10 Things You Didn’t Know About Sho Kosugi and the Ninja Warriors!

10 Things You Didn’t Know About Sho Kosugi and the Ninja Warriors!

The year was 2006, and it was my first visit to Hollywood. Whom did I choose to meet first on that day? The foremost name in ninja movies: Sho Kosugi.

There I was, standing in his office in the heart of Tinseltown, having just wrapped an hourlong interview on the master movie ninja’s life, career and plans for the future, and the camera crew was making its way around the room, getting pickup shots. I was thrilled to have spent an hour hanging with my boyhood hero when Sho Kosugi upped the excitement ante a notch.

“I don’t know if you’re interested,” he said, “but if you want more film …”


Sho Kosugi preparing to break flaming blocks circa 1979.

And with that, Sho Kosugi opened a theretofore-unnoticed office door — seriously, it looked like a utility closet — and ushered us into his secret lair. It harbored a treasure trove of every sword, throwing star, costume, metal claw and chain-mail mask that had ever appeared in an ’80s ninja flick. It also housed a plethora of scripts, original film prints and 8×10 glossy color photographs.

Once we pulled our jaws off the floor, the cast and crew very professionally filmed every angle of the shinobi cornucopia that Sho Kosugi offered up for our cameras — then very unprofessionally geeked out, tried on every piece of equipment and kept him an extra half-hour to pose for pictures. Ever the gentleman, he indulged our fanboy proclivities and even signed a poster for yours truly.

So what did we learn from our close encounter with Sho Kosugi? That if, even in a modest production office, one can stumble across a secret room filled with ninjutsu treasures, memorabilia and death-dealing gadgets, then it’s obvious that the hidden world of the shadow warriors still hasn’t given up all its secrets. Here are 10 more titillating facts I’ll bet you didn’t know — and didn’t even know you didn’t know — about the ninja.


Ninja Swords Had Leather Hand Guards, Not Those Big Square Metal Ones You See in the Movies

Risuke Otake sensei of Japan’s katori shinto ryu explains: “This is so they will not rattle when moving around. They also have shorter blades and a longer cord.”

Historian Antony Cummins adds, “This is an obvious step for a shinobi to take, and the Shoninki (a historical text on ninjutsu) states that an o-wakizashi is best — which is, of course, a short sword.”

[True Path of the Ninja, Antony Cummins and Yoshie Minami]


Ninja Fought in World War II

From a previously classified document: “A secret military spy school taught ninjutsu … as part of its curriculum. The Rikugun Nakano Gakko was run by the Japanese Imperial Army and was used to train military intelligence operatives in secret.”

Some 2,300 soldiers are believed to have graduated from the course before it was closed in 1945, when Japan surrendered to Allied forces. “The students weren’t just taught to sneak around in black footed-pajamas with katana and throwing stars … but also learned more practical methods of gathering intelligence and sabotage, including bomb making and photography,” the document reveals.

[“WWII Ninjas? Secret Spy School Taught Ninjutsu Skills to Soldiers,” Adam Westlake, japandailypress.com]


Ninja Beat People With Live Snakes

Anyone who’s seen Cannon Films’ 1983 classic Revenge of the Ninja can tell you two things: Ninja grandmas are awesome, and a kusari-gama is a short, sharp sickle with a chain or weighted rope attached to its handle. That attachment is used as a long-range weapon and for entangling a close-range opponent.


Masaaki Hatsumi (photo courtesy of Bud Malmstrom)

However, historical warriors didn’t limit themselves to mere chains and ropes. Masaaki Hatsumi, 34th grandmaster of togakure-ryu ninjutsu, says practitioners would sometimes attach “small, explosive charges or fireballs” and on special occasions “a bound, terrified poisonous snake to the enemy’s body. The enemy would then be so busy dealing with the snake bites [that] he would be unable to counter the ninja as he advanced with his ripping sickle blade.”

[Ninjutsu: History and Tradition, Masaaki Hatsumi]


Also, With Angry Cats!

Kunoichi (female ninja) would sometimes carry a fluffy cat in their arms to conceal “a ninja dagger and smoke grenade,” Hatsumi writes. “[The cat] could also serve as a potent distraction weapon when thrown into the face of an unsuspecting intruder.”

[Ninjutsu: History and Tradition, Masaaki Hatsumi]


Ninja “Magic” Comes From India, Not Japan

The shinobi mystic’s half-meditational, half-magical practice of kuji-in finger knitting, first popularized in the films of Sho Kosugi, was adapted from esoteric Buddhism. Before that, it was part of some sects of Hinduism. The earliest records of the practice are said to be written in Sanskrit, a 3,000-year-old dead language.

Perhaps because of their mystical powers of concentration …

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