My Inner Ninja

Since Japan is celebrating February 22, 2015 is National Day of the Ninja in pop culture. I decided I would write a post about my inner ninja and how it has shaped my life. Early in my childhood ninja’s captivated me in the movies, cartoons, and video games. As an adult I am still fascinated by ninjas and the art of ninjutsu.

My inner ninja began to evolve when I was a child and I’d spend anywhere from a few weeks and to a few months of lying in a hospital bed or in my own bed. Usually I had some type of orthopedic operation that required me to lie around for a long period of time. – Hmm…in writing this I just now realized why I am good at jujitsu. – I watched a lot of movies during my many horizontal vacations. Some of the movies or cartoons featured ninja’s or where about ninjas. I can remember watching movies in the 1980s such as the American Ninja series and The Octagon with Chuck Norris.

Now that I am an adult and a historian; I realize that the 1980s depiction of the ninja in cinema does not accurately portray the real ninja. Though that didn’t stop me from asking my parents if could take some form of martial arts and secretly hope that I would train as a ninja. I have always felt I would be a great ninja and that I possessed a special skillset as a dwarf. I am short, I am easy to conceal; I can fit in small spaces. Most people do not look down when they are walking and it has always been easy for me to walk up next to someone and surprise them. This happened a lot where I used to work. No one could see it was me when I would enter the office. I would walk around the corner and someone would be walking from the opposite direction. Of course they would be looking over the walls of the cubical and not down at the ground. I would get next to them and simply say the word “hi”. I have never seen people get startled so bad they jump 4 feet into the air. This was a common occurrence in the office. After a while I was considered to be the office ninja.

The mysticism of the ninja culture is very fascinating especially with the art of stealth, disguises, and “black magic”. In recent years I have come to appreciate the actual fighting style of ninjutsu. Thanks to YouTube I have been able to watch Ninjutsu instructors such as Yossi Sheriff and the Masaaki Hatsumi. The techniques I have been watching online are similar to the ones I like to practice in jujitsu class.

Hmm – jujitsu a samurai based martial art. Umm – could the ninja’s have infiltrated the ranks of the samurai? Happy Ninja Day Japan.

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A Kick of Confidence

Over the years people have looked at me and they are like “wow, he has all of these obstacles in front of him but he gets out there and still does it. I wish I could do that and I am average height.” Anyone can practice karate, jujitsu, or any style of martial arts. Anyone can do anything; it is all about the mental attitude and believing in oneself.

Ok, ok – to be honest I never realized I had obstacles to overcome that should have kept me from practicing karate. I always considered those to be the bodies of my vanquished opponents littering the floor.

I will tell you this much – I have had my moments of not being confident in myself as a martial artist. It happens to everyone. Confidence or a positive mental attitude helps when practicing martial arts. The ingredients are: be in the right frame of mind, belief in yourself, and have fun.

Practicing martial arts requires being the right frame of mind. At the classes I have attended whether my own class or visiting a class we have always taken time to clear our thoughts to help us focus. Don’t go into class being excited, sadden, or upset over something that happened at school or at work. Do not be scared or be cocky. Any of these mental states of mind can lead to not being focused or not paying attention. Not paying attention can lead to getting hurt or missing out on critical information. There is nothing like watching a white belt walking into someone else’s axe kick and getting a black eye. Better yet missing that critical information about how you should not be jumping rope barefooted on a tile floor.

Do not worry about what people might think of you or think you look like while practicing. Maybe they are just as insecure and are having the same thoughts of “Are they staring at the way I throw my kicks? I feel silly.” Focus is the key thing here. When practicing karate you are the only one in the room and no one else exists. Not even the guy jumping rope barefooted on tile floor and breaking his foot. Not even the white belt walking into an axe kick as he making his way to aid the guy who just broke his foot jumping rope.

Practice martial arts because you want to. You will have more fun and it will be easier to meet your personal goals. By meeting your goals you will build confidence. Confidence in yourself will allow you to overcome any obstacle. Even if that means the obstacles are the bodies of vanquished opponents. The opponents you were unaware of such as the one walking into your axe kick or laying on the ground in pain from jumping rope barefoot on tile floor.

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The Hardest Part, Walking Through the Door

Looking back at my first night in karate class I would have to say the hardest part was walking through the doors. Holding on to my walker I paced back and forth at the entrance to the dojo. I glanced inside and could see people wearing their gi’s (karate uniform) warming up. One would hold a pad while the other kicked it. I watched as others did punches or were on the floor stretching their legs.

I was spotted at the door and all of the sudden I am greeted by a somewhat familiar face.

“Hey, I remember you! I was the security guard at your middle school.” I was asked if I was there to join the class. The assistant instructor walked up to us and introduced himself to me. I was invited to step into – the dojo.  I introduced myself to the sensei. I explained to him I was interested in learning karate. He asked if I had any experience. By this point in my life I had worked out a handful of times with my sister’s husband who was a red belt in Tang Soo Do.

Sensei asked if I could kick and throw a punch. I demonstrated that I could kick and punch. I was then sent to the other side of the room with a black belt where I would learned the basics such as bowing into class, the proper stance, the front punch, overhead block, center block, and the front kick. During this time I learned the name of the style of karate was called Shorin-Ryu and that it had originated from Okinawa. I also learned that the dojo was tied to an international and national organization known as Seibukan.

After 2 hours of what seemed like an intense work out; I went home. I didn’t know this at the time but when I walked out of the dojo my sensei thought that would be the first and last time he would see me. He realized the second night when he saw me walk through the door I meant business. When I received my first stripe on my white belt I was pulled off to the side of the dojo. Sensei explained to me that he didn’t think I would survive my first night. Since I showed up a second night, he had to speak with the head of the organization. Sensei had never taught anyone who was disabled. He could see I was of sound mind and wanted guidance from his sensei on the best method for relaying the knowledge.

Sensei explained to me that one of the main principles of Shorin-Ryu is that “we teach teachers.” He could see that I was going to be limited by my physical mobility, but that didn’t matter. Karate was 90% mind and the other 10% was physical. I would focus my time on learning to teach people karate.

With my walker in hand, I showed up at the door wanting to learn karate. Watching everyone from the door way I was first intimidated. The toughest part of that first night was walking through the door. I learned that karate is 90% mental attitude, the other 10% is physical. I learned how to block, punch, and kick. More importantly I learned how to live independently.

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