“Matt, do you fancy doing a bit of ninja training?”
Of course I fancied doing a bit of ninja training!
Nickelodeon has a new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles TV series to promote and, in an effort to make sure Den of Geek don’t spill ignorance and incompetency all over our coverage of the show, they invited us along to a learn a bit about being a ninja. As Den of Geek’s Ninja Turtles correspondent, and the writer most in need of any available education, I was happy to accept the invitation. It also came with a promise of pizza, which didn’t hurt. I like pizza.
I arrived in the morning to find myself somewhat perplexed, and not just because I’d only found time for a single cup of coffee.
What surprised me were the other attendees. There were a lot of kids there. In fact, the only other adults appeared to be parents or Nickelodeon employees. Still, this wouldn’t be the first time I found myself in violent combat with a child, so I shrugged off my concerns and prepared to war their smiling little faces off.
We were introduced to our ninja instructors, who proved to be a very pleasant surprise. Perhaps because I based my expectations of them on the film Batman Begins, I had braced myself for a team of unforgiving, emotionless killers. What I got were three guys who were warm, friendly and endlessly patient.
They started out by showing us a wrist-grabby defence thing. It involves twisting someone’s arm about when they grab your wrist, and it’s a bit fiddly. I just about got the hang of it, as did the gang from Nickelodeon, who I’ll take this opportunity to thank for not tearing my hand off.
We were then shown a couple of tricks that involved sneaking ropes around your opponent/attacker’s wrists and tying them up. I question whether it was appropriate to train us to be ninja cowboys before fully training us to be ninjas. Eventually, after having my technique corrected, I got to grips with the ropes, too. Now the string that runs through my coat sleeves isn’t just there to stop me from losing my mittens; it’s also a deadly weapon.
Learning these moves was fun, but seeing them performed by the instructors highlighted the gulf between ‘getting’ a technique and mastering one. To really get these moves right, you’d have to drill them hundreds of times. There are more than a thousand different techniques. Being a ninja is tough.
Of course, ninja skills involve more than just yanking people about by their limbs. The instructors took some time to show us the basics of meditation. The gist seems to be emptying your mind. It turns out that I’ve been in a state of meditation for almost thirty years now.
I also showed a natural take to myth and deception, applying what I already know from being married. It was here we learned that most of what we know about ninjas is untrue. We were told that they would dress in disguises, rather than in conspicuous black martial arts robes. Ninjas would also encourage myths about themselves, leading people to believe that they were supermen, capable of inhuman feats.
Like any normal person who can breathe fire, explode enemies with their mind and watch multiple Chuck Norris films in a single sitting, I attended ninja training with a single hope – that I would learn how to do the twisting neck break. Wisely, the instructors did not show me how to do that. They did, however, bring along some very cool weapons for us to see. They had swords, sticks, mini-blades, throwing stars and more. They had a tool box, like you would get from Wilkinsons or Wickes, but it was filled with ninja accessories. It was much better than the stuff that’s in my toolbox (a few screwdrivers, a hammer, a torch and some leftover bits from Ikea furniture).
Ninja training was loads of fun. I learned some cool stuff (the instructors did also tell us all of the appropriate Japanese names for everything, and generously offered me any assistance I may have needed in this article, but I think if you’re interested you’d be better off learning from them yourself. Check out their website at www.mahoutsukai-dojo.co.uk to see if they have a class near you) and am now 30% more lethal. I’m also better prepared for the upcoming Ninja Turtles TV series. I will not make the faux pas of calling Donatello’s weapon a Bo Staff (which would mean ‘stick staff’), and I will know to tut at Michelangelo for using a karate-based weapon rather than a ninja one.
Time came for us to leave, and as I hadn’t been issued with any smoke bombs, I was forced to discharge a fire extinguisher. We all made a mysterious, stealthy exit.
Our next stop was a pizza kitchen, where we were shown how to make pizza by a professional, Italian chef. I’ve specifically mentioned that he was Italian because he made it very, very clear to us that he wasn’t American, that he didn’t like American pizza and that Americans should seriously stop trying to take credit for Italian things all the time. I really hope that the children in attendance took this on board.
His disdain for New York pizza lead to me question what he even thought we were all doing there on our Ninja Turtles themed day. Still, I was so hungry at this point that I was considering setting off another smoke bomb (er, fire extinguisher) and stealthily sneaking off for a Pizza Hut, so I smiled and nodded and willed him along through the demonstration.
Presented with dough, we were tasked with taking a rolling pin to it (apparently the ‘throw it up in the air and then catch it on your knuckles’ thing is just for show. The pizza making community were clearly familiar with ninja ‘myth’ techniques, too) and then applying toppings. Apparently there’s nothing authentic about the ‘Mighty Meaty’ topping spread I had planned, so I decided to apply economic blobs of mozzarella, a few dainty olives and some salami.
Then I ate pizza until I felt physically sick.
So, I’ve found out that I’m unsuitable for a career as a ninja assassin or pizza chef, but that I’m terrific at eating pizza and having a laugh. More importantly, I’m basically a Ninja Turtle now.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles starts 1st October at 5pm with a 1 hour special. Be sure to check back with us for coverage of the series.
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