many of the uses for usually a multipurpose tool design.

    I can completely see the benefit of a really thick strong short sword as a tool that some would find useful in close quarters and well within the skill of even poor country smiths to forge. So what is surprising that it existed at all, or that not every ninja carried a sword that would probably be an identifying factor they would not want to have on them except under very specific missions? The real issue is that some of the teachers out there need to bolster their “secret” knowledge base with their students so the latch on to controversy and hearsay.

    Of course the meat of the matter is another blade of sorts sticking into the heart of traditional arts.

    It is continuing to be disturbing that egos need to be fed by attacking others in the martial arts community. What happen to teaching discipline and ethical responsibility or simple respect in the warrior arts?

    This is a disturbing trend in a lot of modern schools of all traditions that I wish most vehemently would be brought under control. It is vital to honor all that have learned before us and have passed us knowledge. Hell even if the got a few things wrong we should still respect them for the path they walked.

    It makes me sick An-shu that anyone would use such ignorance of history, lack of research, and poor ethical judgment to try to sell themselves and raise themselves in the eyes of their students or potential students by attacking you. Of course my observation is that they usually end up with students the so really deserve as those with morals and ethics eventually part ways with the ignorant. But that means we have schools turning out students or worse instructors void of vital aspects of what we are trying to teach. Talk about fruit from the poisonous tree.

    That these miscreants would try to attack someone so key to the bridge of all such knowledge to the West only displays their ignorance all the more. Thanks for the article review An-shu and thank you for all you have done.

    Sometimes I miss the days we could just prove the folly of such individuals upon their person. It may no longer be acceptable but it certainly made cretins less likely to wag their tongues or spread their poison. 🙂

  11. Marius Swart says: -#1

    An-Shu, I knew you for years only through your Ninja Vol1-4 books and could see your character in your writing. Once I saw you teaching on DVD it only confirmed your true humble nature. I believe the ‘use what works best’ philosophy is the only way to survive in self defence or war. If the straight blade works and forms a practical tool for other purposes as well, why not use it. I am glad the critics are being silenced one by one.

    Keep Safe,
    Marius Swart

  12. Sensei Hayes, Hi i am a practioner and teach a different style of Ninjutsu that i founded in 1996 that is based off Historical Concepts called:Sankido Ryu Ninjutsu…

    From what have studied from Japanese Ninjutsu History;which you guy’s have the most in Togakure Ryu;because it is so hard to get information from Japans libraries… Anyway,you are right!

    The reason i am saying this is;because Ninja hired out of the Samurai class;correct me if i am wrong Sensei;but what kind of Katana did the Samurai carry? Everyone should know that answer…

    [ Editor note: An-shu says, “Perhaps the ninja tradition you founded in 1996 has a different place in Japanese history than the one founded in late 1100s that I studied, and from that place in history, your ninja tradition has a record different from that which I was taught in the Togakure ninja dojo in the 1970s in Japan, and that would explain our differences of opinion as to types of sword that might have been carried by differing classes of warrior in feudal Japan 500 years ago.” ]

  13. Sir Your are still to be Thanked for the Art YOU alone Brought us in the states, this Life changing Method. And you Translated as best as you could this Eastern Culture in a way that your own culture could best understand it. “Its like trying to give money to a cat”

    Feel free to drop by and take the Kami-za @ my New York City Dojo any time. Anshu, Domoarigato!

  14. Hello everyone,

    if you look at Hatsumi sensei’s video “Ninja Biken” you’ll see him debunking the old idea that ninja swords had square tsuba.
    Good day to you all.

    [ Editor note: An-shu says, “Yes indeed, Masaaki Hatsumi is famous for teaching many differing things to many differing audiences in many differing ways in many differing places at differing times. The ninja arts are that big.” ]

  15. gary wilczek says: -#1

    you should not worry about people who are trying to make you wrong, anyone in the martial arts knows that you were the trail blazer of your art in america, an american who trained in the art in Japan.Those people have there own issues, but iam glad that you stood up for yourself you will always be the teacher to go to in the ninja arts.Be well.

  16. It is a shame that someone as astute as Hayes Sensei even has to address such silly issues with reference to his work. I appreciate his reasons for doing so, but decry the noisemakers who, in their jealousy, make it necessary.

