Well, it’s official.
I’m a Ninja.
I suppose to really be considered a Ninja you have to possess some sort of Nth degree of black belt, whereas mine would be the lowest ranking belt possible. I wonder what that would be. White? Pink? A shoestring? Duct tape?
However low I’m regarded on the Ninja scale, most of you reading this are even lower. Unless, of course, you’re my wife, my sister, or Marci, the lucky winner and mother of five who joined us.
The Ninja lessons came courtesy of Pepperidge Farm because, if it wasn’t already obvious, Ninjas are synonymous with snack crackers. They had offered to cover the cost of the lesson to help introduce their new line of Jingos, a bold new snack with a bold new crunch and bold new flavors for those willing to boldly go where no bold cracker eater had ever gone before.
And it worked. We had an absolute blast and I have found new ways to enjoy these snack crackers now that I’m one with the Ninja.
In the short time we were at the Bujinkan Dojo, we learned how to roll, grapple, throw stars, punch, kick, and dodge sword blows. While not nearly as fast as we need to be if we want to properly dismantle humans, I’m now confident that I’ll be able to hold my own if my 92-year old grandmother and I ever throw down.
The Pre-Battle Eats
Our adventure started off at Rosie’s Bistro Italiano, which for those who don’t know, is a quaint little Italian bistro owned by Rosie. One thing I noticed after walking into the restaurant is that Rosie likes nudity as much as she likes pasta. While totally clean, inviting, and tastefully decorated, the walls were adorned with classically-styled paintings of topless Italian babes. Some were looking longingly at fruit while their breasts were exposed (Italians LOVE their fruit) and some were just posing for a very fortunate artist.
If you ever go to Rosie’s in Yonkers, watch how smooth the men folk are as they choose a seat facing any wall. Also take note at how many times they have to be reminded that there’s a menu and a wife in front of them.
Across from our table hung a fine painting of a nearly naked woman standing in front of another woman who was clearly wondering why this nearly naked woman was after her apple. Fortunately, my sister and I share the same warped sense of humor, thereby resulting in one of my favorite photos from the excursion:
Considering this was our wedding anniversary weekend, I’m going to title each of these sections accordingly. For nothing says “I Love You” more than a crushing blow to the spleen with a wooden katana sword.
With This Fist, I Thee Shred
With our bellies full from Italian food and our brains full from Italian eye candy, we left the restaurant and drove up the road to the dojo. In accordance with their stealthy nature, Yonkers-based Ninjas train in a Catholic church, right next door to the Montessori school where the townies raise spiritual mini-Ninjas.
We were welcomed by two of the Sensei’s assistants (or perhaps apprentices) where we were asked to change into our Ninja garb and sign papers stating that we wouldn’t hold them liable if we left the dojo with an injury or a toe tag. I specifically liked the line that had me initial next to the statement that they’re not responsible should I participate in an activity that “causes my demise.” It seemed a bit vague but that line resonated with me throughout the lesson. I didn’t want to give three Ninjas capable of killing me with their pinky knuckle an excuse to off me because I was participating in the activity of interrupting them.
Will You Parry Me?
Our very first lesson demonstrated how to avoid a sword attack, assuming our assailant thrusts downward at the speed of snail. Where untrained humans would just get out of the way, Ninjas get out of the way with flair. The key is to subtly parry out of harm’s way while bracing your hand against your enemy’s wrist.
I’m not sure what to do after this because we moved on to the next lesson but I do remember him saying something about taking away the enemy’s sword and using it against him. So, remember that.
To test our newly acquired sword-dodging skills, Sensei Joe hooked us all up with wooden Katana swords. Like children on Christmas morning we fawned over our weapons and contemplated who to strike down first. Knowing all I’ve done to my sister and wife over the years I was pretty sure the dojo would be using the “my own demise” defense in short order. For the next several minutes we practiced killing each other with sharp thrusts and downswings. I learned that the key to a successful attack is to circumvent the defense we’d just learned. They never stood a chance.
Rolling Down the Aisle
Once we mastered the art of sword play, it was time to roll around on the mat like preschoolers. While the instructors rolled with grace and cunning accuracy, we more or less flopped around for their amusement. The concept was fine, it was the execution that sucked.
The idea is to squat low enough to the ground so that your buttocks are parallel to your ankles…something my body hasn’t been able to do since I was nine. Then, you tuck your head into your chest, pull your arm in, and thrust into a smooth roll before standing in attack position.
