Playing Ninja

Ninjutsu, to me, isn’t simply a martial art. It’s not simply a way to physically protect yourself and your loved ones. Hatsumi-sensei has said repeatedly that the ultimate goal of ninjutsu is not to become a “meijin” or master, but to become a “tatsujin” or a complete human being. And yet, the focus of most ninjutsu practitioners lies solely within the realm of learning to fight in the dojo. (Of course, such skills are absolutely necessary. And I’d argue that there are plenty of people who need to re-learn how to throw a correct punch.)

But what about real life?

How often do you take the ninjutsu out of the dojo and apply it in other areas of your life? Across the whole spectrum of your existence?

To me, a ninja is one who is able to move at will through any environment or any situation and endure, survive, and even prosper. This means that just practicing fighting is not enough. It means that as a practitioner, you have to constantly and continually push yourself to learn and evolve in all areas of your life – not just on the mat.

For example: do you speak any other languages? Even a smattering of a language? A few key phrases will help facilitate conversation in potential scenarios. It might behoove you to appear as a local instead of an outsider. Knowing how to properly speak even the simplest of greetings in another language might enable you to retain your “invisibility” and not stick out as an outsider.

What about English? Assuming it’s your native tongue, are you well-versed in how to properly write it? Or speak it? Is “like” every other word out of your mouth? How does that make you look to others that you interact with? How do typos in your written communication undercut whatever role you’re attempting to play? In some situations, it might be beneficial to appear less than intelligent, but if you are casting yourself in the role of a professional, a leader, or a teacher, then you should lead by example: the same diligence you practice with in the dojo should also be applied to every other area of your life. If that means breaking out the grammar book and learning the difference between “their,” “they’re,” and “there,” then so be it – that’s what you have to do.

If you’re a man, do you know how to properly wear a suit? Tie a tie? Do you know to button your jacket when you stand and unbutton it when you sit down? Do you know that the tuxedo jacket is never actually supposed to be taken off – regardless of how sweaty you might become doing the Electric Slide at your cousin’s black tie wedding? Can you give an impromptu toast without practice? Do you know how to order wine in a fancy restaurant and properly sample it? Do you know how to surreptitiously tip the Maitre d’ at a restaurant to ensure better service during the meal?

What about your mind? Do you frequently expose yourself to other cultures and belief systems as a way of expanding your consciousness or do you stay fixated and locked in a small prison of your own self-assured prejudices? Does your ego goad you into angry impulses that prompt others to view you as insecure, juvenile, and petty?

Before I studied ninjutsu, I was fortunate to have a mentor whose background was, let’s say, “interesting.” His advice to me, given my path in life at the time, was to develop myself to the point where I could seamlessly move through everyday life without causing any friction – and by friction, he meant knowing what to do and how to act and how to appear such that I never stood out unless I wanted to. The highest level of this development was to become the “gray man,” the man you see on the street or in a hotel or anywhere…and then five seconds later, you can’t remember him.

Think about this scenario: you’re in an upscale restaurant and note that the majority of people there know exactly how to act. They know which fork to use. They know where the soup spoon is. They know how to order wine. They know how to place their napkin if they get up to use the restroom. Most of these people will pass through your subconsciousness and you won’t remember them (unless you’re especially attracted to them or something else causes you to notice them). Because they fit their situation so well, so seamlessly, they are, in effect, invisible.

Contrast this with the guy sitting in the same restaurant with his napkin tucked into his shirt like a bib. Maybe he holds his fork in a fist rather than with his index finger, middle finger, and thumb. Your subconscious mind notices this almost immediately because he is not in harmony with his environment – he’s causing friction and therefore you notice – and remember – him. His invisibility is completely compromised.

When we talk about success, a lot of times people will point to external factors that keep them back from achieving the greatness they seek. But how much of their lack of success is caused internally by creating friction with the world at large? How much of their failure is caused by not being able to blend seamlessly with their environments? Do they know how to talk to a mechanic? What about a CEO?

As ninjutsu practitioners, it is not enough to simply practice kihon happo thousands of times. It’s not enough to practice cutting things with swords and knives or post pictures of bullets and guns on Facebook and proclaim yourself a “tough guy.” If you do that and think you’re practicing ninjutsu, you’re sorely mistaken: you are merely practicing for one eventuality. Ninjutsu demands that the practitioner train themselves to be able to handle ALL eventualities, ALL scenarios, ALL of life. That means that the study of combat is but ONE part of the art itself. The practitioner of the art must take the teachings of ninjutsu out of the dojo and subject themselves to the real world where not everything is solved with a punch or a throwing star or a ranting threat or a Youtube video showing how fast you can draw a sword.

If you read the scenarios and questions above and thought, “Well, that’s not me. I’m never in an upscale restaurant.” Or “I only wear jeans and T-shirts, I don’t need to know how to tie a bowtie.” Or “I don’t need to read up on Muslim culture. Or know about Mayan civilization.” Then unfortunately, you are not practicing ninjutsu. You are playing at being a ninja.

For some folks, that realization might be fine for them. But for those who would say they are truly studying this art, then the realization should be a wake-up call that you need to do more. You need to train more. You need to develop yourself to the point where you are able to slug back a brewski in a blue collar pub and then the next night be able to order foie gras. By expanding your ability to move from situation to situation, scenario to scenario with ease, you will also be expanding your mind and spirit – your consciousness will evolve as well.

And when you are at ease in more situations, you are a far more powerful than one who can only rely on physical action. You transcend the brutality of physical combat and establish yourself as a true warrior, one able to render themselves invisible at will, or stand out as the beacon of light and positive energy that the universe needs more of – you are a fully actualized example of thought, word, deed.

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