Ruby’s ruminations on...Who would win in a fight between ninjas and pirates?

A consultation has begun on a new retrospective planning application for a recreational pirate island near Landbeach.

A consultation has begun on a new retrospective planning application for a recreational pirate island near Landbeach.

  • by Ruby Hryniszak

I’m sure some of you will be familiar with the old internet meme of pirates vs ninjas. It was at its most popular a few years ago but it’s still talked about and it’s one of my favourite arguments.

When I get to know somebody one of the first things I like to find out is which side they’ve taken and whether or not I’m going to have to convince them they’re wrong for disagreeing with me.

There has yet to be a definitive answer to the question as nobody can agree on who the winner would be. Out of nowhere the debate arose in my mind, and I thought it would make an interesting piece to draw my own conclusion.

For all intents and purposes let’s assume that they’re fighting in an arena which has aspects suited to both the pirate and ninja.

It’d be unfair to tailor the battleground to one side or the other so I’ll give them both some advantages.

The ninja has places to hide and there are obstacles in this arena that they have been trained for. For the pirate, we’ve got no cannons (that really would be cheating) but there are spaces more alike the sort of terrain they’d be used to, and some open areas that put the ninja at a disadvantage in a similar way the obstacles my ninja will love are going to disable the pirate.

I’m also assuming that both participants are male and roughly even in strength and skill in their occupation-specific abilities.

Overall, it’s a very fair fight. Who do you think will win? Are you a ninja, or a pirate? Place your bets now and then we can begin the battle.

Ladies and gentlemen: Standing to my left we have the ninja. In his all-black ensemble he’s the epitome of espionage and deceit. Or is he? Ninjas are almost always Japanese, but their origins actually come from a Chinese military command guide book written by Sun Tzu, entitled The Art Of War.

Though it’s centuries old, it’s still considered essential reading for Chinese military commanders. One chapter in particular – chapter 13 if I remember rightly – changed the philosophy of Japanese warriors in a way that would eventually lead to the ideology of the ninja.

This section of the text described the advantages of using deception and espionage to win wars. Whilst nobody could deny the validity of the points made in the book, they were somewhat controversial, as they were so against the grain. Japanese fighting traditions were very honourable and so using deceit to win was considered unacceptable and frowned upon. That didn’t stop people from trying it though and hence the ninja evolved.

We have much respect for ninjas in today’s culture (they were rediscovered by Japan in the 1950s/60s and since then have become very popular film and comic book characters), but for years ninjas were seen in a similar way to the Untouchables in India. They were necessary, but shunned.

In historical texts, any such mention of the dishonourable warriors was avoided wherever possible, and if it was imperative that they be included in the writing, ninjas were either elevated to a supernatural status or referred to with contempt and disgust.

It may also surprise you that the all-black head to toe clothing we associate with ninja isn’t what they would’ve worn, either. One of their main jobs was assassination, which doesn’t always require hiding on a rooftop with a sniper rifle (or shuriken, if you want me to use the typical ninja armoury).

In some situations, it’s more appropriate to disguise oneself in costume, as a farmer or shop merchant, or maybe a street performer. True ninjas were trained thoroughly not only in their impressive combat art, but also in ‘invisibility’. I use the term figuratively, of course, and by it I mean hiding in plain sight. As masters of elusiveness, they know that creeping up to a target in the middle of the street dressed entirely in a ninja-yoroi (that’s what the ninja uniform is called) is not very inconspicuous and will not help them achieve their goal or get paid at the end of the day.

They would wear whatever helped them blend into their environment the most seamlessly, and if that involved dressing as a peasant, that was what they did.

The closest to an all-black ninja robe that you’re going to get is a navy blue costume in similar style. Black would cast you as a silhouette, whilst dark blue is better for remaining seemingly invisible at night. In fact, the origin of our perception of the black ninja costume is kabuki theatre. Stage hands wore all-black and when plays started featuring ninjas, the actors were made to wear stage-hand costumes because they looked stealthy (and it’d save them a bit of money).

Not very much was known about ninjas for a good long while, and in fact they themselves never kept records of their ways until they started becoming redundant, and only then it was used as a method of keeping their craft alive.

As a result of their secrecy, many myths and rumours were spread about them (which they did nothing to discourage): They’re 7ft tall; can fly; and become invisible; have the ability to walk through walls; can shape-shift; and have three hands.

Of course none of these are true, but they did enhance fear of the elusive ninjas. In reality, they’re just well-trained and have a clever armoury of silent weapons and light-weight armour to hide under their ninja-yoroi. Some of these, still used by modern ninja, include: Foot spikes and hand claws, throwing stars/shuriken, throwing spikes, grappling hooks and short knives.

