The Ever So Versatile Ninjatō

You are probably all familiar with Japanese swords. And I’m willing to bet that when someone talks about a Japanese sword, you conjure up visions of a long, shiny, curving blade. The swords of the samurai. They were ornate, and highly symbolic blades. It was said that the soul of a Samurai rested in his blade. As a result, Samurai swords were elevated to aristocratic status, and became symbols of rank and prestige.

Today, however, we aren’t going to talk about samurai swords. Nope. There was another, more pragmatic sword that probably had just as much an effect on Japanese history as did the Samurai Sword. And it was a soulless, heartless instrument indeed. None other than the spartan Ninjatō. The sword of the Ninja. The Ninjatō (or Ninjaken) were designed to play a much different role. They were neither swords of ceremony or of prestige. They were made to do one thing, and they did it very well. They were the Ninjas weapon-of-all-trades.

Ninjaken – Polished and Gold trim

Ninja Katana Polished ChromeNinj Katana 24k Gold trim
[view full size] [view full size]

Samurai swords were excellent weapons. However Ninja needed more from their weapons than just cutting excellence. They needed functional flexibility and versatility. And thus was born Ninjaken. Ninjaken differed from their high-brow cousins in many ways. First off, they were shorter. This allowed them to be used in smaller spaces, concealed much more easily, and were faster on the draw than the longer Samurai sword.

Battleready Ninja, Blk, Musashi Koga Ninja, Blk

Battle Ready Stealth NinjatoMusashi Koga Ninja Sword Black
[view full size] [view full size]

Another advantage of the shorter sword is that they were a little lighter, stiffer and less susceptible to lateral bending stresses than their longer Samurai counterparts. Ninjaken usually have a larger, square tsuba (guard). This, in conjunction with the shorter stiffer blade allowed them to be used in ways a samurai sword might not have tolerated well, such as leaning it against a wall, and using the larger, stronger square guard as a step.

They could also still be used with a full sized saya (scabbard), which would deceive an opponent into underestimating how long the sword was, and how fast it could be drawn. Then there was the added bonus that the remaining saya space could be used to hide all manner of small items, such as blinding powders and such. Between the numerous hiding places that could be engineered into a ninjaken and it’s saya, one could conceal a set of spike or star shuriken (throwing knives), tenouchi (small, hand-held impact weapons), powders, rope, tools, etc. The possibilities were endless.

Deluxe Ninja Warrior Set

Ninja Warrior Sword Kit
[view full size]

Due to the popularity of Ninjas in the media over the past two decades, Ninjaken design has been copied rather shamelessly, spawning numerous replicas, such as the weapon used by the Operative in the movie Firefly Serenity. But the basic formula has always remained the same. A medium sized, full tang, single-edged straight blade, usually with a square tsuba (quard), and a uniquely angled, tanto-like point.

Galaxy Viper, Striking Cobra

Galaxy Viper Sword SetStriking Cobra Sword Set
[view full size] [view full size]

All in all, Ninjaken fulfilled their design objectives admirably. It is truly an interesting weapon, well suited for it’s task as the versatile, multi-function, close quarters combat version of the prestigious Samurai sword, kinda like the medieval equivalent of a carbine, as opposed to a rifle… Not quite the same range, but just as deadly…

Galaxy Viper Sword Set – [True Swords]
Ninja Katana – 24-K Gold Trim – [True Swords]
Striking Cobra Sword Set – [True Swords]
Ninja Katana – Polished Chrome Trim – [True Swords]
Deluxe Ninja Warrior Sword Kit – [True Swords]
Musashi Koga Ninja Sword, Black – [True Swords]
Battle Ready Ninja Tech – [True Swords]

9 Responses to “The Ever So Versatile Ninjatō”

  1. November 5, 2007 at 7:09 pm

    Nice affiliate site! I am impressed. About the Ninja swords sold today, are they battle ready or just for show? And what do ‘real’ Ninjas feel about all these people buying Ninja swords that are no where near being a Ninja?

  2. November 6, 2007 at 5:08 am

    Thanks, I’m glad you like my little blog!

    I believe the Musashi Koga Ninja sword is the only sword that I would consider truly battle ready.

