Why is this?!
Ninjutsu is probably one of my favorite Arts – its unique and unorthodox techniques, its higher-level, somewhat ethereal concepts, and the intriguing furtiveness captivated me from the get go. It is, truly, an Art…and as a dancer and ice skater at heart, artistry is my language.
I’ve (rather sadly) seen traditional Arts dismissed as irrelevant – many modern-day practitioners want techniques that they can apply to modern-day scenarios. Makes sense. But therein lies the deception. Being rooted in a deep and complicated history also means that there are thousands of gems lying within the teachings. Ones that have not only stood the test of time – when it was truly life and death – but ones that can also be very readily adapted and applied to “today.”
One of the most interesting facets of Ninjutsu is the whole air of “secrecy.” It sounds like an exaggeration but trust me, it isn’t. Even within the walls of an official school, we find lots of “Henka,”or variations on specific techniques – the thing is, they are not always relayed in a straight-forward fashion, and sometimes are only hinted at. For some Artists, that idea doesn’t go over (I can feel the eye rolls.)
While reading a Curriculum, for example, you might see images that don’t always jive with what the written directions are saying. It ISN’T a lost-in-translation mistake either. It’s completely deliberate.
The idea here is not that the “powers that be” of Traditional Ninpo are aiming to be unreasonably difficult, nor necessarily that they want to add some mysterious air that the Art can’t back up. It’s more about the principle that learning is very much about DOing. Your Sensei is “passing down” the traditions, so to speak, and it drives home the idea that just reading a book, going online, or cerebrally understanding concepts ISN’T enough. Martial Arts transcends any one approach – it takes grasping the fundamentals intellectually, absolutely, but the Art cannot be realized without being fully hands-on.
Taking it a step further, there are countless layers to the Art – you may learn a technique at one level, only to discover – throughout your own progression – profound jewels embedded deeply with in them…ones you neither could see, nor were capable of comprehending, in earlier training.
Ninpo embraces that we are not always ready for all of the “secrets” but that to develop our true “artistry” will take time, hard work, both finessing and breaking down the techniques until we can create our own. I suppose in a way many Martial Arts take that tact but here, some of the information is simply not shared until one has proven oneself to be ready.
The multi-faceted Ninjutsu is 1,000% NOT for everyone. It is acrobatic, intense, a little bit cryptic, unabashedly sneaky, and incredibly down-and-dirty at times. Remember, the Ninja needed to survive…not stand on the battlefield until they – or you – were terminated (a la Samurai.)
Ninjutsu focuses more on learning to keep distance, disabling, taking up an opponent’s space (including mental and spiritual) and getting away with one’s life. To me, that’s the ultimate – I never began Martial Arts to “beat someone up.” It’s an ART first and foremost for me, personally. But, should I be faced with a true threat, I want the ability (or at least the tools) to disable, disengage, and get to safety. It isn’t about “the fight,” but minimizing injury and getting away. No ego. No heroics.
Ninjutsu specifically will expose the student to everything from joint locks, small joint manipulations, grappling, takedowns, throws, sweeps, striking and weapons, to name a few. I love that we have the opportunity to have such exposure, as many Arts are much more limited in scope. That said, the journey for each practitioner is unique, and built upon vastly different goals – in my own heart, I believe all Martial Arts are worthy and beneficial, markedly different they may be.
Martial Arts isn’t for the faint of heart – Ninjutsu isn’t “gentle” by any stretch, but it does teach us skills by which we can learn to keep ourselves – and our opponents – safe. At the end of the day, however, we are taught that if we must overcome that individual, we must be prepared to do so. Fortunately in modern times we don’t have to take it quite that far (certainly not in practice!)
Sometimes techniques hurt, sometimes they baffle, and other times they’re a little difficult to track down…. But each one of them – both the clandestine and the clear – are there should we be required to use them.
Training the way you want to fight isn’t always so easy. . .but in a way, isn’t that supposed to be the point? That we train in order to potentially defend ourselves?
The tough reality is that what your muscles remember under duress – which is going to be what you have painstakingly programmed them to do in class, lessons, practice – is what matters. If you train to hand the gun back to the perpetrator – even with mindfulness and the knowledge that you *shouldn’t* – it may happen in real life. Terrifying it may be, I’ve actually heard of cases in which just that has occurred… Scary.
The other day in class, our Sensei decided to do a drill combining old school (as in centuries-old Ninpo) traditional movements with a modern-day scenario and vibe. We had to disable our opponent with a distraction or strike, get away (using those traditional techniques), get to and behind cover, and then “draw” our weapon. The drill was one of the most fun I think I’ve ever done…but I was also so incredibly excited to have another opportunity to flesh out a possible, modern situation. No matter how old movements, or kata, or patterns may be, there are gems within them that can be adapted for, and applied to the times.
I don’t carry, for one thing…so I’m not likely to have a firearm at the ready. But the idea was what was most important here, and learning to do all of those things – without the stress – was hugely valuable. What makes it stick? Repetition! Memory needs to be formed so that when we ARE stressed, we can still perform those functions. Just one day of that particular drill isn’t necessarily going to help me out if something really goes down. But…the principles and techniques ARE ones we use every day…
We learn to strike, distract, disable…that’s number 1.
