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   Now in our eleventh calendar year
    PCR #554  (Vol. 11, No. 45)  This edition is for the week of November 1--7, 2010.

"Megamind"  by Mike Smith
"Due Date" by Mike Smith
Dark Star: The Hyper-Drive Edition  by ED Tucker
Greatest American Ninja  by Jason Fetters
Passing On .... Movie Notes .... .... .... .... .... .... .... Mike's Record Shelf by Mike Smith

Greatest American Ninja

The 80's was a terrfic decade for a great many things such as Tab, the Rubix Cube, and MTV Videos. However, another cool thing happened when East met West with the Ninja Boom. Suddenly HBO was showing Ninja movies starring Sho Kosugi in such titles as Revenge of the Ninja, Pray for Death, and Nine Deaths of the Ninja. Also in the mid-'80s, comic creators Eastman and Laird unleashed the comic, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, which instantly gained cult status via comic readers. Forget the cheesy cartoon with the four turtles wearing sissy colored headbands. The comics were the real deal. The turtles listened to death metal, were rude, and showed some of the most graphic violence for their time. The turtles even used swear words before they got toned down for kiddies' TV. All the above mentioned is based on the Ninja myth and are just meant for entertainment. The real Ninja Boom was brewing back in the '70's.

In the mid-'70s a young American, Stephen K. Hayes, first went to Japan on a quest for the real ninja of history and not mythical lore. He arrived at Narita Airport to find the Ninja, a secret group of martial artists that stayed hidden from most. It was not an easy task, but Hayes was persistent. Eventually he met Masaaki Hatsumi, the last Grandmaster of Togakure-ryu Ninjutsu. To Hayes surprise, Hatsumi agreed to teach his form of Ninjutsu.

The training was often difficult with Hayes being knocked down and he had to pick himself up off the ground. There was no assistance from his fellow practitioners. Hayes stuck it out and eventually received a 10th degree black belt. He was encouraged to return to the U.S. with his Japanese wife, and start training students in the U.S.

Stephen K. Hayes wasted no time and wrote a series of books that came out in the mid-'80s. I remember receiving the first one called The Ninja and Their Secret Fighting Art as a gift. In that book, Hayes recounts how he first came to Japan and found a Ninja Sensei. It is a fascinating read for anyone who has ever had a strange dream and lived to see that dream realized. Hayes wanted to see if Ninja still existed in Japan and he found them. His experience led to several books and several dojos opening up including Tampa Quest Martial Arts on Bruce B. Downs, close to USF.

Still, it is the books that got his name out there to the American public and helped generate interest in real ninjutsu that was missing from James Bond and Ninja movies shown on HBO. I still remember being so bored in middle school in a general math class that I dared to take out the school library's copy of The Mystic Arts of the Ninja: Hypnotism, Invisibility, and Weaponry. That book helped sparked my imagination towards all things Japan. It didn't inspire me to take up martial arts, but it did whet my appetite to study Japanese and go over to Japan as an exchange student. Had I not read Hayes's book and paid attention to my math class, things would have turned out differently for me and not for the better.

Another interesting book is Ninjutsu: The Art of The Invisible Warrior. A quick glance shows that ninjutsu is a complete martial art. Is it not sports-oriented like Tae Kwon Do or Judo. It is not lacking in hard vs soft techniques because it contains both punching and kicking (hard,) along with grappling (soft.) Ninjutsu offers something generally lacking in most other martial arts books in that special care is taken to show a complete overview. There are sections on Japanese etiquette, body conditioning, warm-up exercise, and even a recommended diet. It even shows the basic stances and a few basic techniques. Besides the physical, there is a chapter on the spiritual dealing with how and why to meditate.

Hayes is still active today, teaching To-Shin Do, his own creation, which is used to teach Western students. This is the art most American students would be learning at one of the many Quest schools.

To anyone who doubts Hayes' ability as a true martial artist and to those who view him as some crank dabbling in some crazy fad, Hayes is the bodyguard for the Dalai Lama of Tibet, Tenzin Gyatso. Also, Hayes is a great teacher. I recently viewed a video clip showing Stephen K. Hayes in action, teaching a class. First he would demonstrate a technique on a student and role play, showing how a senario could develop on the streets. Then each student would pair off and practice it. He would walk by and offer corrections. Now, that is no different than anyone learning karate at any given school. The big difference is that, at the end of the lesson, the students would sit in a circle and one by one perform the technique. Hayes told the other students to watch. After the technique was completed, Hayes encouraged all the observing students to offer constructive feedback. You can see Hayes in action at one of the many demonstrations that he gives throughout the year at Clearwater Beach.

Stephen K. Hayes has lived the dream that few dare to even consider. He was inspired to seek out the Ninja after seeing a James Bond movie back in the '60s. Eventually it led to a series of best-selling books and martial arts lessons that kept his dream alive from the '70s to today.

To comment on this or any other PCR article, please visit The Message Board. "The Asian Aperture" is ©2010 by Jason Fetters. Webpage design and all graphics herein (except where otherwise noted) are creations of Nolan B. Canova. All contents of Nolan's Pop Culture Review are ©2010 by Nolan B. Canova.