My Life and Times

Early Life and Training

My name is Ichirō, and I was born and raised in the Province of Iga, which is famed for its ninja warriors. When I was a boy, my father trained me in the arts of combat, for he saw that I had much skill and potential.

Of course, becoming a ninja is a very stereotypical career course for a boy from Iga. When I got older, I decided that the ways of war and combat were not for me; I wanted to be a minstrel, or perhaps a bunraku playerThe bunraku were wandering puppeteer/actors, sort of like a Japanese version of the Italian Commedia dell’arte.The bunraku were wandering puppeteer/actors, sort of like a Japanese version of the Italian _Commedia dell’arte or other entertainer. I left my village, with my parents’ blessing, following a band of wandering players to seek my fortune as a performer.

But as we wandered about the Tōkaidō and the Kii Peninsula, I discovered two things: The first was that I was simply not a very good musician. As much as I love music, I could only ever hope to be a second-rate musician.

The second thing was that I simply could not keep myself from learning the arts of combat. Given even a simple tool such as a writing-brush or bamboo flute, I soon started finding ways to use it as a weapon. Without really meaning to, I learned to walk silently, and developed a habit of accidentally startling my comrades, who would fail to notice me approaching them.

Eventually, I left the players and joined the yamabushiThe yamabushi were (and still are) a group of mystical ascetics who live high in the mountains, practicing a nature-based spiritual path called Shugendō. In the world of the ninja coder, they’re invaluable to any clan that aims to conquer more than a tiny territory, because their knowledge of the trails and mountain passes is critical for moving troops and supplies from place to place. The word "yamabushi" is both singular and plural; it can mean the group or a single mountain man.Mystical mountain warriors who know the trails and passes in the mountains, and can help clans move troops and supplies around. The word "yamabushi" is both singular and plural; it can mean the group or a single mountain man., the bands of warrior ascetics in the high mountains of Yamato Province. With them, I roamed the trails and woods, and from them I learned the arts of fighting with the bō staffA fighting staff, generally about six feet long. Similar to the European quarterstaff. Often carried by mountain men and travellers as well as dedicated warriors.A fighting staff, generally about six feet long. Similar to the European quarterstaff. Often carried by mountain men and travellers as well as dedicated warriors..

But the yamabushi — fierce as they are in protecting the mountain wilderness areas and dealing with roving bandits — are primarily monks, not warriors. I craved a life with more action and excitement. Eventually, I returned to my village in Iga, and taught myself the ways of the ninja-tōThe short sword most associated with ninjas. Note that unlike the katana and wakizashi carried by samurai, the ninja-tō was straight rather than curved. It was roughly the length of a wakizashi.

The ninja-tō was also generally of inferior workmanship compared to the more expensive blades available to samurai. Even if a ninja could acquire a katana, it would be too long and unwieldy to carry on most missions; ninja generally relied on smaller weapons like the shuriken and manrikigusari, and on more deniable weapons like the kama.

“Ninja-ken” is another perfectly acceptable name for this weapon; it’s like the difference between saying “ninja blade” and “ninja sword” in English.The short sword most associated with ninjas. Note that unlike the katana and wakizashi carried by samurai, the ninja-tō was straight rather than curved. Also known as a “ninja-ken”., the kamaTechnically, a kama is simply a farming tool. It’s like a sickle, or a small, one-handed scythe. Since farmers make up a huge segment of feudal Japan’s population, there’s nothing suspicious about carrying one around. And ninjas like to avoid suspicion.

If you take a chain with a weight or hook on its end and attach that to a kama, you’ve got a kusarigama… much more useful as a weapon, but also obviously a ninja weapon, instead of a farming tool.A farming tool, like a sickle or a small, one-handed scythe. Commonly used by ninjas because they arouse no suspicion – farmers are everywhere, after all. and the kusarigamaA common ninja weapon: a one-handed scythe/sickle with a length of chain attached to the handle. The chain has either a hook or weight on the end of it.A common ninja weapon: a one-handed scythe/sickle with a length of chain attached to the handle. The chain has either a grappling hook or a weight attached to the end.

The scythe/sickle part alone is a kama, and is a common farming tool. With the chain attached, it’s pretty obviously a weapon, and would be treated as such by any authorities one might encounter.
. I also honed my skills in stealth, deception, and infiltration.

