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How to save your life with some really hot rocks

Most people have heard of the four basics needs for survival: shelter, fire, water, and food.  Let's zero in on one of them...water.

I remember one of the most amazing experiences I have ever had with fresh water in the wilderness. I was about a week into a rafting trip down the Grand Canyon. One day of the trip, we went for a five mile hike up into the desert canyon. The temperature was over 110 degrees F. The dry desert landscape showed little sign of fresh water. That changed as we rounded a bend in the trail that put us at the base of a 500 foot high red wall limestone rock face. Hundreds of feet above us an enormous spring roared out of the rock wall face from a cave, landing in a large pool at the bottom of the cliff. It was the only time in my life that I have ever swam and drank the water at the same time. I can still hear the roar of the water fall. The dramatic contrast with the parched landscape surrounding this spring highlighted the value of this amazing resource.

As summer approaches, much of the northern hemisphere starts to dry out, shifting the water dynamic. Depending on the landscape, you only have a few days that you can survive without water. Less than 1% of the Earth's water is suitable for drinking. Over 3.6 million people die every year from diseases from drinking unsafe drinking water. Unless you find a spring where the water is coming directly from the ground, it is generally not safe to drink directly from most streams, lakes, ponds, or rivers. You have to purify the water.

One way to purify water is by boiling it. One way to boil water in a wilderness situation is by doing a rock boil. In this method, you heat stones in a fire, then after brushing the ashes off of them, you drop them into your container of water. You need to make sure these stones aren't "wet" stones, meaning that they aren't gathered from places like streams, or from underwater. Wet stones can be like a sponge and explode when heated.

Check out this short demonstration video where we show how to boil water with rocks.

Rock Boil

It might just save your life some day.

Keep training!

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Footwork Swift Like a Falcon

I remember staring down at my hand as the reality of the situation sank in. Literally.

A hawk’s talon was sinking into the center of my palm. I had eight additional puncture wounds on my hand that were bleeding.

I gripped the back talon, the most powerful of all the toes called the halux, with my finger and tried to slowly pull the small dagger out of my hand. This only caused the hawk to resist and tighten its grip. The searing pain was intense. After a brief struggle I was able to  wrench its grip loose. In a flurry of wings it whirled and retreated to the back corner of the modified dog kennel and jumped on its perch. I slammed the door quickly behind it.

A few minutes prior I was assisting with putting a radio transmitter on another hawk at a table in the forest. We were a team of biologists working with the endangered Hawaiian Hawk, or ‘Io as it was known. We were also studying and trying to save a critically endangered bird called the Hawaiian Crow or ‘Alala. The problem was that recently the endangered hawks had started to eat the critically endangered crows. One component of trying to solve this problem was to assess the situation first, which involved learning about where the hawks lived, moved, nested, and other natural history. Thus our reason for catching hawks that day.

My friend Peter who was a master falconer at the time with the Peregrine Fund was finishing the stitches on the harness of a hawk.

“Ken, can you go get the next hawk out of the kennel and bring it here?” he asked.

Being new to working with this bird of prey, I was more than eager. “Sure!” I said.

I looked at Peter and noticed that he was bare handed as he finished working with the current hawk, which had a falconer’s hood on its head to calm it down.

Hmmm. Well if Peter doesn’t need leather gloves, I guess I don’t either.

Big mistake.

When I arrived at the kennel, I slowly opened the door and eased my bare hand in towards the bird that was sitting on its perch to grab it.

In an instant, there was a blur of feathers and lunging feet. Within a couple of seconds it had lashed me with its talons multiple times, one of which sunk into the center of my palm.

After I removed the halux, I stared at my bleeding hand that day and thought of two things:

#1 The swiftness of its feet, and…

#2 The power of the talons from a bird of that size.

I returned sheepishly to Peter and asked, “How did you get the bird out of the cage bare handed?”

Peter laughed and said, “What, are you crazy? I wear leather gloves for that. I take them off after I get the hood on the bird.”

