The shuriken (手裏剣) is a traditional Japanese throwing weapon, which is used in shurikenjutsu. This martial art is an integral part of ninja training.
Contrary to some popular belief, this weapon is relatively ineffective, and therefore not used in direct combat. It is rather used to distract the opponent or in ambushes where speed of attack is essential.
It can be dipped in poison to increase its effectiveness. This poison is recovered from toxic mushrooms.
Types of shuriken
The kanji ken (剣) generically designates a blade (the kanji shuri meaning "palm of the hand"). Shuriken can therefore have many forms, but these forms are simple.
There were no shuriken with tortured or finished forms, the main thing being to have an efficient weapon and not a beautiful one.
It should be remembered that shuriken were made from scraps of metal that could not be used for any other purpose, or even made in the field, during a mission of the user.
There are several types of shuriken:
- bo shuriken (棒手裏剣), which are shaped like stylets. They have a square or more or less round cross-section and have only one point. In order to increase the chances that the tip and not the flat of the other end would hit the target, the tip had to be heavier and therefore the diameter of the body increased towards the tip ;
- hira shuriken (or shaken or shaden, 車剣, or semba), which are star-shaped. Strictly speaking, there are only a few kinds of shapes for these shuriken. The "edges" (indeed, the shaken were only relatively sharp, for practical reasons) are straight and have no offsets. Shaken in the shape of pentacles, or stars with eight, twelve, fifteen points, as we see them in the trade today, did not exist, except as a stylistic exercise. Four points were perfectly sufficient, since none of them interfered with the other when entering the target. Indeed, if the points are numerous, the distance between two points will be small and while one point penetrates the target, the closest points will slow down its penetration, hence the need to have spaced points, which also allows to keep the "blades" wide and therefore solid;
- senban shuriken, which are diamond-shaped. They are comparable to shaken, as much in their shape as in their use, but they use the cutting edge more. The sides of the diamond shape are concave, turned inwards, so that the points remain effective;
- senbon, similar to bo shuriken but with two points and a rhombic body, i.e. widening towards the middle, so that the weapon is perfectly symmetrical. The largest diameter is in the exact middle of the weapon's length, then the diameter decreases until it reaches the two ends with the spikes. Such a design makes it possible to throw the shuriken like a common stone with the assurance that a point will hit the target. It should be noted that the senbon is a weapon with an accomplished design; its manufacture by the same processes as the shuriken of other types is therefore questionable, since it requires precise calculations and a forging work, and not a simple cutting in a metal plate as for the other types of shuriken;
- shuriken in the shape of throwing cards.
The bo shuriken are themselves divided into 3 categories:
- the hari gata, cylindrical in shape ;
- the kugi gata, square or triangular in shape;
- tantō gata, which are the size and shape of a knife. Single-edged, these weapons resemble the smaller aïguchi or tantō.
Shuriken's Use and techniques
The shuriken is used for three main purposes, not necessarily distinct:
- to divert attention ;
- to injure ;
- as a tool.
The shuriken is a flat and discreet tool, but made of metal. This has several advantages: once thrown, it is almost invisible, but causes a falling sound that attracts attention.
However, the most effective method of distraction is to attack in the face: the enemy tries to avoid the shuriken, giving the thrower a short respite to run away or attack - it is not essential to aim well - the important thing is not to hit the target but to weaken it as much as possible.
Hurt or kill
Hurting an opponent is more difficult. On the one hand, you have to aim well, on the other hand you have to know where to attack. Certain strategic points prevent the enemy from running or retaliating.
Killing an opponent with a thrown shuriken is very difficult, as most of the wounds inflicted are not fatal. It is necessary to hit the opponent in the head or in the chest to put him out of action instantly. This use is therefore relatively rare, unless the ninja uses the shuriken in an abnormal configuration, for example by holding it in the hand and stabbing it into the skull or throat of the opponent, like a dagger.
Shuriken were sometimes used "en masse". A rope with a knot at one end was passed through holes in each shuriken. The knot prevented the weapons from dislodging from the rope and the other end was tied to the user's clothing. In case of escape, the user would untie the rope from his clothing, grab it by the end containing the knot and "sweep" behind him, sending a large number of shuriken in one go to increase the chances of hitting the opponents, or at least forcing them to take cover, in order to make them lose time and advance in the pursuit.
Some shuriken are however coated with poisons, usually from plants. These blades, if they wound the opponent, can intoxicate him and cause his death.
Shuriken are not necessarily thrown but can be used held in the hand. They are thus more discreet than knives, but do not have their length.
The shuriken is a tool particularly adapted to the tinkering that the ninja can do. It can be used to cut wood, to cut ropes, to scrape the earth, to gather hallucinogenic plants that will be used in combat, to clean his weapons or simply to cut food.
Defense against a shuriken
To defend themselves against shuriken, fighters have developed three techniques, which they can combine:
- move to avoid the shuriken ;
- blocking it, for example with a protective metal armband;
- catching it, but this is a very difficult technique.
Once thrown, the shuriken follows a perfectly predictable trajectory, a simple parabola. Avoiding it consists in moving outside this trajectory. The difficulty lies in the speed and efficiency required.
One can interfere with the trajectory of the thrown shuriken: a sword blow can deflect it completely. A rope, a chain, any object can be used, as long as it is handled quickly enough.
Catching in flight
If, finally, the shuriken could not be intercepted before, and if the fighter cannot move, he can try to catch the shuriken in flight. This technique, extremely dangerous, requires, in addition to perfect coordination, a good knowledge of the trajectory of a shuriken.
These techniques are no longer taught in ninjutsu schools because of their dangerous nature - a student could lose his hand or even be fatally injured.