As an elimination game, everyone’s goal is to avoid being tagged for as long as possible.
On the call of “NINJA,” everyone is invited to sound their most ninja-inspired cry while jumping back out of the circle into their most ninja-inspired pose.
Everyone holds their positions until someone initiates the first move.
A nominated person starts the game by attempting to tag the hand of another person with one fluid movement, holding steady at the end of the movement.
Whoever is approached may also move with one fluid movement to avoid the tag, holding steady at the end of their movement.
Tag attempts are repeated in the same manner, one person at a time, clockwise around the circle.
Anyone who is tagged is eliminated from the game.
Game continues around the circle until one last ninja remains standing.
Play two or more five-minute rounds.
Video Transcript for Ninja
presented by Nate Folan
So you’re playing your own tag now, training on the highest level, and some of you might already think of people or certain groups of people that bring high levels of training.
Right now we’re going into a training for Ninjas, and the way this works is everyone is going to put their hand in, just like this. On the count of three we’re going to jump back. We’ll all say “Ninja”. Bring your most ninja-like stance into position and I’ll explain what happens next, okay?
So on the count of three everyone saying “Ninja” jumping back into a ninja-like stance, all your own. One. Two. Three. Ninja! Oh, that was nice. Let’s practise it one more time just so we got it. Really nice there. One. Two. Three. Ninja!
Great. So here’s how ninja training works. And I’m going to initiate this and it’s essentially a tag game and everyone’s “It” at some point. I’m going to start being “It”. So hold your position. Hold that firm.
If I’m “It”, I have one fluid movement, maybe a step, but no more, in order to try to tag someone’s arm, from elbow down to their fingertips. Okay? I’m not tagging shoulders or waists or anything like that, simply the arm, the forearm down to the hand.
A higher level version of this might be simply tagging the hand. We’re going to start from elbow down to the arm.
And this is not like we’re not trying to hurt anyone’s arm or break anyone’s arm, that’s no good. We’re trying to make contact. So from here I could go to my left or right, I could go across the circle, but I only have a certain amount of movements. So I could tag anyone but I only have one fluid movement.
At the same time if I go towards you… let’s say I’m going towards Frankie in that one movement, Frankie can actually move that hand with one fluid movement. So I’m going to move. Great. So I miss this. And I have to hold my position here.
The thing is we’re going to move around to the left, in this case the tag being that. So Frankie is actually the next tagger, okay? So if Frankie was next and made a movement, could tag anyone else, could’ve gone for me, right?
So the tag is one at a time around the circle. And at this point we each have two arms, two hands. If one arm is tagged it simply gets put behind the back. So let’s do that. I’m going to back up. If I were to make a movement towards Frankie… so hold your position. Let’s say I made a movement and did tag Frankie’s hand… That was quick.
If I tagged Frankie’s hand, this arm would go behind the back but Frankie has another arm to tag with. So I don’t actually hold that tag and now Frankie would go for a tag on someone else. It might be me, it might be someone else. I would put this hand behind my back.
(And then you become… But I thought you said we’re going around…)
The tag is passed. So after I make my one move I’m not “It” until it comes all the way back around to me. You would be next and so on.
So let’s go from the start from one, two, three and ninja and we’ll see what occurs here.
One. Two. Three. Ninja! So that hand’s gone and I’m holding this position.
It’s going to the left though, just Frankie right now.
(So I have to…)
Frankie’s it so you’re holding your position.
Nice. Sound effects help.
(people tagging each other)
We’ll reset and play another round of this. This was sort of a practice round. Some of you might have noticed there was more stealthy ninjas, very quiet ones. There are some other very loud ones… like this. So play in a way that represents your best ninja in that regard, okay?
And some of you feel like you have to make a tag, others you might just determine to set up, to make your move on someone else. Does that make sense?
This is one of these games that has really caught on, and in a lot of places depending on who you work with especially with particular youth we’ll say, they’re showing up saying let’s play Ninja and they’re organising. So we’ll play here and we’ll see what happens, okay?
So let’s bring it back in. Hands in. Count to three, ninja. We step out. I’ll initiate going to the left is the tag. I can tag any direction and so on. Okay? One. Two. Three. Ninja.
(people tagging each other)
I’ll step out. Once you lose both of your arms in this case or you’ve been tagged, you’re out, in this case observing. So go ahead and continue 04:52.
(people tagging each other)
Down to two. There’s been some comments. Oohs, aahs…
How To Play Narrative
This is such an engaging and interactive game, it has gone viral. If you don’t know Ninja, you should or will soon enough!
To begin, gather your group into a tight circle (see Velcro Circle.) I like to creatively introduce the activity as a training game ninjas have used for many years.
Explain that this exercise is an elimination game and begins when someone shouts “NINJA!”
Upon hearing this call, everyone sounds their most ninja-inspired cry while jumping back into their most ninja-inspired pose, holding their position (ie, remaining frozen.)
