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  • Writer's pictureNachum Kaplan


“Survive” is our dojo’s motto. Ninjutsu is not a sport. There are no competitions or competitive influences in our training. Our aim is to survive and we must develop the intent required to survive and a willingness to do whatever is necessary to survive.

Most well-adjusted people find it difficult to hurt somebody else. Unfortunately, this decency gives a real aggressor – the sort of person for whom violence is a daily stock in trade – an enormous advantage. Many thugs are able to threaten and intimidate others precisely because they know their victims are unable to offer serious resistance. Recognizing such people is the bully’s skill. Even someone skilled in the mechanics of self protection, such as punches and kicks, will find it difficult to overcome a serious attacker if they cannot find within themselves a willingness to hurt their attacker.

The ideal frame of mind for dealing with an attack – a survival attitude – is a state of mind devoid of emotional extremes in which you are willing to do whatever is necessary to survive. Forget the fantasy – real self-defense is dirty, messy, nasty and disturbing and we need to prepare for that reality.

The aim should not be to defeat an attacker, look good to the opposite sex, be a hero or indulge any other fantasy. The aim should be to survive any encounter that you may find yourself in. If you survive and go home in one piece, you win. If running away enables you to survive, then run away. If hiding enables you to survive, then hide. If talking gets you out of a bad situation, then talk. But if you have to fight in order to survive, then you must acknowledge what is at stake and fight with a willingness do whatever is necessary to survive.

The question is how to develop this attitude. I believe that three steps are involved in developing it.

Recognize that your life is of value: The first step in developing this attitude is to understand that underpinning it is a strong sense of self esteem. You can protect yourself only if you consider yourself worth protecting. Once you start to value your life, and those of your loved ones, and realize the importance of what is at stake, it becomes easier, even natural, to develop a survival attitude.

Practice the mindset: Developing a survival attitude is something that you must work on. Our techniques are designed to hurt our attackers. That is the point of them. Whenever you are practicing techniques you must imagine yourself really stopping your opponent. You may be training slowly and softly with a view to mastering the finer points of a technique, but in your mind you must be damaging and stopping your attacker. That may be the reality of a fight and you must be prepared for it and train for it. It will not just come about by itself.

Train with an intensity that matches the mindset: Training slowly is very important when learning techniques. After all, if you cannot perform a technique properly slowly there is no way you can perform it properly quickly. However, harder training is also important. Sometimes you must train as if you were really in a fight. This sort of training is not just about being able to practice defending against hard and fast attacks, but also in learning to strike a fellow human being. You must develop the willingness to hit people by actually doing so. This should not be confused with overly fast or reckless training, which achieves nothing. This is why, as discussed previously, slow and hard training can be so valuable. This is what the dojo is for. It is a place where we can practice such things in a controlled, supportive but still extremely challenging environment.

These processes will help you learn to turn a survival mindset on when required. This is important. If you want to remain a well-balanced person you cannot spend your days consumed by violent thoughts. That is why the survival attitude demands a state of mind devoid of emotional extremes. Without these, extreme emotions such as hate, rage and fear will take over. You need to be aware of the reality of violent confrontation. But once you know that awful reality and know how to switch into the appropriate mindset to deal with it, you are then liberated from dwelling in such a dark place. You are now free to enjoy your life to the full, with a strong sense of self-worth, and with the added security of knowing that you can call on your survival attitude should the need arise. Now that’s a sort of life worth living.

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