Many people are fascinated by the Ninja Star: the image is used in clothing, tattoo and artistic designs; plastic and rubber throwing stars are commonly sold as toys or training aids, and they are often sought out as part of wider collections. Shurikenjutsu forms part of the syllabus for the Ninjutsu practised under Hatsumi’s Bujinkan Budo Taijutsu.
In the Japanese tradition, shuriken are divided into two broad categories: hira shuriken and bo shuriken. The first of these, hira shuriken, are the ‘ninja throwing stars’ commonly represented in contemporary culture. The number of points can vary from as few as three to as many as ten or twelve and the configuration and design can vary widely. They are also often referred to as shaken.
Bo shuriken differ significantly from the common idea of shuriken. Rather than multi-pointed star shapes, they are instead long, spike-like constructions, often (but not always) pointed only at the one end. The throwing style for the bo shuriken also differs from that of the hira shuriken: some schools utilise a trajectory in which the projectile travels in an arc without spin, travelling point first throughout the full course of the flight. Other methods utilise an end over end spin, although distances for throwing are set.
The method differs between schools and is based on the design of the item being thrown. Hira shuriken can be gripped either at the point with the thumb and forefinger or between points, held in the crease between the thumb and forefinger (other grip variations also exist, though these two are more common). The blade is usually thrown overhand or sidehand. The former throws with the hand descending from above the shoulder to near shoulder height, though the release is earlier for longer throws. Sidehand throws come across from the opposite side of the body to the side in which the shuriken is held and generally released on the horizontal plane.
Bo shuriken are generally held in a finger cradle and the throw usually comes from overhead down to the shoulder level. The shuriken generally flies straight (without spin), though certain schools do utilise a spinning technique when throwing bo shuriken and will alternate holding the shuriken with the point facing in or facing out, depending on the distance of the throw.
There are several sites that discuss throwing techniques, advantages and disadvantages in more detail. The recommended reading list at the end of this article contains one such link.
Togakure Ryu Shuriken-jutsu
According to Masaaki Hatsumi, Togakure ryu Ninjutsu utilised “a special four-pointed throwing star called a senban shuriken…Bo shuriken or straight shaft darts were also constructed for throwing” (1981, 14).
The grip and throwing technique for each of these two styles of shuriken are quite different. The senban shuriken is held at the outer edge by the finger tips and is often thrown horizontally from, for example, left to right if the shuriken is held in the right hand. The bo shuriken is held as with other throwing styles: sandwiched between the index, ring and middle finger, with the thumb pinning the end to the palm.
It should be noted that the shurikenjutsu of Togakure ryu and of Bujinkan Budo Taijutsu is a supplemental art to the other armed and unarmed styles taught, rather than the main focus of the style. Furthermore, the senban shuriken in Togakure ryu is also employed as a close quarter weapon for striking, cutting, ripping, tearing and stabbing at the opponent.
Alternatives to Shuriken
The use of shuriken is believed to have developed from the throwing of rocks, coins and other everyday tools and items. It is still quite conceivable to use such items for shuriken practice in the modern day. The throwing of nails and screwdrivers, for instance, closely resembles the style employed for bo shuriken, whereas cards, coins and washers can be thrown as would a hira shuriken. Knives may also be thrown as part of shurikenjutsu practice, though there are many qualitatively different styles of blade and the throwing method will vary accordingly.
Though throwing blades, spikes, knives and stars can be dangerous and should only be undertaken with proper supervision, it can also be enjoyable. Shuriken Jutsu is impressive to watch, helps to develop distance, timing and coordination and will add a whole new combat range for most martial artists.
The law regarding shuriken purchase, ownership and usage in the practitioner’s area should be adhered to at all times.
References and Recommended Reading
Hatsumi, Masaaki (1981). Ninjutsu: History and Traditions. CA: Unique Publications.
Wotherspoon, Jason (2001-2004). Secrets of Shuriken-Do.