Lineage and Legitimacy, The Imposing Twin Peaks of Martial Arts.

In my short three years as a ninpoka (In Japanese, “ka” as a suffix means practitioner) , I’ve seen, and read a lot of thoughts on lineage and legitimacy. I’ll take a moment and explain these terms in relation to the martial arts. Lineage refers to the succession of teachers who taught any given art from its inception to you, the practitioner. Legitimacy refers whether, or not, a style is inherently able to teach a person actual self-defense skills. In other words, would this person walk away from a fight intact?

As far as I understand it, lineage matters to some people because the purity of the martial art is sustained and passed from person to person intact. Ancient scrolls are only passed to those who deserve it most, secrets are told to only those who show the ability to teach the art as it is to the next generation. Lineage is essential to legitimacy in many ways. Proof that someone’s teacher is who they say are provides faith in an instructor, faith that they are passing on the direct knowledge of the progenitor of their style. If you claim to be teaching authentic American Kenpo, your lineage better trace back to Ed Parker. Otherwise you’re seen as a poser, or worse a charlatan. Some say that lineage doesn’t matter if the style doesn’t legitimately protect someone during a fight.

So what happens when someone creates their own style in this modern day? Does legitimacy and lineage matter that much? I’d say, it depends. If you live in such a way that you are physically fighting people frequently, then yeah, actual fight training is needed. There’s a huge difference between martial arts training and fight training. For example, two different martial arts from the same origin have very different approaches to the their art. Aikijutsu and Aikido both come the same origin: Daitō Ryū (Great Eastern School) founded over 900 years ago. Generally speaking Aikijutsu tends to use combat ready techniques that are powerful and devastating. Aikido, founded by Morihei Uyeshiba, is more of a spiritual practice by design. It’s movements, like aikijutsu, are circular and fluid, but the circles are larger and thereby safer for the aikidoka. Although the techniques come from the same place, the focus of each is different.

This difference changes what the teachers are focused on in class. Are they faithfully transmitting the pure art form from its roots? Or are they teaching you how to fight? Are they doing both? I’d say that what a martial artist wants to get out of the style they are studying matters more than anything else. If you want to learn an ancient way of living, take a traditional martial art, if you want to strictly learn how to survive a street fight, take something like Krav Maga. Because the human body has a limited number of movements available, I find a lot crossover as I cross train in other styles. Ukemi (falling techniques) in Ninpo is very similar to ukemi in Krav Maga.

Joelle White, of A Beginner’s Journey, and I recently discussed lineage and legitimacy. Ninpo is kinda obscure in the martial arts, let alone in the general public knowledge. Because some foolish people making crazy claims about their “ninja” skills and 80’s ninja movies, ninpo, or ninjutsu, often gets a bad rap. Lots of people have lots of opinions on whether one can be a “ninja” in this day and age, or whether it’s an effective style. This gets to me once in while, and I was feeling a bit sorry for myself. During our discussion, she asked me if I was growing as a person, learning and being challenged, if I had to work for my next belt in each test and pointed out that lineage doesn’t matter a whole lot. That helped me set aside negative feelings I had at the moment and readjust my thinking on the matter.

All of this comes down to a very important point, before my ego gets away from me and behaves destructively towards other budoka (Way of War Practitioner) by ridiculing another style, or approach to self-defense, or philosophy I better be sure I understand the point of that style. Educating one’s self on other styles gives a more balanced approach to understanding what I am looking at and appreciating the beauty of the art itself. I highly recommend using one’s own critical thinking skills, and good information to make better judgements in general, but especially for marital artists.

For more on this topic I suggest you go over to the Stick Chick’s Blog and read her blog post Hammer World.

Monday’s Martial Madness: WE ARE NINJA! (Sung to the tune of Queen’s “We Will Rock You”)

*Disclaimer: I study Ninpo, Ninjutsu, Ninja Weapons, and Classic Jujutsu.

So, yeah, I’m a ninja and I’m making fun of myself.

