Many people in America when they hear the word “ninja” they think of assassins that are highly skilled in martial arts. They often picture a person dressed in black with weapons. Although this has become the way ninja’s are thought of today it is not how ninja’s were originally seen.
In the beginning ninja’s were actually spies. They were known for their stealth. They could get in and out of places without anyone realizing they were there. On a normal basis they only gathered information for the people who hired them without killing anyone. They did not hold much loyalty to the people who hired them. They were independent contractors who often times lived outside of the political society in Japan. Ninja’s were considered to be rebels because they would work for anyone who hired them.
They were the exact opposite of the samurai. The samurai were considered the protectors of the people. The samurai had very strict behavioral patterns. Whereas the ninja’s did not have such laws or behavior patterns. They governed themselves by believing and acting however they wished to despite opposition from society.
With the samurai honor was the most important thing a person can possess. Thus when it came to their job (which was to be warriors) they fought in a way they felt was honorable. The samurai would meet the enemy head-on (ideally in a single combat out in the open) and announce himself as loudly as possible before combat. If the samurai lost the battle they would commit ritual suicide because their honor was more important than anything else.
On the other hand ninja’s were sneaky with their attacks. They would not announce themselves going into battle. They were smart in their strategies and had no real concern for their honor. Ninja’s would avoid open combat at all costs. They would win battles by means of subterfuge, dishonesty, trickery, or strategy. Ninja’s focused on the end result and achieving what they wished to achieve. Samurai focused on their honor and the process in order to get to the end result.
The differences between the ninja’s and samurai can be traced back to the way they were raised. According to tradition and philosophy the ninja trend started in poor farming communities and social strata. Samurai were haughty and aristocratic so they looked down upon such communities.
The samurai represented the Japanese political and social tradition. The ninjas represented a shadowy counter-culture. This is how the ninja got its start.
Levy, Joel. Ninja: The Shadow Warrior. New York: Sterling, 2007. Print.