We learn how to efficiently get away, and to not injure our bodies (or injure as little as possible!) as we attempt to do so.
We learn to asses for cover and get behind it if that’s what the situation requires (versus getting away.)
In practicing those things, our muscles learn on such a level that we work on “autopilot” after a point. And that’s what you want!
The difficulty in this particular environment is that we don’t have real firearms, and we aren’t truly hurting our “attacker.” On a range, in a special type of training, an individual who DOES carry can certainly practice his or her ability to draw, aim, shoot, and make the weapon safe – frankly I think anyone in a job in which carrying a pistol is required SHOULD be doing that anyway!
For us at the dojo, we are working on handling whatever is coming at us as quickly and smartly as possible – but again, there are some strikes we simply cannot do. In Ninpo, strikes can be highly unorthodox and nasty – breaking fingers, ripping ears, gouging eyes…it goes on. It’s tough knowing we aren’t going 100% in this case, but we can’t exactly… So we have to keep in mind that in real life, were our safety on the line, we can’t play the but-he’s-a-nice-“uke” (opponent / attacker) game. It’s a challenge, honestly – how do we bridge the gap, then? I’m not sure you really CAN because none of us are out to break another classmate’s limb!
This is – for me – where the repetition comes in. Learning to master even basic movement can take a lifetime, forget years! But in the daily (or as many days as can be managed!) practice helps solidify as many of the effective ways in which to handle a particular threat. There are – keep in mind – an infinite number of movements available to us, and if we could study every Art and master it in a lifetime, we’d be golden. Not the reality, sad to say! Learning to even do a handful of “go-to”s is great – learn to do them properly, to do them well, and to do them with all shapes and sizes (some techniques are really tough with a HUGE partner!) If you want a real challenge, do them blindfolded.
It’s a very “wax on, wax off” concept – the drills help our bodies to do these things as involuntarily as possible so, should the need arise, we actually CAN do something about it. We don’t always have the luxury of training exactly how we fight – this isn’t the Colosseum, after all – but we *can* do everything in our power to focus, to drill, and to get our muscles so familiar with the movements that they will come to our aid when we need them most.
I have to say, Mr. Rogers, you let me down!
The streets here are not exactly tame, depending on the block – happy-go-lucky mindlessness and handing out “hi, neighbor!”s is a surefire way to get in (possibly serious) trouble.
When I began Martial Arts, it wasn’t because I wanted to be “badass” or that I thought I’d need to fend of a gaggle of muggers, necessarily. I was a lifetime athlete – primarily a performing one (ballroom dancing, figure skating, ballet, and the like) – and I wanted to up the ante. I wanted more power, newness, and something that combined athleticism with artistry (which figure skating, for one, manages by default.)
That said, I was enamored of Martial Arts in general from an incredibly young age. It had nothing to do with being a female, by the way – I’ve never felt that I couldn’t achieve the same thing the “boys” did, and in sports the men were more my idols than the women. The grace and fluidity were something my body already knew how to create inherently, but the power and strength of male athletes inspired me on a whole other level.
Martial Arts movies were common enough in our household – older brother = badassery. And watching them, in and of themselves, made me feel empowered – imagine being able to do those things, and hold my own, for myself?!
I didn’t start (Taekwondo, Hapkido, dabble of Kumdo) until the third decade of Life, but I still don’t think that was “too late.” My current Arts are Ninjutsu / Ninpo, and Brazilian Gracie Jui-Jitsu. I feel that the combination of the former, and being in a new, and much tougher city than those I’ve lived in before, has prompted me to develop and even stronger situational awareness. I notice my surroundings, but also am more attuned to the details – how someone is walking, if they are carrying something, if they look in shape and strong, or less able. . . It’s sort of just “there” and it makes me feel even more thankful for my training.
I can’t say whether or not my muscle memories would kick in – I certainly hope so – but I definitely know I am far more prepared than the average person, and have some chance of submitting, escaping, keeping my life. I’m also more aware in general, a direct result training with people, so I can possibly be more proactive.
It may not always be a “beautiful day in the neighborhood” much that my happy-empath spirit would like it to be. Mr. Rogers let a little me down but I picked up the slack and have trained my ass off in the last ten years just in case a “hi, neighbor” leans a little too hostile for my taste!
So…I’ve done this more times than maybe I should admit. And those incidents were WELL before I began my training. I’d love to think I was born a ninja, but I do have to work pretty hard at it… That said, I’m glad I have an inherent “ninja-like” response to a knock at the door – I’ll take what I can get.
Little things make me so happy…like the victory my school won in getting a sweatshirt with their name on it. The overarching brand generally doesn’t allow it, but I think we – the students – asked enough collectively that our instructor was finally heard by the powers that be.
We all have a sense of pride surrounding the quality of training, instruction, and of students who attend, so in a way this is like a show of support to sport the hoodie. For a Martial Arts school, you always hope that’s the case – the friendships forged there are meaningful because you are in the thick of it together. Even if you don’t hang out with everyone all the time, you know you can count on mutual respect and feedback when in the dojo. Since it isn’t ALWAYS the case, it’s a special thing to find that kind of environment. And as a result…wearing our name out an about puts a huge smile on my face. 🙂
More Martial Arts fun!