MythBusters Episode 109: Return of the Ninja

Air Date: October 15, 2008

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A ninja can catch an arrow in mid flight.


The Mythbusters first tested the speed of an arrow and showed that an arrow maintains its speed as far as 70 feet because of its aerodynamic design. Then they brought “The Arrowcatcher” Anthony Kelly onto the show and had him perform various tests. Anthony proved that he could catch tennis balls traveling at 85 miles per hour (breaking a world record in the process). They then had him try and catch an actual arrow, and Anthony succeeded in catching an arrow. However, at Anthony’s request, the arrow had been fired below full strength and directly in front of Anthony. The Mythbusters decided to redo the test by firing arrows at full strength from multiple directions. This time, Anthony had much more trouble and could only catch the arrows when he knew which direction they were coming from. Since Anthony was unable to catch the arrows in full combat conditions, the Mythbusters considered the myth busted.

(This myth was originally tested on Episode 78: Walking on Water. It was revisited due to fan complaints that the bow was too close to the arrow catching rig, so the arrow was traveling faster than it would at a farther distance. Fans also pointed out many people who could catch an arrow on camera and wanted the Mythbusters to bring one on the show.)

While charging their target, a ninja can use their sword to deflect an arrow and kill the archer before he can reload.


Anthony declared that it was unlikely a ninja would be cornered by three archers and proposed a one-on-one battle. During the demonstrating, Adam fired an arrow at Anthony. Anthony deflected the arrow with his sword and was able to close the distance and “kill” Adam before he had time to fire his second shot.

A ninja hiding underwater can hit a target with a blowgun and use it as a breathing apparatus.


The Build Team first tested to see how long a ninja could last underwater before succumbing to hypothermia. Tory submerged himself in a cold water tank and managed to stay in the tank for an hour. Kari, being the most accurate shooter, tried firing her blowgun from underwater. Though she initially had problems due to refraction, Kari was able to hit the target with her third try. The Build Team then combined all of the elements of the myth. Unfortunately, when loading their darts, water entered the blowguns and weakened the shooting force. When they tried it with the darts pre-loaded and breathing with clenched teeth, they succeeded in “assassinating” their target. With all parts of the myth possible, the Build Team declared the myth plausible.

A ninja can knock out a person with a punch from one inch away.


The first had Jamie test a full force conventional punch and measure the force. Anthony, who was trained in the use of the one inch punch, performed it. The one inch punch had half the force of Jamie’s punch, and the three inch punch had two thirds the force. Anthony further demonstrated the power of the punch by using it to break only the last of three wooden boards, a feat that Jamie was unable to match. The Mythbusters concluded that with the right training, a person can use the one inch punch with enough power and expertise to knock down a person.

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  1. Richard Landgraff:

    Catching an arrow in mid-flight. And how did David Carradine do it in his TV series “Kung Fu”? Most combat arrows are made for long range concentration of pointy things against enemy formations. Therefore they have large fletching and though they fley further, they are slower. In the stunt shows, “Foo Arrows” are used that have extra large fletching to slow down for the stunt man to catch them.

    Of course, short range, high speed arrows for deer hunting is something else.

    November 14, 2008 at 2:20 PM
  2. Nick Hoffman:

    “A ninja can catch an arrow in mid flight.

    Anthony caught the arrows in broad daylight in thin air and on film but yet this myth was somehow busted. Myth busters reworded the myth at the end of the show and then busted it.

    “Since Anthony was unable to catch the arrows in full combat conditions, the Mythbusters considered the myth busted.”


    The Mythbusters lost a lot of credibility on this myth.

    January 13, 2009 at 11:52 PM
  3. David V.:

    Nick, they busted it ’cause anthony knew the arrow’s direction when he caught it. But when the arrows were randomly shot, he didn’t caught an arrow. Which means ninja’s can only catch arrow IF they know its direction.

    January 24, 2009 at 8:15 PM
  4. Hungarian Fan:

    In the DPRK, the axis of evil commie country and whatnot commonly know as North Korea in the so called free world, there are spec-ops troops who are truly heir to the japanese ninja traditions.

