Real Urban Ninja Training – Applying Ninja Principles to Modern Life

By on August 8, 2019

In my comprehensive overview of real ninja training, I explained the concepts and techniques used by ninjas in order to become truly formidable warriors. While a lot of information is lost to time, and a lot has been fabricated or invented, a few ninja scrolls and some unverified “last ninja” exist to give us insight into what their training might be like.

One of those last ninja – Jinichi Kawakami – claims that the way of the ninja is dead. That their teachings are irrelevant in today’s world and that there is simply no place for “invisibility spells” or recipes for herbal poisons. There is no call for a modern, “urban ninja.”

While I probably agree with those last two examples, I can’t say that I agree with the broader sentiment. If we take the overarching teachings of the shinobi, I think there is a lot worth salvaging and applying to our daily life.

Given that information and data are now more powerful than ever before, I actually think this is a highly relevant time for ninja skills.

Ninja were all about using social engineering, technology, and physical skill to collect and control information. Given that information and data are now more powerful than ever before, I actually think this is a highly relevant time for those skills. They have never been more important; it is only the technology that has really changed. The urban ninja would simply need to adapt these technical skills.

Modern ninja training

And the commitment to self discipline and training is something that is timeless. In fact, I think the spirit of the ninja is one that aligns pretty perfectly with the goals of this site…

What Would an Urban Ninja Look Like Today?

Kawakami is right about one thing: it’s probably not worth your while to learn the secret incantations, or even how to use caltrops (spikey tacks that you use to stab people through the foot). The former probably doesn’t do anything, and there’s not really an application for the latter that isn’t violent and illegal. Nor do I recommend becoming an urban ninja by wearing masks and breaking into buildings.

Skills for an urban ninja

But that’s not what an urban ninja would do today anyway. Today, a ninja would use the significantly more advanced tools and techniques available to them. Those would include:

  • Drones
  • Hacking skills
  • Coding skills
  • Basic electronic engineering
  • Parkour/Buildering
  • Persuasion, interrogation, and body language
  • Social engineering
  • Behavioural economics
  • Lock picking
  • Night vision goggles
  • Pickpocketing
  • Forensics
  • Supplements/nootropics
  • Smartphones/mobile computers
  • Propaganda
  • Bugging devices
  • GPS trackers
  • Advanced disguise
  • Meditation/focus/flow states
  • Street fighting/martial arts

(I’d like to point out at this point that I do not condone or recommend any illegal activity!)

They’d then use this information to gain an upper-hand socially, in their line of work, and financially.

An urban ninja would have more in common with the characters from “Watch Dogs”

An urban ninja in the 21st century would probably have more in common with the characters from Watch Dogs, rather than Ryu Hyabusa. But as in Feudal Japan, they would use covert operations to collect information and subtly sway the course of events in their favour, to further a cause, or to advance their personal power.

Are the CIA Urban Ninjas?

Portrait of confident man in suit and sunglasses looking at camera

In fact, this pretty much describes modern CIA or MI6 agents – which is precisely the best analogy for ninjas. When I recently examined their training in depth, we saw that they engage in very few Bond-style gunfights and spend much more time applying gentle pressure on informants and avoiding detection. Their skills involve avoiding detection, using disguise, persuading informants, and using their charisma to gain information from people.

And this makes sense seeing as ninjas essentially were the equivalent of VIA or MI6 back in the day.

Ninja Skills for Hackers

Likewise, we could look to Russia’s cyberwarfare strategies as examples of ninja tactics being employed today. Hackers – just like ninjas – conduct covert operations to gather information for a number of political and personal motivations. “Hactivists” are lone agents and groups aiming to alter the course of politics and business through the careful reveal of information.

urban ninja hacking skills

And in fact, hackers could stand to learn a little from ninja. While hacking doesn’t always require physical presence, there are actually many situations where this would provide an advantage. Of course, hacking sometimes means sitting at your computer and doing things such as attempting SQL injections. But in other scenarios, urban ninja skills certainly apply.

