How Ninjas, As You Know Them, Only Date Back To The '60s

By Cyn Felthousen-Post
Left: A ninja in the 1962 movie 'Shinobi No Mono.' Right: Poster art for 'The Octagon,' 1980. Sources: vintageninja.net; wrongsideoftheart.com

How old are ninjas?

Pop culture in the U.S. and Japan has long been fascinated by the ninja, a black-clad assassin practicing ancient Japanese martial arts and armed with throwing stars and swords. Silent but deadly, with catlike agility and reflexes, the ninja is there when you least expect him and gone before you know it. The proliferation of ninja movies, comic books, and other iconography suggests ninjas, as we know them, have always been a thing. Sure, Americans have put their own spin on ninjas, working them into Chuck Norris movies, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Beverly Hills Ninja, and naming everything from kitchen knives to coffee makers after them, but that's what happens -- old traditions are reinterpreted, remixed, and ripped off in the circle of life. 

But the basics of ninjadom -- the look and the purpose and the fighting prowess -- surely those have some authenticity, right? Not as much as you might think.