Popular Culture recognises Ninjas as people who were outcasts of society. People who trained in deadly martial techniques for the purpose of assassination. I however prefer to believe what I have discovered from my own research and what my friend (who has first hand experience in Ninjutsu) tells me. He says that the Ninjas were originally Samurai. They trained at the Samurai academies and were the best of the best. The Shoguns however, were afraid that these Samurai had the potential to overthrow them. And so they got all the other Samurai to turn on the most skilled Samurai in the academies, and try to assassinate them and their families. My friend asked me after telling me this "Who are the bad guys now?". These now rogue Samurai who were once the feudal Japan's elite were now sought refuge in isolated areas in Japan like mountains I'm guessing. The society they served now rejected them, so they decided or were forced to serve themselves.
They understood the formal limitations of the systematic Samurai, and thus adapted a formless mentality for their martial techniques to outwit the Samurai. This is why some people don't consider Ninjutsu as Martial Art; because not much is recorded and formalised. But I see that to be formless is to be free and to express one's self spontaneously; as is the principle of the universe - change. And that is what my friend said he was taught while attending a Ninjutsu school, never to do the same thing twice. Always doing something different to avoid becoming predictable. This is why Ninjutsu is said to be an art of innumerable variations and to reveal the true spiritual significance of the Martial Arts.
We can not be completely certain what actually happened in history. However from what I have learned from 'The Way of the Ninja - Secret Techniques', I think the whole Ninja way is closer to the truth than most of the expressions coming from Japan. To assist your understanding of this, I have transcribed the first paragraph of this book below:
"A Ninja was someone whose very existence expressed the spirit of budō. He would protect himself with techniques not of assassination but rather of sensation and an acute awareness of his natural surroundings. He would avoid unnecessary conflict, and even when armed with a blade, would find a way to win without staining it. These are the true techniques of Ninjutsu, and the art that Ninja persistently trained. Ninja exercised endurance throughout their secretive lives in order to protect their families, their clans, and their country. Their harsh training endowed them with a tough but pliant spirit, and martial skills suitable for coping with any situation, together with a sense of awareness that had universal application."
I feel that people have been misled by popular culture and the media. So I hope that by me sharing my knowledge on Ninjutsu will help you to see the Ninja in a different way than the falsity of popular culture and the media; and will bring some clarity to a topic of misunderstanding and confusion. From my small amount of exposure, the Ninja were closer to the true way than most of the expressions present today. Perhaps they were even closer than the Samurai, as the Ninja were self expressive, and didn't limit themselves to cultural tradition (way) or the rules of the authoritarian Shoguns, as the Samurai did.
Thank You for reading my blog.