Name: Owen Percy
Style: Ninjitsu – Bujinkan Budo Taijutsu
Club/s: Chi Ryuu Dojo
Mon/Wed: Canton, Cardiff, Sun/Thur: Llantrisant Leisure Centre
Years training: 26
Social media: Facebook
“Every experience is sacred and may provide the key to the eternal happiness we seek. “
It’s Monday evening. It’s getting darker earlier and the council lighting casts great shadows across the Canton tree lined streets. I’m excited. I’m going to meet Owen Percy, a real life Ninja.
I entered the church hall and was initially perplexed. The lights were out but I could sense rustling in the dark around me. There were people here. I had a flashback to the scene from Batman Begins, where Bruce Wayne had to take on the league of shadows and face his fears. It dawned on me that this must be a test. It’s not the first time I’ve been tested when visiting a club. My knees bent slightly as I maneuvered my body into a ready stance.
Suddenly, a woman came out of a side door carrying a cake. The light from the candles and adjoining room illuminated the party guests in the hall as they began to sing ‘Happy Birthday’ to an excited pensioner. A lovely lady came over to me with pity in her eyes and explained that I probably wanted the church hall next door. Now feeling quite warm in the Autumn weather, I walked down the long adjoining lane to actual training hall.
There, I was welcomed by Owen, head of the Cardiff Chi Ryuu Dojo. The students warming up were all wearing black gi’s. This consisted of black trousers, black t-shirt or gi top and those cool ninja boots that separate the big toes from the rest. The class was casual with some good banter going on.
I had to admit no real knowledge of ninjas, except from my grandfather’s obsession with the 1980s ninja films, like American Ninja (click link for full film!) and anything with Sho Kosugi in. In my naivety, I asked Owen, “Where are the masks?”
He laughed and with ultimate patience explained;
“The way we think of what a ninja looks like is false. Ninja’s used to dress as farmers and monks or were Ronin – masterless Samurai. They were masters at blending in. That’s what actually made them seem invisible. The black costumes that we recognise as ninjas now, come from Japanese Kabuki (traditional stylised Japanese drama or dance). In Kabuki, if someone was supposed to be invisible or not noticed on the stage in the background, then they would wear that suit. As ninjas became less and active, they adopted the costume and it became more accepted as the normal training uniform.
I could see the logic. If a ninja went out on a night mission dressed in the black gi, they could get caught before they even reached the target. No one would look twice at a farmer or priest.
The only rule here is not to get hit. If you get hit, then learn to be faster.
Owen Percy started his training when he was six years old. Now, at thirty two with a lot of technical and practical experience under his blackbelt, he is passing on his knowledge through his classes. I listened and learned.
“The only rule here is not to get hit. If you get hit, then learn to be faster.”
Ok, this is getting interesting.
“We start off slow, learning the movements, but once learned then the only way to be a good uke is to be true to yourself and true to your partner by trying to hit them. “
As if on cue, there is a grunt at the rear of the hall. A man is bent over holding his stomach next to a bashful fourteen year old girl. Owen is pleased. The girl praised for striking the right pressure point and the man appropriately mocked. It’s survival of the fittest here. I am a huge fan of ninjas but now for a much different reason.
“This is a great example of technique over size.” Owen beams.
The idea of Ninjitsu is to create a hole that they want to fall into.
As I watched the lesson develop, I started to understand where this teaching concept is coming from. There is no greater motivator to move faster or hit harder than the fear of getting hit. I learned that in boxing. Everything in this class was a test of oneself. You throw a punch as hard as you can to develop your attack and your friends reflexes. If you get hit, you suck it up because in the street, there likely won’t be anyone to help you. I could see undiluted Japanese method and ethics here. It’s refreshing to see as a lot of Westerners fail to appreciate it.
Owen demonstrated a take-down on an opponent. The uke smashed into the mat but the attack kept coming. The unfortunate fellow was stuck face down, pinned with a wrist lock as Owen started to attack the pressure points. I ruined the photograph by chuckling as the uke desperately tapped his chest in submission. Owen was merciful, he just worked the other parts of the body instead.
“Take to the ground and restrain. Keep your hands free and remember Kukan (spatial awareness) for any of his friends trying to join in. Watch out for needles.”
This old mystic art is a practical one and adapted for modern dangers. I asked Owen about the beginning of the take-down.
“The idea of Ninjitsu is to create a hole that they want to fall into. It’s not a balance thing. It’s a structural thing. Take away the right structural support and everything else follows. Just by slightly moving my leg, I am moving myself off his line. If I can’t see his feet in my peripheral vision, then I’m too close.”
I watched again, as Owen demonstrated a collapsing structure on an uke who was defeated by his own body mechanics with the help of a surgically placed kick and knuckle punch from the sensei.
As the students carried on, he explained,
“No fight should last longer than four seconds. If you give them longer than four, then you give them a chance to win.”
Around the dojo, seniors assisted the lower grades. Owens heavily pregnant wife, Stephanie-a self confessed Ninjitsu fanatic, couldn’t help herself and jumped off the sidelines to correct the techniques to some of the beginner students. No one was afraid to dish out the pain, or receive it.
If you know one technique, you know a hundred.
This style is very much about practicality and surviving the street through the study of the body. Owen explained that balance is always in the form of a triangle, while movement is all about the circle.
