The Reluctant Ninja
I am beyond excited to announce that the manuscript for my next book, The Reluctant Ninja, has just been turned over to my fantastic editor, Donna Mazzittelli of Merry Dissonance Press. Here is a sneak peek.
I unlocked the door to the dojo and stepped across the threshold. I removed my shoes, respectfully bowed to the Kamidana and walked across the mat toward the dressing rooms. My stocking feet whispered softly across the padded floor, barely making a sound as I crossed the length of the mat. At the end of the mat, I turned, bowed again, and made my way to the ladies dressing room. My gi was hanging neatly on the hanger with my belt draped across its shoulders, exactly where I left it one year earlier. The only change was the thick layer of dojo dust that covered my uniform. It was time to take it home. My martial arts journey was over.
Over the past fourteen years I have had many tests of faith. Some were mere bumps in the road that were to be expected in any type of training, but others were so devastating and insurmountable that they almost took me down for good. I often thought about quitting, but the seductive pull of the art always drew me back to the mat. I couldn’t deny the call to train, and to follow a path that was ordained to be mine. Although it was a path that I never wanted, nor was it one that I chose.
The truth is that I never went looking for the martial art of Ninpo Tai Jutsu. Instead, the art came looking for me. Once it found me, it would not take “no” for an answer. Apparently there was some divine intervention, personal spirit guide or some other force that was assigned to me without my knowing about it. And without my permission. However, the personal transformation which I experienced over the course of the past fourteen years was nothing short of phenomenal.
At the spry age of sixty-one, I was certainly strong enough, fit enough, and still had the spirit to continue training. But, I was pretty sure my journey had come to an end. It was a decision that had been weighing heavily on my mind for the past year, during a much needed sabbatical from the dojo to see if I missed it. I did, but not enough to go back to training on a regular basis. It wasn’t the training that was the problem. It was the expectations and responsibilities that came along with being one of the highest-ranking students.
I was expected to help run the dojo, clean the dojo, teach classes, help with marketing and advertising, recruit new students, and still pay the monthly tuition. It was an interesting business model, one which was instituted after my teacher moved to Hawaii to follow his dream, leaving the inmates to run the asylum while he supervised from a distance.
He did come back to check on the martial arts school he had opened over twenty years earlier, and to smack us around a bit, both literally and figuratively. After four years of trying to train and flourish under this model, I was growing extremely jealous of the time the dojo was taking away from my personal and professional life. After all, I had my own business to run, and my own clients to take care of. And they were paying me for my time, rather than the other way around.
After taking a year off and weighing the pros and cons, I made my decision. It was a tough decision to make, and one that kept me up at night. Ninpo was a huge part of me and my life. And it had given me a sense of strength, power, and self-confidence I had never thought possible. And quite honestly, it even made me feel downright sexy. Go figure.
If I quit, would Ninpo still be a part of me? Would I still have the spirit and the self-confidence I gained from training? Or would I lose it for good if I quit? Because if I did quit there was no going back. That was made quite clear to me after being accepted into the coveted instructor’s program several years earlier. Once you leave, you’re gone for good.
With my gi and my belt tucked under my arm, I sighed and left the dressing room, stopping along the way to check the bathroom to make sure it was clean. There was a time when I was the only one who cleaned it and wondered if anyone else had stepped up to the job during my absence. I shuddered to think that it had been left untouched for a year, so it was a relief to see it was clean. I also checked the back door to make certain the deadbolt was locked, since some of the other instructors forgot to lock it after class. Some habits die hard.
Once my inspection was completed, I stood at the edge of the mat holding my belt in my hand for several long moments, enjoying the feel of the thick fabric and admiring the silver embroidering on the belt, indicating my level of Sho Dan. Although Sho Dan refers to the lowest level black belt rank, there were damn few students who ever achieved that high rank in our dojo. And I was the first woman in our dojo to earn it. Who would have ever thought it possible?
I shook my head as the memories came flooding back, and again wondered if quitting was the right thing to do. If I still had my keys to the dojo, and didn’t deliver the final statement, the door still might be open to me. But no, it was time. I had a vision of the swift cut from the blade of the katana delivering a lethal blow, severing my connection to the dojo, and forever terminating my journey. My decision was made.
I sighed heavily, bowed to the Kamidana and walked across the mat to the reception area, sat down and put my shoes on. Picking up my gi and my belt, I turned to face the Kamidana to bow one final time. I paused for a long moment, staring at the shrine, reflecting on the countless times I knelt in front of it. Of the many times I tested under it. And the many times I sweated, struggled, played, failed miserably, and eventually triumphed under its watchful eye.
I also remembered the few times the Kamidana lit up and glowed with a warm bright light when I looked at it. Almost as if someone was communicating with me, giving me encouragement and direction. It felt like a form of silent communication which said, “Don’t worry—we got your back.” I used to feel a kindred spirit with the Kami, but they had stopped communicating with me a long time ago. The light from the shrine had gone cold, dull, and silent. It was time to go.
I bowed one last time and turned to leave. However, when I turned, a flicker of light caught my eye. Confused, I turned back toward the Kamidana. Light glowed from it, sending rays of light shooting and dancing across the room. The Kami had come back to life and were communicating with me once again. And it sent a clear message. A slow smile spread across my face as I realized what it meant. With a face that glowed with respect and understanding, I bowed one final time, and said in a strong voice, “Arigato gozaimashita!”
My journey wasn’t over. It had just taken a different path. It was time—time for me to tell my story. The story of how a terrified and traumatized middle-aged princess transformed herself into a warrior queen. I carefully locked the door to the dojo, dropped the keys in the mailbox, and walked away.