Ninja Melt

I’m not one for traditional aerobic activity. I don’t jog or go to the gym or road bike or fight bulls. I certainly have done those things, but in my experience they seem like a lot more trouble than they’re worth. Plus, I cannot stand to get all sweaty and hot in front of a bunch of staring strangers and their smog-inducing cars (apparently I’m OCD/Social Anxiety-prone, hee hee!). Gross!

No, for me rolling is the sweetest exercise ever. I feel like I’m 7 years old all over again, every time. It’s so much fun! The thing is, you have to be careful when you roll. I actually used to intuitively tumble as a kid, but I picked up a wide variety and knowledge of rolls from throwing down with Bujinkan classes over the years. Some of those guys (along with maybe Systema) teach a crazy variety of rolls. Much more than in Aikido or Judo, where a lot of people get exposed to the idea. I’m actually surprised Dave at Formosa Neijia hasn’t talked much about rolling or roll-conditioning, considering he’s a true chameleon and full-time blogster on “soft” martial arts.

Rolling functions as an aerobic exercise that builds up the muscles on the back. Oh, sure, if you do it incorrectly or when you’re tense you will shred your back but that’s part of the fun, amiright? Point is, if I just work on rolls and (my half-assed attempts at) handsprings for a half-hour every day, I become incredibly powerful. Although! I should point out that I pre-empt and finish each practice session with some serious zhan-zhuan or zazen-type muscle relaxation meditation activity. Rolling incorrectly a few times can tense up your back pretty good.

If you already do Bujinkan/Systema/Aikido/Hapkido or whatever else curriculum that incorporates this rolling stuff, my advice is not that special. But, since nobody reads this blog anyway, what do I care?

Some precautions:

  • Do not drop onto your shoulder as you roll! Just as you smoothly transition between steps in Taiji or any martial art, the weight transition from the feet to the shoulder and then the back is like slowly pouring water into a glass. If you drop on the wrong part of your shoulder, such as where the collar bone connects to the shoulder, you could do some serious damage or pain to yourself.
  • Relax throughout the roll! The more worried about the roll, the more you will tense up. Even a little tension at the beginning of the roll will build up and create giant gaps in movement by the end of the roll.
  • Work on them slowly! Learn to do them with little momentum or slowly. Learn to feel your way through the roll, as though the muscles on your back were tire treads.
  • Never pre-meditate a roll or act when excited. Just practice rolls slowly until they are a natural part of your movement.
  • Don’t finish on your knee and don’t push with your head. If you practice on concrete this can really mess you up! Don’t do that until you’ve mastered this.
  • Practice on concrete or a hard surface once you’re getting good. This will let you see where you are too stiff or where you are relying on your hands/knees. It will also strengthen your back and smooth out your technique.
  • Go back and break down the fundamental basics and watch them as you go through a roll slowly. I.e. make sure it’s always going shoulder-to-opposite-hip and that you aren’t placing impact on any portion of your shoulder blade.

People make fun of the Bujinkan sometimes because there’s so much cheesy ninja romanticism that goes along with it. Fair enough — there are many guys (including teachers) who have simply spent too much time playing Tenchu: Stealth Assassins and Ninja Gaiden. But a lot of practices in martial arts are mistakenly discarded because they take too long to implement into one’s natural movement. Rolls are sometimes thought of this way. But with rolls, if they’re practiced every day for a couple of years, they become one’s natural movement. This means: no more fear of falling on pavement, the ability to jump from greater heights by channeling the momentum into a ground roll, and the ability to leap out of the way of gunfire while saving hot babes (this is the Roger Hamburger technique).

There are some truly legitimate videos of the Bujinkan Shihan demonstrating basic techniques that have finally weaseled their way onto the internet. Also, there are some Kadochnikov Systema examples that are slick: the dude just melts into the ground!

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2 Responses to “Ninja Melt”

  1. I completely agree that rolls are great for conditioning. Unfortunately, my judo club is a bit informal so we don’t have organized warmups or workouts. That means I don’t often get to do the full set of mat drills and rolls. I’ll have to wait until I have my own space to do those everyday — which is how I feel they should be done.

    I never thought of myself as a chameleon but I like it. Thanks for the insight.

  2. Oh hey Dave, thanks for stopping by. I mentioned rolling because I rarely hear Chinese internal martial artists talk about tumbling. And then your blog is one of the premiere internal martial arts blogs around.

    I’ve enjoyed hearing about your recent Judo exploits, by the way.

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