Hosting our first Ninja Festival back in 1981 was one of the biggest gambles of my life.
My ninja taijutsu was a totally new phenomenon on the martial arts scene 35 years ago. Yes, a few folks claimed to be “ninjas”, but only I could present evidence of actually living in Japan as a disciple in ongoing classes in a ninja dojo. What if people just chose to call themselves ninja, but did not want to actually study authentic ninjutsu?
The ninja idea attracted a lot of wacky, tacky, and downright odd-ball people. Some fighters did not consider ninjutsu a real martial art, and put it down as merely sneaking up on others rather than face them like a man. Plenty of martial arts teachers annoyed with the massive coverage I was receiving in the 1980s pushed the idea that we were lowly skulkers while they were brave champions. What if people just did not believe in what I was teaching?
In the 1980s, I had become “the” name dominating the martial arts magazines (way before the internet, blogs, Facebook, Instagram, and social media self-generated promotions). A century earlier, the fastest gun in the West was the target of every edgy kid who wanted to be the fastest gun, and so everybody figured that if you could take out Stephen K. Hayes, you would be the guy on all the magazine covers. What if dirty dangerous men showed up pretending to study, but secretly planning to hit me by surprise?
34 years later, our recent Festival had a far different flavor. Some friends have practiced ninja martial arts for decades and are now master practitioners themselves. Thousands of people study our up-dated and up-graded To-Shin Do in dojos around the world, and with friends through NinjaSelfDefense.com. We have plenty of believers who sometimes seem confused or even amused when hearing stories about the past when every day brought another demand to prove ourselves.
So my message to To-Shin Do students today is to not take this for granted! Believe in your martial art, get your friends involved, enjoy its role as part of your identity, but do not ever cease asking the pointed questions. To-Shin Do will live on as a relevant important gift only if we continue to demand that it produce real results when real people’s lives are confronted with real threat challenges.
Come to Festival 35 ready to put yourself and your art to the test. Study the lessons on NinjaSelfDefense.com with a spirit of finding reliable answers for honest difficulties that could block your path and overpower you. Make a vow to own the principles and perfect the strategies. Do not be satisfied with surface form. Hold yourself and your teachers and fellow students to the highest standard. Let’s keep the spirit of ’81 a living and motivating factor in our To-Shin Do practice no matter how long we train.