Pirates vs. Ninjas

Pirates vs. Ninjas

Robert Fry

Unknown to the common man, over the vast spaces of the World Wide Web, a battle is raging. The Battle of some of the two most idolized, criticized, and unknown factions of all time. The battle between ninjas and pirates.

The origins of this contest are unclear, but it has been debated for a number of years. Everyone has their own opinion, and everyone feels like they are right. I know this from personal experience. Simply the mention of a Pirate or Ninja being cool can start a heated argument. Whether it is on the bus, over the web, or in the cafeteria, Ninjas and Pirates are constantly at war. Perhaps the strangest part of the argument is that the likelihood of a Pirate and a Ninja ever even seeing each other is almost non-existent. Even so, there must be a clear winner, right?

I am going to attempt to compare these legendary factions and determine the victor.

First, who are these people? Who were they in real life, before they were stereotyped and depicted in movies?


Pirates in Modern Culture

Pirates are commonly seen as rough, sea worn men with earrings, eye patches, peg legs, hooks for hands, and parrots on their shoulders (demonstrated at left). They make enemies walk the plank and swing across ships on ropes with swords in their mouths. Pirates are often considered cool, such as in the movie Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl. Pirates are a common sight in America, such as is seen at football games for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Pirates are fun. They are entertainment for the average American.

Pirates in History

The classic pirate era lasted from about 1560 up to the 1720s. Most piracy occurred in the Caribbean Sea because of the large amount of small islands on which pirates could hide and store their plundered goods. The average citizen of today pictures a pirate as a rough, rebellious, and someone to be idolized. In reality, pirates often ate poorly, lived in filthy conditions, and died young. Pirates were bad people, they often raped and pillaged entire towns, kidnapped young boys, and murdered anyone who got in their way. Pirates, however, are not infallible. In correspondence with popular belief, pirates would often lose limbs and eyes in battles. But these injured pirates would rarely participate in raids and would often become cooks.


Pirate's main goal was to plunder small towns and defenseless ships. This could be seen as cowardice, and brings the issue of idolization of pirates into question. Pirates could be prosperous, or fail and kill each other over jealousy and other issues. Pirates often lived in a democratic state, where the most experienced and wisest man would become the captain. He would have to be a fierce fighter, and someone his men could trust. After a raid, plundered materials (a.k.a. "booty") would be divided up, commonly with a little extra for the captain or injured men. Scuffles often broke out on pirate ships, sometimes ending with mutiny, the captain often being executed.


The Cutlass

The cutlass is a short sword often used by seafaring men, especially pirates. Its blade was usually curved and often featured a hand guard.

The Flintlock Pistol

The trademark pirate weapon, the flintlock pistol was invented in the mid 1500's. Flintlock pistols generally fired round musket balls and were accurate from about 40-100 yards.

Modern Pirates

Piracy continues to this day, though it is much different from the way it was 300 years ago. Seaways are not protected the way they used to be, and naval warfare has all but ceased. But the shipping lanes are busier than ever. Pirates are no longer large ships filled with rough-n-tumble men wearing eye patches. Pirate ships are now fast, agile, and normal looking boats that you could not pick out from any other fishing boat. Pirate attacks tripled between 1993 and 2003. The first half of 2003 was the worst 6-month period on record, with 234 pirate attacks, 16 deaths, and 52 people injured worldwide. There were also 193 crew members held hostage during this period. Pirates are rarely after cargo, but take passengers personal items. They are commonly after a ship's safe, where large amounts of money are kept to pay for port fees. Modern piracy is no joke, and the pirates of today are just as bad as murderers on land. Modern pirates usually carry guns, and do not hesitate to kill innocent people

The Average Pirate

The average pirate of the old days is a gruff male with knowledge of seafaring and maybe some basic combat skills. He has probably been through a lot and seen many years at sea, if he has been lucky enough to survive. He often has to skip meals, and has a high likeness to suffer from scurvy. He most likely has very little interaction with anyone outside of his ship. If he dies he will be thrown into the sea, and his possessions will be divided among his crew mates.


Despite their popularity, very little is known about ninja (yes, the plural is ninja). Because ninja never left a trace of their doings or behavior, their history is sketchy. Ninja were said to be silent assassins and spies in feudal Japan. Ninja utilized Ninjutsu, or "the art of stealth" which involved training in areas such as disguise, escape, concealment, archery, medicine, and explosives. Ninja were considered very disciplined and did not hesitate to kill when needed. Perhaps the most disturbing fact is how exceedingly efficient they were at it.