    The other swords are fairly durable, but the grade and type of steel used makes them less flexible and more prone to bending, chipping and/or breaking under stress. You could use them for mild cutting work, but they are best used as wall hangers.

    What do I think a modern day Ninja would think? I seriously doubt it would matter much to them. After all, it’s not really like the existence of wannabe ninjas with fake Ninjato would really undermine the abilities of a true ninja. Unless it were a matter of pride. I dunno…

  3. 3 anonymous
    May 5, 2008 at 2:27 am

    you are a little inaccurate as the ancient ninjato were slightly curved and not straight like their modern day counter parts

  4. 4 Niccolo
    May 5, 2008 at 5:40 am

    Actually, ninjato/ninjaken came in both varieties. It’s just the slightly curved katana-shape has become synonymous with Japanese sword-fighting, thus any blades that were shaped like this were better known.

    The original blades used by Japanese warriors were in fact straight-edged; it was a long time before a bright spark smithy realised what would happen if he put a slight curve in the blade… but that’s interesting trivia, as it came before the advent of the samurai – and, in reaction to them, the ninja.

    But Ninjato that are straight have a definite thrust advantage, which was a boon to ninja; a stealthy thrust is much less noticeable (and less chance of an errant clint of light) than a slashing move.

  5. May 5, 2008 at 9:52 pm

    Thank you Niccolo!!

    Yes. Ninjaken came in both straight and curved varieties. Even Dr. Hatsumi has been on record saying that some early ninjaken were little more than straight, flat bars of steel with an edge ground into them.

    I get this “correction” a lot. I will grant you that it is not *entirely* inaccurate, but it isn’t exactly true either. And perhaps my referring to what we currently refer to as Ninjaken without making any distinction between them and traditional Ninjaken may not be helping the issue, but the nature of Ninjaken isn’t so black and white.

    To say that Ninjas have always used any “specific” kind of sword is actually incorrect, and displays a lack of understanding of how Ninjas used to operate.

    I think I may have to dedicate a post specifically to my precious Ninjaken… 😀

  6. 6 Niccolo
    May 6, 2008 at 3:06 am

    Nice. Very nice. ^^ I look forward to reading that particular post.
    And you’re more than welcome, Phyreblade.

  7. 7 gfthgdhjjfj
    March 1, 2012 at 7:14 pm

    qual é o tamanho + ou – de uma ninjaken

  8. 8 JJ
    May 10, 2012 at 7:20 am

    In fact the “Ninja” was more of a poor or “common man” that was tired of the Samurai’s demanding rule over them, so they fought. They would use literally anything, rakes, pointed spears, ropes, even metal “beads” on the end of a rope. After many years, the Ninja was born. The usual dark or black dressing with covered face in order to fight the samurai’s who were much better trained and had much much better sword skills than most Ninja’s, this is why they used the poison egg shell, or powders, even used hiding and ambush tactics to defeat the Samurai. There really are many more factors that came into the introduction of the ninjaken. But today, they are called ninjaken and this is used to describe a certain blade. The guys that are trying to make you look bad, they are just people that think they know something and want to start drama. Just like different words mean different things all over the world….In the USA if you say “fag”, most people think of a homosexual male. In England if you say “fag” someone would hand you a cigarette. It all depends on which day in age we use the words. But in today’s day in age, Ninjaken or ninjato would be more like a wakizashi short sword fitted with a katana-length handle and placed in a katana-length saya (scabbard); sometimes, b/c the Ninja may not have as much money or goods to trade for a nice sword they would find broken Samurai Katana’s or other swords that were broken on the battlefields and use them to make a ninjaken or ninjato, the Ninja was born from less wealthy people that were sick and tired of the heavy hand ruling and they fought for their rights…..Something about 99% of Americans need to learn to do. If the farmer can become a Ninja…..The banker, store clerk, or even McDonalds worker can step up and show the Government that we will not stand for their bullshit anymore.

  9. 9 senordoctorman
    August 16, 2013 at 11:14 pm

    Hi! I realize the last comment was in 2008 but I own the Deluxe Ninja Warrior Set and was wondering if anybody knows how the heck to insert the knife into the slot at the end of the saya. The seems to be some sort of obstruction where it should slide in. Thanks!

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