Hackers could stand to learn a little from ninja

A hack might involve speaking with someone on the phone pretending to be IT support and telling them that you need their passwords. You might then use their email address in order to message the head boss and ask them to change the password on the web cams. You could then sneak into the vicinity to get the WiFi password, and use your computer to connect to their webcams. You might then survey the office until you are able to spy bank details, or where they store their contact information.

Again, I am NOT advocating this. But understanding it has huge benefit for protecting yourself against precisely those kinds of attacks. And there is clearly an edge to be gained by learning urban ninja skills.

Urban Ninja Training and Parkour

Okay, so there’s a genuine benefit to learning how to collect information in the modern age. But that’s only part of what we might imagine being an “urban ninja” to entail. Where then does all of the parkour into play?

I’m not suggesting that you climb through windows and hack into your employer’s email for recon, or to try and stir up chaos within the organization. Nor should you wait down a dark alley and then take out the competition. Though these are perhaps both things that an actual ninja might do, they are examples of activities that are no longer appropriate. The modern urban ninja is far more subtle.

Urban Ninja Parkour

In other areas of our lives, being able to manipulate our surroundings and those around us, while increasing mobility and protecting information can certainly all help us to thrive in the 21st century. Being able to blend into a crowd and avoid standing out can help you to avoid trouble, and certainly while travelling. Parkour and buildering can be perfect for getting away quickly. Likewise, hacking and cyber security knowledge can help you to keep better care of your own data, to avoid scams and data theft.

Again, the key is to take the less obvious route and to avoid a head on assault. One of the best ways to evade an attacker for instance, is to hurdle over a wall where they cannot follow. If they do try to follow, you’ll be able to knock them back off the wall as they try – you’ve captured the high ground (insert Star Wars meme here).

Throw loose change at the eyes and use the opportunity to escape

Alternatively, throw loose change at the eyes and use the opportunity to escape. Rather than engaging in combat directly, you can alter the playing field and rob them of information to give yourself a strategic upper hand.

We can even go as far as to suggest a modern day urban ninja attire: one that would allow you to very quickly hide your identity and blend into a crowd. That might mean becoming a “suit” or it might mean wearing a hoodie, which can immediately hide you from someone who might be following you. Darker clothes of course have their advantages too. CIA operatives are trained to be able to surreptitiously change their entire outfits and looks while walking normally and without arousing suspicion. In an excellent video from Wired, CIA operatives describe this and also extort the value for civilians to learn a little about disguise and how they are perceived too. For instance, a tourist can make themselves significantly less of a target by appearing just slightly less “touristy.” Learning subtle things such as the way that local culture dictates body language can help them to blend in and remain safe.

Batman stretch

Urban ninja attire might also include wearing practical shoes that allow for running and climbing, or a bag that won’t weigh you down.

Moreover, it might mean learning about the way that your clothes will affect the way others perceive you and how you can use this to gain trust and influence. Real ninjas dressed as beggars when they wanted others to underestimate them, and they dressed like farmers when they wanted to blend in. The urban ninja must then adapt their attire to help serve their goals.

Modern Ninja Skills We Should All Develop

Again, this is all highly illegal. But I wonder whether there’s not some benefit for the rest of us learning some of these skills – for use in the boardroom and in life. What if we took the ninja approach to business? How could we apply this asymmetric warfare to our progress there?

There is certainly benefit to being able to persuade, negotiate, and manipulate. And collecting information is valuable in every walk of life.

Urban ninja

Moreover, you can view this a little like self-defence. The hope is never to need to use these skills. But it’s sure nice to know you could take on a huge evil corporation if ever you needed to!

In the coming years, you will find you are watched more and more by these corporations. IoT is the “internet of things,” which in turn means that everything from your fridge, to your plant pots will be connected to the web – and collecting gigantic amounts of information about you.

