80s and 90s Ninjas Who Clearly Needed More Training

by Howie Decker @HowardTheDeck on October 30, 2013

in Lists, Memorygasms, The 80s

We love us some ninjas, eh?

Annalee Newitz traced America’s love affair with the ninja all the way back to 1967’s You Only Live Twice. Contained in that io9 piece is the origin and definition of the word ‘ninja’:

“[A combination] of the two characters “nin” and “sha” (忍者) that make up the word that has been variously translated as “one trained in the art of stealth,” “one who endures,” or more fancifully, “shadow warrior.”

Over the course of the 80s, the concept of the ninja quickly and thoroughly permeated every corner of American pop culture. Movies, television, toys, cartoons and music videos employed varying degrees of the ninja as plot device, some things being based entirely on them.

The ninja craze, however, highlights the inherent problem with unique and invincible warriors in pop culture: the story is not entertaining if one side always wins.

Ninjas were perceived as unbeatable, but we wanted to see them in action. To see them in action they had to fight someone, and ultimately they had to fight (you guessed it) other ninjas. It’s the same reason The Abomination was created to oppose The Hulk. Sherlock would be nothing without Moriarty, Batman less impressive without the Joker. Without an equal, there’s no central conflict worthy of your attention.

The problem is, once ninjas were seen as beatable, the flood gates were opened. Pop culture could never unring that bell, and ninjas began being portrayed less as one-of-a-kind warriors and more as clumsy henchmen. The 80s and 90s were rife with dopey ninjas- every one of them a walking, sai wielding contradiction.

Here are some retro pop culture ninjas (or entire clans in some cases) who clearly needed more training:


The Foot Clan

Originating in Feudal Japan (or, more appropriately, as a knockoff of Daredevil baddies The Hand) the Foot Clan is a clandestine, ninja-based crime ring.

I didn’t matter how deeply connected or how vast their numbers were, the Foot Clan were consistently bested in hand-to-hand combat by the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. These “highly trained” ninjas were prime examples of the sadly inept 80s henchman ninja.


Knight Rider ninjas

In the second to last episode of Knight Rider, “Knight of the Rising Sun”, Michael attempts to protect a boy from a ninja clan who believes he is their rightful heir. The entire ninja clan clearly needed more training.

I’m sure Michael Knight went through the standard police department training as part of his pre-FLAG career. I could even be convinced that he was #1 in his class, but even a supremely ass-kicking beat cop turned government operative shouldn’t be able to take out an entire ninja clan like we saw in this episode.


Night Creepers

The Night Creepers were Cobra-employed ninja Swiss bankers who have been highly trained in martial arts, and equipped with cutting-edge technology. They also got their Swiss ninja asses handed to them every time we saw them in action.

Created to oppose their ninja-heavy G.I. Joe counterparts (namely Snake Eyes, Storm Shadow, Jinx, Scarlett, and others) (everyone became a ninja by the early 90s) the Night Creepers never came out on top in ninja battle.



In Beverly Hills Ninja, Chris Farley’s character Haru washes ashore as a baby and is taken in by a ninja clan believing him to be their legendary future master. Haru goes through ninja school, but does not graduate.

Entertainment Weekly’s Bruce Fretts wrote: “Farley displays a hippo-ballet grace while bonking himself on the head with various instruments of death.” Wasn’t that kinda the whole point of the movie? Nailed it! Sounds like a glowing review!

Besides the video game ninja henchmen of Double Dragon, Bad Dudes and others, what other incapable 80s or 90s ninjas come to mind? Hit the comments!


Jon October 30, 2013 at 4:14 am

The Foot Clan from the TMNT cartoon always weirded me out, it was probably the oddly shaped heads even if they were robot/androids/cyborgs … or whatever.

Crooked Ninja October 30, 2013 at 10:44 am

The Foot’s heads were very odd, mix between alien and newborn baby. Very unsettling.

Chad E. Young October 30, 2013 at 10:42 am

You left ou the ninjas from Miami Connection! Someone didn’t teach them ANYTHING!

SharePointJoe October 30, 2013 at 1:21 pm

All the ninja’s in the classic American Ninja (1985) starring Michael Dudikoff

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