Until recently I have been told that ninja do not abide to a moral code (in particular, the samurai bushido), and that the definition of a ninja is "a warrior without honor".

Is this true? A ninja is not required to follow any moral code at all? What are the differences between the bushido and the "ninjado"?

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    +1. This could be migrated to history.stackexchange.com but I believe that it could be on topic here as well if we agreed on philosophy and history tags. Feb 2, 2012 at 13:28
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    The historical point of view may help to understand the present situation; however my question looks at the present situation. Feb 2, 2012 at 13:32
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    Since I feel that @Sardathrion did an excellent job of nailing some of the major points with his answer, I won't detract from them by posting my own. I will add that the Shoninki admonishes the ninja of Kishu-ryu from being amoral or dishonorable, reminding them that they are not thieves or murderers, but that they serve a purpose. It's not that some ninja weren't "bad guys", but this is true of all groups in society, even the supposedly moral and just samurai. Much of their perceived morality stems from their rank under confucianism.
    – stslavik
    Feb 2, 2012 at 19:51
  • This question appears to be off-topic because it is about present data ninja's. The connection between modern ninjutsu and modern budo and historical budo/ninjutsu is ... inappropriate for the question.
    – MCW
    Dec 16, 2013 at 13:19

4 Answers 4


This depends what time period you refer to. Bushido was a not formally written till the Tokugawa period at a time of peace and rigid order. During the Sengoku Jidai, Bushido was thought of as mere guidelines in a similar way to the "chevalerie" of the middle age Europe.

Ninja, or shinobi, were foremost spies. As such, of course, they had no honour and no morals! Unless, of course they were in your employ. In that case, they were another weapon in waging war. Oda, Toyotomi and Tokugawa were famous for using ninja -- after getting bitten by not using them.

Stephen Turnbull is a good source for this, Ninja AD 1460-1650 (Warrior) in particular. Do not get that book, instead read Ninja: Unmasking the Myth which correct errors in the previous book.

See this question on history.se for the role on ninja during the Sengoku Jidai.

After the OP edit. In the same way as you cannot be a chivalrous Knight of the Round Table, you cannot be a Bushido Samurai. The samurai class does not exist any more after the order of Emperor Meiji on the 7 April 1868. I am not aware of any such order regarding the ninja clan. So, I guess you could follow a shinobi-do but I am unaware of any such thing being formally drawn -- more like guidelines really.

The definition of ninja as "a warrior without honour" is erroneous. It literally means hidden person, see this page for example but the wikipedia article has it too.

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    In addition, by the time Bushido was formally codified (at the end of the Tokugawa Jidai), the ninja were already in decline. It might be helpful as well to make the distinction of the ninja as a job, and the samurai as a caste. Many ninja were samurai (Hattori Hanzo, for instance). Also, I'm not sure the sarcasm carries well with "Of course they had no honor and no morals!"...
    – stslavik
    Feb 2, 2012 at 17:18
  • stslavik, was about to say that! Ninja was a set of skills employed by peasants, samurai, and whoever the lord who sent them out deemed neccesary.
    – Chris
    Feb 2, 2012 at 18:24
  • Maybe Machiavellianism/libertarianism is the closest thing to a "Shinobi-do". ;) Dec 14, 2018 at 9:03

Ninjas were useful because they could do things that violated Bushido. However, they did have their own moral code.

In the translation of the Bansenshukai (one of the manuals used by ninjas), there is entire portion devoted to "Correct Mind". The Bansenshukai is translated by Antony Cummins and expresses that ninjas should be able to stray from a righteous path as long as their motivations are not for self-gain, but to serve a uncorrupt employer.

Along with this, the chapter "Correct Mind" talks about many other philosophies used by the ninja. For example, the handbook encourages courage, but not the kind that leads to making reckless decisions or following irrational leaders. So in a way, the ninja did have a moral code, but not a traditional kind.

There were a set of guidelines that allowed them to perform morally questionable actions, without becoming reckless or motivated by self-gain. There were provisions in the manual to prevent them from being manipulated, but allowed them to manipulate others.

The difference between Bushido and ninja codes is that Bushido was meant to preserve honor and ninja philosophy was structured to keep the ninjas on a path were they could avoid falling victim to greed, blind allegiance or anything that would make them less effective in their profession.

Source: The Book of the Ninja by Antony Cummins


@Ninja Shadow answer was right but bushido and honor are 2 different concepts. People think ninjas had no honor because of their unfair tactics (hitting soft zones like eyes, testicles, kyusho, etcetera) but they also had to follow the honor code to their master and familiars. When you are a warrior your goal is to accomplish your mission regardless on how you have to do it. I don't know if any of the repliers here has practiced ninjutsu because if you had you would know that ninjas only have 1 principle.


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    Hi, and welcome to the site. You should back up what you say with some references as it would make your answer much more authoritative. May 28, 2014 at 14:41

In Mann's book, NINJA, he mentions discoveries of the training literature of the ninja clans in japan, and the FIRST thing in the training of potential initiates was...... ETHICS. they taught that if the ninja didn't use his ninja powers for the greater good that the heavens would not bless their mission.
So there is historical evidence that the ninjas did view themselves as fighting for the greater good. It's important to remember that the provinces controlled by ninjas were fighting against a powerful centralized government system. They were the common man, banding together to use everything in their power to survive in a military dictatorship, under military oppression. The first documented forms of democracy were between these ninja towns, as they signed confederacy documents which revolved around the idea that if anybody attacked any one of their towns, that they would all join to help repel the invaders, but there was no central government.

  • This needs sources! Just because I am interested in seeing those primaries sources as well... Jul 21, 2015 at 6:44
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    You state first that there was a powerful centralized government, then that there was no central government. Also, I find the statement "The first documented forms of democracy were between these ninja towns" very dubious. According to Wikipedia, ninja may date from the 12th century CE, while Athens in Greece had democracy in the 6th century BCE.
    – mattm
    Jul 21, 2015 at 12:34

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