- Can you teach me to be a ninja?
- Do you teach weapon use, or just hand to hand?
- Is it hard? Can anyone do it? Do women train too?
- Do you spar? Is there live training? Do you work with a resisting opponent?
- ...kill people (all the time)?
- ...wear black masks and stuff?
- ...train outside?
- ...ask students to make some sort of promise?
- What should I wear?
Do you really...
Just starting training
Q: Can you teach me to be a ninja?
A: This is perhaps one of the most frequently-asked questions we get -- enough to place it at #1. The short answer is "it depends on what you mean". The longer, perhaps better thought-out answer is that while we can teach you ninjutsu, we can teach you the philosophies held by bygone practitioners of ninjutsu and their peers, and we can even teach you many of the skills and weapons/tools employed by those people collectively called "ninja", we wouldn't suggest you go out and start changing your business cards just yet...
The period in history during which the ninja were active is very different from today, and the challenges they faced (and, consequently, the skills they developed) are quite different than those of the present. It's extremely unlikely that a distant feudal lord is going to send an army of sword-wielding warriors to your home, and it's even less likely that you'll need to scuttle across rooftops in order to gather some critical piece of information for your local daimyō. The ninja portrayed in fiction are even more fantastic -- the feats some ninja accomplished must have seemed like "magic" to people at the time, a misconception the ninja would undoubtedly have encouraged, but since then they've been attributed even more amazing and impossible abilities (like freezing opponents solid, making clones of themselves, and even skateboarding through sewers to have pizza with an enigmatic rat). Net-net, you're not a cartoon character, you probably shouldn't expect to be able to do cartoon-character things.
This isn't generally what people want to hear when they ask this question, but we don't want to set any false expectations. All that said, however, the kinematics of the human body haven't changed much in the past few thousand years, and self-defense techniques that worked just a scant few hundred years ago still work quite well today. Weapons have changed, but adaptation was a hallmark of the ninja. And modern readers of Sun Tzu can attest that philosophies of warriors from days long past can, in fact, apply to present situations, if the reader is willing to expand his or her mind. In short, if by asking to be taught to "be a ninja" you're looking for a system which can give you discipline, confidence, an effective means of self-defense for people of differing body styles and strengths, and a philosophy which you might find helpful in today's world...then yes, THAT we can do. We may even teach you to scuttle, but probably not across rooftops. It's too cliché.
Q: Do you teach weapon use, or just hand to hand?
A: We teach both traditional and modern weapon use, as well as hand-to-hand techniques. While we encourage students to seek and adopt a weapon style which particularly suits them, we feel strongly that a practitioner of this system should be able to make use of any weapon available to them -- traditional, modern, or improvised -- as naturally as without weapons at all.
Q: Is it hard? Can anyone do it? Do many women train?
A: Training in a martial art, like any serious pursuit, takes discipline. The relative difficulty of individual exercises varies from person to person, but the effort required to "stick with it" is always there. Mental and physical fatigue can, and almost certainly will, happen...but the rewards are well worth it.
We believe that just about anyone can become a serious practitioner of this system, given time and effort. Ninjutsu is less concerned with raw strength than some other common martial arts, making it an effective form of self-defense for a variety of body types. Of course age, injury, and general fitness level will all play a part in your progression; you should discuss any specific concerns you have with your instructor so that they might help you set realistic goals.
The male:female ratio will vary from group to group and from year to year; however, a woman is every bit as capable of becoming accomplished in this system as a man. In fact, because many men have a bad habit of falling back on brute strength to "force" techniques rather than learning proper form, some women have reported having an easier time learning new movements than their male counterparts.
Q: Do you spar? Is there live training? Do you work with a resisting opponent?
A: Yes. You'll get different answers to this question from different Bujinkan training groups, but we at Funin Dojo believe that techniques, once learned, should be practiced against a variety of types of attack and with someone actively resisting you in order to figure out the difference between kata and application. This training can take many different forms, from focused drills centering around a particular lock or technique all the way up to open randori. No points are scored, and bouts are typically "reset" when some pre-defined condition is met (opponent taps out, is locked and controlled, etc). As with any part of the class, the instructor will let the students know what the goals / constraints are for that particular exercise.
The oft-questioned "slow and unresisted" method is how most students will first experience the techniques in order to assure some measure of safety and teach proper movement, positioning, distance, and control. While there is no hard kyu requirement, in general, a student probably should not expect to be sparring until they've gained at least some level of familiarity with breakfalls, escapes, counters, and some of the techniques themselves.
Q: Do you really kill people (all the time)?
A: You've been spending too much time reading websites like this. We do not kill people, cut off heads, or flip out when someone drops a spoon. We are, however, totally awesome.
Q: Do you really wear black masks and stuff?
A: No. Practically speaking, if ninja were about "stealth", then there would be no worse way to go about it than to run around wearing black masks in plain sight in the modern day -- it tends to attract a bit of attention. However, you will see some people wearing a balaclava, or ski mask, in the winter time. It doesn't mean they're a ninja, it means they're cold.
See "What should I wear?" for more information on attire.
Q : Do you really train outdside?
A: Most of our groups, yes. While some have secured an alternate "indoor site" for when the weather gets really nasty, for the most part, training outdoors (year round) is a Funin Dojo hallmark. There are a couple good reasons for this:
- Cost -- Our instructors hold full-time jobs, and training is something they do because they love doing it, not to earn an income. Training outdoors helps us keep costs down, and get good information to people who need it, rather than just those who can afford it.
- Variety in training -- The natural environment constantly presents new training opportunities, and the dynamic weather and surface conditions help the students train and be comfortable moving in more real-world situations than one would find inside a training hall.
- Godai, shizen -- Ask your instructor.
Q: Do you really ask students to make some sort of promise?
A: Yes. Another Funin Dojo hallmark, we will typically ask a new student to make some sort of verbal "commitment" to the group after a few weeks of regular training. The nature of that promise is up to the student, but it usually takes the form of vowing to train hard, practice regularly, and to stick with the training group until some goal (often, a shodan, or black belt) is met.
The reasoning behind this is simple. Training in a martial art is difficult, and takes discipline and dedication -- an external commitment or goal can be extremely helpful, particularly when people get "too busy", or the training gets "too hard". Some schools might ask a student to pre-pay for up to a year, which itself constitutes a commitment and motivator, albeit a financial one. Funin Dojo asks the person to affirm out loud, in front of their new friends and training partners, their intentions to train seriously and work towards a goal -- this helps them motivate themselves when they might otherwise give up, and lets others know they can be counted on.
Q: What should I wear?
A: While attire varies from group to group (and season to season), most of us stick to the standard Bujinkan uniform of a heavyweight black do-gi (keikogi) and appropriate footwear (ranges from athletic shoes to combat boots for outside wear, and cloth or leather soled tabi for indoor seminars). However, being a practical bunch, we've seen people use everything ranging from camo fatigues (easy to obtain, extremely durable) to the latest in hi-tech sportswear. It really depends.
For first-timers, wear comfortable workout clothes that you're not afraid to get dirty. Do not wear shorts. Many of Funin Dojo's groups choose to train outdoors, so please keep that (and the weather) in mind. Your instructor will let you know where to get anything more specialized you need.
Important note: Please, PLEASE do not go out and buy some sort of "ninja uniform" (shinobi shozoku) or tabi and then show up hoping to use them. The groups who use the do-gi typically use a heavyweight, well-stitched variety meant to hold up to serious punishment. Bringing a cheaper "costume" will only result in it getting torn, and your having to buy new clothes. Save yourself the time and money, please (The same goes for tabi).