I still have a faint red dot in the center of my palm that reminds me of that day.

But what does this story have to do with a ninja blog?

Two things.

One- there is a history of ninjas or shinobi as master falconers.

Many ninja clans or families were falconers that were closely embedded with emperors, daimyo lords and shoguns. Falcon masters were known as Takasho or Takajo who had intimate knowledge of inner workings of people of power.

They also often had the ability to move freely outside of their homeland, something few people were able to do. These abilities allowed them to develop relationships with spies and shinobi. The Takasho could roam the territories, take in information, and report back to their superiors.

There is a recent book that details this that I highly recommend by Sean Askew titled Hidden Lineage: The Ninja of the Toda Clan. This is one of my favorite books on the history of shinobi.

The second ninja connection is the video we have for you today.

Today we have a video by Sensei Roemke that incorporates this feeling and action. It is called Shun Soku, or “footwork swift like a falcon” from Gyokko Ryu.

This is another video from our Ninja Training TV Live classes that Dai Shihan Mark Roemke teaches each week. In the previous blog he teaches another skill about henka from a recent NTTV Live class.

Get your katana ready for this one!

Shun Soku

When I practice this move I like to imagine myself as that hawk in the kennel that day with lightning swift feet, taking on a giant 20 times my size, feathers on my back, fresh mouse in my belly.

Ok, maybe not the mouse.

(Here's a blast from the past- a pic of me releasing an 'Io into the Hawaiian forest.)

 

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The Henka of Bujinkan and Banjos

I might as well get this out in the open early in this blogging series. I’m a banjo player.

I know what many of you are hearing when I say that.

The Dueling Banjos song from the movie Deliverance.

I know it’s hard for many of you to block that out of your head. It’s like saying “whatever you do, don’t picture a pink elephant right now in your mind.” It’s impossible not to.

Moving on…

What does Dueling Banjos and the art of ninjutsu have in common?

Henka. Stick with me here. It’s not about a battle or even a duel.

I picked up a banjo over 40 years ago. I was obsessed with learning at a young age. I learned the basics- key songs that everyone played, scales, fancy “licks”, and all the foundational elements that most banjo players learn.

And then I started to play with other people, which evolved to joining bands, recording, performing at festivals, and teaching- typical evolution for an obsessed musician which also included having to learn to sidestep the brunt of all the banjo jokes.

One thing would often happen after “jamming” with people. Someone would ask me after a song ended, “How did you play that part you just did in that jam?”

I would often answer, “I have no idea. I just played it.” I was in the proverbial “zone”.

When I get in the center of an improv-jamming moment, there’s things at work…

Sinking in the “zone.”

Being present in the moment.

Creativity.

Awareness of myself relative to others around me (band members I play with).

Taking a basic concept and dancing with it.

And above all, playing and having fun.

Sensei Roemke began his training in ninjutsu about the time I picked up a banjo.

The first time I watched him demonstrate the concept of henka, I immediately thought of one thing…

“He’s jamming!”

And I heard Dueling Banjos in my head. Just kidding. My sincere apologies for bringing that up again for those of you who successfully removed that earworm from your head.

Henka is a Japanese term meaning a variation of a technique. There is a LOT that can be expounded upon this concept.

For a perspective on this concept, Sensei Roemke uses a technique called omote gyaku, or “outside wrist twist” in the video below. He teaches the “basics” and then shows examples of henka for this technique.

But if you watch closely you may catch a few things that happen in the video below.

He does a different variation every time.

And, he’s laughing and smiling.

And when finished, he says, “What did I do? I don’t even know. It was a blur.”

When I work on learning a new technique on the banjo, I’ll take a specific piece of a song and slow it down to analyze it part by part until I learn it. My daughter and I do this a lot with Sensei Roemke’s ninjutsu videos. When he shifts into henka mode in the video below, I highly recommend putting your video player in slow speed format. It’s fun to watch it this way to catch all of the little subtle things he’s doing

Check it out.

