The History of The Shuriken Throwing Star: Unveiling the Truth About This Iconic Weapon
The Shuriken throwing star is a weapon that has fascinated people for centuries. It is a type of throwing knife that was originally used by the Japanese for both combat and hunting. Today, the Shuriken has become an iconic symbol of Japanese culture and is often used in martial arts training and performances.
In this article, we will delve into the history of the Shuriken throwing star and explore its cultural significance. We will also discuss the different types of Shuriken and their uses, as well as some of the myths and misconceptions surrounding this fascinating weapon.
Origins of the Shuriken Throwing Star
Often referred to as “ninja stars,” the term “shuriken” originates from a phrase that translates to “sword concealed in the user’s hand.”
Warriors would employ these tools to subtly inflict damage on their adversaries, a combat technique known as shuriken-jutsu. A shuriken was typically hurled to strike the enemy’s limbs and render them helpless or swiftly slash them as a diversion for an incoming assault from an attacker. It was believed that the shuriken attack was executed so rapidly that the adversary would assume they had been struck by an unseen swordsman.
The Shuriken throwing star has a long and storied history. The weapon was first developed in Japan during the feudal era, which lasted from the 12th to the 19th century. At the time, Japan was ruled by a class of warriors known as the samurai. These warriors were skilled in a variety of weapons, including the sword, bow, and spear.
The Shuriken throwing star was originally used as a concealed weapon by the samurai. It was designed to be small and lightweight, so that it could be easily carried and used in close combat situations. The weapon was also used for hunting, particularly for killing small game.
How Shuriken Were Used
The primary targets of Shuriken were the vulnerable areas of the body, such as the eyes, face, hands, or feet. Despite their low weight, Shuriken could inflict lethal damage at close range, and in some instances, even partially disembowel targets.
Shuriken, particularly Hira-shuriken, had various uses. They could be buried in the ground to harm those who stepped on them, similar to a Caltrop, or wrapped in a lit fuse and thrown to start a fire. Alternatively, they could be wrapped in a poison-soaked cloth and set alight to create a cloud of toxic smoke. Shuriken could also serve as handheld weapons in close combat.
There are accounts of Shuriken being coated with poison for use as a throwing weapon or left in a visible location for an unsuspecting victim to pick up. Some reports suggest that Shuriken might have been buried in dirt or animal feces to cultivate the Clostridium tetani bacterium. If the Shuriken penetrated deep enough into a victim, the bacteria could be transferred into the wound, potentially causing a tetanus infection, which was incurable at the time.
Shuriken are simple weapons, but their historical significance has grown over time. Unlike Katanas and other bladed weapons, antique Shuriken are rarely well-preserved, primarily due to their expendable nature.
Types of Shuriken
There are several different types of Shuriken throwing stars, each with its own unique design and purpose. The most common type is the Bo Shuriken, which is a straight, pointed weapon that is typically made from metal. This type of Shuriken is designed to be thrown in a spinning motion, and is often used for training and competition.
Another type of Shuriken is the Hira Shuriken, which is a flat, circular weapon that is often referred to as a “ninja star”. This type of Shuriken is typically made from metal or wood, and is designed to be thrown in a straight line. It is often associated with the ninja, who were known for their stealthy and secretive tactics.
A Bo-shuriken is a type of projectile weapon made of straight iron or steel spikes, typically with four sides, although some versions are round or octagonal. Some Bo-shuriken feature points at both ends. They range in length from 12 to 21 cm (5–8.5 in) and weigh between 35 to 150 grams (1.2–5.4 ounces). It’s important not to confuse these with Kunai, which serve as thrusting and stabbing tools that can also be thrown.
Bo-shuriken were crafted from various commonplace items, resulting in a wide range of shapes and sizes. Some were named according to their materials, such as Kugi-gata (nail form), Hari-gata (needle form), and tanto-gata (knife form), while others were named after objects they resembled, like hoko-gata (spear form), matsuba-gata (pine-needle form). Some names were purely descriptive, such as kankyuto (piercing tool form), kunai-gata (utility tool form), teppan (plate metal) and biao (pin).
The Bo-shuriken can be thrown in several ways, including overhead, underarm, sideways, and rearwards, but all methods involve the blade gliding through the fingers in a smooth, controlled trajectory. The two main throwing techniques are the jiki da-ho (direct-hit method), where the blade doesn’t spin before hitting the target, and the han-ten da-ho (turning-hit method), which requires the blade to rotate.
Other objects, like hairpins, kogata (utility knife), and chopsticks, were thrown like Bo-shuriken, but they weren’t linked to any specific shurikenjutsu school.
The origins of the bo-shuriken in Japan remain uncertain due to ongoing research, the secretive nature of Shurikenjutsu, and the widespread skill of throwing long, thin objects in early Japanese history. The earliest documented reference to a Shurikenjutsu-teaching school is Ganritsu Ryu, active in the 17th century. This school used a long, thin tool with a bulbous head, likely inspired by the arrow. Existing blades from this school seem to blend the shape of an arrow and a traditional Japanese leatherwork and armor-making needle.
Hira-shuriken, often known as shaken, typically align with the popular image of shuriken. These weapons are made from thin, flat metal plates sourced from various items such as hishi-gane (coins), kugi-nuki (carpentry tools), spools, and senban (nail removers).
These shuriken usually feature a central hole and a slim blade primarily sharpened at the tip. The central hole originates from their source materials—items like old coins, washers, and nail-removing tools that already had holes. This design was beneficial for the shuriken wielder as the weapons could be threaded onto a string or dowel in the belt for easy transportation. Additionally, the hole contributed to the aerodynamics and balance of the blade during flight.
Hira-shuriken come in a broad array of shapes and are generally categorized by the number of points their blades have. Similar to bo-shuriken, the distinct shapes of hira-shuriken typically represented a specific school (ryū) or region that favored the use of such shapes. As a result, it is often possible to identify the school by the type of blade used.
Uses of the Shuriken
The Shuriken throwing star was originally used for both combat and hunting. In combat, the weapon was used for close-range attacks, particularly when the samurai was in a confined space or had lost his primary weapon. The Shuriken could be used to distract an opponent or to disable them by striking them in a vulnerable area.
In hunting, the Shuriken was used for killing small game, particularly birds. The weapon was designed to be thrown in a way that would kill the animal quickly and cleanly, without damaging the meat.
Myths and Misconceptions
There are several myths and misconceptions surrounding the Shuriken throwing star. One of the most common is that the weapon was primarily used by ninjas. While it is true that ninjas did use Shuriken, they were not the only ones. The weapon was also used by Samurai and other warriors.
Another common myth is that the Shuriken was a deadly weapon that could kill with a single strike. While it is true that the Shuriken could be lethal, it was not designed to be a primary weapon. Instead, it was a secondary weapon that was used when the samurai was in a tight spot.
The Shuriken throwing star is a weapon that has captured the imagination of people for centuries. Its history is long and storied, and it has played an important role in both combat and hunting. While there are many myths and misconceptions surrounding this iconic weapon, it remains an important symbol of Japanese culture and martial arts.
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