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In the history of Japan, a ninja ( 忍者 ninja) was someone specially trained in a variety of unorthodox arts of war. The methods used by ninja included assassination, espionage, and a variety of martial arts. In the Japanese culture, they were usually trained for dangerous missions.Their exact origins are still unknown. Their roles may have included sabotage, espionage, scouting and assassination missions as a way to destabilize and cause social chaos in enemy territory or against an opposing ruler, perhaps in the service of their feudal rulers (daimyo, shogun), or an underground ninja organization waging guerilla warfare. The ninja use of stealth tactics against better-armed enemy samurai does not mean that they were limited to espionage and undercover work: that is simply where their actions most notably differed from the more accepted tactics of samurai. Their weapons and tactics were partially derived from the need to conceal or defend themselves quickly from samurai, which can be seen from the similarities between many of their weapons and various sickles and threshing tools used at the time. Though typically classified as assassins, many of the ninja were warriors in all senses. In Stephen K. Hayes's book, Mystic Arts of the Ninja, Hattori Hanzo, one of the most well-known ninja, is depicted in armor similar to that of a samurai. Hayes also says that those who ended up recording the history of the ninja were typically those within positions of power in the military dictatorships, and that students of history should realize that the history of the ninja was kept by observers writing about their activities as seen from the outside.

"Ninjutsu did not come into being as a specific well defined art in the first place, and many centuries passed before ninjutsu was established as an independent system of knowledge in its own right. Ninjutsu developed as a highly illegal counter culture to the ruling samurai elite, and for this reason alone, the origins of the art were shrouded by centuries of mystery, concealment, and deliberate confusion of history." A similar account is given by Hayes: "The predecessors of Japan's ninja were so-called rebels favoring Buddhism who fled into the mountains near Kyoto as early as the 7th century A.D. to escape religious persecution and death at the hands of imperial forces." In their history, ninja groups were small and structured around families and villages, later developing a more martial hierarchy that was able to mesh more closely with that of samurai and the daimyo. These certain ninjutsu trained groups were set in these villages for protection against raiders and robbers.As a martial organization, ninja would have had many rules, and keeping secret the ninja's clan and the daimyo who gave them their orders would have been one of the most important ones. The ninjatō ( 忍者刀 ), also known as ninjaken ( 忍者剣 ) or shinobi gatana ( 忍刀 ), is the most common name for the reputed sword a ninja would have carried. These swords came in a variety of shapes and sizes. Often, however, they were much shorter than the traditional daito katana used by the samurai. The typical ninjatō carried by a ninja would most likely have been a wakizashi or cut-down katana, perhaps even an aikuchi or most likely a chokuto fitted with a katana-length handle and placed in a katana-length saya (scabbard). This may have been used to deceive one's opponents into miscalculating how quickly it could be drawn, allowing one to use a battoujutsu strike faster than expected. It also disguises the weapon (that would easily identify them as a ninja) as a common sword. The extra space in the saya may also be used to store or hide other equipment or goods. Modern ninjato are often straight with a square tsuba (hand guard), but this is not historically accurate. According to the same book by Masaaki Hatsumi, the ninja ken was straight, but only in contrast to the average sword of the period which were much more curved. The ninja ken still had a slight curve to the sword.