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The Ninja sword: Fact or Fiction?
It's known to most of us; a sword slung a cross a ninja's back with a square shaped guard and a straight blade. Did such ninja-swords really exist and if so - where did they originate from?
Some extensive research has been done on this subject and, as far as could be ascertained, no evidence has ever been unearthed that such swords [actually] existed.
Ninja or shinobi would have operated first and foremost either as secret agents; assassins; saboteurs or moles called sleepers and would have often lived or worked in or near a castle or stronghold awaiting orders to create confusion, set the place on fire or assassinate the master. They often traveled into other territories to infiltrate the enemy's ranks, spy on troop movements and, during a battle, create confusion and mayhem.
Ninjas were greatly despised by the samurai who, in contrast, lived by a strict code of honor and would, if they caught one, mercilessly torture and kill him. Ninja caught in helpless situations would often, before killing themselves, disfigure their faces so they could not be recognised or traced.
The origin of the ninja is somewhat obscure as no written records seem to exist, but it is believed that they have originated in the 14th Century. They were organized into guilds and clans, and the two most famous are the Koga and Iga clans that were extremely active during the 15th and 16th Century and came to great prominence under Tokugawa Ieyasu and some even ended up as Tokugawa's bodyguards and would later on fight besides the regular army.
When on active duty they would often travel disguised as merchants or live amongst the towns folk and, only when on a mission, would they probably have used special clothes to camouflage and hide themselves from view, and again, there is now real evidence that would suggest ninja dressed in black or white uniforms at all times.
The weapons used by the ninja were highly specialized, like blow-guns, poisons and close combat weapons such as shuriken; small throwing-daggers; explosives; ropes for strangulation and many more. They were also highly skilled in the art of swordsmanship and would have used whatever swords suitable for their operations.
Up to the 7th Century Japanese blades made by Chinese and Korean craftsmen were of the straight and double-edged type, but were superseeded in the 8th Century by Japanese made curved blades tachi. The 14th Century saw a new development when the long sword tachi was replaced by a much shorter and lighter blade the katana; more suitable for fighting on foot and inside castles.
Straight blades went out of vouge some 700 years before the ninja clans established themselves and there are no records to be found that ninja had straight swords with square guards; rather being a Hollywood invention that, like most Hollywood movies, would blend reality and fiction to such a degree that reality often became fiction and fiction became reality. Another telling sign is that NO ninja swords have ever been found in any Japanese sword collection, national-museum or book dealing with the Japanese sword ni-honto.
Like the Last Samurai movie, were fiction and reality had been morphed into some unrealistic action thriller, the ninja sword seems to be just that – fiction.