Originally Posted by Mal
Exactly, most of what people outside Japan believe about ninjas was made up by Hollywood in the '80s. Ninja were never exceptionally skilled fighters compared to their contemporaries, there are very few recorded (questionable) assassinations by ninjas, and they are no better at espionage than any modernly trained individual.
Can't believe I didn't see this.
What made the "assassinations" by ninjas so mystique was that they were kinda like spies. They wore the normal garb of a farmer/trader back in the feudal days. This was the beginnings of ninjutsu. It eventually grew, and there is the old.... I guess Japanese-urban legend, that ninjas were involved with the Japanese mafia (best episode of the Simpsons).
Contrasting to what is posted on Wikipedia... the most common weapon for a ninja was a kama (used for reaping rice) or a bow (long stick). To bear a sword, you usually had to have some place in military ranks or nobility. The only weapon that the commoners wielded were sais, used for blocking and breaking swords.