Friday, 21 December 2012

A Very Ninja Christmas

Seasons greetings to you all. It has been almost five months since my last post and I have been training very hard. Five months is a long time though and I found Christmas coming around again very quickly. I have moved on, as has my training, so much so that Ninjutsu is now a taboo word in the Ninja Banker house. I love it, but beautiful wife and Daughters One and Two are sick of it to the extent that Ninjutsu is banned for Christmas. It went something like this...

Sarah: So what do you actually want for Christmas?
Me: a wooden naginata, I found a good supplier, look [shows her a web page]
(a wooden naginata. For more info please see my earlier blog here)

Sarah: I am not spending £100 on a pointy stick, choose something else.
Me: Okay, a Kyogetsu Shoge then, look [another web page]

Sarah: no. Its a bit of string with a toy knife on the end.
Me: and a rubber ring.
Sarah: don't be silly.
Me: okay, so how about a Jig saw and a portable work bench then? That would be useful for all kinds of stuff around the house.

Sarah looks suspiciously at me for a moment, she is doing the eyebrow thing so I know I've been rumbled.

Sarah: you're going to make more ninja stuff with it aren't you?
Me: No, of course not...maybe.

Sarah sighs and walks away.

So that didn't go well, The kids were no better.
Daughter number one just held her hand up shielding me from her view.

Daughter Number One: I'm not allowed to even talk to you about ninja stuff.

She is smirking.

Me: mum?
Daughter Number One: yep.

Then Daughter Number Two chirps up: Ninja is banned for Christmas, Mummy said.

So that's it. Ninjutsu is banned for Christmas.

I went to my last training session before Christmas last night and it was therefore with a heavy heart. Not only because of the Christmas ban, but also because Daughter Number Two has been coming home lately with a cloud of doom hanging over her. She thinks, like a lot of other ten year olds that the world will end today "because the Mayans said".

I threw myself into training with my usual vigour and good humour though, and was soon enjoying myself, perhaps more so than normal. Bo staffs and swords flying, Yaris prodding, and fists pounding. I seemed to just do it, everything just seemed to fall into place and the time just ticked on.

When I got home I was full of smiles, and because of that everyone seemed to smile back. the Ninja Household was at peace. It did not seem to matter that my life has been banned for Christmas, nobody spoke about it, and we all went to bed happy.

This morning the air seemed heavier.
Clouds of doom had gathered again overnight around little Daughter Number Two, and she appeared ragged hair and frown in our bedroom doorway, a little goth in the making. I did not need to ask what was the matter as she stuck to Sarah and I like glue all morning, giving an extra long squeeze when it was time for school. I watched her walking down the school path, heavy footed and almost dragging her bag behind her, in front of her children skipped and ran, all of them conscious of the approaching apocalypse, but oblivious to it at the same time.

I know that she will be watching the clock all morning, watching 11am approach tick by tock. I wish I could be there to see her relief when the hands sweep past 11:11, but I will be there to see her big smile when she comes home from school.

Maybe there is a lesson here. If the world ends today at 11:11am would I have made it a better place, even in a small way? I don't know. But from 11:12am onwards I am dam sure I will try. Perhaps that is what the Mayans were thinking, maybe that is the new age.

Shikin Haramitau Daikomyo, and Merry Christmas to you all.

Friday, 6 July 2012

Up up and away

Last night we were playing with wooden swords and spears again, or naginata actually. I explained what a naginata is in my last post so don't look so dumbfounded. I shouldn't really say we were playing with wooden swords, but sometimes, depending on the training partner, that is what it feels like. Some training partners are a pain in the arse.

When using weapons for training you have to do four things. 
1. Suspend disbelief. for the purpose of training this is a real weapon with razor sharp edges and pointy bits that can really hurt.  
2. Actually try and hit the person you are training with. I don't mean wildly swing for them, but at least aim at them with the intent to hit them. Okay so we can be safe and practice at half speed etc, but if your partner does not move out of the way then hit them! This way the training partner actually does feel the necessary emotion for conditioning because if they don't react they will get hit.
3. Understand that this is not a play fight in a school yard. go through the drills and practice the basics before you start trying to embellish or move in any fancy or super-dynamic way. This applies to both partners. As uke I do not deviate from the strike that we are defending against because this makes practice safe. When you are uke I expect you to do the same. That way we both get the maximum benefit, our reflexes are conditioned, our movements become precise etc. If you do something unexpected then you will get an unexpected response. so even the thought "ah but what if I hit you like this instead" will often be met with a naginata or bokken in your face/chest/ribs. If I do not know what is coming and I have suspended my disbelief then I will react in the most natural way that I have conditioned myself to do.

There is a reason for this rant.

Scene one.
Uke: Be careful because I could have reached you then.
Me: I am at the other and of a 7ft pole and you are on the floor with a blade at your neck.
Uke: I could change hands like this and just reach.
[Uke demonstrates, placing his bokken in his left hand, holding it at the very end and swinging it. He misses my right knee by inches. The naginata at his neck leaves a red mark as he scrapes his own neck against it in the process.]
Me: That looks quite nasty, are you okay?

Scene two
Me: what are you doing?
Tori: Just seeing where I can go with this.
[Tori flourishes a bit, steps here and there, tapping me with the end of his naginata. This is quite annoying.]
Me: ready?
[Tori nods, ready, I attack. Tori goes completely off piste with something he has picked up from watching too many kung fu movies and I see the naginata swinging up at my face, I react.]
Me: That looks quite nasty, are you okay?

Scene three
Uke: Ready?
Me: Yes.
[Uke strikes, I defend, everything goes swimmingly.]
Uke: Your movement is not right, you should be going left not right.
Me: Why? What's the difference?
Uke: That is what we are practising.
Me: Okay it's a fair cop.
Uke: Ready?
Me: Yes (this is going too well)
[Uke attacks again but his attack is off, I again move to the right, everything goes swimmingly, job done.]
Uke: you did it again.
Me: I know.
Uke: You need to go left.
Me: I am moving with you.
[Uke stares at me as though I have insulted his mother in Dutch. He readies his bokken again and we take up positions. Uke steps in, this time a little too deep as he has not paid attention to distance. I react safely, but then he has another go. I am forced to react very quickly]
Me: that looks quite nasty, are you okay?

Scene four
[we step forward after watching a demonstration and take up our positions. Uke launches at me, bokken pointed at my face before I have even taken up position. I react, swinging my naginata upwards in an arc. Uke falls backwards]
Uke. Mmph!
[His lip is starting to swell alleady, this is not good]
Me: That looks quite nasty, are you okay?

We have all been there, and it really does look quite nasty...

Play safe.

Monday, 2 July 2012

A tool is a tool

I thought that given I have now been training in ninjutsu for two years that I should invest in some of my own training tools. For those of you who don't know a training tool is any non lethal item modeled on a weapon. The tools we train with in ninjutsu include the following:

Bokken (wooden curved sword)
bo (6 foot wooden staff)
Hanbo (3 foot wooden staff)
Naginata (wooden spear with a curved wooden 'blade')
Yari (long spear with wooden 'blade')
Kusarifundo (3' length of rope, knotted at both ends)
Shoto bokken (wooden short sword)
Kyogetsu-shoge (9-12 foot rope with a wooden sickle at one end and hoop at the other)
Wooden/rubber knife

Sarah, of course thinks all of this is hilarious. "it's like a bunch of ten year old's playing with wooden swords".
"Didn't real ninjas use real swords?"
Like I said: whatever.

Some of my training tools.

Anyway my instructors keep telling me that the best way to obtain these training tools is to make them. As you can see above I have already 'made' my kusarifundo, if you can call knotting two ends of a short rope 'making', so how hard could this be? I decided to make a bo staff.

The bo staff was easy enough. A 6 foot broom handle, sheet of sandpaper,and three hours later I had a respectable bo staff. I tried it out in the garden.
All went well, the sanding had smoothed out the staff and rounded both ends, it was the right length, and strong enough with just the right amount of give. A few bofuries and katas later I was a very happy ninja. I looked up to see Sarah and the two girls staring at me from the kitchen window. I smiled back but all three of them frowned, then Sarah opened the window.
"People can see you through the hedge you know".
I shrugged, pretending not to care, like a 12 year old caught singing in the bathroom. "Can they?"
"Evening." a wry voice from the other side of the hedge as someone walked his dog past our garden. Probably best to call it a night.

For my next project I chose a naginata.

A maniac wielding a wooden naginata, 
some day I hope to be that maniac...

Okay so this is a little more ambitious and may well be out of my reach, but I thought I would give it a try.

I got hold of a huge piece of wood, a hand plane and started at it. Trouble is it has to be a piece of wood as thick as the curve on the blade. That is very thick.
five days later I was still going. The naginata is starting to take shape, but still way too thick to hold and too heavy to use. Still, proud of myself the next time I found myself at ninjutsu training I mentioned it to our shidoshi.

okay so maybe I underestimated the task, and maybe I underestimated the length. I have ended up with a 6 foot, too thick to hold and too heavy to use naginata that should be 7 or 8 feet long. I will give it another try. In the mean time Sarah and the girls surprised me. I have a birthday soon and they have bought me a (blunt) folded carbon steel katana. It is from china, it is not Japanese, but it is hand made, folded, did not cost the earth and importantly is totally blunt.
The perfect training tool.

 My birthday present from my 
thoughtful and very lovely wife.

The sweat and sawdust paid off. Thanks babe, that is the perfect birthday present for your idiot ninja husband.

Happy training everyone.

Monday, 19 December 2011


Normally I would expect to be able to turn up for work, put in a decent day, maybe change some lives, and move on, back home, wrestle with the kids, throw a ball for the dog, pick up her mess, and life goes on. Christmas however is different.

This is what I saw when I got into work yesterday.
My workplace, yesterday.
That's right, 1,807 Santas. That is one thousand eight hundred and seven Santas. I know because I counted them, all of them. What is the point in doing something half heartedly? if you are going to have a Santa type event don't just get one for the kids to coo over, get 1807.

The day was great, it lifted everyone's spirits and gave the place a real buzz. Trouble is though my kids came in the car to pick me up and they were awfully confused. Daughter number one tutted in her usual 'not-quite-a-pain-in-the-rear-teenager-but-trying-to-be' way that she has, whereas daughter number two watched them all thoughtfully, keeping her eyes on them as we drove away until they all disappeared out of sight around the corner.

The thinking went on well into the evening, with daughter number two in a sort of daze, pondering what she had just witnessed. 
"are you okay?" I asked.
"Which one was the real santa Dad?"
I shrugged. "I think the real Santa is still at the North Pole."
Daughter Number Two shook her head slowly, a knowing smile on her face.
"No, he was there."
I watched her big smiling face for a while, and as she got up to wonder off I asked "How do you know?"
She just tutted in an imitation of Daughter Number One. " With that many Santa's all in one place one of them must be real."
"And the others?"
"They're just fat dads in Santa suits."
And with that she was off, chasing the dog around the house tying to stick some felt reindeer antlers to the dog's head with her older sister who should actually know better.

And there we have it, perhaps we are all just fat dads in santa suits, but as long as our kids are happy who cares?

Merry Christmas.

Sunday, 6 November 2011

Bonfire Night

I don't know about you, but this bonfire night we didn't have the money to fritter away on setting fire to a box of cardboard and gunpowder (not to mention the potential damage to garden furniture and neighbouring fences like last year), nor for that matter to spend on watching someone else set fire to big boxes of gunpowder etc. Instead we opted for the cheap option. We decided to, figuratively speaking peek over the fence at someone else's.

Sarah thought this was a great idea, and suggested that we set up on a bench overlooking the racecourse so we could get a good view, and even take a pack lunch, some treats, cushions, blankets, the whole thing started to get out of hand.

Popcorn, toffee apples and hot chocolate in a backpack off we went. I thought we would be alone in this, and as we parked up and joined the crowd heading for the racecourse I suggested that we blend into the crowd and then slip off to one side when they all went in through the racecourse gates. Daughter number 1 gave me a filthy look. Sarah just shook her head. I realised when the road ahead was closed to traffic that this was going to be a bit more than one family sitting on a bench in the cold.

As it turned out everyone else did the same as us. They're is something communal and spirit
lifting about several hundred people gathering in a street, all with blankets and treats for their kids, to communally peer over the fence at someone else's very expensive fireworks
display. Thank you city council and racecourse for an excellent night. The crowd cheered, children gasped, tea was sipped, popcorn chewed, toffee apples dropped. Three hundred and fifty people were one, and for that thirty minutes we were all a family together, sheepishly
grinning at each other for our cheek and sneaky enjoyment.

The last bloom of fireworks showered over, The boom threatening to shatter the hotel windows behind us, and the street erupted into spontaneous cheers and applause. Fireworks over and
happy smiling faces with hugging arms for each other made their way back to their cars and
homes. I could not help but smile, looking around. I took one more look at the fairground in
the centre of the racecourse as we left, with it's rides and hot dog stands. Next year, I
thought, we should bring our own hot dog stand.
"Are you okay Dad?" Daughter number two gazed up at me with huge, smiling eyes.
"I am great sweetheart". And I was.

Happy bonfire night everyone.
Stay warm.

Saturday, 16 April 2011

The Mr Ben box.

Forgive me Shihan for I have lapsed. It has been 9 weeks since my last training session. This sounds like a confession and it is, only I can't fix this with three hail Mary's and a hows your father.

It has been that long since I last trained that I am really feeling the frustration. I have been playing ball with Hettie in the garden and trying to sneak it away from her with slight of hand, picking up a rake and breaking into bo katas in the middle of gardening, and diving over obstacles in the garden and on the beach, rolling around like an idiot. I really should go back.

It is all too easy to find excuses not to,which is the trap a lot of people fall into. They train for six months to a year, then don't go because they have to work, then that turns into a football match on the telly, then they are low on petrol, then they have promised their daughter to spend some more time with her, homework, parents evenings, more work commitments....I say 'they', I actually mean I, as in me.

I looked at the collection in my 'Mr Ben' box yesterday. Mr Ben, for those of you who don't know was a cartoon from the 70's and 80's – the heyday of children's TV. He visited a fancy dress shop in each episode, had a magical adventure with each outfit he tried on, and went home with a souvenir at the end.
                                             This is Mr Ben, not me.

So far my personal Mr Ben box of souvenirs has an aikido outfit, a kendo jacket and hakama, an italian foil, and a pair of well worn football boots. I will not add my tabi to that list.
         My tabi, not yet in the Mr Ben box.

My sensei keeps asking if I am coming out to play this week. 
Next time I will say yes.

Saturday, 2 April 2011

Confidence or arrogance?

So my training (or recent lack of) took on a more serious note recently and I had a lucky escape. I had the poor misfortune of being forced to use my training in a real situation. I will spare you the details, but it did leave me shaken, although thankfully in one piece. My two assailants also escaped relatively unharmed, a bit dazed and confused, a couple of very bruised egos but no broken bones, which is a good thing. 

There is a cautionary tale hidden in here somewhere. The whole episode was pointless, and need not have happened. It could also have quite easily got out of hand, and either I could have been hurt, or one or both of my assailants could have been injured. Instead of bruised egos we could have been talking about broken bones with someone stood in front of a judge, all because of a dispute over right of way on a footpath. Perhaps it was my fault. Perhaps instead of taking my dog back to the car, then returning and questioning the two as to why they felt the need to behave so antisocially I should have just shrugged it off and driven home. Then again perhaps my actions will lead them to think twice before they throw their weight around again. Maybe not.

The danger is this: Martial arts, whatever the discipline, tends to instil in it’s students a confidence and a a certain level of arrogance. Whilst this can be a good thing, it can also lead to those students actually putting themselves in positions where they have to test their ability in real life situations. Perhaps we should reflect on this and to paraphrase Mr Myagi realise that we learn a martial art so that we don’t have to fight.

Then again part of me actually enjoyed it.

Perhaps I am getting the hang of ‘fire’ now :)