Out in my garage recently I ran across a stash of old magazines I owned, including this issue of Ninja Magazine from 1986.
I didn’t own a lot of issues of Ninja Magazine as a kid, probably because it was easier to talk my mom into buying me magazines about computers, video games, low rider trucks or even Mad Magazine than it was to talk her into buying me one dedicated to a group of people who ran around in their pajamas killing people. While I can’t remember the specifics, I think I may have traded a friend of mine a couple of other karate-related magazines for these issues of Ninja.
That galloping samurai never saw the arrow coming…
My first apartment was small and ratty, a one-bedroom dump. My rent of $300/month in 1992 included all utilities and basic cable. I was making $600/month at the time, so half of my income went to rent and the other half went toward gas and car insurance for a five year old Ford Festiva, food (for meals I didn’t eat at the pizza joint I was working at), and movie rentals.
My apartment backed up to a small, independent movie rental store called Kaleidoscope Video. A couple of times a week my friends and I would pop in Kaleidoscope Video and rent movies and Nintendo games. When it came to movie rentals, horror movies were on the left and the martial arts/ninja section was on the right. Every single time we entered the store the clerk would remind us that the adult movies were in the back, despite the fact that we never rented adult movies from there and that we visited the store two or three times a week for the six months we lived next door. We must have looked like “adult movie kind of guys” or something.
We worked our way systematically through the store’s selection of horror and martial arts movies. When we had seen them all, we started over from the beginning and watched them again. Some of the really bad ones, like Microwave Massacre and Ninja Terminator, we watched once a month. It was a really good time, one where I learned to appreciate the fine art of bad cinema.
I moved out of that apartment and away from Kaleidoscope Video to move in with my girlfriend who ended up becoming my wife. Years later — probably 10 or so — I heard that Kaleidoscope Video was closing down. “All movies, $10/each” read the sign outside. This would have been in the early 2000s, when DVD had already dealt VHS sales a crushing blow. A week later I drove by the store and the sign had been changed. “All movies, $1/each.”
And so, at $1 each, I bought what was left of the store’s horror and martial arts/ninja movies. I can’t accurately remember exactly how many movies I purchased that day, but I remember the clerk had to search for boxes and it took a few trips to load them all into the back of my truck. A hundred, maybe? That day I ended up owning most of the horror movies and ninja movies I had rented a decade earlier. I can’t tell you how thrilled my wife was to learn that finally I owned the entire Faces of Death series on VHS.
The movies pictured above are some of the ones I bought that day and still own. At the time I bought them, neither the Master Ninja series nor Revenge of the Ninja had made their way to DVD yet (they since have), so I was very excited to own them. Over the past decade I’ve parted with many of those old VHS tapes as the movies became available on DVD, although some of them I’ll hang on to forever. I’ll always have a copy of Microwave Massacre on VHS in my movie room even though I no longer have a VCR in there and my family will never quite understand why.
In the 1970s and 80s, hot on Bruce Lee’s tails came the ninja invasion. My friends and I spent many a summer night dressed in our ninja suits wandering around townsolving crimes engaging in mischief. We started with wooden swords and foam rubber nunchucks but eventually graduated to real weapons, which today would probably get you shot or killed.
Ninja: The Invisible Assassins by Andrew Adams was like my Ninja Bible. It covered everything, from how ninjas would perform undercover secret missions to all the hidden rooms and trap doors they would build into their awesome ninja houses. In this book I learned that ninjas would wait until moonless nights to launch their missions, so that they could hide in the darkness. It also taught me about these:
These are Kuji-In, which were secret ninjitsu hand signals. What were they for? What did they mean? We didn’t know. We just saw the guys in Revenge of the Ninja doing them, so we figured they must be important and we practiced them on the bus ride home after school every day. You can see them in action here, about 45 seconds into this epic clip.
Ninja: The Invisible Assassins was before its time, originally published in 1970 and released in paperback in 1973. Not only does Amazon still have the book for sale, but you can peek inside and check it out for yourself.
At my local thrift store, everybody can be friends — even the tigers and the turtles.
I don’t know if someone who came along before me posed Tigger next to a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle before I got there, or if the two of them just ended up this way. Or maybe, like Toy Story, the two of them were engaged in conversation and froze the minute I walked up.