History of the Ninja

Some believe that they were offspring of Samurai, but the origins of the Ninja are unknown. Ninja first flourished during the Sengoku Period (from the 15th to 17th centuries). They were often utilized by daimyo (powerful feudal leaders of Japan) to silently eliminate opposing daimyo. Great legends were told of the Ninja's deeds but could never be proven because of the veil of mystery wrapped around the silent assassins. There are, however, some confirmed instances of these warriors massacring opposing armies. But these instances rarely do justice to the Ninja because they often occur when the Ninja were on the defensive, and are not using their surprise attacks and silent ambushes. An example of this is when the Ninja clan of Sanada, led by Sanada Yukimura assisted in the defense of Ueda Castle. Their force, under 2,000 (a small fraction being Ninja) decimated the forces of Tokugawa Hidetada, which were 50,000 strong. Ninja continued to destroy enemies until the 200 year long peace of the Edo period. During this time Ninja seemed to disappear, as is their style of living when not in battle. They silently faded out of culture and became little more than legend. It is speculated that the Ninja still remain, but this is impossible to prove, of course. Because Japan has become modernized it is not the ideal setting for the Ninja, and it is most likely that the Ninja have spread to all reaches of the world.

The Culture of the Ninja

Ninja often operated in clans, tight-knit groups of warriors raised from birth to be Ninja. They are trained rigorously, taught in every way the art of the Ninja. Ninja clans were headed by the jōnin (High Ninja), who trained and mentored the chūnin (Master Ninja) who led and instructed the genin (Apprentice Ninja). Upon receiving a mission from daimyō, the jōnin would use the chūnin to select necessary personnel from among the genin. These groups would silently gather intelligence as a team, or assassinate enemies in force. Some Ninja groups would be small and unstructured for covert operations. Others would be structured like an army with a battle leader or shō.

There were female Ninja as well, though they took non-combative roles. Female Ninja were still instructed in the path of Ninjutsu, but became household servants to spy on the enemy. Female Ninja were renowned for their skill with a bow and arrow. They would only use their skills when discovered or absolutely necessary, and were every bit as powerful as male Ninja.


Ninja were not always silent. They often worked as spies, blending in with the enemy or common folk. They would infiltrate enemy organizations, and though they were easily seen, they could not be differentiated from other people. Though Ninja did wear their characteristic black outfits, they only did so at night or when it suited them. They would dress as everything from monks to enemy guards. A Ninja could be anyone or anywhere. They could be right next to you, completely silent. Or they could be right next to you and holding a conversation. You would never know. Such is the way of the Ninja.

Tools and Weapons

The Shuriken

The Ninja could use almost any weapon, if prompted. But they did have favorites. One of the most famous is the Shuriken or Throwing Star. Ninja would often lack the resources to buy expense weapons, so many of their tools came from other uses. Shuriken originated from the tools Japanese carpenters used to remove nails from wood. Contrary to popular belief Shurikens were not killing weapons, they would often be used to distract or intimidate opponents. However, they could become lethal when dipped in poison, as many Ninja weapons were.

The Sword

Ninja swords, or ninja-to, were considerably shorter than those used by other warriors, such as the Samurai. This was mainly because of the difference in the way they were both used. Samurai would swing their sword, severing limbs and slashing at the opponent. Ninja, on the other hand, used the sword more in a quick, stabbing motion. This required more skill, and could be just as deadly. Ninja swords could also be used as an impromptu step stool, jamming the blade into the ground and stepping on the hilt.

Ranged Weapons

The Ninja would often use weapons to silently eliminate enemies from afar. One example of this is the highly versatile blowgun. The blowgun was used for firing darts (sometimes poison tipped) silently from a distance. Blowguns were usually made from short bamboo stalks. They could also be used as a snorkel so that the Ninja could breathe underwater.

Another important weapon to the Ninja is the bow. Both long bows and short bows were used by Ninja. Their tips were sometimes tipped with poison. Female Ninja were usually well trained with a bow.


It is not well known that many breakthroughs in explosives were developed by the Ninja. The Ninja were among the first to use Smoke Bombs to aid in escape. They were also the first to use land mines. Ninja even possessed cannons. The secrets of the production of gunpowder and gunpowder related weapons were closely guarded secrets in Ninja clans.

