The Ninja Class

This column, Alternative Lifestyle Slumming, is about trying different ways of life that are foreign to me; and when it comes to a life I'm unfamiliar with, it's that of a ninja. I'm wimpy. I'm undisciplined. I tip over easily, and I don't move stealthily. In my reality, ninjas are so foreign they're almost mythical, like pirates. Never would I have imagined I could take a class for this, in Parker, Colorado, or that there are ninjas standing in line next to me at the grocery store, and that some of them are eight years old.

When we first arrived at Ninpiden Dojo, we were greeted by Sensei Alvin, a gruff, amiable fatherly type with a really bad-ass Indiana Jones hat. He showed us an article about a Ninpiden Dojo trainee -- a little girl -- who used her training to successfully prevent her friend from being kidnapped by a grown man. The students in the class ranged from five-year-old girls to adolescent boys to fully grown men.

The thing that separates their classes from the other martial arts, Sensei Kris and Sensei Alvin both explained to me, was the practicality of it. While most martial arts have etiquette that dictates fighting in very specific ways, the real world offers more random back alley muggers, opponents who don't much care about bowing before they mug you. According to Sensei Alvin, anyone should be able to practice Ninjitsu in the real world, should the unfortunate need for self defense arise, regardless of their size or strength. It's just like in the movies when a small, calm ninja throws a large dangerous man with a flick of the wrist -- a move which we learned later.

Ninja class highlights included:

We learned that Father Guido was uncannily good at ninja rolls.

In fact, after watching him ninja-roll like a pro, Sensei Alvin asked him, "Have you done this before?" That's hands-down the coolest thing you can hear when attending ninja class for the first time.

I, on the other hand, encountered some complications with my ninja rolls. I told my body to roll one way, but for some reason I kept going horizontal instead of vertical, and worst of all, since I was kind of scared to do them in the first place (he said we could possibly pull our neck muscles!), I did it really slowly. Watching bad things happen in slow motion, like someone falling down for instance, only increases the hilarity of the situation. I felt less like a ninja and more like a drunk cockroach stuck on its back.

I got to wield a sword.

By the time Father Guido returned from an errand, I knew how to gut a person five ways. Giving me a trainee wooden sword, of course, Sensei Kris taught me super sick sword moves that involved slicing your opponent diagonally, lunging at them, and blocking. He even taught me tricks featured in ninja movies, like how to stab your opponent and then flick the blood from your sword into their eyes to blind them!

All flashiness aside, the sword class was my favorite part, because it was actually incredibly meditative. You have to be extremely focused for obvious reasons -- so you don't skewer your classmate in front of you, because the actual students did have real swords -- but for other reasons, too. If you really wanted to impale someone, it would be difficult. If your sword was at the wrong angle, the sword wouldn't stick into them.

At one point, this guy showed up:

Kyoshi Weekley is a sixth dan in Ninjutsu and Ninpo as well as classical Ju Jutsu, which is KINDOFABIGDEAL in the ninja world. I felt like I was in the presence of Steven Seagal, with less rattails.

Speaking of which, when Kyoshi Weekley arrived,

We were wearing battle gear.

Sensei Kris thought it would be cool to suit Father Guido and I up in traditional sword-fighting battle gear and let us attack each other with wooden swords for a minute, and boy was he correct.

I did feel bad for my opponent, who had about fifteen minutes less training than me. S'okay. I went easy on him.

Things to know before attending ninja class:

  • When an elder enters the room, everyone stops what they're doing and greets them in Japanese, bowing and using their title.
  • "Hai" means "yes" in Japanese, and they say it all the time. When a teacher is giving you instruction, for example, you would say "Hai Sensei!" to show you understand.
  • While stepping onto the mat with a sword, you should hold it horizontally, balancing it on your hands, while bowing. It just shows that you are serious about being careful. If you roll onto the mat with your sword swinging all over the place, then other people will know to avoid you.
  • It's helpful to know how to count in Japanese. Luckily I remembered how to do this from sixteen years ago, when a nice Japanese guest speaker lady taught us.
  • You don't need to wear this. We wore normal workout clothes -- form fitting enough to not get in the way, but giving enough to move around in. Once you're legit, you'll get one of them karate-looking outfits. Once you are in the sword class, you get to wear these giant flowy pants that make it look like you're floating.
So that was about it. Did you expect me to tell you how to throw someone with a flick of the wrist? A ninja never tells.