Thursday, June 17, 2010


At a very young age during my tutelage under him, Shihan Ronald Duncan finished instructing a lesson on some obscure ninjutsu weapon and. turning to face us, emphatically revealed, "Hands and feet are not enough."

This seemed to me to be a remarkably obvious thing to say, given that I was there to study ninjutsu which, almost by definition, focuses on a wide array of exotic Japanese weaponry. Hmm?

A few years later, as I became a candidate for my first black belt, Sensei informed me that I would have to apply for and acquire a NYC Pistol Permit as well. Huh? Throughout my entire time training, the handgun had always been held by the student in the attacker's role, the uke who represented "the Bad Guy."

The defender, tori, was the Good Guy. We were all there to be Good Guys, capable of using ancient Japanese arts to defend ourselves. Why did I need to acquire a gun permit to qualify for my black belt evaluation? Guns, I reminded Sensei, were the purview of the bad guys, the guys we learned many disarms to defend against!

In an uncharacteristically patient manner, Sensei explained:

"The ninja was a master of all the weapons of his time; to become a master of weapons you must learn to master all of weapons of your time. Of course it's great that you can use a katana, a tanto, and a hanbo expertly, but you'll rarely face those in the street. Today's cowards will use a handgun, so you must know how they work in order to contend against them.
"Nor is your knowledge of disarms enough. You must learn how to load a handgun, how to unload it, how to take it apart, and how to put it back together. Now go and apply for that permit or you'll remain a brown belt for the rest of your life!"

This was my second encounter with "The Other Side of the Coin."
At this point, readers who are navaja aficionados may be asking, "What has all this Eastern arts stuff have to with the art of la navaja?" Well, effective combat strategies know no ethnic borders!