Buddy we here, we don’t make no noise

Hangin’ from the roof we gon’ make you have a bad day

We got masks on our face

We sealed your fate

Kickin’ your can all over the place

Singin’

We are, we are NINJA!

We are, we are NINJA!

Buddy we here, don’t show our face

Sneaking in the walls gonna take over your place

We got swords in their place

Ain’t no disgrace

Throwin’ our stars all over the place

We are, we are NINJA!

We are, we are NINJA!

Fling it!

We are, we are NINJA!

We are, we are NINJA!

Buddy we ain’t bad men, mad men

Pleadin’ with your eyes we gon’ make

Find your peace some day

We got blood on our face

No disgrace

Somebody betta get ya’ out of this place

We are, we are NINJA!

Fling it!

We are, we are NINJA!

Everybody

We are, we are NINJA!

We are, we are NINJA!

All Night

Ninja-11

Taking the Road Less Traveled (Part 2): Fear, Panic, Anxiety, and the Calming Effect of the Martial Arts

I remember sitting on my knees on the mats to the far left, Mark Sensei was beside me asking me what was stopping me from successfully executing ukemi (safely falling).  I had been at it for weeks by that point.  Fear stiffened my body, either preventing a decent roll, or stopping me altogether.  I had to keep going no matter what, but man oh man, was it difficult to push myself into this art.

I answered Mark Sensei with two words, “My thoughts.”  The wild nor’easter of fear gripping my mind was the only thing stopping me.  Anxiety, fear, and panic are realities I deal with daily.  Over the course of almost 28 years of recovery these things have lessened somewhat, but not nearly enough by November 2015 (from the previous post this is when I started Ninpo).  The child of an addict almost always grows up with a skewed sense of reality.  Not knowing what was coming next in the form of abuse left me in a constant state of anxiety.

By the time I was an adult, seeing life through panic colored glasses was my modus operandi.

The martial artist lives within a constant tension that comes from practicing violence for the sake of peace.  If I believe in the spirit of Budō (click here for a definition), learning to overcome oneself is the ultimate goal of practicing a martial art.  Nearly every level of technique and practice I’ve encountered fear is involved.  For the uke (receiver of the technique) to be a good training partner,  there must be a certain amount of willingness to receive pain.  When faced with a hard fall, one where my ukemi needs to be on point, my metaphorical knees tend to knock together. At this point I MUST overcome to be true to myself in my efforts to grow as a person.  I have failed at this a few times and I’ve spent hours unnecessarily beating myself up.  But, when I succeed and overcome my panic, the feeling of triumph is incredibly satisfying.

This is where the rubber meets the road in the grown up mind of an abused child.

It’s not easy to be thrown to the mats repeatedly by those bigger and stronger and get up and ask for more.  It’s not easy to face the tension of moving fast in a line up of ukemi practice knowing I could crash into someone else if I move incorrectly.  It’s not easy to receive hits and blocks that leave marks every week, so similar to marks left by adults who should have known better. Believing in myself enough to push through fear, panic, and anxiety and do what’s asked of me and then succeeding brings the confidence needed to calm the mind with truth.  The truth is, I can do these things because I’ve already succeeded.  The phrase “practice makes perfect” isn’t just about muscle memory, it’s about knowing that whatever one’s practicing can be done.

Practicing violence so I can be at peace seems like an impossible paradigm, but it works so well to calm the mind and spirit. I’m glad I stuck it out and eventually tested well for my ukemi belt test.  I’m so glad I’ve stayed the course and learned how to be knocked down and get up again.  I’m so thankful to those who’ve helped me so much along the way, who believed in me enough to help me keep coming back again and again.

Most of all, I am thankful to God for getting me through door to begin with.

 

How to Find Your Fighting Spirit

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I’ve learned a lot about myself in the past 2 years as a martial artist, and as a woman I don’t think I could have learned in just any environment.  Learning a martial art takes a lot of perseverance and grit, it’s not easy, and it shouldn’t be.  I’ve been downright frightened at times and had to grit my teeth and force myself to keep going.  Because of this, the greatest lessons I’ve learned through ninpo have to do with my internal life, how I think, how I behave, what I allow to bother me, or not, and what I think about myself and others.  My sense of value changed through several intense experiences in class and private lessons.  I went from only valuing my usefulness, to valuing my existence.  Learning one’s true value is something I desire to transmit to other women.

