In the Islamic Republic of Iran’s marginalized society, where women are relegated to second-class status and often treated like children, a growing brand of martial arts – known as ninjutsu – is providing women with a sense of empowerment and self-worth.
“Here we are free. We live art ninja as a philosophy of life, helps us to endure the hardships of everyday life, to be patient, strong and disciplined,” an Iranian woman and ninja in training named Melika said in an interview with El Mundo. “It is a spiritual art. We’re not looking to fight anyone outside the classroom.”
According to El Mundo, Iran currently has 4,000 female ninjas who train with sabers. That number is growing.
In April of 2012, the Iranian regime had temporarily revoked the press credentials for Reuters news agency after they ran a headline suggesting the it was training female Ninjas to be assassins. The original headline read, “Thousands of Female Ninjas Train as Iran’s Assassins.” It was later changed to “Three Thousand Women Ninjas Train in Iran.” Nearly one year later, in March of 2013, Iran reinstated its credentials.
Akbar Faraji, a ninja master of nearly 30 years, trains these women. Since under Islamic law, male and female relations are strictly forbidden outside of marriage, Faraji told El Mundo that he has “designed tools that allow [him] to teach them the art ninja without touching them.” he explains.
Several of the women have reportedly been approached by Iran’s police forces to potentially join, but rejected the offer. Similarly, Faraji said he had been asked to provide a training video to show the Iranian military how to fight. He declined, citing his disassociation from political or religious organizations.
Faraji said of his female ninjas, “The truth is that its lethal power is undeniable. They learn to climb walls, jump walls and fences without being seen, to hide in the mountains and capable of slicing the neck rival without making a sound,” he told El Mundo. However, “I must be very sure that my students will not use the techniques of ninjutsu. To hurt anyone or sneak into someone else’s house formed not to kill them, but they can maul someone in a second.”
One of his students named Fariba said the training has helped her protect herself against a man who tried to harass her in the street.
Iran’s state-run Press TV ran a segment on these women warriors several years ago:
Iranian women have been barred from attending sporting events, including the first-ever “I Run Iran” marathon. However, two females defied that ban and ran from the sidelines. Until women are permitted to attend and participate in sporting events like their male counterparts, ninjutsu is arguably that placeholder for them.
Follow Adelle Nazarian on Twitter @AdelleNaz.