I'm a ninja now! (Quest Martial Arts in Ann Arbor, MI)
I mentioned this on the EMU Bullshido thread, but I figured I should start my own rather than derail that one.
Tonight, I went down to my local Toshindo school, Quest Martial Arts. I had planned on just dropping in on a couple lessons to try it out, but I learned that this was not up to protocol. Instead, I had to sign up for an introductory lesson before I could start taking the actual classes.
Now, normally, the introductory lesson in fifteen dollars. I told the woman working at the reception desk (by the way - they have a reception desk. Tremble with fear.) that I couldn't afford that, being a poor bum college student that I am. She said that she would mark me down as a friend of hers so I could get my introductory lesson for free. She was quite nice.
So instead, I sat and watched classes. There were three classes that I observed - level 1, level 2, and level 3. Apparently there's a black belt class for people more advanced, but it wasn't meeting and that night. I was invited to come watch it on a later day, which I may yet do.
Level 1 was beginners. I overheard that students will generally be level 1 for about 9 months, before they can take level 2 classes. After that, I think's another year or so to level 3.
They started out with some basic shadowboxing, which I thought was not so bad. However, I noticed that instead of forming a fist when they punched, the students would kind of flick their fingers out. I asked one of the receptionists about this, and he said that hitting with the palm is safer than with a fist, because you can injure your wrist with a punch. I think I said something about being able to injure your fingers with a palm strike, but I didn't press the point, as I wanted to be nice.
Then they did some defence against a person pushing your shoulder from the side. It involved overhooking their arm, then stomping on their foot three times, then punching them in the stomach twice, then elbowing them in the head. This was all done in the traditional kempo "hold still while I hit you" style. They also shouted the word "stop" during every strike.
After that was the intermediate class, which was much of the same stuff. They worked on an outside trip, similar to Osotogari, but without reaping the leg. He also demonstrated countering the trip by bridging your opponent over, which exceeded my expectations of ne-waza from a ninjutsu school. The class, however, did not work on this counter. I believe they might've done sit ups to warm up.
Then came the advanced (level 3) class. First off, there were only three people in it. Second off, none of them appeared to be in very good shape. They began with a few warmups - some jumping jacks, pushups, and crunches. One of them - who appeared to be quite young - was not only unable to do a single pushup (he did them from his knees), but he was also unable to do a single crunch. He just kind of turned from side to side, almost like he was shrimping. Given that this was the advanced class, I expected a better level of physical conditioning.
The most interesting portion of this was watching the Randori. I had seen some people carrying around head gear and chest protectors, so I figured that maybe this ninjutsu school was different and did some amount of contact sparring.
I was mistaken. At least, not in the level three class.
The randori consisted of an agressor attacking with slow motion punches, who would then fall whichever way the defender inclined him. Occasionally this would tussle onto the ground, where I would begin to feel exceptionally sad. One kid turned his back an opponent beneath him, and stayed there for several seconds without his partner putting in hooks or otherwise getting a grip.
Also, they talked about using different "elements" during a fight - sinking down was "earth", moving backward was "water," and so on. I believe Hedgehogey has had some experience with the joys of element ninjas.
I will say, in there defence, that all of the students I talked to were very nice people. As I mentioned, the girl working the front desk when I arrived was very helpful, giving me the introductory lesson for free (I wouldn't have signed up if I had to pay the fifteen dollars), and had a very amicable demeanor. I mentioned to several people that I did brazilain jiu-jitsu, and at no point did rhetoric such as "95% of what we do is illegal in the UFC" and "you never want to go the ground in a street fight" come up. One of the students (the receptionist who was working after the girl went home) I had meet before at a local cosplay contest (imagine that? An anime fan taking ninjutsu). I talked to him for a while, making sure to stay courteous and non-confrontational. I did mention about how Takamatsu's lineage was not accepted by the Nihon Kobudo Shinkokai, but didn't press the issue of the dubious historical authenticity of ninjutsu. As I said, the people there were very nice, and I wanted to return the courtesy.
Anyways, I'll have my intro lesson on Thursday, so perhaps I can give more information then.