What The Octagon Taught Me About Ninjas

When I was a kid, I thought The Octagon was one of the coolest ninja movies ever. Thanks to AMC, watching it again after a good two decades has re-educated me about ninjas. Here are some of the highlights:

  1. Ninjas have nothing better to do than shanghai a bunch of mopes and forcibly train them to be ninjas themselves.
  2. Ninjas have no ground game. Hold them under water and they will blow bubbles until they die.
  3. Ninjas are perfectly silent, even when attacking (no kiai) or dying (no cries of pain).
  4. Ninjas in Flash Gordon armor are exempt from number 3 if a) they know how to hiss and b) they are on fire.
  5. Ninjas are very, very flammable.
  6. Ninjas will never sound the alarm, no matter how many of them you kill.
  7. Ninjas hang out under porches, under beds, underwater, and around ceilings, just in case you happen to walk by.
  8. Ninjas in Flash Gordon armor aren’t as tough as they look.
  9. Ninjas will put away their katana in favor of sai, then forget all about their katana when you disarm them of their sai.
  10. Ninjas will only try to stab you in the eyes with the sai. Otherwise they will just smack you with the pommel.
  11. Ninjas will just up and walk away if you make it to their boss.
  12. Ninjas succumb to single punches and kicks, much like your average, cannon fodder bad guy.
  13. Ninjas will get up nice and close to kill you in your sleep, and use hand claws you can block instead of a good katana.
  14. Ninjas may whack you with a bo, but it’s cool, it doesn’t hurt.
  15. Ninjas will run circles around you in the sand, but not once think to blind you with it.
  16. Ninjas will put you in a big bamboo cage when they finally manage to catch you, rather than just cut you to ribbons.
  17. Ninjas only attack one at a time, even when they come at you in groups.
  18. Ninjas may get behind you, but rather than throw something at you they will close in on you.
  19. Ninjas who do get the advantage from behind you will still attack the front of your body.
  20. Ninjas are nothing compared to the awesome power of Chuck Norris.

Cheesy ninja fare at its best! I get the feeling I best not go looking for Enter the Ninja or American Ninja.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.


  1. Neil Davies says:

    Don’t forget the many Sho Kosugi ninja films. Love to see your breakdown of those.

  2. JohnU says:

    Ninjas will only try to stab you in the eyes with the sai. Otherwise they will just smack you with the pommel.

    In their defense–while I’m not sure why they’d go for the eyes, a sai is not a sword, or even a blade, if I remember right, and is partly meant for bludgeoning.

    On the other hand, they shouldn’t go down after only one punch. *I* don’t go down after only one punch, and a ninja I am not.

  3. Mike says:

    There is no edge to a sai, but they are still a stabbing weapon. Flash Gordon Ninja had a nice shot at ol’ Chuck’s kidneys and passed up the opportunity to step in close and try to stab him in the eyes from behind (which of course gives Chuck a chance to block and wrestle them).

    Neil — I was looking up ninja flicks, and it looks like Sho Kosugi is making a comeback! Return of the Ninja is showing as in production and Ninja Assassin is in post, according to the IMDB.

  4. Jon F. Merz says:

    Sais weren’t even a part of an arsenal employed by ninja. The weapon originated in Okinawa with varying thought as to whether it was once used in farming or was always developed to be a weapon. The closest thing that you would find to a sai on mainland Japan would be a jutte, carried by policemen in the latter Edo period to help them disarm sword-wielding attackers.

    Historically, there’s no record of ninjutsu ryuha activity in Okinawa and it’s highly unlikely that sai would have ever been used by actual ninjutsu families in operations on Honshu.

    Today, sai are not used in authentic ninjutsu training, although we do have techniques that employ the jutte. During the “ninja boom” of the 1980s, all of the craziest weapons were thrown into these funny flicks, and I’m afraid that’s the only time you’ll see a ninja armed with them.

    Of course, I know you guys are playing around, but I figured I’d stop by (my ears rings when someone says, “ninja”) and help dispel any bad myths. God knows there are enough others of them out there, lol…

    Mike, next year you ought to come out to Massachusetts and attend the New England Warrior Camp (http://www.newenglandwarriorcamp.com) – it’s 3 days of outdoor training on a Boy Scout camp ground that brings together most of the leading ninjutsu folks in the country. You’d definitely have a helluva time (no prior ninjutsu experience is necessary). We usually have upwards of 80-100 folks outside for cool training. This year’s is next weekend, Friday-Sunday.

    Hope you’re well,

  5. Mike says:

    I’m told the most popular thought on the origin of the sai is it was a hook used for pulling in fishing nets. Just as the boat oar (eiku) became a weapon with a kata, so too did the sai. Another origin I’m told of is it broke off the head of a spear in battle and someone picked it up as an emergency weapon. All of the Okinawan kobudo weapons have agricultural origins — tonfa as wheelbarrow axle, nunchaku as wheat thresher, etc.

    You told me about New England Warrior Camp once before, but that was my pre-martial arts days. I’ll definitely have to keep it in mind for next year; I’ve been thinking recently that it would be fun to attend some martial arts conventions/seminars of some kind.

    Take care,

  6. Jon F. Merz says:

    As for the head breaking off of a spear, there is a type of spear, a kamayari that might fit that explanation.

    Yeah, man keep it in mind for next year. It’s a hellish good time. Lots of cool training, night exercises for awareness, escape & evasion, infiltration, etc. etc.

    Be well,