Here we have a warrior who is only seen when he wants to be seen. He’s agile and silent, and has been trained intensively in the martial arts. His fighting style is distinctive, but that doesn’t by any means make it predictable. To predict his next move, you’d have to be able to see him, and you probably won’t be able to most of the time.

Now let’s have a look at what he’s up against: The pirate. He’s violent and ruthless with a smell that could kill you. If that doesn’t do it, his pet parrot might well do it for him.

Piracy has been around for as long as there have been boats to move cargo. The earliest example of pirates that I’m aware of are the Lukka, who attacked boats off the coast of Turkey in 1380 BC. Attacks were also common off the coast of ancient Greece and Rome, and in the 15th and 16th centuries, in the Mediterranean Sea. Everywhere sea-trade is heavily relied upon, pirates can, and have, thrived.

When you think of a pirate, you probably picture a man with rotten teeth and matted hair, in a flamboyant, frilly shirt worn underneath a long coat. He’s probably got hoop earrings and is wearing one knee-high boot with the tops folded down (no point wearing a boot on your wooden leg, of course). Am I right? What you’re thinking of isn’t actually a pirate. In reality, they would’ve worn practical clothing suited to sea-faring, rather than dressing themselves like royalty. The closest you’re going to get to a stereotypical pirate are the plunderers from the ‘Golden Age Of Piracy’. Historians disagree with when this actually occurred, but pirates from this era are the most alike our modern day perceptions of classic pirates.

They usually sailed under false colours to avoid drawing attention to themselves, unless they were declaring war on another ship and wanted to give them a chance to surrender. In that case, the pirates would raise the classic Jolly Roger. Whilst they wore practical clothing like all pirates, they would’ve owned very expensive garments that they’d stolen from other ships, and it wasn’t too unlikely to see them with a parrot on board somewhere that they’d stolen with the intention of selling somewhere else.

Weaponry is something movies seem to get right, because, as with ninjas, our ideas of pirate weaponry are quite accurate. A sea-faring pirate would’ve kept himself heavily armed, with a few flintlock pistols, as well as a machete-like cutlass and a few daggers.

The main fighting style of a pirate is very unrelenting. If a ship didn’t surrender to them, they’d board said ship and take it for themselves, because whilst they did have cannons, pirates wanted to rob boats before they sank them, or in some cases they’d keep them for themselves, if the ship they’ve taken is better than their own. Upon boarding somebody else’s ship you have the rather troublesome puzzle of what to do with the crew and pirates liked to give themselves a few options: Marooon them, kill them, sell them as slaves, or take them on as part of their own crew.

In true pirate fashion, they were also very strict in disciplining themselves (remember I wrote about why I think beating as a way of disciplining children is wrong? You’d be lucky to get no more than a beating from a pirate).

The favourite, and probably most famous, is keel-hauling. This involved tying the offending pirate to a piece of rope and dragging them under the keel of the boat. More often than not this resulted in death by drowning, and if not, you’d be wishing it had. The barnacles stuck to the ship could rip skin and clothing to shreds. Walking the plank, however, is a literary invention and was never a part of pirate practice.

Would you like me to spoil a few other things you thought you knew about pirates? There’s no historical evidence to suggest that they had parrots as pets, they didn’t use treasure maps, and there are only records of one pirate ever burying his treasure.

In the modern day, pirates are a lot more frightening than pistols and daggers, too, though they do like to arm themselves heavily, as with their traditional counterparts: Guns, grenades, knives and even rocket launchers. They also operate from shore in modern day, more so than Golden Age pirates, who lived at sea.

So his fighting techniques aren’t necessarily the best in the business, but our pirate is angry and violent and he won’t take any rubbish from his ninja opponent. He also has a gun, which could prove useful. He’s more predictable, which serves in the ninja’s favour, but he’s also ruthless and packed full of firearms.

How confident are you that you’ll win the bet? Make yourself some popcorn and let’s watch the fight to see who wins.

The ninja I’ve chosen to partake in this war is equipped with shuriken, foot spikes, hand claws and a grappling hook. He’s dressed in a stealthy dark blue ninja-yoroi with a layer of light-weight armour underneath, as is typical of the ninja.

The pirate has his guns holstered and a couple of hand-grenades, for good measure, as well as his knives for close-combat. His battle-suit consists of practical clothing. There’s nothing fancy about his garments and he hasn’t got a special uniform for his craft of shooting at everything that moves.

The countdown begins. At this point, just before they take each other on in an epic battle, I’m going to give each character a name, for ease of story-telling; The ninja will be called Hiashi, and the pirate’s name is Jack (the most original of pirate names, I know).