Myths of Ninja

In Japan, Ninja were regarded as ghosts, things to be feared. They would not socialize with communities and would not remain in the same place for long periods of time. The abilities of the Ninja were often exaggerated. People believed that they could become invisible, multiply themselves, and fly. Ninja would not deny these misconceptions because it gave them an advantage in battle. Some Ninja were recorded to have faked their own deaths to appear immortal.

The Ninja Today

Little is known of what became of the Ninja. During the 200 year peace of the Edo period, Ninja silently faded from Japanese society. Ninjutsu is still taught in some isolated schools of Japan. But the students cannot become true Ninja, because murder is now frowned upon in modern society, and it is difficult to find work that involves the use of stealth and martial arts.

The word Ninja means "one who operates under concealment." So the secret agents and spies working for establishments such as the CIA and NSA might be considered modern Ninja, though their tools and methods of operating may be different then their 17th century counterparts.

The Battle

You've seen the two factions. Which one do you favor? I am going to put the two into some different situations. Hopefully, there will be a clear victor at the end. Then again, maybe not. Let's look at some scenarios.

1 on 1: With Weapons

A Ninja and pirate stand 20 feet apart in the middle of a small field. The pirate has in his possession a cutlass, a Flintlock pistol, and a small knife. The Ninja has his small ninja-to sword, 4 shuriken, a smoke bomb, and a blowgun. The pirate is already at an advantage because the Ninja has lost his most important strength: the element of surprise. Both the Ninja and the pirate's weapons are sheathed, unloaded, and unlit. Already the pirate is growing uneasy, the Ninja has not moved since they arrived. In a flash of less the one second, the Ninja has thrown 2 shuriken at the pirate and drawn his sword. He is charging at the pirate at full speed. The pirate knows that his pistol is useless unless he can buy some time because the pistol takes over 20 seconds to load and fire. He ducks under the shuriken, but one grazes his right arm. Fortunately, it was not tipped with poison. The Ninja has already drawn blood. The pirate unsheathes his cutlass and parries the Ninja's first blow. The Ninja strikes in short, jabbing motions. His sword becomes a blur as the pirate attempts to block his attacks. Their swords become locked, and the pirate uses his large size to force the Ninja's sword out of his hand. The Ninja glances hard at the pirate as he draws something from his belt. The pirate raises his cutlass to deal the finishing blow, but an eruption of smoke appears in place of the Ninja and the sword glances off the ground. The pirate turns around, looking for the black shape of the ninja in the grey smoke. He sees something to his left and turns, but the shape is gone. He hears a soft sound, as if someone had spat on the ground. He feels a pain in his leg. He looks down to see a small, black shaft of wood buried in his skin above the kneecap. The pirate cries out in alarm, but he has little energy to yell. Things become blurry. The last thing he sees is the Ninja bearing down upon him with his sword.

Winner: Ninja

1 on 1: Unarmed

There is little contest with this battle. Without weapons and other pirates, a pirate would have little chance against a common soldier, much less a Ninja. Ninja train their entire lives to fight with nothing, with the odds against them. A pirate knows little in the ways of martial arts. The Ninja are disciplined in the ways of Ninjutsu, one of the most lethal forms of oriental martial arts.

Winner: Ninja

Group Combat

Now for the issue of what would happen if a small band of pirates faces a small group of Ninja. First of all, it must be realistic. The Ninja should be out numbered 3 to 1. Let's say 5 Ninja and 15 pirates. Second, it is night and the pirates have just pulled into harbor. They have secured the ship, and left a guard of 15 on board. 7 are on deck, 4 are engaged in a card game below, and 3 are in the quartermaster's study, observing maps and counting booty. Three of the Ninja have been under the dock for 3 days, breathing out of bamboo rods. A Ninja agent had stolen the records of the pirates a week before, at a port hundreds of miles away. He relayed the information to his counterparts in this city. Unfortunately, he was captured after slaughtering eleven of the men on board. Before he could be interrogated he broke the wrist of the interrogating officer, stole his knife, and used it to commit suicide. The other Ninja heard of this and, following the principles of Bushido, prepared to eradicate the pirate menace.

The three Ninja await a signal under the dock. In the mean time, the other two Ninja are scaling the side of the ship. The first ninja creeps on board in slips behind a wooden crate. Two pirates stand on the other side of the box, chatting about the weather and rum. There is the sound of something hitting wood. The two pirates stop talking.

