|The Enigmatic Japanese Ninja|
Cheap fuel-efficient cars, VCRs, and stereos weren’t the only Japanese exports that flooded into America during the 70s and 80s. The plucky indigenous ninja cleverly smuggled themselves over the sea to dazzle American audiences with their seemingly magical martial arts abilities. They were soon to find fertile ground in American pop-culture and almost immediately a Ninja Boom was born.
There was a time when ninja were as abundant as the stars in the skies. They were everywhere in America. They were in movies, on TV programs, in comic books, in newspaper personals, on street corners.
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Just opening the pages of any comic book back then you could find throngs of ninja taking on small bands of heroes. On TV you could watch ninja fight each other, the A-team, greying old ex-pats, G.I. Joe, and so on. Less respectable movie theaters showed Ninja movies every other week. In bookstores, you had your pick of ninja books that detailed every aspect about these secret warriors from their skills, their weapons, to their breakfast cereals.
|Master Ninja Lee Van Cleef with Big-Ass Funky Disco Medallion|
Everybody wanted to be a ninja or at least own their weapons. Nun-chunks were once as plentiful as handguns in American households. No impressionable 13-year old boy could hold his head up high amongst his peers if he did not own at least half a dozen shurikens (”throwing stars”). That these JC Penny shurikens failed to stick in anything did not deter their popularity one bit.
For those who aspired to be ninja through mail-order training books, there was always the feeling that one day, they might be called upon to use their ninja skills and weaponry to take on bullies, bank robbers, Russian spies, space aliens, or chemistry teachers. And when that day arrived, the suburban ninja disguised as a mild-mannered pimply-faced gawky teenager would save the day and win the heart of the head cheerleader.
|Look at me! I’m a Ninja Bird!|
As for the real Ninja, they served as the perfect martial arts foil for any aspiring hero whether they were samurai, shaolin monks, police officers, superheroes, or redneck truck drivers. Ninja were readily available for heroes to test their mettle against. It didn’t take much to find a few ninja back then as they were just about everywhere. A hero could hardly go for a leak without bumping into a pack of them along the way.
Then the butt-kicking would begin.
Despite their years of intensive training and strict discipline, ninja never won a single fight they were in even if they outnumbered their opponents 100 to 1. They appeared to be particularly vulnerable to an old-fashion left hook. The only time ninja were successful in actually killing someone with their skills or their myriad of pointy weapons was when they could manage to kill off the hero’s buddy, girlfriend, or dog. This minor victory was often short-lived and generally backfired on them as the hero would become enraged to the point of slaughtering ninja by the bushel. This would go on until the hero finally tracked down the Head Ninja and in an epic fight-to-the-death match, killed him. The few surviving ninja of the hero’s rampage would find themselves suddenly unemployed while many of them would have to apply for handicap parking decals.
|Ouch! That’s got to sting a bit.|
The fact that ninja were repeatedly beaten, pummeled, crippled, maimed, set on fire, and killed in their relentless encounters never bothered people. It was thought ninja would last forever. But like the mighty buffalo, even ninja had to succumb to the ravages of time and attrition to their ranks. With their secret training camps being infiltrated and blown up all the time, it was becoming harder to recruit and train new ninja.
One of their main problems was that they were victims of their own defeat. Everybody wanted to fight them. You weren’t considered a hero in those days if you couldn’t single-handily beat a dozen ninja.
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One has to admire their pluck in the face of adversity, though. A hero could slaughter 99 ninja and the 100th ninja — instead of doing the sensible thing like running away as most of us would do if we were in his slippers or just shooting the guy from a safe distance — attacks all out with his ninja skills no doubt thinking optimistically the hero must be finally worn out from killing all of the ninja’s colleagues. Sure the ninja gets brutally killed like all the rest but at least he tried and therein lies the difference between him and the rest of us. Of course, this spirit hasn’t helped the declining ninja population in the slightest.
Shameless self-promotion also played a hand in their demise. In the back of comics and magazines, you could find book ads promising to teach you the “Deadly Ninja Touch” and “12 Steps to Killing: the Ninja Way.” With their secrets up for sale by mail order and their weapons on sale at any department store, it got to the point where even housewives or girl scouts could defeat a herd of ninja by themselves. As a general rule of thumb, if you belong to a secret society of martial artists, you should never make your secret death touches available to the general public via mail order catalogs. Ninja never seemed to grasp this simple concept.
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Now Ninja are a vanishing breed — rarely sighted or fought. Even suburban ninja have disappeared and their shurikens put up for sale at flea markets. Grungy street thugs fill the void left by the ninja in the comics and movies but they sorely lack the style and panache their predecessors had. Gone are the nun-chunks that never hit anyone, the novelty smoke bombs, the throwing stars, the nasty foot pricks, the trendy black robes.
|Me and the Ninja: ready to kick butt|
Is it too late to save the majestic Ninja? Should limits be established on the number of Ninja that can be beaten up in a year’s time? Surely, if the world can come together to stop the hunting of whales, we can stop the noble Ninja from being beaten into oblivion.
|Save the Ninja!|