Tuesday, May 4, 2010

another martial arts excursion: ninjutsu

I went to the ninjutsu class at the Y tonight! Like aikido, ninjutsu is a modern Japanese martial art, and coming from the mainline Japanese tradition, they're sort of cousins, and I've wanted to try it out for a while.

The modern Japanese arts are generally focused on budo, the development of the person and the use of martial arts for protection instead of warfare. One of the many unusual things about aikido is extending that protection, if possible, to the person who attacked you, who is probably suffering themselves quite a bit. Or, if you can't protect them while still protecting everyone else, hurt them if you need to. It's a sliding scale. You do what you can.

Other martial arts are typically in the "they attacked you, go ahead and maim or kill them" camp. Aikido explores all the many possibilities in between "avoid a fight entirely" and "destroy another human being." I can't generalize about ninjutsu, really, but here are the things I noticed about how this guy was teaching this class:
  1. He was demonstrating a lot very advanced variations interspersed with the basic forms, even though the students were only doing the relatively basic forms.
  2. He switched techniques very quickly, leaving students very little time to actually practice a given technique.
  3. He inflicts a conspicuous amount of pain on the people he's demonstrating on (I qualified for this about midway through class). He's "taking care of them" in the sense that they (we) are not injured beyond some bumps, so I don't think it's a self-gratification thing. I mentioned it to an experienced student afterward, who said "Sure, if he didn't, it wouldn't be true." So I think they actually think the pain is necessary for effective training.
I think his and my conceptions of "budo" diverge in subtle but important ways.

He was obviously a lot easier on me than with his experienced students, but I have no desire for the kind of training they're getting, and I'm pretty sure I won't go back, even though it was a fun and interesting way to exercise for 2 hours.

The instructor also trained at the Iwama dojo I hated, so I think he's unaware of the possibilities for what aikido can be: a relatively small set of basic techniques, with infinite variations and embellishments. At one point he had one of his guys show how he could roll out of an aikido pin; I was thinking, "Yannow, I couldn't see if you did it right, but I have about 15 different ways to solve that problem." He encouraged the students to finish off techniques by using the weight of their bodies on someone else's body--say they're on the ground, if you put your knee on their face and lean in, it'll hurt a lot--something we refer to often at Aikido West, but which is obvious enough, and outside the primary goals of our training, that we don't bother going into detail.

There was some of the fabled ninjutsu sneakiness. At one point he took the lit incense stick off the altar, walked around and used it to poke people who weren't paying attention to their surroundings (which was everyone--Cyndy does the same thing with foam pool noodles), and then used it as a weapon/distraction in a technique, to point out that "you don't need big things; sometimes small things work". But a lot of it was grabbing fingers, and variations on stepping on someone's foot and pushing them. Those are excellent things to know, but kind of...shallow, when I'm used to a lot of intuitive and attentional training about connection and conflict resolution. Don't even get me started about the metaphysical worldview this guy referenced.

At some point, when he was demonstrating on me, he was digging into the muscles in my arm, which hurt, but not nearly enough to make me lose my grip; and then later as he was doing something else that left me squished with some joint locked up and a wooden knife in my back; I noticed that I didn't think he could take me in a fight. That's a very male thought, possibly delusional, and not one I was expecting about a martial arts teacher, but in that entire class, I didn't see anything I felt like I couldn't successfully respond to with the skills I have. More than that, I felt...fiercer.

It's a moot point, anyway: if he attacked me, I bet I could outrun him.


  1. All I can think is "mmm, male..."

    I've been meaning to comment for a while on various things, but at the moment I'm trying not to stress about quals on friday. So, you get this one, especially because it's short and didn't require any thought.

    Maybe this is also due to the men hiatus I am on until after the exam... but yes: "mmm, male" and "mmm, male thoughts" and also "yay for fierce". Friday can't come fast enough.

  2. Good luck on quals! And whatever male-related activities you may have planned after that. =) Which, of course, you should describe in detail.

  3. Being able to out run an attacker is the BEST martial art.