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?
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.