I held my first women’s self-defense class today.  This is something I am passionate about and plan to use to proclaim the message that women have value beyond their usefulness to other people.  I think too many women only feel valued when they are being a wife, a mother, a boss, or coworker or any other role women fill. I believe that women are not generally attracted to defending themselves, or violence, because the innate sense of inherent value is missing.  However, often women will become violent when necessary to defend their home or loved ones.

I’d like to bridge that gap between the instinct to defend others and defending one’s self.

I believe that self defense starts with understanding one’s value.  Developing a fighting spirit comes from this understanding.  A fighting spirit is a tool we can use to give us the strength and energy to be violent if necessary.  If this piece is missing, defending ourselves won’t be quite as effective because fear can take over and cause us to cower.  I discovered through a grappling lesson that I had no desire to fight back if someone was attacking.  Even in the calmer environment of the dojo, I felt intense fear and blanked out everything I had learned to that point.  Unbeknownst to me at that time, I didn’t know my inherent value.  Once I learned about it, and made it part of myself I developed a fighting spirit fairly quickly.

I believe learning one’s value, and learning techniques for fending off an attacker are valuable to any women of any skill and physical capabilities.  Heck, a woman in wheelchair can find ways to defend herself given enough learning and practice.  We just have to change what we think about ourselves and dig deep into our sense of self to find what we need, when we need it.

Little hands, little feet, doesn’t mean you can’t be beat.

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People make a lot of assumptions about women.  Sure, we are smaller than men, and we have less muscle mass, but does that translate to automatically losing a fight? The short answer is “no.”  The long answer is “only if you’ve been trained and know what you’re doing.”

Unless we get involved in heavy lifting in the gym and become, we cannot match the strength of even a average sized man, so we have to find ways around this problem.  If a man gets a woman in a rear naked choke, it’s safe to assume she cannot muscle her way out that hold.  But, that doesn’t mean all is lost.

As you can see above, my hand is significantly smaller than my husband’s hand.  I cannot out do him in thumb wrestling, arm wrestling, or any kind wrestling for that matter.  Believe me, I’ve tried.  When trying certain techniques in the dojo, sometimes my hands are just to small to get a good grip on whatever body part I’m holding onto.  That can be frustrating when I’m trying for that tap out and my uke is just lying there saying “Twist my arm more.”

Geez guys, have you seen my tiny princess hand?

My training teaches me how to exploit weaknesses inherent in all human bodies (There are a very few exceptions to this, I know a guy who barely feels pain.  I can twist his wrist till the cows come and he’ll just be laying there smiling at me). This gives me an advantage I might not otherwise have if I was ever attacked in real life.  It’s surprising to me that so much pain can be produced with so little effort.

The concept of “work smarter, not harder” becomes handy to us smaller, weaker females when we know how to hurt you.  We can pinch, gouge, poke, prod, twist, strike, scratch, or whatever those places you didn’t know could hurt like that.  We don’t have to wrestle you to the ground, we don’t have to muscle our way out of a grab, we just have to know where to strike and how to make it hurt more.

It’s best not to make assumptions.

The Battle Has Just Begun

I’ve heard rumors that once a person reaches a black belt, they’ve only just begun to train.  All of what happened before was preparing for the next level of training which is sort of like starting fresh at something.  Not say that all of the previous belt levels are useless, but they are essentially basics.  Many of the black belts I know seem to be on a different plane of learning.  It seems they’ve achieved something, are more aware of themselves and their capabilities, they can think a little more out of the box.  However, there is an understanding that the real work is just beginning.  In a blog by the Budo Bum, when speaking of budo (武道 “way of war”) he often refers to how budo is a journey, in other words it’s not a means to an end, it’s a way of living. The ideas behind budo translates well into the notion that a black belt is just getting started.

