Blades of Death?
The ninja shuriken is legendary.
Imagine the scene; a darkened corridor, a lone Imperial guard walks up slowly. He thinks he hears something up ahead. He turns to see if there is something there and, WHACK! A shiny ninja shuriken throwing star is stuck in his head, killing him instantly.
This is a familiar Hollywood movie scene.
But Hollywood gets most things wrong!
In reality the ninja shuriken (shu = hand, ri = hidden, ken = weapon) was used as diversionary ninja weapons and as a close quarters ninja weapon.
The ninja shuriken throwing star was a very utilitarian weapon. It was:
- A grappling weapon
- A distraction
- An actual construction worker tool
A grappling weapon
The ninja shuiken was used for face-to-face and hand-to-hand fighting. By its nature and name it is a small ninja weapon that can be hidden. There are many techniques to use it to stab, drag across or cut into the skin.
This was particularly useful because it had the element of surprise. Imagine you are grappling with someone and suddenly you feel a tearing sensation on your arm, neck or back. This was very disrupting and gave a major advantage to the ninja.
The ninja shuriken used as a grappling weapon was held in the palm. It was held in such a way that the points jutted out between the fingers. No throwing with this star.
Held in this way the shuriken could be used much in the same way you would punch (push and drag). But now you would basically have small knives sprouting through your fingers (take that Wolverine!).
If you were in close, you could open your fist and use the points inside you fist (pull and drag).
A ninja weapon that was small, portable and secret that was not difficult to carry but was amazingly effective in battle. Also, a weapon that could be thrown away (or thrown at someone) was a handy tool indeed.
But a throwing star?
As a distraction
Let’s go back to our ninja in the shadows of the darkened corridor and the “throwing star of death”. The truth is that the ninja star would have been thrown to a location that was far away from the guard. The guard would hear the ninja shuriken (now used as a throwing star) and look in the direction that it landed.
Taking advantage of the guard’s focus in a different direction, the ninja could slip away unnoticed.
The other aspect of the ninja shuriken was death by infection.
900 years ago there were no medicines to treat wounds from rusty old metal. Death would occur soon if you stepped on a nail or got a cut from a rusty wire. Knowing this, and the reputation of the ninja, the opponent would work pretty hard to avoid getting cut by this rusty piece of metal. This use of the ninja shuriken would allow just a moment of disruption for escape.
A construction worker’s tool
It was common for the Emperor to have many contruction workers in the palace.
The ninja could carry his shuriken in plain sight because they were actually the ancient equivalent of a nail puller. The shuriken was also used to hold wooden dowels in place that were critical for the structural integrity of a building.
As a result, the ninja posing as a construction worker could carry many shuriken in a rope, and carry them openly.
Hiding in plain sight is almost always best!
A throwing star was only one shape for the ninja shuriken. By definition a ninja shuriken was a hidden hand weapon. Shuriken were often long, knife like projectiles.
Rubber shuriken are a good training tool. You can get the feel for the throwing or grappling technique, work on your body dynamics and you can practice anywhere.