He didn't get where he is today by stealing somebody else's catchphrase.

The reluctant ninja

It's nearly a year since I attained my black-belt, an achievement that still hasn't entirely sunk in. Believe me, I’m just as surprised as you are. A decade ago, if you’d ever told me that I would’ve achieved such heady levels in a sport, of all things, I would have poo-pooed you completely - such activities were never really my forte. From a young age I was a numbers person, which led me into computing and geekdom. My physical education teacher always said that I "lacked confidence" in sport. No doubt they were right, but I'd also blame that on a healthy lack of respect, combined with what I considered to be uninspiring lesson. The right teachers can enthuse virtually anyone. A whistle-blowing sadist stood in the middle of a field in his woolies on a cold winters day does not. You score a D-, Mr Physical Education Teacher - must try harder.

My occasional disbelief at such an achievement in part has meant that I've kept my feet well and truly fixed to the ground. A black-belt doesn’t construct a magical force-field around you, nor does it work like an insurance policy. We’re all capable of receiving a big fat a punch on the nose, no matter how much you think otherwise.

Another popular misconception is that having a black-belt makes you invincible - that once this goal has been attained there is nothing left to do. You’re granted the power to crack bricks with bare hands and kick through planks as if they were made of balsa. You should be able to fly through the air like Hong-Kong Phooey and geotag the position of every opponent in the room so that you can knock them out with a single blind punch.


It's taken me about six years to reach the level I have now, and now I realise how little I know. For me, the real learning starts now. You can learn a martial-arts technique, but can you apply it with 100% success to everyone you encounter? Should you even attempt to apply it to 100% of the people you encounter? Chances are that you shouldn’t.

These questions are only answered through practice - years of the stuff. I'm pleased to say that I can’t contemplate the thought of a future grading for at least another year - and that's conditional on me being able to get enough practice in. The gaps between each grading have gradually become longer and longer - and rightly so. This is the way it should be.

However we dress martial-arts up, it exists for one primary reason that being self-defence. For all those years of choking, blocking, kicking, punching, throwing and sweating, the test of your capabilities in the real world will probably be over in about five seconds - and it won't be pretty. No matter how much we dress up a fight, it will not look choreographed and kick-ass. It will probably involve blood, broken bones and pain - and for this reason, amongst others, the best form of self-defence is to never get into a fight in the first place. Run away if necessary. Yes, you heard what I said – run away.

“What sort of a second-rate ninja are you?”, I hear you cry. The answer to that one is simple - I’m the reluctant one, someone who knows that actually if I decided to exercise half of the techniques I know on the person in the street I’d be free from a pasting, but facing a GBH or manslaughter charge instead. Whilst dojos are full of lovely bouncy mats, people don’t bounce well on paving-slabs. One must exercise discretion. Only the psychologically unbalanced meat-head loves a good fight.

So if you don’t mind, I’ll keep plodding along in my own special way. I’m happy to have found a sport that I truly enjoy and if it helps me in my day-to-day life, then that’s great. Of course, there’s a lot to be said about being able to (try to) knock the block off your friends and still have respect at the end - such is dojo etiquette – I wouldn’t want it any other way.
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