Welcome back my Ninja-
It’s time for Part 4. of my Origin Story. In “Part 1 – Embracing the Impossible” we met our little ninja hero in childhood, then in “Part 2 – Into the Darkness” we watched as the little boy grew up to be a violent, self-destructive teenager. And in “Part 3 – Ninja Rebirth”, we learned how our ninja hero made his own path to recovering through exercise, meditation, and nature connection.
In this second to last chapter, we’ll dive deeper into understanding how you too can make good on past mistakes and even become a real ninja with real ninja super powers 🙂
The Legend of Ninja
The ninja are widely misunderstood in the western world, thanks to James Bond, secrecy, and western culture’s fascination with violence. This greatly limits our understanding of what a “warrior” is—we tend to think of warriors as murderers, killers, or assassins.
There is an ancient understanding of warrior that is significantly more accurate and profound. In fact, the Taoist, Hindu, and Buddhist wisdom traditions all agree that being a warrior is a sacred path to enlightenment. Even Buddha was from the warrior class.
From the eastern perspective, a warrior is anyone who has realized that, in life, the ultimate opponents come from within: our own greed, ignorance, hatred, laziness, victim-hood, and personal demons. Through training and “sacred battles” within oneself, we develop the internal resources to overcome those demons, to turn them into allies even.
To be a peaceful warrior is very simple – to not be afraid of who you are, no matter what situation you find yourself in. That’s what it means to be a real ninja master – you’ve destroyed your own fear, relinquished your weakness, and walk through each moment of existence fully awake.
While the images of ninja as stealth assassins and violent warriors are historically accurate, this was the exception, not the rule. The ninja lived close to nature, in the mountains, and had no interest in war. They valued their freedom, community, and independence, and for the most part only fought when forced to defend themselves.
The word “ninja” in Japanese means “To endure or persevere.” Through hardship, spirituality, and close observation of nature, the ninja forged a unique path, a practical way of combining all useful information – even things that were deemed taboo by society – to achieve their goals. This became a physical, mental, and spiritual method of self-cultivation– the peaceful warrior’s path to enlightenment.
The ninja were deeply influenced by Taoism, Shinto, Shugendo training, and Shamanism, all traditions which emphasize oneness with all of existence and that everything has a “spirit”.
Most, if not all, schools in the West emphasize the fighting aspect of Ninjutsu, and have lost the essence of ninja: The art of developing one’s potential so completely that one lives with complete freedom, even using life’s greatest difficulties as opportunities to achieve life’s greatest goals.
The way of the ninja is the way of supreme self-mastery, and the willingness to look fear in the eye, and then invite it to dance – the knowing that hiding behind life’s deepest fears are life’s greatest treasures.
In the same way that Qigong, Tai Chi, yoga, and even Kung Fu were developed to help the practitioner develop their spiritual, mental, and physical power, so is the case with Ninjutsu.
The Ninja followed the Tao, the way of life and death, nature, and it’s cycles of growth, decay, and transformation. They were born in a beautiful yet harsh mountainous region of Japan, where hardship was the norm, and it is through the use of their suffering that they were able to develop real super powers.
The Power of Suffering
Life is hard – by design – and that hardness is a beautiful opportunity to develop our full potential. People don’t get great despite their challenges, shortcomings, and “bad luck”, but rather because of them.
Just like the caterpillar, we must go inside our own cocoon, into the darkness, struggling against walls that enclose and insulate us: fear, anger, ignorance, trauma, laziness, weakness.
And through that struggle, we develop strength, free ourselves, and are transformed – gliding on the winds of a new perspective. If someone came along and cut a small hole in the cocoon, the butterfly wouldn’t have to struggle to get out. And because it didn’t have to develop its strength in the struggle to emerge, it wouldn’t be strong enough to fly.
That is how important your suffering is…
Even the precious butterfly, who spends its brief life dwelling solely on beautiful flowers and fragrances, has to prove itself against the harsh reality of nature. By doing so, butterfly serves itself, its offspring, the flowers, forest, and inspires the world around it.
In other words…
Each of us has our own unique cocoon (what one of my personal heroes, Brene Brown, would call vulnerability armor) which is based on the particular kind of suffering we have endured – often it’s made up of our fear, anger, perfectionism, and shame. The cocoon dictates our way of being and we use it as a strategy for staying safe and protecting us just enough to survive. But in keeping us safe and walled off, they insulate us and prevent us from spreading our wings, from thriving. Yet by working with the darkness and safety the cocoon provides, we can change ourselves rapidly.
