What To Expect in Ninjutsu | A Martial Arts Overview

Ninjutsu—or ninpo—is an attempt to keep the techniques and skills of ninjas alive. It is a modern interpretation of traditional ninja skills, with a holistic approach to recreating them. It has been popular for the last couple of decades due to an abundance of Hollywood films depicting ninjas as almost superhuman spies and warriors.

Ninjutsu varies greatly by school, but you can generally expect to learn contemporary interpretations of ninja fighting techniques that include both unarmed combat techniques and weapons combat techniques.

Read on to learn more about this martial art and see if it is the right choice for you, your kids, or anyone you know. We’ll discuss its history, application, and what you might need for it. In the end, you’ll be able to make an informed decision for yourself. 

A Brief History of Ninjutsu

The roots of Ninjutsu lie in the 6th century. That is when Prince Shotoku hired Otomo Sainyu as a shinobi—another common term for ninjas. This is often regarded as the beginning of the history of ninjas, and consequently, Ninjutsu. 

Ninjas, mainly from Iga and Koga clans, started to flourish later in the period of warring kingdoms in the 15th and 16th centuries. They were a formidable force until the 19th century, when a period of peace ended the need for them. 

The modern revival of their skills and techniques began in the 1970s, under Masaaki Hatsumi. He founded the Bujinkan, a worldwide martial arts organization, which popularized Ninjutsu. In America, it was popularized by Stephen K. Hayes, who learned the martial art from Hatsumi. 

What Do You Wear for Ninjutsu? 

In most ninjutsu schools, you typically wear a black gi with a belt indicating rank that could also be used in karate or judo. Some schools will have more traditional uniform requirements that are a closer fit to what ninjas might have worn like kyahan, which are leg wraps that act as leggings.

Contrary to what you might expect, you won’t wear a black face mask or similar things that you can see in the movies. 

Do You Wear Shoes in Ninjutsu?

You usually don’t wear shoes in Ninjutsu. Ninjutsu is generally practiced barefoot or in traditional Japanese slippers called tabi. Since the goal of a ninja was not to be seen or heard, this choice of footwear is rather sensible.

In classes, no shoes are necessary because you’ll train on the tatami, which is soft enough for your feet and can be damaged by shoes.

What Equipment Is Required for Ninjutsu?

Ninjutsu requires equipment composed of a variety of arms, including traditional weapons like the katana and the staff, and less conventional weapons like shurikens and kunai.

You may need all sorts of equipment for Ninjutsu since at least one part of your training will be done with weapons. This may include traditional weapons such as the staff, katana, or tanto.

In some cases, depending on your school, you’ll use more exotic weapons that can include shurikens, hand claws, the kunai, kusarifundo, kyoketsu shoge, and even ropes. This all depends on where you train. 

Do I Need To Be Fit To Start Ninjutsu?

You don’t have to be fit to start Ninjutsu, as your training will be designed to get you to the desired level of fitness. However, since the workouts can get excruciating, it’s not a bad idea to take a few weeks to go jogging and do some basic exercises if you’re really out of shape.

Do I Need To Be Strong for Ninjutsu?

You don’t need to be strong when you start practicing Ninjutsu. You will develop some strength as you train and progress. As with most physical activities, having good baseline strength can be helpful, so adding in strength training to supplement ninjutsu training is a good idea.

While having physical strength is by no means a prerequisite, it will make things easier for you at the start of your training.

Do I need To Be Flexible for Ninjutsu?

Ninjutsu does require some degree of flexibility to perform optimally just like many other martial arts, so it will undoubtedly be helpful if you’re already flexible. However, your training sessions will likely include a lot of stretching, so you’ll get some flexibility gains through normal training.

Even if you’re not very flexible at the start, you’ll get there eventually, and if you want to accelerate the process you can add your own mobility and flexibility work outside of class.

Is Ninjutsu Good for Getting in Shape?

Ninjutsu can be good for getting in shape, but it really depends on how physically demanding your instructor makes the class as there can be variability from school to school. However, committing to any form of martial arts class like ninjutsu will burn calories because it is a physical activity.

Paired with a sensible diet, ninjutsu classes can help students get into better shape and physical health, but it is not always a physically demanding martial art and it really depends on if your school emphasizes conditioning or drilling with good pacing.

Is Ninjutsu Good for Self-Defense?

Ninjutsu is not particularly suitable for self-defense, it emphasizes weapon techniques that are of limited use in everyday life situations. Also, since Ninjutsu doesn’t offer any full-contact sparring against a resisting opponent, it isn’t the best possible tool for self-defense.