Marci was clearly the champion of the attack roll. She grasped it. Yet, in our defense, she has five children and is far more practiced in the art of being elusive. She tucked, rolled, and sprang up ready to inflict pain.
Heather’s attempts were pretty feeble although she does have the excuse of a spinal fusion. Still, she just kind of rolled onto her side like an opossum playing dead. It was adorable.
My sisters technique wasn’t awful but she let out some sort of hamster-like wheeze with every roll. It looked great, it’s just hard to feel intimidated when a tall blonde is letting out war whimpers as she approaches.
As for me? Well, I learned to eliminate rolling from any future attack strategy. First, it took me a good four or five seconds just to crouch…roughly 3 or 4 seconds too long. The Sensei’s request to bend more at the knees was met with a warning twitch from my hamstrings, so before they snapped, I tucked my head, let out an old man grunt (typically only heard when settling onto, or rising from, a couch), and then flopped to the ground as though I’d been punched by the hand of God. Had there been video, I would have been making some serious pay offs to keep it suppressed.
Heather, Lori, and Marci did their best to offer up encouragement, but they were clearly patronizing me. They’re mothers. Giving gold stars in the midst of failure is what they do.
Forget Rice, Throw Punches
One of the greatest things I learned through the Ninja lessons is how to punch or prod the lower rib with an extended thumb. Try it on your partner when he or she is sleeping. The key is to form a fist where your thumb is barely extending over the knuckles. You don’t have to punch very hard. In fact, when demonstrating this to our 11-year old son, I merely had to apply pressure in an upward motion. Once you connect with the underside of that lowest rib, their body will fold like Origami. It’s like…magic.
We spent the next ten minutes punching and kicking bags while being taught the proper way to inflict maximum pain. Let me tell you, if I ever have to face off with a blue spongy rectangle, I’m gonna tear it to pieces.
Who’s Gonna Catch the Shuriken?
If you catch the bouquet at a wedding, you’ll be the next one to marry. Catch the Shuriken in a dojo, and you’ll be the next one to bleed. Shurikens are those sharp little throwing stars you see being tossed around by Ninjas in action flicks. Granted, ours were made of rubber, but throwing them was so much fun.
Sensei Joe showed us how to properly transport them, hold them, and throw them. Ensuring blood-free fingers for us and blood-filled pain for our enemies. He propped the punching bag up against the wall and had us fire away. Out of my six stars, four struck the mark, and two barely missed. Marci and my sister had mixed results but it was my wife’s Shuriken attack that left me with the most indelible memory.
Heather has always been challenged when it comes to throwing things. Don’t get me wrong, she’s super fit and athletic, she’s simply a full-blooded soccer player and they never used their hands. Even with frisbees, she just can’t throw them with any degree of accuracy. They kind of bank off to one side and then roll in circles on the ground. Because she hates to be bad at anything, she tries harder and throws harder, but the end result is just a larger and larger circle.
When it came time for her to throw the Shuriken, it was the same result. The first flew off to the left, missing the target by mere yards. The second went in the exact opposite direction almost impaling an instructor who mistakenly thought he was well outside the range of fire. The third ricocheted off the ceiling and the final three just kind of bounced their way towards the target before laying softly on the ground about four feet away. Had it been an actual battle, Heather still would have won, but only because her opponent would have died from laughter.
Overall, it was an amazing day. The instructor was incredible and took extra time to make sure we were nailing the concepts. He even presented each of us with a set of Shuriken throwing stars so we could practice the art of small-bladed warfare at home with our children. For all I know, Heather is still in the living room trying to master these things.
Sensei Joe did make one mistake, however. He gave me a sword. Not a wooden sword…a metal one. When combined with my throwing stars and grappling knowledge, it’s obvious that the word is getting around. People must know there’s a bona fide Ninja in town because when I walk through the village with my new Katana sword, I tend to have the sidewalk all to myself.
I want to thank Pepperidge Farm for covering the entire event, from the lovely nudity-infused meal to the Ninja lessons. I also want to thank Sensei Joe and his assistants at the Bujinkan Dojo because they really made the entire experience a special one. As well, I want to thank Farmboy Graphics here in the Finger Lakes for agreeing to print just four of my custom T-shirt designs after I thought of the idea three hours before closing time.
In the end, all four of us were properly Ninjafied and those around us became just a little more scared.
As they should be.