  17. …..alas, there is so much pressure to “revision” history so as to make it support various political/religious/mind control agendas that those persons who are trying to preserve as accurately as possible the true history (in all subject matters) of their tradition are being ostracized at great levels. Welcome to the Orwellian era.
    I wonder, also, how many Chinese swords made it into Japan and into the hands of the Ninja?
    I also wonder how the sword; an obsolete implement of war/self protection in modern society, still holds such awe and fascination for so many? (I am a fan of the double butterfly swords of China, the Saber of medieval Europe, and the modern tactical blades of today.) Of course, in modern society, the cane/walking stick/Hanbo are great implements which with proper use beats any blade weapon.

    I am a huge fan Mr. Hayes; I have read your books, seen a few DVDs, and am very happy to see the Ninpo arts alive and well.

    Sol Nox

  18. Chris from Greece says: -#1

    The sword is a tool and can be used as a tool and a tool should be practical for use, not just polish carried and just walking around, but the tool is a sword and can be used as a sword in any situation with respect and knowledge and should be hard and straight some times and some times flexibel too and the person who can use both needs to have extremely good skills, authenticity and a very balanced personality, be able to drive a polish Mercedes or an old Suzuki Samurai, these are some of the things that been teaching in every authentic SKH Quest Center Dojo and yes we need to be very concerned carrying and caring such a tool-sword in our hearts and hands and need to take very strong faith about that and the level of difficulty, but I thing every authentik practitioner knows that. The straight Ninja-To will be a hard birth but from original roots of mastery that only you An-Shu know and keep on transmiting on everyone honored To-Shi practitioner and the critics will silenced one by one.
    Thank you Sir.

  19. Quote: “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.”

    This is a very important point. Historical ninja did not walk around thinking “I’m a ninja!” They went about their lives trying to survive and doing what was necessary. They used whatever weapons they had at their disposal. They spent their lives being and doing – not thinking about being or doing.

  20. I am a historian and author of a translation of a ninja manual (1681), “True Path of the Ninja”.

    I have seen the debate from both ends and i have researched this issue. At no point does any manual to date mention the Ninja swords as a “Ninja To” or such. None of them talk about any straight blade of any sort. The Katori Shinto Ryu does talk about the ninja sword but not as a straight object.

    HOWEVER! In my research and in favour of Mr Hayes, i have found an image from the 1700’s and text that says straight bladed swords were common (1650). Also, the image i have found shows a straight blade with a square guard.

    Thus, it can be argued that the sword did exist, also, we can see they were used by foot soldiers and they had a square guard. What we can not do is connect it directly to the ninja. However, as a ninja is a job and not a status, it only is logical that those who trained in shinobi no jutsu and had a sword of this type would use it, while others at other times would use a normal sword. That means that the straight blade “ninja to” was a standard weapon of the time, not a ninja tool, but ninja could have used them.

    Be careful everyone when you use the word ninja or how you apply it, Iga no Mono, suppa, rappa, kanja all “seem” to be words for ninja, Mr Hayes is correct when he says Iga no mono, Iga no mono has sublevels of meaning, it can be someone not from Iga and can mean hired ninja, also, see ninja (shinobi) as an overall word, each type of ninja may have had subdivions. Like “those who stoop in bushes” “walking shrine maidens” but the word Shinobi no mono was used and was well understood, we at the Historical Ninjutsu Research Team (our theory) think that shinobo no mono was a term used to say ninja, a ninja would then be sub described by his function, job, etc, like the word Ninpei, or shinobi soldiers, Ninshi ninja-samurai, Jozu nin amazing shinobi etc.

    I hope this helps everyone and good luck! any questions just ask!

  21. More information by a different researcher:


    “Is there such a thing as a ‘ninja sword’ or is it only a ‘sword a ninja is using’?”

    “Is there such a thing as a ‘robber gun’ or is it only a ‘gun a robber is using’?”

    “Is there such a thing as a ‘lifeguard whistle’ or is it only a ‘whistle a lifeguard is using’?”

    This whole thing is really unimportant to the point of silliness, but some folks are hoping to use this as a way to silence the impact of my voice in the martial arts world by trying to discredit what I teach, so on it goes…

  22. Andrew K Jones says: -#1

    With regards to Hatsumi sensei saying different things at different times, as discussed above in reference to ninja swords having square tsuba.

    On the Ninja Biken video mentioned above, he does indeed say that ninja swords didn’t have square tsuba.

    On page 10 of Hiden Ninja Submission (秘伝 忍者サブミッション) by Hatsumi sensei, published in 1991 by Keibunsha we can see a sword with a square tsuba and that sword is labelled in both English and Japanese as “Ninja Sword” (忍者刀). However it must be stressed that this particular sword is not one of the straight swords under discussion but rather a shikorogatana, a curved sword modified to have a saw-bladed edge.

