I am thrilled to have fellow martial artist and Author, Susan Spann, visit the Editing Pen.  Enjoy her post about weapons, poisons, and disguises, then scroll for the book synopsis and author information.


Training the Ninja with Susan Spann

Many people know that ninjas (shinobi in Japanese) were highly trained assassins, skilled with throwing weapons like shuriken and daggers. However, shinobi were more than pajama-clad, knife-wielding killing machines. Their training included not only multiple forms of combat, but also espionage, disguise, and deception—making the ninja the “007” of Japan’s medieval age.

Ninja training started in childhood, with skills passed down from father to son, and also within the shinobi clan. Combat methods were closely guarded secrets, rarely taught or shown to outsiders (except, of course, for the ones who wouldn’t live to tell the tale). Both men and women trained in ninja arts—female practitioners were known as kunoichi, and became both spies and assassins alongside their male counterparts. Ninja training encompassed many different arts, both physical and mental. This enabled them to function as spies or assassins, depending on the needs of the clan. Shinobi were weapons experts, familiar with various forms of ranged and hand-to-hand combat. Most acquired proficiency with multiple weapons, in order to better adapt to a range of possible circumstances.

Iga Museum Shuriken

Iga Museum Shuriken

Natural Caltrops

Natural Caltrops

Shuriken—sometimes called “throwing stars,” although they came in many shapes—were used as ranged weapons but also as fist loads, making them versatile in a range of situations.

Shinobi also pioneered the use of caltrops in Japan. These pointed objects could be thrown behind a fleeing shinobi to slow or stop pursuers, or scattered across a hallway, opening or road as a trap. Caltrops were normally pyramid-shaped, and were designed to have at least one point in an upward position no matter which way they landed on the ground. The ninja museum in Iga, Japan, has a large display of caltrops, demonstrating the wide variety of materials and shapes the shinobi used. One of the most interesting is also completely natural—a thorny seed pod that may have been the inspiration for the man-made metal and wooden types.

Ninja - disguises (models)

Ninja – disguises (models)

Ninja explosives

Ninja explosives

Another important part of shinobi training involved disguises. Good spies blend into their environment, and shinobi learned to impersonate merchants, priests, farmers, and even samurai. Kunoichi learned disguises, too; they frequently took on the role of itinerant priestesses and spied on the men (and women) who visited shrines.

Poisons and explosives rounded out the shinobi’s arsenal. Hollow bamboo tubes made perfect natural casings for smoke bombs, fireworks, and grenades, used for diversions and destruction, depending on the mission at hand. Gunpowder came to Japan from China before the first European traders introduced the country to firearms, and ninja were using explosives long before the first samurai held a gun. Fortunately for the shinobi, many of the ingredients required to produce explosive powders—horse dung, moxa, camphor, and even saltpeter—were in plentiful supply in the mountainous regions Japan’s most important shinobi clans called home.

Ninja - Shinobi Armor (Training)

Ninja – Shinobi Armor (Training)

The ninjas’ diverse and unusual skill set made them uniquely suited to their role as spies and assassins. Ironically, that same set of skills creates a good detective, which is why I chose to set my Shinobi Mystery series in medieval Japan, and to make my investigator—Hiro Hattori—a master ninja. A man who can kill in many ways can also recognize the various ways a victim might have died, and Hiro’s forensic skills make him a formidable investigator as well as an assassin.

As a bonus, Hiro’s training allows me to introduce a variety of unusual weapons and tactics to the Shinobi Mystery novels—and not only in the murderers’ hands. Each book will feature a different shinobi tactic, disguise, or weapon (sometimes more than one)—and the newest mystery, Flask of the Drunken Master, has at least one…explosive…surprise in store for the unsuspecting reader. I hope you’ll join me for Hiro’s most recent adventure in medieval Japan!





Susan Spann Flask of the Drunken Master

Buy your copy here.

Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Series: Shinobi Mysteries (Volume 3)
Genre: Historical Mystery

August 1565: When a rival artisan turns up dead outside Ginjiro’s brewery, and all the evidence implicates the brewer, master ninja Hiro Hattori and Portuguese Jesuit Father Mateo must find the killer before the magistrate executes Ginjiro and seizes the brewery, leaving his wife and daughter destitute. A missing merchant, a vicious debt collector, and a female moneylender join Ginjiro and the victim’s spendthrift son on the suspect list. But with Kyoto on alert in the wake of the shogun’s recent death, a rival shinobi on the prowl, and samurai threatening Hiro and Father Mateo at every turn, Ginjiro’s life is not the only one in danger. Will Hiro and Father Mateo unravel the clues in time to save Ginjiro’s life, or will the shadows gathering over Kyoto consume the detectives as well as the brewer?

Flask of the Drunken Master is the latest entry in Susan Spann’s thrilling 16th century Japanese mystery series, featuring ninja detective Hiro Hattori and Jesuit Father Mateo.
Book One: Claws of the Cat (Library Journal Mystery Debut of the Month)
Book Two: Blade of the Samurai
Book Three: Flask of the Drunken Master

Susan Spann’s interest in Japanese history, martial arts, and mystery inspired her to write the Shinobi Mystery series featuring Hiro Hattori, a sixteenth-century ninja who brings murderers to justice with the help of Father Mateo, a Portuguese Jesuit priest.

After earning an undergraduate degree in Asian Studies, Susan diverted to law school. She returned to California to practice law, where her continuing love of books has led her to specialize in intellectual property, business and publishing contracts. When not writing or representing clients, Susan enjoys traditional archery, martial arts, horseback riding, online gaming, and raising seahorses and rare corals in her highly distracting marine aquarium. Susan lives in Sacramento with her husband, son, three cats, one bird, and a multitude of assorted aquatic creatures.

You can find Susan on Goodreads.