“You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.” – Inigo Montoya, The Princess Bride

Marketers love hyperbole, and when we ran out of superlatives like guru, expert, and maven, we turned to sillier superlatives like ninja. However, like many foreign loan-words, you have to be careful about using it. Here are 4 signs you’re not actually a ninja, and therefore probably shouldn’t use the word in your marketing efforts unless you want to be laughed at a whole lot.

1. You can’t spell or say ninjutsu correctly. In fact, the Japanese language escapes you.

2. You don’t practice the martial art of ninjutsu. There’s one surviving lineage of ninjutsu, from Dr. Masaaki Hatsumi of Noda City, Japan, and his many students around the planet including my teacher, Mark Davis of the Boston Martial Arts Center, and his teacher, Stephen K. Hayes. If you seriously claim to be a ninja, you had better be training at an actual ninjutsu dojo.

3. You don’t know what ninja were actually good at. Most ninja, during their miserable “golden age” (hey, who wants to be a refugee from the losing side of one of the civil wars that will be killed on sight?) were information gatherers, not assassins or martial arts experts. A webinar by an actual ninja would be highly interactive, where the presenter never presented any actual content but just kept asking the crowd for information for 45 minutes in one giant Q&A session.

4. You feature ninja outfits in your marketing. The black martial arts do-gi isn’t something historical ninja ever wore. Ever. It’s a holdover from Japanese theater – the stage hands and prop handlers wore them so as not to distract the audience. What did real ninja wear? Well, if your goal is secrecy and blending in, you wore what everyone else wore. Today, you’d be wearing a business suit or a sweater and jeans or whatever’s normal in your part of the world. The keyword is: boring. Your appearance as an actual ninja should be so boring and unappealing that no one even wants to look at you. I suppose a true social media ninja would wear a blazer and jeans.

It’s a tribute to the modern day ninja masters like Hatsumi sensei or An-Shu Hayes that the word ninja is held in such general high regard. For centuries in Japan, being called a ninja was right up there with being called a mercenary, thief, or prostitute. Now it’s being used by marketers everywhere. That’s some great marketing for you!

Bonus: if you’re a real ninja, you know why this post only has 4 tips.


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