“Each movement. Each Word. Each action: We could find a way to improve it. Could you help me do it?” Ninjas students and their model instructor answer to each other.
On his wall to wall tatami.
Stéphane Meunier lights up calmly some incense.
Surrounded by walls full of calligraphy.
He lays down a bag of almond croissants.
We are not in Japan.
But in Montreal. Quebec.
“In 2006, one of the grand masters came to visit us from Japan. He congratulated us: ‘Here, it feels like home. The same atmosphere.’ We succeeded in bringing Japan to Quebec, says Stéphane, the voice tightened by emotion. We brought back this knowledge.”
From inside, the door of the softened light Dojo opens on a blinding world.
One. And two. Then three students enter in silence.
They take off their shirts. Their shoes.
To wrap themselves in a black suit. And ninjas’ slippers.
Those soon to be Ninjas prepare to receive their lesson.
“It is very important, explains the Quebecois master. This knowledge will soon be lost in Japan. Contrary to what we think here, the Japanese people are not interested in their historical combat heritage. Everything is being forgotten.”
Students stretch up, waiting.
They joke. Telling their own stories.
Laugh their heads off.
You can see that they are happy to meet each other 3 to 4 times a week.
“They are croissants for those who want some! Help yourselves! says Stéphane. Through the years, my students became my second family. I spend my life here. 6 days a week.”
On walls, he proudly shows his Japanese diplomas. Knighthood. Model instructor.
Japanese Calligraphy: “A gift for our school.”
Drawn by the grand master. Who saw more than 80 springs.
But he’s mostly proud of his pictures.
Those with his ninja family.
His father instructor: Kacem Zoughari.
His grandfather who trained his teacher: Ishizuka Sensei.
Recently awarded by Japanese Emperor himself.
And those with his students which he regularly brings to Japan.
“We do intense learning sessions in Japan. We meet my spiritual grandfather. We have an intimate relation. Always invited. Always welcomed. His honors touch us here in Quebec.”
It’s 6:30 pm. Everybody is here.
A word from Stéphane.
Students align. On their knees.
A supporting message from ancient times.
The teaching can begin.
“Wen must not confuse combat sports with martial arts, insists Stéphane. Martial arts are similar to music. It’s not because you have 80% of the technique that you will succeed. The rest of the 20%. Imagine that you are doing a concert. That you are a guitar player in the greatest rock band in the world. That you only have 80% of the song. You’re still missing 20%. Something’s missing. A note. A silence. Imagine the result. In martial arts, it’s the same thing!”
In agreement with his students, the first exercise is chosen.
An apprentice walks towards the master.
The others watch silently.
Stéphane shows. Slowly. Each movement.
“Without strength! Only the technique.”
One time. Two times. Three times. “It’s your turn!”
“In sports, 80% is awesome! Imagine that you are an athlete who succeeds 80% of the time. A Hockey Player who touches the puck 80% of the time and scores! That’s amazing! You have your place in the NHL! In Ninjutsu … that’s not enough. It’s a matter of life or death. It’s the art of survival!”
And then… Surprise!
Nobody is aligned properly.
Ninja apprentices fan out randomly on the tatami.
« The practice of Ninja’s art it’s like real life. It’s not Judo! Not Karate. Recent sports. Disciplined. When you are attacked in the street, your assailants won’t place themselves as planned. Feudal Japan was not a glorious time and pace. To survive, you had to be on top. Be prepared for every situation.”
Every attack is repeated.
Once in a way.
Once in another way.
Every attack is repeated.
Once in a way.
Once in another way.
Only the results matter.
Ready for every situation.
“We are not coming to the dojo 6 or 7 days a week to practice. It doesn’t work that way. That it’s a gym. When you enter a school, you come to learn something. The gym part, it’s kind of the out of the dojo personal homework. When somebody comes to the dojo, he comes to learn from teacher … model master. He shows. They learn. And they practice at home. Next tome in the dojo, we reconfirm. If it’s good. We go on. It’s a personal practice.”
Men training with men.
Women training with men.
Women training with women.
Men training with women.
“This martial art doesn’t need strength. But technique. A student resists the attack. The other uses technique without strength to do the attack. If the technique without strength works during the exercise, imagine what it does in real life with strength. With that, we rip everything!”
Weapons show up.
Ninjas falling slowly.
They get back on their feet.
Repeat. Learn. Confirm.
“If someone resists, it’s the worst. Here, we always stop at the limit! In 16 years, we only saw one injury. It was someone who persisted in doing the bad technique.”
The experienced ninjas help beginners.
All levels are mixed together.
Advices are whispered.
Prides are swallowed.
Even in the worst situations.
“Ninjutsu’ spirit and attitude are more authentic, explain a student. It’s not a sport. I did 30 years of karate. It was too competitive. Everything for the competition. To win tournaments. There are martial sports and martial arts. Here, we are training very slowly. On the technique. Not on the strength. We learn technique. Being a Ninja, it’s also the art of knowing where the danger is. To prevent it. Always. We avoid danger. And when trouble comes to you, we take decisions. I never had to take decisions. I have always succeeded in avoiding troubles.”
It’s the break.
You can see that some are tired.
Others are still full of energy.
Everyone is eager to meet each other in the week-end.
For the training camp.
For three days.
Frails. Sturdies. Youngs. Seniors.
Everyone will train together.
During long hours.
In the middle of nature.
Along the river.
“I’ve been practicing for 30 years and after 10 years, I stopped asking myself questions about what I would do if i was attacked, tells Stéphane. This fear has been gone for a long time. The reason i started martial arts: fight back!”
It’s eight o’clock.
On a small island west of Montreal.
A lot of Stephane’s students are here.
To learn. To train. To have fun.
Their only enemy. Mosquitoes.
Everywhere this time of the year.
“We are lucky! entrusts Stephane. In Feudal Japan, it’s been hidden. You wouldn’t show to everybody your weaknesses. Their lives depended on it.”
The horde of Ninjas looks like a family.
They are showing their photo souvenirs.
They are giving each other advice.
They are sharing insect repellent.
They are living together.
Soldiers. Colonels. Surgeons.
Bodyguards. Former street kid.
“There are 4 rules that change everything between combat sports and our art of war. In the street, when someone attacks you, you don’t have 6 to 8 weeks to prepare for the fight. It’s the real life. Also in the sport, you know that there is a referee who will be listened when he decided that is enough.”
Finally, out of the dojo.
Ninjas seem to be traveling in time.
Feet on the ground.
On the grass.
They train two against one.
Wooden sabers and quarterstaves in hand.
“In a sport, you know that the guy in front of you will not be armed. You know that he doesn’t have a big knife in hand, like in the streets. Then, in the ring, you know that in a fight the person in front of you will be alone, if these are the rules. In the streets, those rules don’t exist. Montreal is a safe city. But these things happen. These 4 rules change a lot of things.”
Bitten by the mosquitoes.
Caught up by the pleasure.
Students and their teacher don’t see the night falling.
They will stay up late…
“Each movement. Each Word. Each action: We could find a way to improve it. Thank you very much!” Ninjas students and their model instructor answer to each other.