    Korea peninsula was under japanese colonial occupation for decades in the first half of the 20th century and they learned a lot.

    Anyhow, these folks can put holes in one-inch planks with the five fingers of their bare hands, throw ordinary dinner forks into people or door from ten steps, stay underwater 5 minutes no euqipment, all on a cup of rice for the whole day.

    Of course you cannot show them on Mythbusters, because the DPRK is a totally closed country, but they were on tour among the soviet bloc militaries in the mid-1980s, training WARPAC spec-ops troops and they were amazing!

    March 12, 2009 at 4:40 PM
  5. Scott:

    It’s worse than David V. says. Anthony specified exactly how he wanted the arrow shot, including the distance from him that he wanted it shot and how he wanted the bow drawn. As Jamie put it “exactly the conditions he would catch it.” Sure it’s cool, but it doesn’t prove anything.

    March 17, 2009 at 5:21 AM
  6. caleb:

    I think Scott is right.

    March 22, 2009 at 10:51 AM
  7. Cesar:

    Also, Anthony was never able to catch the arrow on the first try, even when he specified the conditions.

    It’s unlikely you would have a second chance in real combat conditions.

    April 4, 2009 at 1:26 PM
  8. Dallin:

    I still think that the ninja catching the arrow is plausible… you have to take into consideration that the ninja warriors back in the day would literally train for a LIFETIME… and once achieving a certain physical state were they then able to perform such seemingly “godlike” tasks. They perfected every technique they ever used BEFORE they would use it in a combat situation. They would train in ways that would heighten ALL of their senses beyond what we would consider normal… and I strongly believe that with good enough hearing one could hear the direction an arrow is coming from and either (a) dodge it… or (b) catch it if necessary. Just as as a blind person has heightened hearing and smell, i believe they had similar traits. I propose myth busters test the theory that an arrow can be heard and acted upon before reaching the ninja. If it is impossible to be accurately heard and acted upon then i will accept the myth busted.

    April 18, 2009 at 5:37 PM
  9. Icon:

    I would have to agree with Dallin in that having some common, non lifetime trained people try to imitate a true ninja is not gonna fly for “busting” a myth. Skip the catching arrows and lets say to just dodge a punch from a professional boxer. Most people are gonna get caught with a solid punch to the face. Those people who have trained in boxing/self defense rigorously are gonna have a natural ability above the common joe.
    Not that they ever would but if mythbusters brought on the show a true ninja, not some actor/stuntman but a real deal ninja and he could catch the arrows…I’d buy that it was busted.

    April 19, 2009 at 3:10 PM
  10. Alex:

    Mythbusters Rock!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    April 28, 2009 at 8:54 PM
  11. Dave:

    I’m not one to buy into the whole idea of ninjas as godlike, superhuman machines, but even so, the idea of testing “ninja myths” on this show is silly. I mean, with a lack of battle-hardened & experienced ninjas these days, it’s really difficult to ascertain what one could or couldn’t do. At best, the mythbusters have demonstrated that Jaime, Adam, and Anthony are unable to catch an arrow. As dedicated to his training as he might be, I don’t buy the idea that Anthony’s skills are a dead match for those of a “real” ninja. There are so many differences in terms of experience, training, and environment that, regardless of the effort one put in, it would likely be impossible to attain the exact same skill set as a ninja whose life depended on his abilities. Neither Anthony nor any other modern ninjitsu practitioner will ever be in such a situation, and as a result their skills are unlikely to be the same. Besides, how do we really even know when/if a person has equaled those skills. Moreover, there is a big difference between claiming that ALL ninjas could catch arrows and claiming that A NINJA could. The chances that all could are minute, but it seems well within the realm of possibility that some who were among the very best could. It’s entirely possible that NO “real” ninjas were able to catch arrows, but without a reasonable stand-in for one we can’t claim to know definitively.

    May 6, 2009 at 11:32 PM
  12. Yoshy:

    It’s just a bad myth to test because ninjas didn’t get snuck up on. They see you and you don’t see them.

    June 14, 2009 at 6:44 PM
  13. pokute:

    For example, I was right here behind you all this time, and you never noticed me! CONFIRMED!