Omote Gyaku Henka

I’ll leave you with what Sensei Roemke has to say about Henka.

“My perspective on the concept of using “variations” of a certain skill in your life or as a student in the Bujinkan is that you will never know what is going to happen, and thus you have to be in the present moment. If you stay totally present and don’t think too much about what is about to unfold or happen, then something beautiful will emerge from the moment you are in.”

That idea can apply to so many aspects of life, even banjo playing.

Hope you enjoyed this one. This video is an excerpt from our weekly live online adult Ninja Training TV Live online class where you can request skills and get feedback from Sensei Roemke.

Here's to health and happy henka hunting!

 

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Walk Softly and Carry a Big Stick

When I walk through the forest and look at the trees I think...

Fire-making supplies...

Food...

Syrup (I live in the northeast and just finished boiling some sugar maple sap!) and...

Rokushaku bos.

Today let's talk about one of the oldest self defense tools, a big stick, otherwise known as a rokushaku bo, or full length staff. We have a couple training videos for you today that teach some of our favorite rokushaku bo skills.

My first encounter with this training tool occurred at 4000' elevation on the southwestern slopes of the volcano Mauna Loa in the wet forests of Hawaii. We were working on methods for catching one of the rarest birds on the planet, the Hawaiian Crow, or 'Alala. There were only about a dozen birds left in the wild at the time. But that’s another story.

We were hosting two guests from India, who were there to teach us some ancient bird catching techniques. Our visitors were an elder father and his son. The father was in his 80's and didn’t speak English. His son was our translator.

The father had been taught traditional ways to live-catch birds for food when he was a boy. At the time of their visit with us, they were employed by the government of India to live-catch endangered birds.
At the end of a day of teaching skills to our field crew, the son asked, "Would you like to see my father demonstrate some martial arts skills?"

I had been exploring local martial arts teachers on the island at the time and eagerly jumped up and said, "Yes!"

"Good. Go get my father a long piece of straight wood about this long," the son said holding his hand up to his head indicating full body length.

I ran off to a nearby patch of forest and cut a section of non-native bamboo and brought it back for his father.

Up to this point, the elder had moved slowly as we hiked about the forest. He spoke little, only occasionally talking to describe a technique. When I handed him the full length staff he suddenly became alive. He started spinning the staff at high speed to the front, sides, and back of his body. Then he spun it overhead. Then he started laughing while running up and down the meadow while spinning the wood. He looked like a human propeller.

Oh man. I really wanted to learn how to do that!

Only problem was that they left five minutes later, boarded a plane that day and flew home. I never saw them again.

Fast forward several years when I happened to meet a guy named Mark Roemke at a friend's house.

Before long I venture through the doors of Pathways Dojo.

On my first day training, Sensei Roemke pulled a rokushaku bo off the wall and began teaching us spins!
I'll let Sensei Roemke take it from here to say a few things about this ancient training tool...

"The rokushaku bo is one of my favorite weapons because when you start to spin it, no matter which direction you turn or go, you are in the center. The center of the rokushaku bo is one of the safest places to be. Once you understand the matrix of how to turn it, you will forever be in the middle.

The rokushaku bo has many other uses. You can use it to bound off a tree to reach the first lower branch in order to climb the tree. You can use it to carry pots of heavy drinking water or supplies. And you can use it to defend against wild animals such as an encounter with a mountain lion."

We've been gathering wood from the forests and making our own rokushaku bos for years with adults and youth in our Ninjas in Nature Program. We even use them to make survival debris shelters.

We noticed too that kids are magnetized by rokushaku bos. Have you ever noticed that kids are always wanting to carry a big "hiking stick" when walking through the forest? It usually takes less than five minutes for an empty handed kid to pick up a big stick on a hike through the forest.

Even Gandalf carries one.

So here's a couple videos by Dai Shihan Mark Roemke. The first teaches techniques for spinning a rokushaku bo.

