Did Ninjas Have a Code of Honor?


Ninjas were an almost-mythical class of warriors in feudal Japan who served as spies, assassins, saboteurs, and scouts. This means that much of their work was done in secret, just like their training, which opens up many questions about their true nature. One of those questions pertains to their views on honor. 

Unlike the samurai, ninjas didn’t have a detailed code of honor, primarily because they engaged in types of warfare that were seen as dishonorable at the time. However, some rules can be inferred from their way of life and operating style. For example, their missions came before anything else.

Additionally, ninjas were required to put aside their personal goals and feelings, and they had to follow their orders to the letter. This article explores the contemporary opinions on ninjas and their fighting methods to uncover how they were viewed in terms of honor. It will also take a quick look at their way of life and how it was seen by other people. 

Ninja
Are ninjas honorable? See below

Are Ninjas Honorable?

Ninjas weren’t honorable in the way that samurai were honorable. Their primary purpose was to wage irregular warfare. They fought from the shadows to gain an advantage over the enemy and dispatch them quickly and efficiently, without being seen.

This kind of fighting went against the Bushido, which dictated the rules of combat and demanded open and fair fights and duels. Because of this, ninjas were mostly seen as dishonorable. 

In feudal Japan, warfare was dictated by a code of honor called the Bushido. [1] Any type of behavior that did not adhere to it was seen as dishonorable. The Bushido changed throughout the centuries and had many different interpretations. [2] Still, it relied on the following virtues:

  • Loyalty
  • Frugality
  • Martial arts prowess
  • Personal honor
  • Utmost obedience to the samurai’s lord

This code of honor demanded that the samurai fight openly and bravely, even at the cost of their own death. The most important goal was to preserve their honor and the honor of their lord. Failing that meant that the samurai had to commit seppuku, a form of ritual suicide. [3]

The Bushido eventually became a code that applied to all of Japanese society, not only to the samurai. This prevalence of the Bushido later spread to the whole of Japanese society, which made the position of ninjas even more dishonorable. 

Ninjas fought in a diametrically opposite way; their job was to operate from shadows and assassinate their enemies quietly and quickly. Apart from that, they were employed to spy, scout, ambush, arson, and occasionally, to bodyguard people. 

This way of fighting meant that they were looked down upon by the samurai, and quite possibly, by the general population. It was seen as a dishonorable way of engaging in fighting. However, this did not prevent the samurai from hiring ninjas to do their bidding, which made them complicit in the things they deemed improper. 

ninja code
What was the ninja moral code? See below

What Was the Ninja Moral Code?

The ninjas did not have a moral code in the literal sense like the samurai did. However, there are certain inferences based on some books which outlined their training techniques and philosophy, such as the Bansenshukai.

They were expected to forget about their personal goals and ambitions and only focus on their missions and orders. 

Unlike the samurai, ninjas were not willing to fight to the death to preserve their honor. [4] Instead, ninjas were practical and sought to complete their assignments, following the orders. This does go against the Bushido, which saw dying in battle as an honor. 

A ninja would also be expected to put their personal goals aside – they were supposed to act for the sake of their clan and their employer and not for their own. Apart from that, they were required to hide all emotions and work coldly in order to ensure the success of their missions. 

This was paired with a sense of loyalty to their clans and elders, which is undoubtedly a commendable trait. 

Based on these things, it can be said that ninjas were not entirely without any moral compass or any moral tenets. They had rules they adhered to and strictly followed orders. This can be seen as some kind of moral code, even if it wasn’t as prevalent or as codified as the Bushido.

ninja katana sword
What is the ninja way of life? See below

What Is the Ninja Way of Life?

The ninja way of life involved living in an isolated community, which was tightly knit, with a strict hierarchy and a set of rules. (It was similar to Sparta in earlier periods in Europe.) The job of a ninja was inherited, and one would start their training very young. 

They would then spend their life mostly in dedication to the clan, improving their skills and carrying out assignments. 

Iga was an especially stringent place, with rigid rules and roles, where people were respected based on how much they could contribute to their community. Still, they did lead their private lives as well, as much as was possible, and even had families. The latter was essential to extend the line and to beget new generations of ninjas. 

One was born into the profession and started their training very early. They would get extensive martial arts training, as well as scouting and survival techniques, including skills such as potion-making and explosive-making. 

Physical endurance training was also a crucial element; they went on long-distance runs and swims and learned stealth methods of walking. It was also essential to learn how to disguise well. There are also implications of a certain degree of medical knowledge. However, the real extent of that knowledge is not known. 

Even after growing up, a ninja would have to keep honing their skills and becoming better at what they did, so a large amount of their time was spent in training and learning new skills. Presumably, a certain portion of time must have been spent disseminating that knowledge and sharing it with younger generations. 

Conclusion

The nature of their job meant that ninjas were seen as dishonorable. However, they still obeyed some rules, albeit different ones. 

References:
[1] Source
[2] Source
[3] Source
[4] Source

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