    June 16, 2009 at 5:23 PM
  14. Hanzou:

    look at Hattori Hanzou for instance, he is probably teh most famous Shinobi of all time. writings from that time said that Hanzou could do certain things that no normal person could. but he spent his entire life learning these traits. In todays society no one can spend theer lifetime to learn ninjitsu like you could in those days. So i say its with in teh realm of possibility but i dont think thers a snowballs chance in hell that they can prove it. Unless they find someone you doesnt have a job and literaly spent theer entire life practicing Ninjitsu

    June 20, 2009 at 9:57 PM
  15. Franklin Chun:

    My Sifu Grandmaster Chris Chan of Wing Chun kung-fu style will KNOCK YOU OUT with his 1 inch punch. Punch, or open hand, Sifu Chris strike is DEVASTATING not plausible.

    June 21, 2009 at 3:37 PM
  16. The Claw:


    Historical documents, especially ones this old, are notoriously unreliable. For instance, medieval bestiaries contain dragons and phoenixes in adition to bears and lions, and during the 19th century, there were woodcuts and such leading potential settlers to believe that fruit in America literally grew to man-size.
    Point is, fact-checking isn’t (and, particularly, wasn’t) always very rigorous. I’ll bet the story of Hattory Hanzou went something likethis;
    Hanzou beats some guy up->somebody saw, and tells their friend (“Hattory Hanzou totally messed that guy up!”)->that firend tells another friend (Hattori Hanzou totally messed that huge guy up!”)->that friend tells another friend (“Hattori Hanzou totally messed that huge guy up! He was like a mountain man!”)
    Until, finally, the story goes “Hattory Hanzou once destroyed an entire mountain with his bare hands.”

    July 2, 2009 at 9:08 AM
  17. Chris:

    The one-inch punch is kind of a misnomer, since its measuring only the distance traveled by the fist to the target. People who are really skilled at short power actually cover a lot of distance internally to generate power. There is lot of muscle/tissue movement going, there’s really nothing mystical about it. Look at the hip-knee-groin, spine, rib cage movement. Many martial arts specialize in these kind of movements; coiling, expanding, contracting, extending tissues to generate a lot of power.

    August 18, 2009 at 12:09 PM
  18. Dean:

    It depends on where you hit and the intention. then about the arrow, I’ll just say it may have happened by chance. But it’s probably not a technique that you learn and can rely on all the time. It’s more like a way of saving your butt when you don’t have a choice. It’s best to move and try to avoid being touched. The video of the guy catching a speeding arrow is cool but first off, the arrow wouldn’t even touch him, so he could just stand where he is, the arrow would end up in the target in back of him.
    Then when he catches it, the arrow keeps moving would go through his body if he was facing it.
    Sure it’s not easy, and he can’t mess up but it’s useless on a battlefield. He would either get hurt, miss the arrow, or the arrow wouldn’t even touch him. And we’re talking about AN arrow. There are many warriors on a battlefield so it may be arrowS. Try stopping 5 speeding arrows with your hands… You’d better get the hell out of there.

    You CAN catch a sword with your bare hands…. when it’s already been stopped (by another movement). But it’s not the main action. In other words, you won’t stop it like this. Unless you’re using shuko. And then again, it’s mostly a “uh-oh” solution to save your butt.

    September 6, 2009 at 12:56 PM
  19. Gover:

    Yeah I don’t like how hard they made it.

    First off, napkin math says: fast reactions can be like 0.15s and 200 m/s arrow fired from 25m takes 0.4s to reach the target. Plenty of time to react. Also, if the arrow is being fired at you there’s no need to wonder where it’s going, and if the guy misses you who cares about catching an arrow?

    Also, I don’t think adrenaline was given any consideration. If you were in an actual battle with real, deadly arrows being fired by trained archers at you I’m guessing your adrenaline gland would be running on wide open. They should have injected this guy with some to simulate the effects of mortal combat. That’s got to help the reaction times.

    Who knows the legend could have started from a ninja getting shot right through the hand and just snapping it and pulling it out during combat and to the distant archer it looked like a catch.

