I finally found a ninjutsu class in 2011 after moving to the north east. The previous six years had been spent doing Karate and Tae Kwon Do, as well as dabbling in MMA, Aikido, Judo, Kickboxing and the like. I was always aware of ninjutsu, thanks to the Internet and it had some mysterious power that hypnotised me.
As a beginner I focused on each move, strike or stance but, somehow it didn’t work. It took ages for my focus to shift from the micro to the macro, both literally in terms of my technique and metaphorically, in terms of my outlook on life. I already knew how to kick and punch but this was strangely different. It wasn’t until I began to stop thinking about it and began to relax that it started making sense.
Ninjutsu has a combat focus rather than a sporting one. When defending the lives of those you love, everything is permitted. In class we are encouraged to flow from technique to technique, with the emphasis being “you don’t get a second go at a first attempt”. Apt words to describe self defense, which is generally taken as being against multiple attackers. Its pragmatic that way and the methods employed in Ninjutsu reflect that.
Its something people don’t want to think about. Death. Getting attacked and murdered. It’ll probably never happen to me, some tell themselves, hopefully, foolishly. If only they realized the depth of peace and serenity one can achieve from feeling secure at all times. When you are strong and confident, things take on a vibrancy and intensity that can occasionally be overwhelming. Far from being someone who seeks the thrill of violence, I abhor it. People hurting each other disgusts me and I always make efforts to avoid situations that could potentially degenerate into that.
My experiences have given me an insight and sensitivity to the moods of others. If I’m ever near an individual or group harboring malicious intent, I get a feeling of dread in my stomach that cannot be ignored. Some would say its all in my head but, I say its intuition developed through experience. Going into my early twenties I worked in a number of pretty rough bars. I spent four years serving drinks in places that would just go mental. I saw enough shit kick off to know its flavoursome scent. As one who has been exposed to these types of situations and trained in martial arts for close to half my life, the feeling of panic and helplessness that strikes some in emergencies has become nothing more that a rubbish choice. It’s available, the easy option and I ignore it. Especially since beginning Ninjutsu. If you can stay calm in the high stress situation of a fight, you can stay calm in the high stress situations of life. I still feel fear, of course, that coppery taste in the mouth. I still get the odd adrenal rush too, but these things no longer hinder my cognitive processes. If anything, they sharpen them.
Over the course my time at the AFC in Newcastle there have been a number of lessons that really opened my eyes to a different, much broader and freer viewpoint. For example, from a karate/TKD perspective, blocks are an entire subcategory unto themselves. Lots of beautiful movements and complicated responses. In class, we are taught not to block a strike but instead protect ourselves. Stepping back into Doko No Kamae you are told protect your head, you always know where it is, you don’t necessarily know where your attackers arm is. This lesson can be taken literally and metaphorically.
Another example is footwork. Everything is in the feet. With proper footwork comes balance. With balance comes power. This is easy enough to understand when your hands are empty but, in the early days whenever a sword or stick was put in my hands my attention would bleed into it and my balance would be shot to shit. It was during a sword session that I suddenly realized the importance of maintaining balance, focusing on that feeling and allowing the hands to work their own magic. As Hatsumi once said, its not about staying balanced, what’s important is the effort to maintain balance. Words to live by, if you’ve the eyes and mind to perceive the layers of such a statement.
For me, training isn’t something I do for fun or to blow off some steam, though I do get these benefits too. Its a way of life. Ninpo. Training allows me to step past the line that marks my comfort zone. Being in that region of sheer will, body and mind both screaming at you to stop, its so freeing, so liberating. It may sound extreme, the way I put it, but its true. Its like mining. The deeper you dig, the more precious resources you find.