Ninjas are awesome. Pretty much everyone agrees on that. If you look up the word in a dictionary, your odds are pretty good of seeing a picture of a ninja.
Okay, not really.
But regardless, we all like ninjas.
And part of the cool factor of ninjas is a weapon whose usage is unique to them; the shuriken, or throwing star.
As a weapon, the shuriken is pretty well embedded in our pop-culture consciousness. It's featured in pretty much every story that involves ninjas, from movies to anime to video games.
Although their role as a lethal weapon has been somewhat overstated in media - the shuriken's original role was more suppressive - that image of them has endured and helped make them incredibly popular.
As such, there's no shortage of throwing shurikens available on the market today.
And throwing shurikens are surprisingly easy to learn how to use. In fact, if you're looking for some different weapons for target practice, you could do a lot worse than the shuriken.
Shuriken is the Japanese word for throwing star.
In the most literal sense of the word, that's what a shuriken is; it's the pointed, star-shaped blades that most of us think of when we think about ninjas.
Of course, there is more to it than that.
These days, what most people think of when they think shuriken might be referred to as a hira shuriken. This is because technically, the word shuriken simply refers to any thrown, bladed weapon.
Hira differentiates the star-shaped shuriken from the other most common form of shuriken, the bo shuriken.
Bo shurikens are straight blades and more closely resemble a western throwing dagger than the star we usually think of.
Traditionally, there were countless more variations within each of those categories, based on the number of bladed sides, the weight of the blade, and many other factors.
On the commercial market these days, shurikens have been simplified a lot, and most of the time choosing between a bo or hira will be the only real difference you need to worry about.
Hira shurikens are what most people generally think about when they think of throwing stars. They are small, thin blades, generally with six or more sharpened edges formed in a star shape.
These kinds of shurikens were originally developed from improvised sources; they were often formed out of things like old coins or unused tools, which helps give them their unique, iconic appearance.
Their most defining feature, aside from the iconic star shape, is the hole in the center of the hira. A leftover from their early days, it was actually a popular feature, as it allowed them to be strung together for easy transport or even into other improvised weapons.
The center hole also benefits the hira's aerodynamics, as it allows for a more even distribution of weight across the shuriken.
Because of these features, a hira shuriken is generally easier for a beginner to learn. They tend to be smaller than the bo, and their star shape more closely resembles a disc, something people tend to be more familiar with throwing.
A bo shuriken, on the other hand, is closer to a typical western-style throwing knife. They are sometimes confused for the kunai, which is a similar weapon, but one designed for thrusting and stabbing as opposed to throwing.
Bo shurikens tend to be between five and nine inches in length, and much like the hira, have roots in improvisation.
In their early days, they were often constructed out of common materials that could be easily found. Many of the different styles of bo shuriken techniques derive their names from the items their particular kind of bo was originally crafted from.
Unlike the hira, which is typically thrown only one of two ways, there are a variety of different ways to throw a bo shuriken, many of them related to the different varieties of bo and the different techniques that emerged from them.
Overhead and underarm throws are generally the most common method of throwing a bo, as they are the most natural and tend to be the easiest to learn.
So now that we've looked at what exactly shurikens are, now we need to answer a different question: if you're just looking at different ninja weapons, why choose the shuriken over something else, like a pair of nunchucks?
After all, nunchucks are pretty awesome themselves.
Well, that's true. No one's arguing otherwise. But nunchucks are also pretty difficult to learn, especially when compared with shurikens.
Learning to throw a shuriken, at least when it comes to the basics, isn't actually as hard as you might think.
A basic hira throw is similar to throwing a frisbee, and with just a little bit of practice, it is something that you can actually get down fairly quickly.
Learning to throw a bo shuriken is a bit more complicated, but comes with its own benefit. The throwing spikes are more similar to western throwing weapons than the hira, meaning it may feel more familiar to learn if you've already practiced with other weapons.
Then there's the added bonus that, if you're already interested in throwing weapons (which, if you're looking at shurikens, you probably are), any equipment you already have will work for shurikens as well, and vice versa.
You don't need to buy new targets if you already have some for, say, throwing axes. Whereas other ninja weapons might require additional purchases to really practice well with them.
