Walk like a Ninja?
People will never cease to associate Ninjutsu training with blowguns, black outfits, throwing stars, and smoke bombs, but in small steps I enjoy exposing my students to a larger perspective on training that is as fun as it is educational and rewarding. Kids even sign up for LOTSWild’s Ninja Camp thinking they will suddenly inherit deadly skills of ancient stealth warriors, and parents think it sounds fun, and a dozen area Karate schools have Ninja Camps or something similar that has nothing to do with Japan, let alone Ninjas – so let’s discover one aspect of our training! Kutsukae, or “Changing your footwear.”
Like many things in Japanese culture and language this term can be interpreted in various ways. It can, in fact, be as straightforward as changing shoes to mask already laid tracks. It can also be wearing shoes that mimic another animal, which cannot easily fool a good tracker, but it can throw off a novice. Some clever folks have even made shoes that stamped a backwards shape into the ground making it look like the walker was moving in the opposite direction. Like all things, practice makes better, experience teaches hidden lessons.
“Changing your footwear” can mean much more than these simple tricks. Any hunter knows the importance of stalking, and it doesn’t take a creative genius to find a small stick and scratch a squirrel pattern in the leaves, or make turkey scratches to fool an approaching deer and cover our own slight sound moving through the woods. There are many types of footstep methods that can be explored in a variety of games and drills, then tested in higher stakes situations that raise the heart rate and teach how adrenaline truly challenges us. Nukiashi is a very quiet method of walking and highlights the many correlations between the Japanese Shinobi and native American Scouts. Quiet walking may be different depending on what it is we are walking on! Wooden surfaces, decks, steps, gravel, grass, leaves, dirt, rock, in water, on rooftops, all have variations that need attention in technique and foot placement. We also have Shuriashi shuffling steps, and Kataashioto or gimping gait. Students must learn first to walk with an injury, then hide the injury, then walk like they are trying to hide an injury. The best false-injuries to portray are ones we have actually had in the past so we know the full emotional and mental effect of that injury and not limit our actions to the physical level alone. Running, or Hashiriashi, can go in multiple directions especially in a mountain or forest environment. Different concerns might include quiet running, running within shadows, running for concealment, running quickly, running with items or weapons, or running up and down, over surfaces including rock, mud, grass, and through streams. Even Tunenoashi, or normal walking, becomes a wonderful study on a quiet afternoon in camp. What is normal walking? We watch and listen to each other and in a moment find that everyone’s normal is different. A fun game is to watch and listen to each other and then copy each other to the smallest detail in sound, personality, stepping length and raise of the foot, and so on. Emotional states greatly affect our strides, as does physical health – these are important understandings for the tracker! And How can we walk differently and embody an array of subtle internal feelings and thoughts?
If you are interested in exploring these topics further get in touch! I’d love to invite you out for a hello, or have a new visitor for a weekend clinic this Fall. We may not ever need such skills to evade a sword wielding pursuer, or to infiltrate a castle to steal vital plans, but learning to walk like a ninja is good for general awareness, fitness, flexibility, and opens our mind to a larger world that is always at our fingertips. Even as a schoolteacher I used to wear keys on my belt, but then hold them silent as I approached the room after a short absence! Students assumed I was always accompanied by the soft jangling of keys and click-click of dress shoes. Not so! For more information visit www.lotswild.com , and spend some time watching other people and animals – even without formal instruction your creativity and awareness will in time have you Walking Like a Ninja.