Some 1985 Ninja Apparel

Some of the most concise and enduring memories of those of us who lived through the 1980s ninja craze are mail order ads. By the middle of the decade, mail order ninja suits, weapons, posters and books nearly crowded the traditional karate and kung-fu training gear ads out of the martial arts magazines, and were crossing into tangental newsstand fare like Soldier of Fortune.

When I look back on these ads now, it conjures a mental inventory of stuff I had, stuff I wanted but never got, and once in a while stuff I forgot ever existed.

Take these for instance:

From the uninspired-named Martial Arts Supplies Company, Inc. came this selection of t-shirts cribbed from a variety of Japanese sources, including the very recognizable (and thoroughly copyright-protected in his homeland) Kagemaru of Iga by the legendary Mitsuteru Yokoyama.

I never saw one of the Kagemaru knock-off shirts in the wild back in the day, nor did I ever see any of these:

Shirt #8 so reads as “Ninga” to me, and are those the eyes of Stephen K. Hayes???

Some of the above illos evoke this long-running ad from East West Markets Exchange of Chicago. While much less known as AWMA (Asian World of Martial Arts), EWME had some rare rare rare stuff — mainly camouflage color options on the otherwise monochrome mail order fare.

Camouflage everything — from tabi (even movie studios couldn’t seem to procure these) to claws to swords, if you dropped any of this stuff in the woods, sayonara!

I have an open bounty out for any color version of one of those hoods, so check your attics…

Speaking of hoods, look past the ‘shinobi-fied’ artwork of the formerly karate or kung-fu-themed ‘Pro-Man’ training dummy, and the staggering retail for Cannon VHS in the “priced-to-rent” era of the medium (those dollar amounts might be accurate today on eBay, actually), but rather check out what seems to be an innocent listing for a run-of-the-mill ninja head covering.

I used to fixate on this other ad from the aforementioned Martial Arts Supplies Co., Inc., namely their “Ninja Mask & Hood” — but for all the wrong reasons.

The halftone screening process from the graphic designer’s production file caused an inadvertent result in the representation of what was the common spandex and cotton cloth mask — it sort of looks like chain mail, no?

Even as a wide-eyed teen willing to believe in miracles, I figured for $14 bucks there was no way this was a Hanzo-style armored hood, but damn, that dot pattern promises something rather exotic, doesn’t it?

And on the subject of halftone screening techniques from print-industry days of old, this horizontal line shading technique was long-since obsolete but ran for years in this Century Martial Arts Supply, Inc. ad. If memory serves, these Century suits had a reputation as being most rugged on the market, but I myself was stuck with an Asian World model that eventually split in all the wrong places (due to shoddy design and workmanship I’m sure, and not my steady diet of pizza and grape soda or anything).

People… advertising works. During the ninja craze, vendors like these made fortunes on anything ninja, from original products to ninjerized old inventory painted black and renamed.

And the visuals in these ads are ionic in the way a good radio or TV jingle stays in your brain for decades whether you want to remember it or not.

Where’s the beef???