Jack already has his guns in-hand and is poised, ready to fire. He’s moved only a short distance from the starting position in the arena and is searching with his eyes for Hiashi, who in an instant made himself ‘invisible’. He knows he has a considerable amount of time before Jack will even have any hope of seeing him, and he uses that time to calculate his method. Shuriken? They’re the only weapons he has that he can use against Jack at a distance, without making much of a noise.

Jack fires a shot from his gun, impatient. He can’t see Hiashi and he isn’t willing to waste one of his grenades on a target which has no visual. This could go on for a long while, as Hiashi uses his equipment to evade Jack and work his way ever closer to the unsuspecting victim.

This is rather a lot like his day job, if you think about it. Jack is used to fighting sailors and has certainly never come across a ninja before in his travels, whilst to Hiashi, Jack is prey; The man he’s being paid to assassinate.

Jack is now on the move, aware of the threat Hiashi poses, this is nothing new. Every second, Hiashi is working his way towards Jack, creeping up on him slowly from the darkness of his half of the arena, up until the moment that his ‘job’ is in perfect view, ready for him to attack.

I think we all know how this sort of a fight is going to end. Jack has no hope, in my opinion. Whilst I went for the evasive, secretive method of the ninja, Hiashi could’ve easily engaged with Jack in hand-to-hand combat. He’s far more agile and better trained than Jack, and though he has no firearms, his skill with blades makes up for any lack of bullet.

Pirate supporters: They commonly argue that a pirate would win with ease because their weaponry covers both long and short distance and is far more powerful than the ninja stars Hiashi would use.

Ninja supporters: We maintain that the ninja’s superior agility and mental capabilities would overwhelm the elementary battle strategies used by a pirate and lead them to victory.

It’s easy to think that anybody facing a gun is destined to be defeated, but think about it. Ninja are very skilled in the art of disguise and they’re best known for avoiding attention. You can’t fire a gun at something you can’t see, and if you can see the ninja, he’s probably fairly close to you. At that point, you’re better off using a knife or fists against the opponent. In that situation the ninja is very well trained. His purpose revolves around silently picking off prey from a distance and fighting in close combat with knives and fists. Pit somebody who’s a good, strong fighter against a man with impressive karate skills and good technique with a short knife and you wouldn’t put your money on him.

It’s been assessed on a few weapons television programs whether or not a gun is more useful to you in a hostile situation, and what they found may surprise you. The men armed with knives, who knew how to use them, were more successful than the gun-toting soldiers.

It takes so much longer to aim, fire, reload, re-aim and fire again than it does to pull your arm back to try for another stab. Guns fire quickly, but they’re loud, and unpredictable. You know exactly where your knife is going and if you know how to use it, you can make your move before the man with the gun has got his sights on you. Quick and quiet.

Ninjas fall into the category of people who know how to use knives, and they’re definitely quick enough to beat the finger on the trigger. My knife isn’t going to run out of ammo, either, which is infinitely helpful in combat.

When your only argument for victory is a claim to having better weapons, you’ve a weak argument. You can give a man a gun but if he doesn’t know how to shoot he isn’t going to get a kill. Likewise, if you give a man a knife and he isn’t quick enough to beat the bullet, you’re wasting your time.

A huge percentage of success relies on the person with the weapon. Ninjas are alert and intelligent, and whilst pirates are good in battle (they have to be as part of their trade), against a ninja their fighting techniques aren’t as comprehensive. Pirates know how to use their weapons but ninja know how to prevent them risking the use of their weapons. Ninjas understand their opponent as well as themselves, whilst the pirate can’t understand the ninja because he can’t see the ninja.

On the odd occasion, the pirate might win, but in a situation where each opponent is equal in relative skill level it all comes down to the effectiveness of the method, and against a pirate, the ninja has the edge.

There are no recorded confrontations between ninjas and pirates, however, so there’s no previous evidence, and it’s very unlikely that there would’ve been any hostility between the two due to their geographical locations and the jobs they were doing.

Still, it makes more sense in my mind that ninjas would win for their impressive skill, compared to pirates, who are typically more rudimentary.

I doubt that I’ve actually drawn this argument to a close, though. In fact, I’ve probably helped resurface it and if I had to guess, I think I will have riled up a few pirate supporters and helped kick-off the argument all over again.

Are you on the side of ninjas, or pirates? Do you think I’ve missed any important advantages or disadvantages from either side, or have I overlooked anything? Want to argue with me about my opinion? Send me your thoughts on Twitter: @13eautifulLife.

Column by Ruby Hryniszak (pictured, inset). Ruby is a regular contributor to the Harborough Mail online.




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