After class I went with the students (old enough to do so) to the local pub, where I had a better opportunity to speak to the Shidoshi about his background. He said,
“I am not a teacher. I feel like I’m more of a guide. I will show several different things and you pick one out that works for you or suitable to your abilities. I just point you in the right direction and people tend to develop themselves. If you know one technique, you know a hundred. If you know a hundred, you know thousands.
I started when I was six, back in the 1980’s. My mum got sick and tired of me and my brother fighting all the time, so took us to learn martial arts. I loved the teenage mutant ninja turtles and so thought it was great that I was actually going to be a ninja! My influence now would be Stephen Seagal. He was one of the first Western instructors to open a dojo in Japan. This is so rare. As a martial artist, he is phenomenal. The acting is a bit shoddy though! (Laughs) I think Chuck Norris is great as well but that’s for the cheesy movies. “
If it’s not fun or you’re too strict, you’re not going to learn.
I looked around at the students around me laughing and joking, enjoying a pint of beer or a glass of water for the fitness freaks. They all seemed to get on very well despite the beating they had given each other not twenty minutes before. Amongst them was, Dewi Hill, a 35 year old Judoka from Newport and Omar M. BASHI (Owens main uke that day) a 20 year old Iraqi who hadn’t stop smiling throughout the whole lesson despite being stamped as if he was on fire.
Owen said “I used to train with Dewi (pointing at the big guy at the corner of the table) in Bridgend but the club closed down. We all used to chip in to rent a room to train to keep it going amongst us and I ended up teaching. We are still good friends. I think it’s healthy to be friends with the class. If it’s not fun or you’re too strict, you’re not going to learn. We don’t do sparring as it’s just too dangerous with the techniques we learn. We work on developing reaction and techniques against numerous attackers.“
Dewi said, “I was his first big test.”
Owen laughed and said, “Yeah, when I first got my blackbelt and started teaching, Dewi came in to the dojo. I remember thinking, ‘If I could do Ninjitsu on him, I could do it on anyone! Training has given me a lot of aches and pains but I found that I really love teaching. I love helping people to grow. I’ve got a few people to black belt. Omar is going to be my first student from beginner to blackbelt. I genuinely think martial arts make better people. It teaches respect and discipline and not to be a little (edited!) I feel that it should be on the national curriculum.”
They must have thought it was like 50 shades of grey in my house!
Dewi has won competitions through Judo but has been involved with Ninjitsu for the last six years. I asked what had got him into the clan in the first place. He replied,
“Honestly? The advert at that time said ‘free suit ‘when joining. (every one laughs)
“I stayed because it’s different. It’s self defense to make you think for the street. If you have to rip someone’s ear off, do it. If you have to gouge someone’s eye out, do it.”
I asked Omar what he liked about the club. He said,
“It’s wonderful! I’ve always wanted to be a ninja. You get a great conditioning against pain but it’s not just about that. The best thing is the knowledge and new horizons and philosophy. I really like training with the katana (Japanese sword).”
Stephanie agreed, “We train in a variety of weapons. I remember once when we were training with the Kusarigama (weapon that has a sickle type blade on top of a handle and a long chain with a weighted end coming from the bottom of the handle) We have training ones that are blunt and rather than the chain, they have rope. We were training with that in class and trapping with the rope all day. I went to work the next day. I work in an office with all other women when I realised that I had rope marks around my wrists and throat. They must have thought it was like 50 shades of grey in my house!”
I asked Owen what he would like for his club in the future.
“I would love to be able to earn enough to have my own full time dojo but money is really not important to me. The only way to make money through martial arts is to turn it into a business or create your own. I don’t want that. I would rather have a full hall of great people and just covering the costs than a half empty hall and charge high prices.”
Owen is consistently doing everything to improve his knowledge and skills. He attends seminars up and down the country as well as abroad and also hosts them. He is a regular visitor to Japan and has trained with Dr Hatsumi, founder of the Bujinkan Organisation. This organisation is the amalgamation of nine schools of teaching (six samurai and three ninja.)
I asked Stephanie about these Japan visits.
“I love Japan. It is the most brilliantly weird place. We went there on our honeymoon. I grew up in the valleys and decided one day to take a Japanese course. This really got me into the Japanese culture. One of the students there knew about a ninja school. I was curious, so went to have a look. On my way to the first lesson, I got run over and I fell over quite badly. Luckily, I wasn’t seriously hurt, just some bruises. I still went to the lesson. It was like magic. I was determined to go back again. At the very least, I thought that I could learn how to fall or roll away safely! I have been training for five years now.“
At the start of every lesson, the students recite ‘Shi kin hara mitsu dai ko myo’ translated as ‘every experience is sacred and may provide the key to the eternal happiness we seek.’ I would love to adopt this mantra. On my brief visit, I found Owen to be a softly spoken easy going person with an extensive knowledge and passion for his art. He is a great pioneer for Welsh ninjitsu and the martial arts. All of his students were friendly and had a great level of intelligence and wit and incredible tolerance of pain. I would like to thank all the students that I managed to speak to for being welcoming and open. I wish I had more time to talk to all of them.
Domo arigatou gozaimashita
Should you wish to visit the club then please contact Owen through his website or Facebook page as shown at the top of the article.