What Is a Ninja Star?

Whether it's true or not, Apple is denying that Steve Jobs ninja star story. But you might still wonder, what exactly is this forbidden implement, where did it come from and how do you throw it?

It's a tactical tool from ancient Japan...

The "ninja star" is really just a shuriken—Japanese for "dart" or "throwing star." It began its place on the battlefields of Medieval Japan not primarily as a killing device—save that for the katanas, boys!—but as a tactical accessory. When, exactly, remains a subject of debate—records as early as 600 AD recount a Japanese prince throwing a sliced vegetable into the eye of a deer, for what must have been a small part of quite a story.

...used mostly for maiming, not killing...

But 11th century conflicts may be the first period the thrown blades were used for their most commonly understood purpose: the sharp, spinning points are capable of maiming, of course, but were intended as more of a distractionary effort than a kill shot (so ignore what you see in ninja movies and games, however fun). They made for a lightweight means of either diverting or disabling an enemy's sword-based offensive—kinda hard to slash when you've got a dart stuck in your arm, right?

What Is a Ninja Star?

...that came in two shapes...

The throwing stars came in two popular forms: Bo-shuriken were really just straight up darts—long, sharp, pins, easily flung like those fired from a dart gun. Hira-shuriken, on the other hand, are probably what most of us imagine when you hear the term "ninja star" or the like—flat, metal bladed discs, frisbeed through the air with circle-slicing action. Some had points, while some remain rounded discs. Most include a hole in the middle—allowing them to be strung together for transportation, and a nod to their origins in objects as commonplace as large coins and spoons. It's true! The great great grandfather of the shuriken (according to some theories) is an ancient Japanese technique of rendering thrown weaponry out of household items.

...and are obviously outdated...

Today, the throwing star has become the stuff of ninja lore, relegated to the tombs of cheesy movies and videogames. Which makes sense, historically, as bladed weapons were phased out of Japanese scuffles through the 16th and 17th centures—I mean, don't bring a shuriken to a gun fight, right? But the weapons are faded only, not forgotten, enjoyed, not by shinobi, but by collectors of knives and other hobby weaponry—now made from lightweight stainless steel—and of course admired in museums around the world. And, perhaps, in Steve Jobs' carry on.

...but that you can still learn how to throw!

Check out the videos below for instructions on how to throw your own, or, if you want to be cute about it, craft one yourself out of paper. But please be safe!