The Path of the Ninja

Thus prepared, I started hiring out my abilities to the various clans, gumi“group”Japanese for “group”; can refer to anything from a “five-person group” (a common work-unit in Japanese corporations) up to an entire branch of the Yakuza such as the Yamaguchi-gumi., and daimyōA feudal warlord; the leader of a clan and/or army with a significant area of land under its control. Usually also has aims to expand his holdings; many daimyō are trying to become rulers of whole regions, or even of all of Japan. Pronounced “dime-yo”.A feudal warlord; the leader of a clan and/or army with a significant area of land under its control. Usually also has aims to expand his holdings; many daimyō are trying to become rulers of whole regions, or even of all of Japan. that vie for ascendancy over Nippon during this period of wars and chaos. At first, I enjoyed the independence of life as a freelance ninja, but the unreliable nature of such work soon convinced me to seek a permanent clan.

With Samurai by My Side

I found employment with Clan Iwinaga, a small army based in the Kamishichiken District of Heian-kyō. Their samurai were fierce and well-trained on the battlefield, disciplined in cavalry charges and mounted combat. But they had little knowledge of city fighting. Their leader, General Wāro, was a master strategist and saw how useful it would be to have a ninja on the team.

I spent nearly two years with Clan Iwinaga, fighting alongside the Ōmi branch of their army. I slaughtered enemies of the clan in nearly every city and town in the area, and helped them gain territory and power. But the samurai were unaccustomed to working with a ninja, and occasionally made comments about ninjutsu being a dishonorable path, or the chain and hook being inferior weapons. Eventually, I realized that I could never truly feel at home there.

In the town of Yagyū, just outside Iga’s borders, heralds from every clan and army come looking for skilled warriors. I put out notice that I was available, and soon found an offer with a new clan: Nettobuku. I told General Wāro that I was leaving Iwinaga — a sad day, for I still respect and admire his martial skill and leadership.

The Bright Hope Turns Bitter

Clan Nettobuku seemed like a dream, at first. They offered me more gold than Clan Iwinaga. They understood city fighting, not just horse-mounted battlefield tactics. One of the warriors I spoke to there, named Bunmei, was a fellow ninja; we got along quite well. Their military commander, Kobushi, said he had high expectations of my skill.

But Nettobuku was based in Izumi Province, a place whose terrain I didn’t know. And the clan was undergoing some inner turmoil: A month after I joined them, they turned awaylaid offlaid off half of their existing members, and decided they were embarking on a completely new campaign and strategy.

Part of that change in direction was a decision to use the sansetsukonA three-sectional staff. Looks vaguely like a nunchaku with an extra section. Famously used as an intimidation technique by one of the bad guys in Raiders of the Lost Ark, who smiled evilly and then folded it up into a coat-hanger.

Three-sectional staff; weapon that looks like a nunchaku with three sticks instead of two. and the Aka Hōseki Jōgesen school of fighting — a weapon and a ryūA school, tradition, or style in martial arts.A school, tradition, or style in martial arts. that were new to me. Bunmei had some experience with them, but mostly we were learning together.

We were learning on the job, as we tried to conquer new territory on an aggressive schedule. Soon we added Jimon to our forces: a virtuoso fighter, but one who loved flashy, complicated techniques. His style was exactly the sort that appealed to the young Bunmei, and both of them were quite convinced of their own invulnerability.

The kataA sequence of moves in martial arts, performed as a practice exercise to train the fighter’s muscle memory and reflexes in preparation for real combat. May be anywhere from a brief, 15-second movement to a full sequence that takes five minutes or more to complete. Usually solitary, but there are some two-person kata.

You may wish to see some videos of standard karate katas.A sequence of fighting moves used as a practice technique in martial arts. they devised worked for them… but not so well for me. Try as I might, I could not keep up. As much as I might wish to blame the unfamiliar ground of Izumi Province, or the difficult working conditions, the fact remains: I failed. I fell far behind on my assassination quotas, and I knew it, and so did everyone else.

One day, Commander Kobushi told me they could no longer keep me in the clan. I left in disgrace, as the coldest winterthis happened at the depth of the recent economic depressionthis happened at the depth of the recent economic depression in recent times set in.

Surviving the Winter

I threw myself furiously into practicing and sharpening my skills, and I spent so much time in Yagyū talking to heralds that many of the innkeepers there knew me by name. My hard work paid off: after only two months, I was able to join a small association of independent warriors called the Totemo Akarui-gumi“group”Japanese for “group”; can refer to anything from a “five-person group” (a common work-unit in Japanese corporations) up to an entire branch of the Yakuza such as the Yamaguchi-gumi..