Rokushaku Bo Spinning

The second video is an excerpt from our youth Ancient Ninja Training Tools Series

Ninjas walk softly and carry big sticks. I highly recommend both!
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Becoming A Ninja Part 4

Here's the final addition to a 4-part series by Dai Shihan Mark Roemke called "Becoming a ninja."
When we last encountered our unreasonably happy Dai Shihan, he was describing the origins of Pathways Dojo. Before that he told about how he found martial arts and the how he found ninjutsu. 
Today we wrap the story bundle with a look into the possibilities of the future, specifically how the philosophy of "everyone is a teacher, and everyone needs a teacher" is a key principle in changing the lives of people, lots of people.

Warning...Mark gets really excited about this topic in the video below, and it's not because of his favorite matte beverage. 

There are a few key things in the video below that are worthy of hitting the pause button to think about. I'll save you the trouble by briefly breaking a couple down. 

"We are pre-programmed to teach." 

He talks about how this is so obvious in kids. As soon as we teach them something and they develop a competency, be it in the dojo or nature, they really want to teach the skill to others.
In the dojo or even our zoom classes for example, we can ask..."Raise your hand if you can demonstrate jumonji no kamae."

Boom...hands go up everywhere.

Or in nature..."Raise your hand if you can teach the knife safety techniques."

Boom...hands go up everywhere.

There is a flip side to this as well. I'll let you in on a little detail about Mark if you haven't trained with him. It's this...

You never know when he is going to call on you to teach something. 

What's the effect of this?

It puts you on edge. 

It makes you pay attention.

And ultimately, you learn so much more, about whatever art you are studying, when you are in the teaching role.

This philosophy is behind the vision of Pathways Dojo.
I'll cue the Dai Shihan here to explain this vision in his own words. 
 
We hope you enjoyed this final episode that explains a little more behind the scenes about the history of Pathways, Sensei Roemke, and where ultimately we intend to take our mentoring in the future.
We hope too that this inspires you to step into a mentoring role to help create a positive change in those around you.
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Becoming A Ninja Part 3

 

Welcome to part 3 in our ninja mentoring series called Becoming a Ninja. In this four part blog series, we follow the journey of how Sensei Mark Roemke went from a youth with no experience in martial arts to Dai Shihan, 15th Dan, one of the highest levels one can attain in the art of ninjutsu.

In other words...what's the secret sauce behind this process?

We also take a deeper look behind the scenes through the lens of the "ninja mentor" to see what's really making Mark's brain tick. It's not just mate, which we can vouch does get him excited before he teaches his weekly online classes. There's more to it. Trust me.

In the first installment, Dai Shihan Mark Roemke told the origin story of how he found martial arts in his youth and the effect it had on him. If you haven't checked out, not to worry. Here's that story portal.

Part 2 was about how he continued to train, and train, and train, and his first meeting with the Grandmaster Dr. Masaaki Hatsumi.

But now a death and origin story.

Mark died, technically speaking. No joke.

It involved a motorcycle accident. Fortunately, due to the technology of high voltage in the operating room, he was resuscitated.

Side note...Mark's a professional electrician. Hmmmm. Back to the story cliff notes.

In the short story below, when he returned to health, Mark found himself asking one question...

"What am I doing on this planet?"

The answer to this question laid the foundation for the origin of Pathways Dojo.

The answer to this question was about giving back, about healing, and about nature connection.

But I'll let him take it from here...

I hope you enjoy this short story. There's one final chapter to this. In Part 4 Mark talks about a vision that we all can be a part of.

One last thought...

In the video above, Mark talks about wanting to help kids. One way we are doing this is through our Ninjas in Nature Program. We've recently laid out a roadmap for connecting kids to the art of ninjutsu and the natural world in a short book that links to skills videos, games and more, called the Ninjas in Nature: Guardians Guide. These skills are like jumper cables for activating kids.

