Geekend: Ninja Fest

David Wagner, Managing Editor | 5/2/2014 | 23 comments

David Wagner
The Geekend has covered a lot of topics, but I think one thing I've been remiss in covering on the geek spectrum is ninjas. It seems like such an epic oversight that I should commit ritual suicide, but that's samurai, not ninjas.

What brought my attention to this is an epic video (which I promise to share) from Japanese television. The point of the video, if this article can be believed, was to test the idea of whether ninjas could really take on dozens of opponents at once and win like you see in movies. They were going to put it to the test by having three ninjas fight 50 less-trained folks.

When I read this, my little geek heart went all atwitter. I was hoping one of them would be this guy:

Alas, standing in for the ninja would be Olympic fencers. And standing in for the mob would be novice fencers. Still plenty awesome, but a little less stylish. And instead of an all-out mob battle, each fencer has a balloon on his (possibly her, but all three world-class fencers were men) chest. If the balloon is popped, you're out. If it isn't, you're safe even if you get hit elsewhere. Here's the absolutely awesome melee in its total splendor.

As you can see, the ninjas lost, but not until they eliminated almost everyone. In fact, for quite a while it looked like it would be pretty easy for the ninjas. They were able to take out the first 40 with no problem at all. They very deftly maneuvered around the outside of the crowd and separated one opponent at a time like sheep dogs keeping a herd in check.

But when the group was trimmed down, they suddenly stopped moving and gathered to make a stand. Clearly, that's the fatal mistake. They go from fighting the guy they singled out to fighting the final 10. And when one of them makes a sloppy move and charges the group, he's gone. Then the two remaining ninjas start moving again and things get better for them for a while. They get the group down to six. But then again, one of them stops and makes a stand on the central pedestal and loses. The last one takes another try at the running strategy and get his opponents down to two, but then appears to lose in a one on one fight. What happened?

Well, according to the article, this is an example of the herd mentality. When the crowd is giant, it doesn't work together. It just mills about without a collective strategy. Everyone follows the lead of a few people and that's what makes it easy for the ninja to carve them up.

I actually think there are three other factors going on here: fatigue, combat loss theory, and traffic patterns.

One thing that is clear to me is that as the battle rages on, the ninjas move less. They start by circling the group. While they run the entire circumference of the group, those in the mob only need to pivot and turn in place. Each time one of the ninjas gets taken out, it seems to be right after a pause in the action, because they are trying to catch their breath.

There's also a pretty understandable combat loss concept going on here. Picture a gun fight where a team is outnumbered 100 to 10. Let's say those 10 guys are really great and they each take out one guy every time a shot is fired, and the guys with 100 take out one total. The first "round" means the odds are reduced to 90 to nine. The second round means 81 to eight. The next round it is 73 to seven. There's no doubt the smaller team is "winning" but there's also no doubt that they will lose in the end. The next round goes to 66 to six than 60 to five. There's no way it goes well for the smaller group.

There's simple math going on here. But there's also another thing happening that you see in the video, too. The first people to die are always the least good or the most aggressive. The people who live longest are either the best or the most passive. Either way, they're going to learn continually from the encounter. Each person becomes harder to kill.

And if all that isn't enough, there's a major flaw in the setup. The tiny target on the chest limits the number of people who can engage the ninjas at once. It is just like a traffic bottleneck. Only so many cars can get through. If this were actual combat, someone standing behind the ninja poking him in the back or even hacking at his legs would slowly wear the ninja down if not kill him. In this scenario, there might be 50 people on the field, but literally only two or three of those people can attack per ninja. The rest literally have to stand around and wait their turn.

That's why the ninjas lost after they eliminated the first 40 with no problem. Those 40 had nothing to do with the equation except to tire them out. They weren't getting "killed" like in the gunfight scenario, but each minute was like another "hit" to their energy. The ninjas were in exactly the same problem they were with 10 as they were with 50, only they had been running around for five minutes. And since Olympic fencers are trained to handle lots of short bursts of activity rather than sustained over minutes, they wore down.

Still, the video is amazingly entertaining. And it proves a few things: Japanese television is always the best; ninjas probably really could take out a lot of people like in the movies but not that many; and ninjas are just cool.

