Shihan Natascha Morgan has been training in marital arts for 33 years. The 15th Dan had created a legendary reputation in that time, inspiring every student of budo lucky to see her in action.
At the Kunoichi Taikai, I talked to her about Judo, training SWAT teams, and how budo saved her life.
“I started martial arts at the age of five.
I did 11 years of Judo, and then I had a three-year break when my father passed away. I was still very young and I went a bit crazy; I left home and lived on the streets. I didn’t train as such in martial arts then, but obviously there were many other lessons in survival.
When I started training in Bujinkan I was tough, I was very hard, and I was very, very strong. But really it’s what took me off the streets.
I met my husband [Brinley Morgan] through the training, so I travelled with him as he was teaching internationally. Then I started teaching myself. My husband was a royal marine commando, so he’s got a lot of access to the security world.
I taught in America; SWAT teams, DEA teams. These boys are like inverted triangles, their upper-arms were probably as thick as both my thighs together. So for them to have someone my size, and a woman on top of that, to want to teach them something; they were very stand-offish.
There were times where I had to prove myself. I didn’t have to do that often. I’d just have to do it once, and then that usually did the job. I was never intimidated by them, it was more the men who had an issue with me being a woman. And that’s what it was: it was their issue. Usually I was underestimated, which is great.
I still believe what we learn is relevant, especially as a female martial artist. Look at the Second World War, the SOE [Special Operations Executive]. A lot of them were women, they had to use kunoichi tactics. It’s not something that we train for, but it’s something we may have to do to defend our loved ones someday. We’re living in a time of turmoil.
Our martial arts has evolved. Shuriken are illegal now in most countries, but it doesn’t mean you couldn’t pick up a phone and throw it. It’s the technique, it’s the principle.
There have been many phases in my life. There were times when I was ill; I was given a year to live. I lost all my strength, who I thought I was, who I knew I was. I drew from the training to learn how to deal with it. I actually became a lot tougher, even though I got weaker. I kept training all the way through, even when people said to me I was a ghost. It got me through.
As our teacher Soke says, you fall down seven times, you get up eight.”