    September 9, 2009 at 11:22 AM
  20. loic:

    Hey there mythbusters if your going to myth bust the one inch punch then you should think of televising some one who can properly domenstrate the aplication of fa jin. I think then your myth will be shown to be more than plausible.
    Ps a ninja is japanese the only martial arts that is internal in japan is aikido and not a striking martial arts…for a real source of short distance as well as no distance power look up masters of tai chi xing yi and ba gua…

    September 11, 2009 at 3:17 PM
  21. Ernest:

    About the arrow catching, I agree with Nick that the Mythbusters suddenly reworded the myth to include sensing the direction of the arrow in order to bust it. That was obviously not a condition the first time they tested the myth with a mechanical hand. I agree with 2 of their 3 battlefield conditions, that the arrow should aim directly at the target, and that it should be drawn full strength. But not knowing the direction changes the myth from “Can a ninja catch an arrow” to “Can you catch a ninja by surprise”.

    I also agree that as good as Anthony might be, he is probably not representative of a true ninja or lifelong martial artist at his prime. I think many true masters don’t bother entering competitions, so despite all his world records, I’m not convinced he’s really the world’s greatest.

    September 24, 2009 at 3:51 AM
  22. jaggerdss:

    Again mythbusters fail to take everything in account. On “A ninja can catch an arrow in mid flight.” so A ninja can quote: “While charging their target, a ninja can use their sword to deflect an arrow and kill the archer before he can reload.” but cannot use the same hands to deflect and catch a arrow? The mechanical hand had no arm swing to factor in this equation (Just a grip). I believe it would be a different outcome if this was part of the equation as it should have been.

    October 24, 2009 at 6:15 PM
  23. jaggerdss:

    One other thing. I wonder if Bruce Lee’s one inch punch (Chinese not Japanese ninja stuff) would knock out a guy if it was his face or jaw instead of the torso that they hit?(Betcha I could!) Assumption is another mythbuster mistake.

    October 24, 2009 at 6:21 PM
  24. FromJPN:

    Now watching this episode. Some comments on Ninjas from a Japanese:

    1. They were NOT super-warriors. They specialized in spying (disguising as a traveling sales-man, a simple merchant), assassinations, sabotage and reconnaissance. In fact many ninjas got caught/died during their missions. Stealth was their biggest asset, not fighting skills (that were left to Samurais).

    2. Once they were spotted, typically they ran. Their mission was to bring back intelligence to their lords, to keep confusing enemies, or to killing their targets, not to fight against samurais. Fighting often times jeopardized their missions.

    3. Catching an arrow was not important. What is the purpose of doing that in a real situation? Deflecting it was enough. Having said that, samurais could do that, too. So that was not ninja’s specialty. If you tell the Japanese that Ninjas were really good at catching in-coming arrows, they would be quite amused.

    4. As far as I can tell, 1-inch or 3 inches punches were not used by ninjas. It is a Chinese skill. Somebody from Wing Chung would do a better job.

    5.waiting under the water to use a blow gun (poisoned)for assassination is closer to what actually they did.

    October 24, 2009 at 10:27 PM
  25. Quiet War:

    This is ridiculous. These guys spend an afternoon practicing a skill which takes years of disciplined training and precision execution, and based on their findings declare it possible or not possible? And people consider it credible? Its one thing to see if a bullet flying past glass will shatter it, its another thing to watch a kung fu flick, imitate the moves five or six times, and declare themselves on a par with frickin’ ninjas.

    November 4, 2009 at 3:34 PM
  26. ObservantGuest:

    I think FromJPN hits on a strong point here,

    Ninja were not battlefield soldiers They were closer to secret agents the Idea of “Battlefield Conditions” would never come into play with a Ninja.

    The whole expirement was wrong in my opinion because the scenario would never happen.
    A group of Archers would not be able to get that close to a Ninja in Ninjutsu great emphasis is given on stealth training they would not know he was there until he killed them.

    They tested a “Modern Ninja” and his reflexes were good enough to catch an arrow under certain conditions so the Myth should be Confirmed or Plausable.

    How about testing the Archers to see if they could even detect the presence of a Ninja and fire an arrow at him.

    February 22, 2010 at 7:51 PM

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