Are the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Really Ninjas?

Description: Are the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles really ninjas, or are they something else?

According to Robert Hamburger, and Real Ultimate Power,

1. Ninjas are mammals.

2. Ninjas fight ALL the time.

3. The purpose of the ninja is to flip out and kill people.1

The first question is, are the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (TMNT) really ninjas, or not? If they are ninjas, do they follow Hamburger's facts, or does he have his facts wrong?

To determine whether the TMNT are ninjas, we should first check the source. For the TMNT, that could be any number of things. While most people know the TMNT from the movies or cartoons, they really started out in print as a comic, published by Mirage Studios/Publishing.

Probably the best place to start out in the comic is with the first appearance of the TMNT. In this case, it would be in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #1, printed by Mirage Studios in May of 1984. Since the first edition of that first comic is fairly hard to get, I'll be using one of the many editions that I have on hand. For ease, I'm going to use the August 1992 Sixth printing (with the introduction by Harlan Ellison), since it's sitting on top of my desk2. If you don't have access to this treasure, Peter Laird has graciously provided a free version of the first comic on the official site, at

While there are a number of references to the weapons that they are using, the first real hint we get is on page 8. Here Leonardo says "... we are trained in the ways of Ninjitsu."4 Looking up Ninjitsu, we see that it is "a collection of techniques originally practiced for espionage purposes. It includes methods of gathering information, nondetection, avoidance, and misdirection techniques. Ninjutsu can also involve training in disguise, escape, concealment, archery, medicine, and explosives."5

If we now look up ninja, which is what we should have done in the first place, we see some similarities when we read that ninjas "hid from the law studying ninjutsu to protect their friends and family from ruthless rulers."6

It appears, then, that the TMNT are in fact ninjas. Looking at page 18, where Splinter calls them ninja, we appear to have proof of his judgement. Yet, do they follow Hamburger's facts?

The TMNT, as turtles, are not mammals. Yet, they do have human-like characteristics. In the cartoon and Archie comic, in fact, they are suggested to be a mutation of both turtles and humans - not completely one or the other, but a blend of the two. If we look at the RPG (roleplaying game), Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Other Strangeness7, the character creation system is based upon the presumption that you spend points to make your character more and more human, and less and less animal. It seems that we can say 'yes' to Hamburger's first fact, although not very strongly.

To the second fact, we must ask if the TMNT fight all of the time. Even if we just look at the first comic, we see that they do not - there is dialogue, standing around, and other general non-fighting. Yet, can we make the argument that they are fighting for their survival?

Perhaps, but if move to the current volume of the TMNT series, Volume 4, we see that there is quite a bit of talk, and little fighting.

But, let us turn this fact around - is it really a fact? Is it possible for ninjas to fight "ALL" of the time, or is this simply a suggested exaggeration? I believe it is an exaggeration, and will treat it as such. Therefore, from this view, the fact that the TMNT fight like ninjas, allows them to pass the second requirement.

Which leaves us at the third fact; is the purpose of ninjas to flip out and kill people? We see, from the history of the ninja, that this is in fact not the case. The purpose of ninjas appears to be more about protecting their family and friends than simply killing people after flipping out. Do the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles follow this guideline? Absolutely. Being brothers, fighting side-by-side, and back-to-back, they are doing exactly this.

Issues 24 through 26, of the first volume, are one of the greatest examples, I think, of this.8 In these three comics, each a part of "The River" story, you can truly see the brothers following through in protecting each other from a ruthless leader.

Are the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles ninjas? Absolutely. Are Robert Hamburger's facts correct? That's really questionable. Looking at the TMNT and a dictionary, we see clear evidence that they are in fact ninjas, but at the same time we see evidence that Hamburger is a little off. Instead of using Hamburger to judge ninjas, let's use the TMNT.


1. See (visited September 4th, 2005)

2. If an earlier printing is necessary, I can go as early as the Fourth printing.

3. Checked September 4th, 2005.

4. See

5. See, checked September 4th, 2005.

6. See, checked September 4th, 2005.

7. Released by Palladium Books.

8. At least, I know of no issues better.