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.