Mentoring Through the Levels

An important design element of the NiN program are the 5 levels that students progress through as they continue to participate with the training. These levels are a valuable piece of your mentor teaching toolbox as they help motivate perseverance. These levels are intended to recognize the hard work and perseverance that students exhibit. Each level of recognition represents an opportunity for a student to agree to cross a threshold, and to step into a commitment of service to others by becoming a teacher or helper to newer students, members of their families, or community beyond the program. In this way, the levels represent status as a commitment to a purpose beyond self. This is a core philosophy of our NiN Program.

Regalia: Shirts and Patches

Each course (aka Pathway) has a theme (ex. movment, fire, shelter, etc.). After a student completes a course they are awarded a patch for that course. When a student earns a designated number of patches, they are awarded a new level shirt and patch.

We recommend giving students a NiN bandana (which can be ordered through us at, or you can make your own). Patches can be ironed onto the bandana as a way of tracking progress. Students can bring their bandanas to program to wear, use in blindfolded activities, or games (like capture the flag). The size of these bandanas are based on a traditional tenegui, which is a head covering worn under a traditional helmet for sword training, or used for ceremonial purposes. The tenegui can be traced back to the Tengu, which are the mythological characters, half crow, half human, who were believed to have brought the art of ninjutsu to humans (and one explanation for why ninjas wrapped their heads in black).

You can order patches by emailing us at with the subject “patches.” Be sure to do this at the beginning of your program so that you have them for the final day to present to your students.

You can order shirts here.

The 5 Levels

There are 5 NiN Levels, with patch requirements for each.

NiN (Level 1) = Students begin the training process by completing the 4 basic NiN skills. Total patches = 1 (NiN patch)

Kame/turtle (Level 2) = Students earn 3 patches (knife safety, NiN, + 1 new course)

Ootori/firebird (Level 3) = Students earn 7 patches (+4 new courses after Kame)

Tora/Tiger (Level 4) = Students earn 11 patches (+4 new courses after Ootori)

Ryū/Dragon (Level 5) = The highest level. Students earn 16 patches (+5 after Tiger)

Tracking progress

We recommend creating a spreadsheet for tracking student names and the courses they have completed (patches earned). This is helpful if some students lose their patches or bandanas. We recommend that you check your roster before your program starts so that you can order shirts for students who will be moving up to a new level. You can order shirts here.

Here is a template speadsheet that you can download.

The Final Day

On the last day of our program we end with fun, review, and regalia.

Fun– on the last day we play lots of games. We have a saying among the mentors…if we are having more fun than everyone else, we win! Don’t forget to play games with them on this final day.

Review– we like to set up “rotation stations” where the kids are given a challenge or game that reviews the skills they learned during the course. Sometimes we set these stations up at “ninjalympics” as a friendly competition (individual or group).

Regalia and Ritual- We like to close out our program with a drum stalk (optional, see below) followed by presenting patches and shirts to the students.

The Drum Stalk– The drum stalk is a great way to involve the different levels of students in mentoring the newer students. It also is a great way to incorporate the NiN Bandana in a final ceremony. After the fun, games, and stations are over, gather everyone for the final drum stalk. Download the pdf below to learn more about how to facilitate the drum stalk.

The Drum Stalk

Presenting Shirts and Patches– after the drum stalk, it’s time for the closing circle. Each student can be presented with their new patch. For the students that have earned enough patches to advance to the next level, it is an opportunity to have each stand and be recognized for stepping into a new role of service beyond themselves. We describe each threshold below to the student receiving their new level/shirt and invite them to accept this new responsibility when presented with the shirt.

Level 1: NiN. Perseverance. Responsibility = to help others persevere

Level 2: Kame/Turtle. The turtle represents the Earth. Responsibility = to help others connect to the Earth.

Level 3: Ootori/Firebird. Responsibility = To tend to the community and to help us tend our fires at program.

Level 4: Tora/Tiger. The tiger is a fierce protector. To help protect others and the natural world.

Level 5: Ryu/Dragon. The dragon embodies all the levels. Responsibility = to be a mentor to others and to hold all previous responsibilities above.

Adapt and Create- Use everything presented above as ideas, not something to repeat exactly as we teach. Your landscape, students, season, and timing of your program will be different. Each time you reach the end of your program ask, “How can we do the final day differently this time?” Above all…have fun!

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