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Why My Ninjas Don’t Fight With Swords

Guest Post by SR Staley

In a memorable early scene in Samurai Girl: the Book of the Sword, Heaven Kogo, the lead character, is about to be married off to the gangster son of her father’s business competitor in a lavish wedding in contemporary (2003) Los Angeles.  Carrie Asai, the author, does a nice job of building the suspense for the reader, perhaps playing on the emotional horror that the mere concept of a pre-arranged marriage might instill in what was likely a mostly modern, American teenage girl audience. How would the independently-minded Heaven get out of this emotional train wreck?

As Kogo wrestles with her loyalty to her father and her frustration over not being able to create her own path, the wedding is interrupted by a Ninja crashing through the ballroom skylight. Kogo’s brother jumps in to defend his sister, but the Ninja soon kills her brother after a…sword fight.

Ninjas, samurai, swords.  Nothing out of place about those ideas, right?

Except this is a contemporary novel, not historical fiction. Outside martial arts schools or a traveling weapons show, swords are either family heirlooms from the Civil War, tucked away with Mom or Dad’s dress military uniforms, or pictures in books. The sword fight becomes an odd detour, a convenient and uninspired plot device, in a story that is very relevant to the tensions between modern and contemporary social values in the East and West.

And that’s why my Ninjas don’t fight with swords.

Fiction authors, particularly those writing in action and adventure genres, often struggle with technology and its appropriateness for the story being told. At first glance, in the Samurai Girl series, swords would seem to be appropriate technology. After all, the sword has huge symbolic and spiritual significance in the samurai tradition. And the subtitle of the first book—The Book of the Sword—certainly gives the symbolism its due. Moreover, most Asian marital arts traditions, particularly those descended from Japan, teach swordsmanship as a standard part of their curriculum.

But, as a plot device in a contemporary novel used to drive the action and Heaven Kogo’s evolution as a character, the practical application of the sword falls flat in an otherwise entertaining novel. The Ninja crashing through the ceiling in a brazen attempt to kill the lead character might work in a James Bond or a Marvel Comic inspired movie, but comes off as cliché in the novel.  (In contrast, the samurai sword is used to much better effect in Chris Bradford’s Young Samurai historical action series.)

For these reasons, I decided early on that my characters in the “Path of the Warrior” series would defend themselves against gang violence and bullies using modern and easily accessible technologies—canes, sticks, metal pipes, knives—even though their techniques and skills were rooted in a Ninja martial-arts tradition. The swords, six foot staffs, nunchaku, and throwing stars are left in the dojo. The result is a more believable and relevant story line fitting for a contemporary action novel.  


A Warrior’s Soul,


Samurai Girl: Book of the Sword:

Young Samurai:


*SR Staley ( is the author of “A Warrior’s Soul” and “Renegade,” middle grade action novels that incorporate self-defense based martial arts themes to address bullying and contemporary violence. “Renegade” won 2nd place in the 2012 Seven Hills Literary Competition in the children’s chapter book division.

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