As a group of independents, the Totemo Akarui-gumi had many patrons, and fought all sorts of enemies on all sorts of terrain using all sorts of tactics. I got to improve my skills in the Jōgesen school, and maintained my practice in the ninja-tōThe short sword most associated with ninjas. Note that unlike the katana and wakizashi carried by samurai, the ninja-tō was straight rather than curved. It was roughly the length of a wakizashi.

The ninja-tō was also generally of inferior workmanship compared to the more expensive blades available to samurai. Even if a ninja could acquire a katana, it would be too long and unwieldy to carry on most missions; ninja generally relied on smaller weapons like the shuriken and manrikigusari, and on more deniable weapons like the kama.

“Ninja-ken” is another perfectly acceptable name for this weapon; it’s like the difference between saying “ninja blade” and “ninja sword” in English.The short sword most associated with ninjas. Note that unlike the katana and wakizashi carried by samurai, the ninja-tō was straight rather than curved. Also known as a “ninja-ken”.; and kusarigamaA common ninja weapon: a one-handed scythe/sickle with a length of chain attached to the handle. The chain has either a hook or weight on the end of it.A common ninja weapon: a one-handed scythe/sickle with a length of chain attached to the handle. The chain has either a grappling hook or a weight attached to the end.

The scythe/sickle part alone is a kama, and is a common farming tool. With the chain attached, it’s pretty obviously a weapon, and would be treated as such by any authorities one might encounter.
. I also won the admiration of one of other group members, a mercenary named Amon — he was quite impressed with my urban combat skills and my rooftop creeping abilities.

Sadly, the Totemo Akarui-gumi’s fortunes were not as stable as we all hoped. I acquitted myself well there, but with too few clients, the gumi had to turn me away after a few months.

I continued my search for a new clan. Then one day a messenger arrived from the Yaneura-gumi — they needed a skilled ninja for a few weeks, and my friend Meiun-no-Neko, a yamabushi woman, had told them of my prowess.

Like the Totemo Akarui-gumi, the Yaneura-gumi was a fighting force for hire, allying itself with many larger groups. During my two months with them, I fought for armies of Heian-kyō and Naniwa, on rooftops and in forests. But I had always known they needed me only for a short time, so I was not surprised when we finished a successful battle, and my commander there told me I could muster out and return to Iga.

Sun warms my blade
comrades at my side —
SakuraCherry blossom: the Japanese national flower, known for its transient beauty.Cherry blossom: the Japanese national flower, known for its transient beauty. petals.

My Last Upstart Clan, and a Change in Direction

My time with the Yaneura-gumi helped keep Akane and me fed. Not long after my mustering-out there, I struck a bargain with my newest clan: Clan Tenya.

Tenya was one of the small clans of Ōmi Provinceearly-stage Web 2.0 startupsearly-stage Web 2.0 startups, which so many warriors love being part of. But my time with Clan Tenya reminded me of the trials of Clan Nettobuku, where aggressive strategies took their toll on my body and my spirit. I was so busy there that after my first month, I had no time to even write these tales — hence the long silence after my meeting with Iyona. I may, some day, tell of the rest of my exploits with Clan Tenya, but the important thing for the moment is that I realized that such small clans are not for me.

And so I and Clan Tenya parted ways. I decided to seek a large, established army, with a full complement of nobles and priests to guide us in the ways of Righteousness and Harmony. It need not even be an Ōmi-based clan or army; there were other provinces in Kansai where I could make use of my skills.

The Newest Chapter

Once again, I spent many hours in Yagyū every day. I found many heralds who were eager to connect me with clans… but most of them were more small upstarts. Some even had the audacity to claim that long hours and frantic schedules would be a benefit to joining their clan!

I persevered in my search, however, and refused to compromise my standards. Eventually, a herald of the Shomei-gumi sought me out, and said that Clan Noriaibasha — one of the mightiest of the merchant clans of Izumi Province — was looking for ninjas with urban skills. With an army numbering in the thousands and a history stretching back over a century and a half, Noriaibasha is as far from a feckless Ōmi upstart as it is possible to get.

Eagerly, I went to Castle Noriaibasha to show my skills. After various of their warriors and priests tested me, I was accepted as a provisional member. After months of loyal service and skilled assassination, I was asked by my captain, Kento, if I wished to become a full clan member.

I said yes. Henceforth, I will forsake the ways of the upstart clans and join my fortunes to those of Clan Noriaibasha. Even now, I am engaged in a long-running campaign to subdue the clan’s enemies in the cities of Izumi.

What does the future hold? Only the gods know, but I shall persevere. I am a ninja coder, and this is my story.