I’ve been battling several things for my entire adult life (27 years) from a very traumatic childhood. I’ve achieved a lot, I’ve overcome a lot, I’ve battled fiercely and defeated many things.  But, I’ve recently had a blow to my ego.  I’ve developed a panic disorder for no explainable reason.  It’s costing me my health, my blood pressure is too high, the physical symptoms are too strong, my stomach is being damaged.  The high blood pressure alone scared me enough to get me to the doctor’s, but while I was there I experienced an intense panic attack.  He decided I needed four medications: an anti-depressant, an anti-anxiety, anti-reflux, and, of course, a blood pressure med.

I had told myself several years ago, as I was weaning off yet another anti-depressant, I NEVER wanted to do this again.  Sure, it helped for a time, but the side effects sucked too much.  I wanted to be rid the need for a crutch to help me cope with life.  I wanted to be my own woman and stand up on my own 2 legs without help.  With recent spiritual and emotional achievements, I honestly believe I had “arrived.”  I could move on happy into the new land of fruitfulness and giving back.  Like I said, getting the news I need so much help hurt my sense of self and my ego.

As I prayed and asked God “why” for the 15th time in 3 days, he showed me two keys things: One was Him sweeping my legs from under me so I had to land on my back, the second was the analogy of only just beginning the battle as one achieves their black belt. Essentially, He showed me that submitting to Him in this way would help me achieve greater things.  He needs to break my ego (again) and set me on a new path of conquering.  He promises to fill in my weak spots, and sometimes that means medications.

All of the years I’ve been fighting for my life, I was learning the basics, and now the real battle begins. The real work of breaking my ego and forming me into the best warrior I can be looks more intense and has greater sacrifice.  Just as a martial art student must submit to their teacher, I must embrace this new thing, and submit to the wisdom of my doctor, and ultimately my God, to win the next battle.

The Breath of a Lion, or a Mouse.

“Kiai is more art than anything else.”

I had asked sensei, for probably the millionth time, if the technique I was doing was defensive, or an attack.  The above was his reply.  No explanations of what he meant, just that cryptic phrase and slight smile.

We normally use two, sometimes three, different sounds with which to kiai, and which sound we use depends on what we are doing in a technique.  It has to be said that my brain frequently switches up what I’m supposed to be doing and any manner of sound escape my mouth.  But, that’s not really my problem.

MY problem is going from squeaking like a mouse, to roaring like a lion.  Heaven help me, but sometimes the sound coming out of my mouth is literal squeaking.

When sensei said that thing about kiai being more of an art, it occurred to me that I’ve been thinking about this all wrong.  I’d been trying to create energy and intent by focusing on imitating other’s sounds, and trying to get it “right” (whatever that means).  As a novice it’s easy to get caught up in mimicry, which isn’t necessarily wrong, but at some point I needed to find my own voice.  What I was missing was the connection between my emotions and the sound I produced.  Sure, it’s helpful to say the correct sound in practice, but what about in pressure situations? Is it helpful then?  Eh, not so much.

To release the lion within, I needed to find something to connect to, like a sense of worth.  To grow as a person, and a martial artist, I needed to understand my own value.  Through various means, my (Heavenly) Dad showed me what He thinks of me, and what I should think of myself.  He installed a sense of purpose coupled with the idea that I had value simply because I existed.  As my favorite Krav Maga instructor put it “We have to protect what God has given us.”

I’ve encountered people who value themselves in way not connected to their usefulness.  Their sense of self is palpable, and if trained properly, can feel like a warning to “stay away.”  A person who values their own existence is not an easy target, it shows in their walk, in how they deal with others, how they deal with conflict.  Their ego is not driven by what they can do, but who they are on this earth.  My concept of myself has changed so significantly in the past year, that I’ve noticed a change in my kiai.  I get it now.

That sense of belonging, value, and self helps me to want to fight back, to release the breath of the lion when I need to.  Putting energy into my defense, or attack, is about focusing my intentions and skill in the right direction, my kiai is mostly the end result of an internal process.  The more protective I feel, the stronger the emotional connection, the more I can let my opponent know exactly how I feel.

Let there be less squeaking and more roaring.