Pirates Vs. Ninjas

Only one can win, but who?


Pirate or ninja? This question has spurned lively debates in cyberculture, to the point that now it is a debate in mainstream channels and even has an abbreviation: PvN. There is argument over when the initial argument started, but the powerful responses have created video games, board games, books, massive lists on the internet, even plot points on television. The arguments on both sides are intricate and carry the strength of the characters themselves, but nevertheless the question remains; who would win a fight to the death? Who is left standing in the center of the ring? A Pirate? Or a Ninja?

Choose Your Fighter:


    There have been active bands of pirates for centuries. Some of the earliest pirates were the Sea People in the mediterranean region during mid 14 century BC. Privateers were pirates that sailed under the protection of a crown (wayofpirates). Corsairs were Muslim naval soldiers who ravaged the shores of the Mediterranean, and also was the term used for privateers in the 17th century who went rogue. Buccaneers is the term used for 17th century Caribbean pirates known for their conflicts with Spanish ships, going “extinct” around 1697 after a truce between France and Spain.

    One strength that the pirates have that ninjas lack, is diversity. There have been famous female pirates, such as Anne Bonny; Mary Reed; and my favorite female pirate, the Irish Pirate Queen Grace O’Malley. There have been famous pirates of color such as Ching Shih, who was Chinese AND a woman. There are multiple accounts of black crew, but often those reports are of the men being captured and sold into slavery. One exception is that of Black Caesar who ended up working with Blackbeard. There are even some historians who believe that there were entire communities of gay pirates in Tortuga (eco-action). Pirates had a form of marriage called, “Matelotage” which was a “civil partnership between two male pirates.” (Harlow). Historians assume that these partnerships were both for romantic and in financial interests. One of the most famous pirates, Dread Pirate Roberts, was reported to have a relationship with a surgeon named George Wilson. The French government, in hopes of breaking up the homosexual couples, sent female prostitutes and minor criminals to the island. However, instead of breaking up the matelotage pairings, the men welcomed the women into their groups, often settling into married polyamorous groups of three. Some of the pirate groups are even seen as having a form of health insurance (Harlow). This emphasis on the skills of a person and not their social identity is a significant attribute to pirate culture.

Ninja (Shinobi):

    While there are plenty of real world examples of historical pirates, ninjas have few historical records. It is thought that this is due to the unfortunate habit of past historians who paid little attention to lower class citizens (Turnbull). Pop culture has dubbed the Ninja as the ultimate silent fighter. They can walk on water, they can become invisible at will, they are stealthy and sly, the prominent character in any action packed story set in Japan. Likely you think of a crouching or flying figure dressed all in black, complete with a face mask so all you can see are their piercing eyes. In reality, that is not what they looked like at all.

    They were trained from a very young age, sometimes entire villages were set up to be shinobi training camps. They were trained in the art of warfare, but in a contrasting style to that of the noble samurai. Samurai were trained in a much more structured style, complete with rules and a sense of dignity. The shinobi were trained in stealthy espionage with skills in sabotage. This style of fighting, combined with their financially poor background, is thought to be why samurai looked down on shinobi. The depiction of the figure in black is grossly inaccurate, and goes against the very style of fighting that they used. To be stealthy and blend in one would not walk around in all black with their face covered up! Historians believe that more than likely, they would have dressed as normal civilians. The shinobi were covert agents, and while they were looked down on by their samurai counterparts, they were fundamental on the battlefield.

    The tangle of myth and truth is not just due to the disregard for recording the history of lower class people, but also to the secretive nature that makes a ninja a successful fighter. In order to dupe your enemy, they can not be told how you train or what tactics you use. As consequence, some interesting tales have been spun about the reclusive characters. A pop culture favorite is that of female ninja Mochizuki Chiyome, who was said to have learned the skills of the shinobi growing up in a training village. Later she rescued and taught other young women the skills, while under the guise of training them as altar maidens (Shinobi Exchange). As she accumulated more and more pupils, they were also taught the skills of a geisha, to be an actress, and a seductress. Chiyome is one of the only female ninjas in mainstream media, and although the story was quickly disputed by Katsuya Yoshimaru, an expert of the Edo period, it’s still fun to imagine that a woman like Chiyome did exist.

