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Ninja Now

News & insights from An-shu Stephen K. Hayes and his Shihan Kai

35 Years of Uncompromising Spirit

By Stephen K. Hayes on Oct 13, 2014 04:20 pm

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.


Teachers, Students, Friends And Fellow Seekers

By Mark Sentoshi Russo on Oct 13, 2014 04:15 pm

Festival 34 in Raleigh North Carolina was an exciting, inspiring, and rewarding experience. No surprise there. I have been making the pilgrimage to this event for three decades. I use the word pilgrimage because by definition this is “a journey to a sacred place.” For me, wherever festival is held the space and place are sacred because of what happens there and the people I share the experience with. No doubt there will be those who feel that referring to my training as sacred is a bit to much. Obviously I disagree because of the crucial and undeniably beneficial influence it has had and continues to have on my life. Further, I believe there is indeed a sacred energy that is created when people who are like-minded come together in friendship to explore their mutual interests and celebrate community, tradition and personal evolution. Beyond all that there is then the fact that for all of us this is just plain fun, or we probably wouldn’t be there.

To be sure there have been for me times of great challenge and even wrenching disappointment at festival events. Yes, I have failed tests before. Yes, I have had disagreements with my friends and teachers before. Some have altered relationships permanently. But this is the normal ebb and flow, the very nature, of not only community dynamics but that of a genuinely challenging and rewarding path as well. As a tradition festival has remained as a constant, a landmark if you will, a mile marker. This is a place rich with learning possibilities. This is a place where I can sit face to face with friends, teachers and students. Often, in spite of best intentions, this is the only place where we can make such a thing happen. Frequently just a few such moments together can influence the entire upcoming year in unexpected ways. Sometimes it is the pleasure of meeting someone new, getting to know someone better, or just catching up on life with an old friend. It is a time that offers a very unique set of circumstances that too often passes too quickly.

In my thirty years of Ninja Festival pilgrimages I have transitioned from new kid on the block to featured instructor. I still find that after all these years, regardless of (and dare I say that sometimes because of) all the bumps and bruises, physical and otherwise, festival has not lost its’ unique form of magic. These days I often begin my yearly pilgrimage with Forest Gump’s moma’s words playing in my head; festival “is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re gonna get.” For me, even if I stumble upon a chocolate that I don’t particularly care for I know there are many other treats in the box. This year, like so many others, the box provided a lot of what makes this journey so sweet. Already looking forward to opening the lid on next years’ box.


New Moment, New Beginning

By James Kentoshi Norris on Oct 13, 2014 03:40 pm

This year my Festival session was about each moment being a new beginning. In fact, the entire Festival theme was “Ninja Reborn”, for several reasons, including marking our dedication to using technology and the internet to even more effectively spread To-Shin Do across the globe. It is an important concept to me personally, as well as for creating effective decision-making and conflict resolution skills in our martial art. As I trained and coached in the other Festival sessions over the weekend, I was struck once again by just how vital this concept is.

Our brains, our thoughts, hang out in one of three ‘time zones’: the past, the future, or on rare moments, right in the present. Just reading this some of you might be reflecting back on your Festival experience, or thinking about what next year’s will be like. Both directions are important to pay attention to, but it is the now that is deserving of most of our attention.

Learning to make decisions under pressure is an important part of any realistic self-defense program, both for dealing with physical confrontations as well as every day challenges. But we don’t just want to do something. We want to do the right thing. We don’t just want to know there is a problem. We want to know exactly what the problem is, so we know what our defense needs to be.

As we all know, if the problem changes, the solution has to change.

This means we have to be in the now. If we’re working on a grab and punch attack, I might start by defending against the hook punch. But what if that grab turns into a shove somewhere along the way? If I’m still trying to solve the hook punch problem when it has really become a shove off balance problem, then I’m just the fraction of a moment behind. I’m off balance. Then I try to solve the shove problem, but its too late for that too. Still the wrong problem. I’m already off-balance. I’m fighting the past. Pointless.

Learning to deal with the now is one of the most important lessons I’ve learned in my training. And I’m still working on it.