Ninjutsu classes do spend time teaching you unarmed combat. Even though this martial art is not perfect for self-defense, it is a step up from being untrained in any martial arts.

What Style of Fighting Is Ninjutsu?

Ninjutsu is a hybrid fighting style. It includes a wide spectrum of fighting skills that include grappling and striking as well as weapons fighting including katanas and other weapons common to the time period that has ninja and samurai. 

Does Ninjutsu Include Live Sparring?

Ninjutsu doesn’t usually include live sparring. Since it is a reinterpretation of old fighting techniques with weapons and deadly intent, it is not particularly suitable for sparring. Ultimately, since ninjutsu is not a combat sport and includes weapons, sparring is not going to be common.

Are There Ninjutsu Competitions or Tournaments?

Ninjutsu competitions and tournaments are rare and not emphasized by ninjutsu schools. There isn’t a significant governing body for ninjutsu that would allow for a unified rule set as a martial art and the martial art itself is not something that can be easily turned into a combat sport.

Is Ninjutsu Dangerous To Practice?

Ninjutsu is not dangerous to practice, generally speaking. It is a physical activity and martial art, so there’s always some risk, but accidents and injuries rarely happen. As long as you’re careful with your training partner and they are with you, you’ll be relatively safe. 

Is Ninjutsu Hard To Learn?

Ninjutsu can be hard to learn due to the number of different skills and techniques that it incorporates. Depending on the structure of the classes it can be easier or harder to progress through the martial art.

How Long To Learn Fundamentals in Ninjutsu?

It takes around 18 months to learn the fundamentals of ninjutsu. In this case, learning the fundamentals would mean getting to 9 kyu. However, this depends on how often you train.

Getting to 9 kyu would award you your first belt, The time it takes to reach this stage varies from person to person.

How Long To Reach Black Belt Level Mastery in Ninjutsu?

It can take you between 5 and 7 years to reach black belt. After reaching black belt, the degrees go from 1 dan to the 15th dan. It may take years to get to 15th dan, and most people don’t reach that status. This all depends on you and your instructor. 

Can You Learn Ninjutsu at Home? 

You can learn some Ninjutsu basics at home by watching instructional videos and practicing hard. You can learn some basic punches, kicks, and rolls, but you won’t go very far this way. To learn properly, you need to join a dojo.

It’s impossible to get the complete experience of a martial art all by yourself.

What To Expect at Your First Ninjutsu Class?

Ninjutsu classes can vary quite a bit based on the individual school. Generally speaking, you will contact the school owner and meet with the instructor or school owner when you attend your first class.

You can expect the following at your first Ninjutsu class:

  1. A traditional bow to start the class
  2. Warm-ups and stretching routine
  3. Instructions on basic stances and techniques
  4. Practice time with training partners after each instruction
  5. A traditional bow to end the class

What Does Ninjutsu Cost?

The monthly membership fee will vary widely between different dojos based on region and supply and demand in the area. Typical martial arts monthly dues typically go from $75 to $150 for training. This does not include the cost of acquiring your gi and other equipment you might need for training.

Depending on the ninjutsu school there may be communal weapons for that part of ninjutsu training or you may be expected to purchase your own training weapons.

Gi costs can be relatively affordable if your school allowed traditional martial arts gis (this is more common) and does not require a specific ninjutsu uniform.

Is Ninjutsu Good for Kids?

Ninjutsu is suitable for kids, as it’s usually practiced with safety in mind and excludes the use of practice weapons in a competitive or partner drill sense. Depending on the specific class and instructor it can be engaging and healthy for kids even at a young age.

Is Ninjutsu for Physically Smaller People?

Ninjutsu is suitable for smaller people. This is mostly because ninjutsu does not include live sparring and is not practiced competitively. Since there is no live sparring component, size does not really play into everyday training and everybody can train effectively.

Is Ninjutsu Good for Women?

Ninjutsu can be fun for women to practice because it is often an inclusive and engaging traditional martial art that emphasizes respect and taking care of your training partners, which makes it a safe environment for women to train.

Final Thoughts

Ninjutsu can be a fun and rewarding martial art to practice, but the experience that you have will vary greatly based on which school you choose to train at. This is because ninjutsu does not have a specific curriculum or governing body that is generally agreed upon by the community at large.

Also, ninjutsu is one of the more esoteric martial arts so norms for it are not well-known so establishing exactly what to expect is not as reliable as just checking out a class near you.

For more check out What To Expect in Kenjutsu | A Martial Arts Overview


Hi, I'm Andre and I am the author of this website. I currently train primarily in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu but supplement with other grappling martial arts as well as help to coach my kid's blended grappling program.

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