If you don't believe me, ask a ninja. Literally. Go to this site and ask a ninja anything you want. This is one of my favorite questions asked of a ninja:

So what do you think? Can ninjas take out 50 people in a real fight? What would you ask a ninja? Comment below.

View Comments: Newest First | Oldest First | Threaded View
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singlemud   Geekend: Ninja Fest   5/30/2014 10:09:07 AM
Re: Geekend: Ninja Fest
It is pretty funny that Ninja terminology is used everywhere.
Broadway   Geekend: Ninja Fest   5/27/2014 11:12:02 PM
Re: Geekend: Ninja Fest
@Anand, ninjas are assassins, so they are anti-heroes, sworn enemies of the samuri, who were the heroes of their day. The white knights of Japan. Ninjas are only heroes if they are teenage mutant turtles, or on GI Joe.
Anand   Geekend: Ninja Fest   5/27/2014 6:45:14 AM
Re: Geekend: Ninja Fest
I love the fact that the Japanese came up with the ninja's idea. When someone talks of ninjas, the first thing that comes to my mind is fast fighters who are good with their swords and can fight right about anyone that comes their way. They are idolized by children because of how skillful they can be. The funny thing about ninjas is that they are always in herds. You will never see a ninja attack an opponent by them selves. Ninjas are just like superheroes only that they don't have super powers.
Broadway   Geekend: Ninja Fest   5/16/2014 8:57:08 AM
Re: Geekend: Ninja Fest
@David, youre right. So many of the contestants in Ninja Warrior became obsessed with it. Nothing better than those videos showing them quitting their day jobs and building an obstacle course in their backyard to train relentlessly. Is it how they create these shows, or is it something culturally about Japanese society that makes these shows so successful?
kstaron   Geekend: Ninja Fest   5/16/2014 7:51:48 AM
Rounding out geekend
Thank you for that fun start to my day. It felt like a japanese form of Mythbusters. glad you finally covered the topic to round out Geekend.
SunitaT   Geekend: Ninja Fest   5/7/2014 7:54:56 AM
Re: Stay down, Charles Bronson
I have enjoyed this article considering the ninja videos in it. The point I am leaning from it is that dealing with a large group is not that easy since they don't plan themselves well and they are hard to coordinate. Like in this case three ninjas get it easy to eliminate 40 opponents but as the opponents' numbers decreases, the fight becomes tricky.
David Wagner   Geekend: Ninja Fest   5/6/2014 12:24:26 PM
Re: Geekend: Ninja Fest
@zerox203- I've been a fan of Ninja Warrior and Unbeatable Banzuke since the first time they were on American TV. Japan knows how to make a simple thing liek an obstacle course show and turn it into someone's life work. It is amazing. 

Iron Chef, too. They just know how to make every day stuff into saga. 
zerox203   Geekend: Ninja Fest   5/6/2014 12:19:26 PM
Re: Geekend: Ninja Fest
Thanks for this, Dave, what a riot. Maybe it's well-known at this point that I'm qutie a japanophile when it comes to Video Games (and hardware!), but I have to admit that I've had a little trouble getting on board the hype train when it comes to all the crazy game shows and the like. Thanks to clips like this, though, and a few choice others that have been recommended to me, I've finally started to see the light. Think how seriously they would cop out if something like this was on the History Channel here in the states - think how many commercials would be cut to at faux suspenseful moments. This is what I came here to see.

Of course, most of us aren't all that surprised to see that most of hollywood magic is just that - a fantasy not designed to represent real world situations. Even this situation, as you say Dave, is gimmicked up a little bit; In a real sword fight, precision counts, but not all that much - take more than a couple of hits, and you're going down for sure regardless of who's holding the sword. Still, it's fun to get a little more mileage out of an exciting 'what if' scenario than 'sorry, wouldn't happen', and I'll consider that ten minutes well spent. Have a good week, everyone!
batye   Geekend: Ninja Fest   5/6/2014 12:00:44 AM
Re: Stay down, Charles Bronson
it like a Cold War... no one wins.. one way or other as you never have a perfect/absolut weapon... only temporary have a better one... until next buld/version...
batye   Geekend: Ninja Fest   5/5/2014 11:58:58 PM
Re: Stay down, Charles Bronson
interesting point... almost Art of War... lol
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