I was struck at Festival by how often I saw historical principles come to life to deal with modern problems. Every once and awhile I saw an experienced person forget and try to focus too much on the historical answer, even though we weren’t dealing with a historical problem. That was exciting too, both for me and those students, because of the reminder to be in this moment, to be sure to be solving the current problem.

The ninja always tried to be on the cutting edge of technology. To be using the electronic technology of today is exiting. But the taijutsu principles are still cutting edge technology. Being in the moment, and solving the current problem instead of hanging on to the past, or trying to predict the future, is still cutting edge technology for our mind. Because it will always be now. Every ‘now’ is an opportunity to re-invent, to re-engage, every ‘now’ is an exciting ‘rebirth’ in our lives. At Festival I saw many, many people who are different now because they attended.

I don’t know exactly how to measure the epiphany per square foot that happens at Festival, but I know that there has never been a more exciting time to be a ninja. There has never been a better time to apply these timeless principles to our lives, to be a little more effective today, now, than we were just a moment ago.

I look forward to seeing all of you next year, and all of the wonderful lessons we get while dealing with the now of 2015.


Quotes About Nothing

By Dennis Fuutoshi Mahoney on Oct 06, 2014 04:22 pm

At the To-Shin Do Ninja Festival this year I taught a session on Saturday morning. For me, the session was very fun and humbling because of how much effort everyone put in to learning the ideas. We looked at arm positions which allow you to move and strike with great power while expending very little effort.

The underlying idea was to not use muscular force to strike with but to use your body movement and these natural arm positions instead. When you did this it became difficult for you opponent to perceive the strikes because you were basically doing nothing.

For those of you who could not be there it is difficult to convey this concept in text but I found a couple of quotes that I often share with my students because, to me, they very succinctly and a little humorously explain these aspects of ninpo taijutsu (ninja body movements). Both quotes deal with nothing but explain quite a lot. The first one from Edward Dahlberg is:

“It takes a long time to understand nothing.”

Many times in class when a student has success with a technique I will say to them “That’s it, did you feel it?” and the answer is usually “I didn’t feel anything?!” and I answer back “Exactly!”.

Taijutsu is about having your body aligned with gravity and your opponent at the right place and time so gravity and your opponent’s energy help you defeat their attack. You can’t force taijutsu to work you have to allow it to happen.

We coined the phrase “When you do, you don’t but if you don’t, you do”, meaning when you do a technique you are forcing it and don’t usually get the results you want but when you don’t try to force it and let it happen you do get the results you want.

This isn’t just cute semantics. If you can learn to do nothing, to not force the technique, to not jump ahead, to wait that extra moment and not react your taijutsu will improve greatly. But students (my self included) often find this difficult even after years of training.

So why does it take so long to understand this? Why does it take a long time to understand nothing?

The simple answer is habit, whether it is something we do or something we believe to be true, we all have habits. Habits are like apps on your phone. They allow you to do and think things quickly without much energy expended.

Kind of like mini autopilots in your brain, your habits are neurons clumped together by synapses that react for you in situations. To be able to understand the nothing of taijutsu you have to become aware of your habits, good and bad, and then consciously choose to stop them. Then you can replace them with the nothing of taijutsu. It is literally like rewiring your brain. Not easy especially when you’re trying to rewire to understand nothing.

This second quote sums up how you can use taijutsu to overcome a larger, stronger opponent. It comes from a kindred spirit Austin O’Malley, and knowing my own Irish heritage probably was referring to a different situation than a fight but…

“A hole is nothing at all, but you can break your neck in it.”

Many martial artists put great value on strength and speed. They work many hours to improve their bodies. Their efforts are admirable and an excellent place to start but too many rely on this only and ignore the idea that there is always someone bigger and stronger. They don’t want to face the inevitable weakening of the body that comes with time.

Taijutsu recognizes the limitations of the body and over the years more and more emphasis is placed on understanding the space around the body to control an attack. Blocking and stopping attacks gives way to subtle evasions. The attack is not repelled as such but allowed to continue on into open space.

The effect of this on an attacker is often for them to loose their balance as if they are falling into a hole. The advantage this type of fighting provides allows you to control and defeat a physically stronger, larger attacker. You defeat them with open space; you defeat them with nothing, just like a hole.

Learn to make something out of nothing. Vow to let nothing get in your way and join us next year at Festival. Wouldn’t that be something?



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