deepforestgreen wrote:So, someone wants to debate ninjas vs. pirates? If guns are an option, an assassin would certainly be trained in the use of them - Asian doesn't mean "no guns." Pitting that assassin against a deckhand isn't much of a fight. Sure, if a ninja stood still he'd get shot, but since these guys were known for undercover ops that's not likely. It's more likely that the ninja would hire on as the ship's cook, and then poison all of the pirates with their lunch. If it were hand-to-hand, advanced martial arts from a black belt is superior to that of military hand-to-hand training - despite my respect and admiration for the the latter.
Man, I love these kinds of pointless discussions! (no, really. It's fun to discuss such things, I'm not being sarcastic here.)
As a person who's practiced martial arts for several years now (quite intensively, too), I would *love* to agree with your point, but sadly - I do not. I imagine a situation where ninjas were for some reason expected to kill a bunch of pirates, they would do the job easily (as you mentioned, poisoning them would be a possibility, and I raise your "poisoning" with my "sabotage"). But I think you're underestimating the value of common sense. Surely, people who are pirates/corsairs/buccaneers are very careful about who might (figuratively or literally) backstab them. They didn't just arrive at a port saying "hello, we're pirates", because that'd be pretty stupid. Even in the golden age of piracy, not many had enough firepower to pull of an attack on a heavily armed ship. So pirates, despite what popular culture suggests, were smart people capable of advance planning. And I'm sure e.g. Blackbeard had a few attempts at his life. But yeah, I'm sure an experienced team of ninjas would find some way.
As for direct confrontation... here's where I disagree (we're assuming more-or-less realistic pirates and ninjas and not inhabitants of Movieland, right?). Ninjas were taught hand-to-hand combat, but they were also (and primarily) taught about politics, poisons, stealth, diplomacy, acting, sabotage and lovemaking (no, I'm not making that last one up). Simply enough, they were taught to twist the situation in such a way that they would NOT face the enemy directly. They were not an elite military squad, they were spies and saboteurs. Since they had no need to focus on direct fights, they were certainly *competent* at such fights, but they did not *excel* at them - if nothing else, because time for training is a limited resource and they devoted much of their energy elsewhere.
There's also the fact that if a group of pirates fought a group of ninjas, numbers have to be taken into account. Ninjas were (probably) taught all about teamwork, but - again - they were not drilled for open combat. Pirates, on the other hand, fought battles for a living. I guess an average group of pirates would rarely *have* to fight, as they would prey on people who would not give much resistance, but still - sometimes the people attacked fought back. And those pirates that survived essentially *had* to get better at combat, at military tactics (which is important in anything bigger than a small skirmish) and so on. To put it differently, people who fight for a living and stay alive just get very good at not dying. I'm assuming a person whose fights have always been overt would have an edge in overt fighting.
There's also the assumption that you make that martial arts of the East are inherently superior to other fighting methods. This is not the case, or does not have to be. An experienced fighter frequently put in life-or-death situations will soon, if he survives, learn all sorts of nasty tricks the opponent can pull. *All* the senseis/trainers that I trained martial arts with often pointed out that in a fight between a skilled martial artist and a guy who's just been in hundreds of brawls, smart money is on the thug. Why? Because he may or may not lack the formal skills of a good martial artist, but he has the attitude, the experience, the toughness and the mindset that more than make up for it. Similarly, while ninjas were certainly comperent fighters, pirates were just in *more* overt fights. And people who do something more are likely to do it well.
Am I saying that martial arts training is useless? Far from it. But people tend to overestimate skill and underestimate experience, attitude and motivation. In a real fight, especially a fight en masse, there are all kinds of factors other than skill. It all boils down to who makes better *use* of the skills they have. Sure, formal training helps (the aforementioned thug would be even more dangerous if he was a thug with a few years of Karate classes under his - black - belt), but the fact that ninjas followed a strict regime doesn't mean that pirates didn't learn how to fight. Also, martial arts are useful because they offer an artificial way to learn what could otherwise be only learnt by putting your life at risk. People who have had martial arts training are better prepared for a real fight that people who have not had any, true. But you can't do certain things in training - the quickest way to teach people how to fight could achieve good results in a few months and excellent results in a few years, but by the time the training's finished, almost everyone would have been seriously injured, more than a half crippled in at least a minor way, and a handful would be dead. Real combat is the best teacher of fighting, but not for those who happened to die in the process.)
There's also the element of circumstances. In unarmed combat, ninjas would probably sweep the floor with pirates. In armed combat? Not necessarily. Again, pirates were well familiar with the kind of weapons necessary for their job of choice - and ninjas had no need to face the opponent in the open field. Plus, if firearms were involved, I'm assuming an experienced pirate would be a better shot than an experienced ninja. A ninja would, to use modern analogies, probably be a good sniper/marksman. But it's not the same as being cool-headed in the midst of combat and shooting well while people are dying left and right. Again, that's the area of expertise of a bona fide cutthroat, if anything.
All in all, I'm afraid my conclusion is a boring and lame one - whoever fights on his own terms wins (also, I'm afraid it's not a particularly original thought, Sun Tzu beat me by well over a thousand years to it). If a ship of pirates boarded a ship of ninjas (huh.), the pirates would win. Fighting on ground, pirates would - in my opinion - win as well (contrary to what many people seem to think, much raiding and pillaging by pirates involved dry land). There's no "objective" and "real" kind of fight that could be devised, because no ninja would *want* to fight an open battle - and would probably lack experience in such.
Again, it boils down to "everyone does best what he was trained to do". Even in one-on-one, regular, open, equal and fair combat, every conceivable fighting style had a weak point that can be exploited (from personal experience in training - or at least checking out - several martial arts: Karate practitioners are conditioned to toughen up to attacks, so they don't respond well to wristlocks and armbars. People with a little experience in Judo tend to expect force and they can be tricked by treacherously soft moves. People who are into Aikido more often than not can't take a decent punch). It applies even more on a bigger scale. "Who would win?" is a silly question, because everyone taking part in the discussion would imagine a different setup, and setup is everything.
EDIT: funny how long a post I wrote - originally, my main point was to be "no, hand-to-hand training in the military is not automatically inferior to what an experienced martial artist can do, martial arts can be trained in many ways and for a variety of purposes, and attaching black belts and katas to it doesn't automatically make it a better way to fight". Funny how I got distracted by my own thought process.