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Becoming a Ninja Part 2

 

In our last post, Sensei Roemke shared how he began the journey that led him to devote most of his life to the study of martial arts, in particular ninjutsu, the art of the ninja. If you haven't heard that story, you can check it out here.

In this next part of the story, he tells how he found ninjutsu and ended up with a private invitation by the Grandmaster, Dr. Masaaki Hatsumi, to visit with him on his first trip to Japan.

But, what is even more interesting, is the story within the story. Within the short video below is the story of perseverance. So many martial arts students begin their training inspired by a new art or by a new teacher. Between white belt and black belt lies a crucial period of training where the majority drop out. Once again, having a good teacher at this stage is crucial. However, in Mark's case, his instructor at the time actually dissuaded him from pursuing ninjutsu when he first discovered the art.

Good thing he ignored that advice.

And then he left the art when he joined the U.S. Army.

For many, it's even more challenging to return to an art once you leave it for years.

As a musician, I think of all the instruments I have seen over the years covered in dust, in the backs of people's closets or hiding in the corner of rooms.

"Oh yeah, I used to play that," is what you often hear.

Still, when Mark left the Army, he moved to California and where he searched for his next instructor. And that encounter led him to wandering the streets of Japan at 4 a.m. That wander led to the voice of the Grandmaster of ninjutsu who called out from a window and invited him up to tea.

But I'll let Mark himself tell that story.

Hope you enjoy this second part of his journey. Stay tuned, part 3 is the next of 4 chapters to this story that is up our gi sleeves.

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Becoming a Ninja Part 1

 

How does a person go from having zero experience in an art to being one of the highest skilled practitioners on the planet? 


In nature, a person beginning the journey of connecting to the landscape is like a tourist in their own backyard. Imagine this person as one who cannot identify the birds, trees, or plants outside their front door. If lost in the wilderness, they likely wouldn’t know how to make shelter, find water, locate edible plants or catch food, make a fire, or recognize medicinal plants under their feet. 


In other words, they wouldn’t last long.


At the other end of the spectrum, picture an indigenous tracker who by age six could identify all the plants and animals around them. They could also identify all of the tracks and signs of the animals in their region, including even insects. They would know all the edible, poisonous, and medicinal plants and could track weather patterns. By adulthood, this same person could not only run at full speed for hours while tracking an animal, but they could create fire from the landscape, find water in a desert, and create shelter, all while avoiding the lions and other large predators around them. The result is that they would have deep connections to all the species around them on the landscape. They would not only survive in the wilderness, but thrive.


Now imagine another type of person who trains in a different kind of survival skill.


In the world of martial arts, people usually begin as a white belt and work towards attaining a black belt. A small subset continue further to levels beyond black belt. In ninjutsu, the art of the ninja, the highest level one can attain below that of Soke, or Grandmaster, is Dai Shihan. Sensei Roemke has made it to this level. 


But how does a person achieve this level of skill, be it as a deeply connected tracker or a 15th Dan Dai Shihan?


Focus? Yes.


Will power? Probably helps a lot.


Motivation? Helps get you out of bed at 6 am on cold, dark, winter days to train.


But there's one critical piece needed as well. It's probably the most important factor required to reach the highest skill level in any art. Without it, you won't make it far beyond white belt.


What is it?


A good mentor.


The first teacher in any art can be just as important as the Grandmaster. They give you that first nudge and provide inspiration to journey down the trail of learning. There are unfortunately too many stories of a new student encountering their first teacher who then causes the student to turn away from an art.


Fortunately Sensei Roemke had a different experience with his first teacher.


Below is the first part of Sensei Roemke's story about how he started on this journey with his first teacher. If you listen closely, you will hear the "secret mentor sauce" that was used by his first martial arts teacher. This teacher helped nurture an interest that lasted a lifetime.

Becoming a Ninja Part 1

Sensei Roemke is an unreasonably happy person. Just looking at the thumbnail above makes me think of this. I think it's really funny, and fitting, that Youtube’s algorithm picked this photo of him for the thumbnail for the above video.