You can view hacking a little like self-defence

If a hacker should gain access to any of these systems, then you will be extremely exposed. They’ll know when your home is empty during the day, and they’ll have the numbers of all your friends and accounts. Learning about cyber security might therefore be a crucial measure in order to protect yourself in the future.

Likewise, learning to move quickly and undetected can help you to escape a violent conflict far more effectively than focussing purely on self-defence.

Applying a Ninja Approach to Daily Life

The main thing we can all take from the ninja approach then, is not to tackle every problem head on.

I actually really enjoyed the analogy given by the developers behind the game “Thief” (a game about stealth and stealing things… as the name would suggest). They pointed out how a single submarine can potentially take out many far larger opponents thanks to the element of surprise and greater manoeuvrability. A single shot from any of those battleships would be enough to instantly sink it – but landing that shot would prove the real challenge and it would likely be too late by the time the opponent got a lock on. This is how the urban ninja strikes.

Ultimately, if you have an advantage in terms of information (you have more information on your opponent and situation than they have on you or the situation) and you have greater mobility and versatility (often a product of the terrain or context), then you will be in a position to emerge victorious. This is what ninjas and urban ninjas are all about.

Brain training program

And remember, the ninja way is an evolution of Sun Tsu’s Art of War, so we also must consider some of his advice: such as trying to avoid outright confrontation where possible, and trying to build allies and resources rather than apply a scorched Earth policy that benefits no one.

Some maxims for the urban ninja to live by:

  • Collect as much information about your target as possible
  • Only reveal the information you want to about yourself
    • And create misinformation where appropriate
    • Obfuscate or restrict information
  • Avoid head-on battle wherever possible
  • Choose your battlefield, timing, and conditions when you do need to “battle”
  • Consider the “inputs” of your target
    • Minimize your own “attack surface” by reducing your own inputs
  • Seek mutually beneficial outcomes

So, prior to an engagement, you should collect as much information as possible about the opponent and the situation. You should obfuscate any information about yourself – hide your hand as it were – and you should seek to control the variables as far as possible: choose your battlefield and the circumstances surrounding the battle so that you will be the most agile. This way, the urban ninja is always prepared to win.

How An Urban Ninja Might Apply for a Promotion

Bodylanguage is a key skill to develop

So, let’s say you’re gunning for a promotion or pay rise and you want to test your urban ninja skills. Prior to negotiations, you would:

  • Keep your aspirations under the radar until the appropriate time
  • Research as much as possible about your interviewer, the business, the market, and position you’re going for. Does the company have the budget?
    • Listen out for gossip, or any plans relating to the position you’re interested in. Who else is going for it? How are you better than them?
  • Make allies within the organization and generate positive buzz about yourself
  • Wait for an opportunity to prove your worth and your value – perhaps a big project that you can lead. Choose THIS moment to ask for the raise, thereby controlling the circumstances.
  • Consider when the best time to approach your employer is in terms of time of day, the mood they’re currently in etc. Consider the environment too – would this work better during work drinks or during a formal meeting
  • Remain calm and collected
  • Make your case but also show how this is a mutually beneficial arrangement and how you can advantage the business.
  • Prepare a back-up plan. If they say no, ask what you can do to get a “yes” next time

This is of course where developing skills such as negotiation (see this post), or communication can come into play. Even skills like meditation, lifted straight from the Ninja handbook, can be employed to great effect here.

Ninja rope climbing

As you can see then, we can all learn from ninja and apply some of their lessons to our daily lives!

About Adam Sinicki

Adam Sinicki, AKA The Bioneer, is a writer, personal trainer, author, entrepreneur, and web developer. I've been writing about health, psychology, and fitness for the past 10+ years and have a fascination with the limits of human performance. When I'm not running my online businesses or training, I love sandwiches, computer games, comics, and hanging out with my family.

One Comment

  1. Austin Hamby says:

    This is very fascinating. The way of the ninja is more advanced than we realize. I enjoyed reading this, but I must say I can’t read the skills of the urban ninja chart. If I could, I would save it as a poster.

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