So while the cocoon serves one purpose during the beginning of the cycle, to protect us, it serves another purpose in the next phase of the cycle, to give us the adversity we need to become strong enough to fly.
“For a seed to achieve its greatest expression, it must come completely undone. The shell cracks, its insides come out and everything changes. To someone who doesn’t understand growth, it would look like complete destruction.” ― Cynthia Occelli
You Are Medicine
One of the most amazing, and humbling, aspects about the alchemy of transformation (beside the fact that you—yes you—can become a ninja!) is that your suffering not only benefits you, it ends up benefiting everyone.
Whether you’ve dealt with hostile environments, the anguish of losing a loved one, destructive addictions, physical pain from training and exercise, extreme anxiety, year of numbness, or childhood rejection, you have this amazing innate ability to transform your suffering to change and grow—and then use your understanding to benefit others in the same position.
Everyone can be a healer if you use your suffering to change your story, it’s not the sole province of some external authority in a sterile building. Even a simple smile can be healing.
Your Medicine is Your Super Power
Yup. You don’t need a radioactive accident or be able to fly. You just need to be willing to totally accept the gifts you’ve already been given, and have the courage to share them deeply with others.
But first, you can’t give others what you don’t have. So if you aren’t happy, healthy, balanced, and self-actualized, there’s no way you can show up in those ways for other people. You must nurture the gifts you’ve been given.
In other words, no more self-sacrifice in the name of love! It is – as the Dalai Lama says – wisely selfish to help yourself first. If the airplane you were on was going down, you’d put your oxygen mask on first and not risk passing out before you can help the child next to you. By example is the only way to truly lead.
Second, transforming your suffering creates tremendous compassion for oneself and others.
“The most beautiful people we have known are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggle, known loss, and have found their way out of the depths. These persons have an appreciation, a sensitivity, and an understanding of life that fills them with compassion, gentleness, and a deep loving concern. Beautiful people do not just happen.”― Elisabeth Kübler-Ross
Third, the transformation of suffering rips away our ignorance, our dependence on things that are false, exposing our attachments. Revealed underneath is a much clearer picture of who we really are, what we stand for, and a conviction to serve our world to the best of our abilities. We can fight it and clutch our attachments (and most of us go through this phase) but it’s much wiser, and way more fun, to surrender to your power and live your legend.
“When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.” Viktor Frankl
That’s what happened for me in that moment in the mirror—complete surrender.
Shamanic wisdom traditions, including my ninja lineage, have a radically different, and deeply empowering, perspective on medicine. All beings, the plants, animals, rocks, and trees, have a spirit. And all spirits have a gift they offer, something to teach us if we observe closely, something they alone are the very best at. This is often referred to as their personal medicine or archetypal power.
In the West, medicine is something that is synthesized by machines and mass produced industrially (side note: Prescriptions drugs kill more people than heroine, meth, and cocaine combined) but according to indigenous wisdom, our medicine comes from within and is unique to each being. Butterfly has transformation medicine, Eagle has perspective medicine, and Black Panther is the ninja of the jungle: dark, mysterious, stealth, sensitive, yet powerful and agile.
You can learn what the medicine is of any animal through close observation of its innate abilities and skills. Similarly, you can learn what your own personal medicine is through close observation and exploration of your skills, passions, and personal suffering.
When you can see adversity through the lens of meaning and purpose, you’ll be compelled to speak your personal truth (to say what only you can say), to share your personal medicine (to do what only you can do), and dedicate your life to something greater than yourself.
And that, my ninjas, is you claiming your super hero powers and forging your own path to real and lasting greatness.
And what does this have to do with fitness? Everything- because to get a kick-ass body, you have to kick ass in your life i.e. become truly empowered, otherwise you will never completely realize your full potential.
Do You Have Real Ninja Super Powers?
Have you ever thought of yourself as medicine? Did you know the ninja were deeply spiritual? What adversity have you faced in life? Did you find a way to use it as an opportunity to make yourself stronger?
I’d love to hear about it in the comments!
The final chapter of my origin story is up next “Part 5. Becoming the Fitness Ninja You Were Born to Be“.
As always, TrainDeep.
Jonathan ~ Ninja Butterfly Master
Photo: Layla Studio