If you enjoyed this story, here is the next chapter in this four part series that leads to becoming a Dai Shihan.

 

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Ninja Gratitude

 

Every year, during this week, here in North America, our nation turns our attention toward one word- thanksgiving. While there is a lot to unpack around the origins of this holiday, I'd like instead to turn the awareness toward the concept of gratitude.

Sensei Roemke has a reputation as being "unreasonably happy." I'm going to let you in on a secret behind this happiness...gratitude.

In my martial arts training journey, I've been in a lot of classes in various disciplines, in a lot of dojos. I can still remember the day at Pathways Dojo when we lined up to bow in that set this dojo apart from all of my previous experiences. Before doing our usual bow-in opening, Sensei Roemke turned to us and said,

"What are you grateful for?!"

You could see the collective flinch in the group as everyone snapped to attention, caught off guard somewhat by this question. Then, one by one going down the line up, each of us took a moment to voice something important in our lives. I loved it! I had never been in a dojo that started classes this way.

Since then, I've seen Sensei Roemke do this many, many times, in classes with kids and adults, virtually with our online PNT classes, and even with parents in the bleachers watching classes. It's no longer a surprise. I've watched him do this at checkout lines in grocery stores, to random people on the street, and to gatherings of large groups for classes he is about to teach.

At Pathways Dojo, we start all of our staff meetings this way. And, if we don't, something feels off. It's almost a game now to see who can ambush the others first by asking..."What are you grateful for?"

But what does this have to do with martial arts training?

A lot.

But I'll let Sensei Roemke tell you himself. Check his video below where he dives into the mindset of gratitude.

 

I'll let you in on a little gratitude awareness secret... gratitude is about more than just being thankful. It's about an itch for storytelling.

What?!

We all have an itch for sitting and listening to a story being told. This goes far back to our ancestors who told stories by the fire, under the stars. But, each of us also has a strong itch to share the stories that we experience. If you listen carefully to people sharing gratitude, you will often hear headlines for stories that are itching to be told and heard.

If you go back to Mark's video above, did you catch his gratitude story headline? He said...

"I'm grateful that I'm alive because I almost died."

Wait, hold on, what!!! Back up there...some of you who know Sensei have heard him tell his story of almost dying.

Gratitude can be an invitation to share deeper stories, and in the process connect more deeply to each other. It's also an opportunity to connect more deeply to our inner selves. When we tell our own stories, it opens up deeper levels of learning about ourselves, and the natural world around us.

So, as many of us head into this holiday in North America, I invite you to become the gratitude ambush ninja that Sensei Roemke embodies. Ambush a random person with this questions, or your friends and family and watch what unfolds.

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The Power of Rope and Ring

Recently we guided a group of youth ninjas with our online live training program through the process of making training kyoketsu shoges. What's a kyoketsu shoge? For starters, a homemade version with parts gathered from nature looks like this...

A rope, ring, and wood. To be specific, the ring in this photo is made from a dog chewie. This is the training version. The ancient ninja version would have been made from an iron ring, and used among other things to hit the hands of sword wielding opponents, causing them to drop their sword.

A few summers back, Sensei Roemke and I co-led East and West coast summer camps where we had the kids make their own kyoketsu shoges. We realized that branches from trees made perfect handles. It was amazing to watch the focus (and quiet!) that kids put into carving, sanding, burnishing, and oiling their wood.

Then we started to train with them. So much fun.

Target practice, wrapping around branches, spinning drills. I can't tell you how high the youth stoke factor was, and for the instructors too!!!

What was really cool was how the kids used their creativity with these. They quickly figured out that with the right throw, that they could wrap them around branches and use them as a rope swing, or to climb up into the tree.

Then Mark showed them this "advanced" neck spin in the video below. Check it out. So much fun. But...you have to make one first! I'll save that for a future blog entry. For now, enjoy this one.

Kyoketusu Shoge Neck Spin

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