TMNT Master Splinter Biography
MASTER SPLINTER QUICK FACTS
Color:Brown & Pink
Weapon: Cane/Staff, All Ninja Weapons
Named After: The Stick (Daredevil’s mentor, Marvel Comics)
Meaning: Thin, Sharp Fragment
Personality: Fatherly, Wise
After finding four baby turtles swimming in a puddle of ooze, Master Splinter adopted the soon-to-be mutants as his own sons. He gave them the names of the great Renaissance artists, taught them the essence of ninjutsu, and protected them from the human world. Under his tutelage, the turtles became fierce warriors capable of defending everyone who relies on them. Protection from the unknown has always been the master’s overriding concern, but that fear and distrust hasn’t dampened his kind heart. He takes in the boys’ friends from the surface, and treats them like his own when he learns to trust them. But if anyone threatens his family, Splinter won’t hesitate to fight.
In the beginning, Splinter mutated from the same ooze that his sons were found in. Once belonging to the Foot Clan’s Hamato Yoshi, this pet rat mimicked ninjutsu from its master. But Yoshi was often at odds with the man Oroku Nagi over Tang Shen’s heart. One particularly heated argument ended in Nagi’s death, and his brother, Oroku Saki, killed Yoshi in revenge. During his master’s last battle, however, Splinter was able to scratch Saki, sending the man on a quest for revenge against the rat, as well. With no one left to turn to, Splinter wound up in the sewers of New York City, where he found the turtles and the ooze. Mutating into a humanoid rat, he adopted the reptiles and treated them as his own sons. Throughout his life, Splinter saw Oroku Saki’s fall and a restoration of honor to the Foot Clan. After years of dedication to his family, though, age caught up to him, and Master Splinter passed away.
The first animated series took some liberties with Splinter’s origin, and gave much more noble beginnings. Splinter was Hamato Yoshi, having mutated from the man himself. Yoshi was again part of the Foot Clan in Japan, although this time as its leader. His leadership was usurped by upstart student Oroku Saki, who dishonored Yoshi and had him banished. The man made his way to NYC, where he came in contact with the mutagen and became the rat master of four baby turtles. The name “Splinter” came from his skill at breaking boards, and he adopted it for his new identity. Another major difference with this series was that Splinter was never explicitly called the boys’ father. While there was a clearly paternal bond, the rat master was really only treated as just that – a ninja master.
With TMNT: The Next Mutation, Master Splinter’s other aspects could be showcased a bit further. As a ninja master, Splinter has achieved a high level of spiritual proficiency as well, and he was often shown to be crossing over dimensional boundaries to the spirit and dream worlds. That ability was maintained in the 2003 animated series, and Splinter would often meditate and help his sons through the spirit world. However, there were some major differences with this version, as well, and Splinter’s origins became even more convoluted than before. Here, Splinter started as Tang Shen’s pet, and Shen was caught in a love triangle with Hamato Yoshi and Yukio Mashimi. Both men ultimately became guardians of the alien Utroms, but Mashimi’s jealousy led to murdering Shen and handing the Utroms over to the Shredder. Yoshi took the rat and left for New York, but he was ultimately killed by Shredder. With no one left, the rat wandered the sewers until he found four baby turtles and some ooze, becoming Master Splinter. This Splinter also had an affinity for soap operas, getting very wrapped up in the stories.
In the 2012 animated series, Splinter went back to being mutated from Yoshi himself. Again, Yoshi was in love with Tang Shen, and they had a daughter, Miwa. However, his friend Oroku Saki killed Shen, and took Miwa away from him to raise as his own daughter, Karai. Sad and defeated, Yoshi made his way to New York, where a chance encounter with two Kraang led to contact with mutagen, and being turned into a giant rat. He found the turtles and raised them as his own. Later, he would discover that Saki kept Miwa, and would continually fight to bring his daughter back from the side of evil to be with her real father once more. Similar to the last animated series, 2012 sees a strong father-son connection played up, as well as Splinter having monumental ninjutsu abilities beyond what he’s currently taught his boys.
The four films play on the original comic origin of Splinter, and spend a great deal of focus on the familial relationship. In the first movie, his loss sends the turtles into a deep well of grief, and they fight tooth and nail to get him back from Shredder’s clutches. However, beyond the first film, his role was as a supporting character only. He played almost no part in the third film, and was simply there because his presence was expected. However, he always supported his sons, no matter what.
It’s rather odd that for a character as prominent in a continuity as Master Splinter that his own origin has barely ever been maintained across incarnations. It took 15 years before the “rat mutated from human” one came back around, and after the first movie, it was 13 years before he was mutated from a rat again (although, even that origin in 2003 wasn’t the same as the original or the movie origin). It’s so strange that this was the character that liberties were taken with, too. Shredder is almost always the same. The turtles are always created in the same way. Karai is always Shredder’s “daughter”. April is always involved with news in some way, shape, or form. So why was Splinter given such diverging origins across incarnations? Audiences may never actually know. The only problem with this is that now there’s a question about what the real origin story is. Obviously, the first choice would be the original story from the comics. However, mutating from Hamato Yoshi seems like the most appropriate fit. All the series deal with humans mutating, and while it’s cool if a rat can learn ninjutsu, it just seems to work out better if Hamato Yoshi was the first instance in TMNT of a human mutating. It also helps explain Splinter’s emotional and spiritual depth, as well as the breadth of his abilities.
However, despite a lack of continuity in origin, Splinter did have something going for him: His personality was always the same, and with the same depth in each incarnation. No matter what Splinter it is, the rat master is always calm, kind, patient, and a supportive rock for his sons and their friends. The turtles were always subject to the writers picking and choosing what characteristics to use in every incarnation, but Splinter retained everything across time. Even when parts of his role weren’t defined (like his fatherly duties in the 1987 series), he still acted as that paternal supportive figure at all times.
The importance of that continuity lies in how he interacts with his sons. He needs to have a certain interaction with each, or else their own personalities don’t make sense. Splinter works with Donatello on an emotional level because of Donnie’s kind heart; he gives Leonardo the rigorous training that is expected of a ninja leader; he reprimands Raphael for his temper; and he tries to give Michelangelo the time and attention that the youngest brother deserves. If Splinter’s personality is off by even a hair, then these interactions don’t work. Which, interestingly enough, makes the rat master the most stable character through the franchise’s 30 years.
Spliter’s struggle with Oroku Saki is very interesting in its dynamic. Even though he is either mad at Shredder for killing his master or his wife (depending on the series), Splinter rarely engages in battle himself. Instead, he lets the turtles take revenge for him, and keeps to the lair where it is safe. The 2012 series has shown him battling a bit more, fighting the Rat King twice and Tiger Claw once. But otherwise he just lets the boys go into battle alone. It seems counterintuitive to the protection he’s given them, but also speaks to his trust in his sons. Either way, and despite his constant reimagining, Splinter has been a strong character that has aided the boys in whatever way he could throughout their adventures. The wouldn’t be the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles without him, and his place as the heart of the team will never be forgotten.
Splinter was named after Matt Murdock’s (Daredevil) master, The Stick. Murdock was blinded by radioactive waste, and trained to be a powerful fighter, just like Splinter did with the turtles.
Master Splinter has always been at one with mystic forces, mastering techniques such as astral projection and psychic ability.
In the 2012 series, Splinter’s daughter is actually Karai, and whether she will come to the side of good is still unknown.
In his current version, Splinter’s cane is made of crystallized mutagen, which he got when he and the turtles mutated.