    Modern devotees to the art of the shinobi, known as ninjitsu, liken ninjas to modern day military Seals, and black ops forces. Some even believe that there are training camps active today. Some have even set up camps themselves in hopes of mastering the true balance and art of ninjutsu, proving that the mystique of the ninja still has many years to come.

The Fight:

    Among the pirates, the strongest would be the buccaneers. While they were not long lived, they were stronger than the average pirate due to their strong large armies. However, it would be unfair to have a ninja to fight a whole army of pirates and expect to get answers as to who would win. Being outnumbered would not give accurate results. It also wouldn’t be fair if the fight informal, as the shinobi would have a major advantage in a surprise attack. A fair fight between the two worlds would have one representative each in the ring. They may use their preferred weapons, and so to have honor, they would not fight to the death, but rather spar until one winner was conclusive. The typical weapons of a pirate in hand to hand combat would be a gun or a sword, with a wide range between the two. Some preferred small knives to the traditionally longer swords. Some used rifles instead of pistols. Ninjas usually used katanas or weapons that are thrown, stereotypically portrayed as throwing stars but they also used picts or axes. Assuming that both parties are using a sword (katana for the ninja) the winner would be decided by personal endurance and swordsmanship. If fighting with pistols and throwing stars the winner would be the most agile or precise. Say the fight were between a pistol and a katana, the ninja would have to be incredibly resourceful and agile. However that is the strength of the ninja, their agility. If the fight wer between a pirate with a sword and a ninja throwing weapons, the pirate would require creativity and agility which truly would be decided by how much rum they had had that day.

Grand Finale:

    Both Ninjas and Pirates have strengths and weaknesses, as we have seen. Deciding on one winner has plague the internet because the truth is that there is no single true champion. Both lifestyles are specialized in their strengths, and the two fighters could be considered polar opposites. The loud swashbuckling hero of a pirate is an equal opponent of the quiet masters of disguise that are the shinobi, and each have a high chance of success – the deciding factor is the nature of the fight itself.

Works Cited:

Boissoneault, Lorraine. “The Swashbuckling History of Women Pirates.” Smithsonian.com, Smithsonian Institution, 12 Apr. 2017, www.smithsonianmag.com/history/swashbuckling-history-women-pirates-180962874/.

“Pirate Utopias (Do or Die).” Thinking Like a Mountain by Aldo Leopold – Wolves and Deforestation, 2003, www.eco-action.org/dod/no8/pirate.html.

“History of Piracy List.” Real Pirates – Facts about Real and Fictional Pirates, www.thewayofthepirates.com/history-of-piracy/.

Harlow, Kristance. “10 Things You Know About Pirates That Are Wrong.” Listverse, Listverse, 7 July 2014, www.listverse.com/2014/02/01/10-ways-pirates-were-different-than-you-thought/

Holloway, April. “Grace O’Malley, the 16th Century Pirate Queen of Ireland.” Ancient Origins, Ancient Origins, www.ancient-origins.net/history-famous-people/grace-o-malley-16th-century-pirate-queen-ireland-001773.

“Ninjutsu History and Ninja Weapons for the Modern Shinobi.” Shinobi Exchange | Ninjutsu, www.shinobiexchange.com

“Ninja (Shinobi) – Secret Assassins.” Military History Monthly, Military History Monthly, 25 Apr. 2014, www.military-history.org/articles/samurai-wars/ninja-shinobi-secret-assassins.htm.

“Pirates Fact and Legend.” Pirate Women | Women Pirates | Mary Read, www.piratesinfo.com/.

Seabrook, Andrea. “Pirates vs. Ninjas: Which Side Are You On?” NPR, NPR, 7 July 2006, www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=5542447.

Silver, Curtis. “Great Geek Debates: Pirates vs. Ninja.” Wired, Conde Nast, 9 Sept. 2009, www.wired.com/2009/09/great-geek-debates-pirates-vs-ninja/.

Turnbull, Stephen (2003), Ninja AD 1460–1650, Osprey Publishing, ISBN 978-1-84176-525-9

This was written as my final for my last college english class! How exciting? Most of the students picked really depressing topics like rent controversy and economics and I wanted NONE of that. I also didn’t really care much for one fighter over the other which is why there is no ultimate winner at the end. I wanted something silly and to research something historical. I hope you enjoyed it!



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