It’s important that everyone remains relatively still as this is the position they will move from when attempting or avoiding a tag.
A nominated individual will start the game by attempting to tag the hand – not the forearm, not the elbow, not the body, but the hand – of another person with one fluid movement.
Ninja-inspired sounds during these surreptitious, sometimes beautiful, sometimes clumsy, movements (and all future movements) increase the fun. Encourage and practice them.
At the end of their move, the tagger must hold their position, wherever or however they end up.
Likewise, the target of a potential tag is also permitted one fluid movement to avoid the tag. Again, at the end of their movement, they remain where they land regardless of how helpful or suspect their predicament.
Some people will learn to effectively place themselves with each movement. Others will find themselves in hysterically vulnerable positions, which is all part of the fun!
Tag attempts are repeated in the same manner (one fluid movement) clockwise around the circle one person at a time.
When a person is tagged they simply step back and observe the continuing action. Remember, careful observation is a timeless skill of the ninja. Besides, the game is too unpredictable and engaging to not watch.
State the goal just before starting the game, which of course, is to be the last ninja standing (the only ninja who has not been tagged.)
Shout “NINJA!” and begin. “WAAAAHHH!”
Practical Leadership Tips
Fluid movements naturally involve the whole body. An individual in the process of attempting to tag or avoid being tagged, may move their feet, arms and upper torso. But, they key is that all of this must be delivered in one continuous movement, before coming to a definitive stop.
To reiterate, all tags must target another person’s hand – not their arm, leg or any other part of the human anatomy.
Like many of the group games described herein, the more energy, animation and enthusiasm you add to your delivery, the more your group will respond in kind.
Ninja has high appeal and once learned is often initiated independently over and over again. When introducing this game to professional educators, I often hear responses like, “Oh, this is what my students have been playing!” “My students play this everywhere – just before class, in the halls, waiting for the bus.” “This game is awesome, I play it with campers all the time.”
Once an introductory game of Ninja has been played, most groups intuitively initiate a new game. If they don’t, you should. Some groups may need a second game to ‘get it.’
Do you know the original reference to Ninja? Click the link to learn more about this Japanese covert agent.
You could integrate Ninja as part of a well-designed SEL program to develop your group’s ability to make caring and constructive choices about personal behaviour and social interactions across different scenarios.
Specifically, this activity offers opportunities to explore and practice the following social & interpersonal skills:
Anticipating & Evaluating the Consequences of One’s Actions
Promoting Personal & Collective Well-Being
You can learn more about SEL and how it can support character education here.
Health & Wellness Programming
There is no specific health & wellness perspective to this activity other than promoting the benefits to one’s wellbeing of enjoying short bursts of physical activity.
In a small way, you could argue that the focus required to interact and engage physically with others may speak to the benefits of having developed a set of supportive and healthy behavioural norms in advance. Or, if not, you could use these less-than-desired interactions or outcomes to explore what sorts of behaviours your group would prefer to see. For example, you could invite your group to reflect on the level of safety consciousness that was demonstrated during the game and relate this to a set of observed impacts on others.
If you can think of more explicit ways in which Ninja could be purposefully integrated into a health and wellness program, please leave a comment at the base of this page.
Dual Hand Action: Both hands (not just one) must be tagged before a person is eliminated. This allows more opportunities for fun and longer gameplay.
Team Ninja: Play in pairs or small groups. While this game is most effective in groups of 8-14, it is equally engaging in pairs or small groups (4-6 people).
Never-Ending Ninja: When at least three people have been eliminated, invite them to start a new game in a space close by. And continue this process for as long as you have enthusiasm.
Multiple Group Championship: For groups larger than 15 people, divide your group into smaller groups of approximately 10 people and play on. Super large groups (80+) could play in a tournament of sorts where all ninjas strive to meet other ninja masters in a final game of ninja!
Jumping Ninja: Take a look at Jump Tag to enjoy another group tag game in which jumping is happily required.
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Useful Framing Ideas
Have you ever wondered what ninjas do between training sessions? They never stop training! Here’s a game that some of the world’s greatest ninjas play…
Ninjas are best known for their discipline, covert tactics, and stealthy manoeuvres. Bring forth a playful Ninja spirit and let’s begin Ninja training…
When I shout ‘NINJA!’ jump into your most ninja-inspired stance, sounding your most ninja-inspired cry (whatever comes to mind and body when you hear ‘ninja!’)… okay, NINJA!…
Reflection Tips & Strategies
Coupled with one or more reflection strategies, here are some sample questions you could use to process your group’s experience after playing this action-packed, energiser game:
What did we learn about ourselves or the group after playing this game?
What parts of our play would you like to keep seeing?
Did you see any behaviours that you’d prefer to eliminate?
Is there such a thing as too much fun?
The inspiration for Ninja, and many more playfully fun community-building games, was sourced from the following publication: