Sunday, October 28, 2012

Why We Learn to Fight

Continuing my new habit of posting about my To-Shin Do experiences, I'd just like to say that this week was pretty awesome, in no small part because I actually made it to TWO whole classes! Thursday and Saturday both saw me, this back-woods country boy turned nerdy ninja, hanging out in downtown Detroit learning a centuries-old martial tradition. Side-bar:  when I think of everything that had to happen throughout history and in my own life in order to make this possible .. it's crazy .. and pretty cool.

Anyway, the Thursday night class was mainly concentrated on testing, which is very different from the way I am used to testing. For one thing, it seems a lot more detailed and harder, and this is a good thing. This way, I don't run the risk of wearing a black belt someday yet not really being worthy of it (and worse, not knowing it). A twist of fate or someone's administrative screw-up forced us out of our usual facility and into the building's parking garage. This was made even more interesting by two things.

The Michigan Theater turned Parking Structure
(not my picture - found it on the web)
First, the parking garage used to be a very ornate old-time theater. The ceiling in particular consists of the remnants of what was once a grand cathedral-style piece of gilded-age architecture, but is now pocked with holes and crumbling, just like the rest of the place that wasn't converted into parking spaces. Littered about the ground were tiny bits of exploded "plaster bombs" that continue to fall randomly from the once majestic ceiling turned symbol of the sort of urban decay you can only find in the Motor City. It was almost surreal - I wish I had taken a picture - it was beautiful in a morbid sort of way, like ancient ruins of something great that has long since passed.

Second, we weren't the only ones using the parking lot that night. Aside from the birds and bats nesting in the ruins, it seems some local law students decided that would be a great place to have a kegger, blast loud music, and play some game that I'm unfamiliar with, so I'll just call it "throw the bean-bag into the hole in the target thingy." It reminded me of horseshoes, but without the large metal objects and therefore a lot less clanging. These folks were pleasant enough, and a few of them even wandered over to check us out - especially once the swords came out.

After class, we had to walk directly through the party in order to reach the exit, and one of the students who had obviously had a few beers stopped us and asked us a few questions. Of course, once he learned we were ninjas in training, he wanted to arrange a "fight" with one of his co-workers and asked us if we'd like to fight this guy. My friend and I answered with an immediate "No," and the guy then asked, "well, why are  you learning how to fight, then?"

I thought that was a great question, and it deserves an answer. Why DO we learn these fighting skills, if not to fight? There are a lot of answers, really. We practice the art as a way to learn about our minds and bodies, as a way to strengthen and improve our health, and things like that. But why learn combat skills when you can get those benefits from things like Yoga or working out at the gym?

The truth for me is that we learn to fight hoping we never need to. But, if we do, we will have the skills to protect the ones we love, the ones who can't fight for themselves, the innocent stranger, and even, to some extent, to protect the same enemy who would challenge us. That last part seems contradictory, but it's true - most of the techniques we learn are geared towards ending the fight without doing any permanent damage to the attacker. The winner of a fight is the guy that gets to go home in one piece afterwards, but even an aggressor who instigates a fight has a family to go home to at the end of the day, too .. so we learn how to avoid first, and if we have to, diffuse a violent situation with minimal damage to everyone. Sure, someone might end up with a broken arm or at least a bruised ego, but it actually takes a LOT to escalate a situation to the point that would require a ninja to permanently maim or kill. It's this aspect of compassion and giving precedence to non-violent solutions that I think makes this art special and so appealing to me personally.

After all that, I realize I still haven't talked about Saturday's class! I'll try to keep it short and simple this time.  Basically, it was awesome. We had our own room back, for one thing.  I also learned I had been doing my stomp kicks wrong for pretty much the entire time I've been doing this.  I should have known, really .. my kicks always felt awkward to me and seemed to land with not as much power as they should. But .. now that the error has been detected and corrected, holy crap! I feel like I really could kick down a wall, or send a guy twice my size flying across a room if I had to, and with LESS strength and effort than I had been trying to use before.

Ninja with Sword
I also had what is probably my most extensive lesson on swordsmanship ever. I learned what is basically one technique (there are literally thousands), but I feel like the guy teaching me really knew his stuff and conveyed it to me in a way I won't forget. I didn't notice how long the session lasted, but it felt like hours based on the amount of information I was absorbing and the amount of perspiration dripping into my eyes. We stopped when it felt like my brain was going to explode, and that's just one technique. I have a long, long way to go before I master even that one weapon, let alone the assortment of others for which the ninja are so infamous. But, that's why this is a life-long journey and not just a phase or something to be "in to" for a while. Anyone can take a few months of any martial art and learn a few basics, but to really learn and master even the smallest fraction of what they have to offer takes a lifetime. Think of how long it would take you to walk a thousand miles if you only took one or two steps per week because that was as fast as you could physically go.

That proverbial journey of a thousand miles which begins with a single step never actually ends, nor should it. Rather it becomes a way of life - a part of your that's inextricable from the rest, nurturing and growing your spirit, with each step giving you the strength and perseverance you'll need for the next.