Who wouldn’t want to be a ninja? Clad head to toe in an artfully wrapped black all-in-one, emanating deadly poise; concealing ourselves in small spaces and then springing out to exact devastating revenge with a single swipe of the fist; only speaking to dispense wisdom to lesser mortals, in cryptic, earthy metaphors involving the elements and regal animals. It would be amazing.
So ran our thoughts on the way to ninjitsu class on a Friday morning. Ninjitsu, in a nutshell, is the art of being a ninja – the semi-mythical covert agents of Ancient Japan used for spying and assassinations. Admittedly our understanding of what this involves is largely derived from the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoons we were glued to in the ’80s, and various improbable action films. The reality of course, is a little different.
‘Ninjitsu has two faces,’ says Shohei, the ninjitsu master. ‘One is a peaceful aspect, just as other Oriental martial arts have – you can control attackers without hurting them, and the movements themselves are healthy for practitioners. But as ninjitsu was used by ninjas in destructive activities, it also has a bad face, used for assassinating VIPs in a castle, for example, or killing enemies on the battlefield. The techniques for these activities are very deadly, and are not taught to students now.’
We arrived for our lesson just as the kids’ class was finishing and were, frankly, quite terrified , as a huge swarm of war-whooping children ran around in circles roaring and crying and pushing each other over and putting their shoes back on. But we told ourselves that a true ninja wouldn’t run at the sight of some hyped-up under-10s, so we took a deep breath, drew on the strength of our inner warrior, and entered the studio.
The class aims to teach would-be ninjas techniques for self-defence by building up strength and technique, and is open to anyone. There is a kids’ class and a mixed adults’ session that you can join in with, whether you have practised martial arts before or not. ‘We seek happiness and enjoyment through learning the unique Japanese martial arts. I really hope this also helps learners to build up their self-confidence through the practice,’ says Shohei, who is a big advocate of the art, having more than 20 years’ experience. ‘I feel very happy in everyday life thanks to the practice, and also feel confident because of the techniques I have, even though I have never used them in daily life. Except for hiding myself from my boss in the office sometimes!’
In spite of his very slight build, Shohei demonstrated some impressive throws on men who were twice his size. Then we separated into pairs to try out the same moves. Time Out wasn’t quite able to master the feat, only managing to extract an ‘ouch’ from our sparring partner when her thumb accidentally caught an elastic band on our wrist. But we did pick up some interesting ways to extract ourselves from a grip using pressure points and clever wrist twists.
We finished off the class with Shohei holding a big sponge mallet in the air and getting us to dodge out of the way before he crashed it down on to our heads. A rather ignoble way to practise a noble art. ‘The Chinese script for ninjitsu means “to put your heart in front of the blade”,’ says Shohei. ‘This is the main philosophy of ninjitsu; to keep your mind away from egoism and to plunge yourself into death for the implementation of your duties, or defending your loved ones.’ There you have it – stirring stuff, and a top-notch workout. Cowabunga, dudes!
Ninjitsu class; Fridays, 10.30am, free of charge. Muay Thai studio, International Cinema building, Tourist Club Area (050 445 7095)