Why do we practice our Ninjutsu outside? a rant


April 7, 2013
Yossi Sheriff

I just read a question on Quora that asked about the problems with the roundhouse kick. There were some good answers.

But,
What amazed me is that the accurate analysis provided by my peers lacked a fundamental aspect.

First, to the point – For my students and me, the most fundamental flaw of the roundhouse kick, is that it compromises the fighter’s balance, especially over imperfect terrain. That doesn’t mean we don’t use it, we do use a modified roundhouse in Ninjutsu, it means we refrain from using a Mawashi kick on precarious surfaces.

But there’s more, why? because my peers’ answers reveal a deeper flaw.

Now, I guess that most of the people reading this online, live in cities and put their feet on pavement or floor more than they step on turf, gravel or rock. but I am really sorry to see such a big part our heritage evaporate.

What disappeared from our culture and most martial arts, and what I am desperately trying to save in my dojo, is the connection to nature. By nature I do not mean downloading a nice desktop view of the Alps or even an actual wonderful breath of fresh air in the park.

Nature begins with being outside, walking outside.
AKBAN desert gathering 2012

I want to be clear on this – all the New Age jargon about connecting to nature makes me sick. It makes me sick because one can imagine anything and this imagination can then be an excuse to abstain from activity. So if one imagines she is “one with nature” because she just bought an organic iPad bamboo cover, she’ll be less inclined to actually poop outside and cover it.

But what does pooping outside have to do with martial arts? you might ask. Everything. It’s the small details that betray an instability. Instability of the roundhouse kick on gravel, instability and unsustainability of our technological culture, instability of what many martial arts have become – a gym activity, boxed existence.

Not so long ago everyone walked, walked to bring water, walked to see friends, walked outside. In ancient Japanese budo, pupils used to walk for days just to reach a teacher. And I am not even starting on the necessity of moving on foot, to this day, for soldiers. Walking outside is a part of the human heritage that is becoming a novelty. Just as we preserve ancient martial traditions we should preserve this outside backdrop. The outside was once ingrained in our lives and so taken for granted, now we need to make the effort.

And it’s not just the therapy of walking, let’s go back to the details. Not so long ago everyone used to crouch down when going to the toilet, Moses, King David, Mark Twain, everyone. Now we sit on a toilet seat, so our bodies forgot to squat. I see students coming to my dojo who can not squat, that is bad not only for their health ( 1, 2, 3 ) that makes proper stance in Ninjutsu impossible.

And there’s more harm done, not only on a physical abilities level but on an ethical level.
Only kings were carried on a palanquin and defecated on seats. Now we are all kings or, more accurately, about 40% are kings and everybody else, from the child laborer to the domestic help are paying the real price. Everything serves us because we force it too. We force the environment, even though because of global warming, temporarily, we force the temperature of the air, we force people, far away, to do our bid. And, like the steak eater who never butchered a cow, we think there is no force involved because we never actually sliced a cow’s neck.

So on many levels, just being outside, moving outside, without vehicles should be top priority because of mental health, physical health, martial abilities and ethics of mutual interdependence.

Grappling outdoors

Martial arts appeal to something real, the feeling of being protected by one’s own ability, but the backdrop that was in the past to our craft, the outside, is gone now. That backdrop of being outdoors, living and practicing in a non airconditioned environment, on gravel, on rocks, that is disappearing now – it’s a novelty.

Though more people now live in cities (4) than rural areas, most of our planet is not covered in concrete. We should make every effort to spend time outside, to practice outside, to take only what we need.
This is ingrained in my craft but should be so in many other crafts.

When more is done outside, less is wasted, more insights gained and simple things like the proper kick at the proper settings are obvious.

Rainbow at the AKBAN desert gathering