While learning the basics of throwing shurikens is relatively easy, truly mastering the art is a long process. There is a lot to learn, and a lot to take into account.
For example, is your shuriken of choice a hira shuriken, which is the throwing star most people think of when they hear the word shuriken?
Or is it a bo shuriken, a straight blade that more closely resembles a throwing dagger?
Obviously, that is going to affect your technique, the range at which you can effectively throw, and a lot of other parts of your practice.
Regardless of your choice of shuriken, or the specific style you are practicing, proper shuriken technique always places an emphasis on form and posture.
Shurikens are light blades without a lot of weight, so you have to apply all of the force and momentum yourself. As a result, just focusing on throwing it at the target and sticking it in isn't always going to work.
The way that you throw it, and where and how you apply the force, makes a big difference in your effectiveness.
Then there's the matter of your practice target. Obviously this is going to affect your practice as well; different materials will be easier or harder to stick into. What should you use for your target dummies?
Of course, you could always buy a dedicated target board, but if you don't have the money, cardboard or foam can make for decent substitutes, as can a block of wood.
Now that we've looked a little bit at different kinds of shurikens and how to learn to use them, how do you decide which one you should actually purchase?
There are a lot of different factors to take into account when it comes to making that decision.
Generally, a hira shuriken is considered easier to learn than the bo. This is because, by their very design, hira are more forgiving of spin or other errors during the throw. In fact, spin is an essential part of throwing a hira shuriken.
Bo, on the other hand, requires a straight, precise throw. Because of its straight design, the bo is much less forgiving than the hira with errors of that nature.
Similarly, because it is a much heavier weapon in general, you have to be much more aware of distance when aiming with a bo shuriken, as that will become a relevant factor sooner than it would with a hira.
You also have to be more aware of your form when throwing a bo, as due to its weight, it requires more force on your part to achieve the same result as a lighter hira.
It's easier to strain or injure yourself with the bo than the hira.
However, while the hira may be easier overall, if you have previous experience with throwing weapons, like throwing axes or daggers, the bo may be the better choice.
After all, the bo much more closely resembles those traditional western throwing weapons. Its design, weight distribution, and technique are much more similar to those weapons than a hira shuriken.
As a result, if you are coming to the choice with previous experience, you may find the bo the better choice.
As actual self defense weapons, shurikens, as with most throwing weapons, are generally going to be less preferable to other options available to you.
This is because they rely so heavily on the exact form to be useful in that regard, as they rely entirely on the force and momentum of your throw to impact into a target.
Even historically, the shuriken was very rarely used as a primary weapon. Instead, it was almost always a backup weapon, and almost always used for suppression and distraction instead.
However, that's not really the point of the shuriken, or any other throwing weapons, especially when taken in a modern context.
These days, throwing weapons tend to be for hobbyists looking for a skill to practice and improve upon.
In that regard, the shuriken delivers in spades.
The two different kinds of shurikens, and the wide variety of options within those kinds, provide ample opportunities to learn new skills and hone existing skills.
For backyard target practice, the shuriken is a great choice. It's a very versatile option, with choices available regardless of your skill level or goals in the hobby.
Though shurikens are technically weapons and can be used as such, looking at them that way in a modern context misses the point of how we use them today; as a hobby item, and as a skill to learn, practice, and display.
Throwing shurikens is a great activity to pick up and learn, whether you're doing it for yourself in the backyard, showing off to friends and family, or even throwing weapon competitions.
The wide variety of options available means that regardless of your goals and personal skill level, there is an option available to you that will suit your needs, whether you're looking for an easier hira or a more complex bo.
Meanwhile, the rich history of the shuriken is fascinating to dive into in and of itself, and the rich plethora of different styles and techniques provides a great opportunity to learn something exciting and new.
And of course, real shurikens just look and feel awesome to use. After all, there's something so exciting about using a genuine ninja weapon. It makes you feel like a ninja yourself.
So take a look, and find a shuriken of your own. Take it for a spin (pun intended), and open yourself up to an exciting new world of throwing weapons, one with a rich history and plenty to offer to newcomers and enthusiasts alike.
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