Martial Arts

You go girl: trying a martial art


There’d probably be something wrong with you if you weren’t intimidated waiting outside your first ever martial art class.

God help me, mine was on a wet February night when the silhouettes of regular students outside the door seemed even bulkier and more menacing in shadow. I stood silently recounting the website’s words – ‘strikes’, ‘punches’, ‘locks’, ‘throws’ – with rising panic.

The good news is that it was the only uncomfortable five minutes I ever had in Bujinkan Budo Taijutsu.

Budo seminar in Japan
Aileen at training event in Japan

Those menacing shadows turned out to be friendly, welcoming, even sweet – but more willing to impart said throws and punches than I feared outside. The difference is the easy, smiling camaraderie threaded throughout. It makes sense – you can’t stand there and be bruised and bent and struck by someone you don’t like and who doesn’t like you. A couple of weeks ago another student bit my arm and all I could do is laugh. He shrugged. We moved on.

Way before the, eh, biting though, there are the basics. I started with the fundamentals everything else is built on: form (kamae), rolling (ukemi) and break falls. Grasp them, practise them; rinse, repeat.

Potential beginners should know, and my instructor won’t be pleased at me saying it, but you don’t have to be at your ideal fitness level to start this. It’s too easy to put these things off until you can run the four-minute mile, or bench 40kg again, or the kids go to college so you can put in a gym.

Do. Not. Wait.

Bujinkan is the activity that will inspire you to get fit, not the other way around. I get pangs of thinking ‘if only I started this when I was 20 – what an inky black belt I’d have now and such wicked party tricks’.

Start now. And if you are 20, expect me to take out some of my frustration on you.

And there is a whole Bujinkan world outside the dojo window. Ireland is spoilt, and Dublin in particular, with clubs packed with experience and talent. Seminars and workshops pop up often. The new words and moves I (literally) threw around after were very gratifying. One very senior female instructor I saw at a seminar moved with such deadly grace I was almost inspired to practice 12 hours a day in a basement, Old Boy style.

Which brings me to an important point for all the ladies out there. Bujinkan is not a testosterone-fuelled boys club. You are not born at a disadvantage to it. Bring your built-in agility, flexibility, and ego-free mindset and you’re off to a good start.

The experience of being able to throw a man, twice your weight and three times your strength, over your shoulder is incredible. I mean, ridiculously enjoyable. You’re going to want to do it again immediately. Which of course, you can.

I haven’t been able to put my finger on exactly why this is so fun yet. Why I wince and gasp in pain through laughter. Why I leave the pub early for it, stay up late reading about it, and am itching to write about it.

Maybe there is a little something wrong with me after all.

Meh. At least I’m fitting in.

This post first appeared on the Jishin Dojo blog.