  23. Two points.

    Firstly, by the looks of it, the ‘big square ninja tsuba’ thing started back in the late 1950’s courtesy of a man name Fujito Seiko:


    The book and photo is attributed by the website owner thusly: “Above book is entitled Doronron Saigo-no ninja (Doronron – The Last Ninja), by Fujita Seiko printing date January 20, 1959. The editor of the book was an old friend of Fujita, Yosuke Ohira. Original first edition was printed on October 20, 1958.”


    Fujita Seiko.

    NOT Stephen K. Hayes.

    The sword in the photo is clearly curved, of course, but we can sure see something that’s already looking pretty darn ‘Ninja!’.

    Second, given this advertisement (have to scroll 1/2 way down)


    … for a very straight and (for the time) stereotypical “Ninja Sword” in a 1977 issue of Black Belt Magazine, I think it’s pretty safe to say that the sword we all knew and loved in the 1980’s started in CHINA, along with all the other low-cost retail martial arts paraphernalia available at the time.

    If I follow his bio correctly, Mr. Hayes first hit Japan in 1976. For him to ‘dream up’ the idea of a straight blade, square-tsuba’s ninjato and inspire mass production in China with an end product available and advertised here in the states all in the space of a single year…

    Well, that’s some turnaround time and my hat is off to the man! 😉

    More seriously, if these things were available here in the States, it’s not a stretch at all to assume they were widely available at souvenir shops in Japan as well, where the Ninja marketplace was long in full swing and there was money to be made.

    “Stephen Hayes invented that dumb old straight-blade / square-tsuba ninjato myth blah blah blah”

    Right, and he also invented ‘White Out’ and the Microsoft Operating System.

  24. I found this advertisement in a 1973 issue of Black Belt Magazine, which is a few years before An-Shu went to Japan:


    So these blades were being sold long before An-Shu began training with Hatsumi Sensei.

  25. Jason Derracco says: -#1

    I am a former Special Opps student of your Teachings from Ft. Bragg 3rd Group S.F. Would Love to talk to you Master Hayes For further teachings.

    [ You can email An-shu Stephen K. Hayes at skhquest@skhquest.com with your request for further training, Jason ]

  26. You know, I’ve not doubted you because my mom bought me your books as early as 84-86?
    I’m glad to see you prove the doubters wrong.
    Has anyone also never questioned the technique itself?
    Your typical Katana type blade wouldn’t have been something an “everyman” had- therefore using block steel, simple tsubo, no ornation on the scabbard, etc…
    It seems to be that certain class of sword themselves would existed…just speaking on economics

  27. Brian Donovan says: -#1

    Hello Anshu,

    My name is Brian Donovan.

    I was wondering what your thoughts are on the self professed Ninjutsu Historian Antony Cummins’ comments and viewpoint that Ninjutsu is not a martial art?

    Having poured four decades of your life into this great art and ten years for myself, I wonder do you take any offence to an unqualified individual making such groundless comments.

    Myself, I find it offensive that all of the time and effort I have put into training and studying over the years can be so easily ridiculed by a self professed authority, just because he has a publishing deal and wrote a book on the subject.

    There are, in my humble opinion far too many people out there who do 1 or 2 years in BJK, GBK, JNK etc. then come out and write a book professing to be experts on the art. It is a well known fact on this side of the water (Ireland) that Cummins was expelled from both the BJK and GBK for asking questions way above his grade.

    He has come rampaging back with a giant chip on his shoulder, writying books that state for all intents and purposes that this art does not exist and either a koryu or a viable, recognisable martial art. Just wondering what opinions an esteemed martial artist like yourself might have on the subject.

    I hope this message finds you well.

    Thank you for your time and kind attention in this matter.

  28. jaycee styles says: -#1

    Mr Hayes, as always I have enjoyed your books. I would like to know from your words what would make a martial artist grow and flourish into an outstanding martial artist. How can I better myself and sharpen my skill. I sincerely hope you are nothing like this impostor that calls himself “supreme grandmaster Ashida Kim”. For years I have highly respected your teachings and of the Honorable Hatsumi. Would greatly appropriate your feedback.

  29. jimmy ortiz says: -#1

    your stories have always make the difference between what is and what’s not, In all my years of training you show us the way of understand the art of ninjutsu.

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