"Aye, why dontcha check it out?" says the first.

"Aye, but I'll be sure it be nothin." says the other. The pirate walks in the direction of the noise. The glint of metal catches his eye. He bends down to find a square metal object embedded into the wood of the deck. The pirate plucks it out and touches the tip. He cries out in pain, it is very sharp, and opens a cut on his finger. There are strange characters engraved in the object.

"What do you reckon this is?" he says to his partner. No answer comes. The pirate turns. His friend is gone. Something moves in the corner of his eye. He turns and looks over the side of the boat. A hand darts out and grabs the front of his shirt. He is pulled over the side of the ship and crashes into the frigid water.

The five remaining guards hear the splash. They rush to the side of the ship and look over. There is nothing. They look around and realize that their two comrades are missing. The pirates spread out and search the ship for traces of their allies. One pirate finds a small, square metal object lying on the ground. There is blood on the edge. He goes to cry out for his friends to take a look, but a sharp pain erupts in his throat, and no sound comes out. He clutches his neck; there is a thin piece of wood lodged in it. A black shape moves over him, and his vision ceases.

The largest of the pirates is patrolling the starboard side of the ship. He trips on something. He looks down to see the fallen body of one of his fellow pirates. He draws his sword. There is a soft noise behind him, like a feather landing on grass. The pirate whirls around. A small man is standing there, clothed in all black. He would have to be a head shorter than the pirate, and 150 pounds lighter. The man is masked, and the expression in his eyes is neutral. The pirate bears down upon the Ninja with his sword, but with surprising speed and strength the Ninja deflects the blow. The Ninja sweeps his right leg under the pirate, pulling his feet out from under him. The pirate falls on his back. The Ninja dives for the pirate, blade out, but the pirate kicks out hard. He catches the Ninja in the chest and sends him flying overboard. The pirate gets up and looks over the side of the ship. Suddenly, a blade is thrust upwards into the pirate. The injured man slumps forward and falls over the deck. The Ninja is helped over the side of the boat by his comrade, and pulls something out of his pocket. A spark appears and the fuse of a small, round object is lit. He drops this over the side of the ship.

The three ninjas still awaiting a signal observe a small round object drop into the water nearby. There is a flash, and they begin to swim under the boat.

Four pirates continue their card game, slightly intoxicated and having a good time. There is a squeak as a nearby porthole swings open. One of the pirates turns just in time to see a small canister drop through the hole. There is a flash, and smoke spews from the flask. The pirates stand and draw their swords.

"We're under attack. Alert the captain!" says a one-eyed pirate.

"Aye." says another, and rushes off through the smoke. Ol' One-eye turns just in time to see straight, thin blade swing through the air at his one-eye level.

The captain of the ship is just beginning to roll up his maps as his two advisors leave his study. Suddenly, another pirate bursts through the door.

"Smoke bomb in the galley!" he says.

"Ninjas." grunts the captain. Just as he finishes his sentence, the large window behind him shatters and three black shapes swing into the room. One of the pirates pulls his pistol and fires a shot into the chest of the first Ninja. The Ninja grunts, and then charges the stunned pirate. He quickly judo chops the pirate before falling to the ground. In the mean time the other two Ninja have incapacitated the other pirates and are holding the captain.

"I ain't never givin' yeh me booty!" says the captain.
"Good." said one of the Ninja, as he throws the captain overboard.
"Because we didn't want it!" The Ninja begin to plant explosives on the ship and leap off just as it is destroyed. Winner: Ninja


So who are more intelligent, pirates or Ninja? Well, that answer is pretty obvious. Ninja spend their entire lives studying military tactics and have the ability to think on their feet. You have to be smart to be a Ninja. Pirates, not as much. They are excellent seaman and know how to sail, not much help in a battle. Winner: Ninja

Cool Factor

When you get down to it, the cool factor is an important part of deciding who's better. Let's look at pirates. They've got antiquated guns, sort of cool. They've got cutlasses, cool. They steal booty, cool. They smell, not so cool. Pirates are alright. Then look at Ninja. They're shadow warriors who silently eliminate opponents and know kung fu. Ninja are waaaaay cooler than pirates.

Winner: Ninja


When you review the facts, pirates don't stand a fighting chance against Ninja. Not only are they inferior in combat, but they're not nearly as cool. Ninja shouldn't even be compared with pirates. It's insulting. But what do you think?

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