It is hard to imagine what it was like in the United States before Ninjutsu really took root. Action movies, TV shows, commercials, video games, comics, you name it, people take them for granted now that they’re almost everywhere.
It wasn’t until Stephen K. Hayes shined the light into the shadows and paved the way for the new chapter in martial arts history through the art of Ninjutsu. Hayes’ life story on how he became the pioneer of Ninjutsu in United States is really captivating.
He began his martial arts training in 1960s while attending Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, where he joined the Korean Tang Soo Do club. He then started looking for a more realistic self-defense, and eventually ended up in sport karate. Although Hayes enjoyed competing, he felt that there was so much more that wasn’t covered in sport karate, including grappling and armed combat. Hayes soon realized that he wanted more that sport karate could offer. He wanted something that is more geared toward unfavored odds, with more depth and meaning at the same time.
Hayes’ fascination towards mystical warriors started from a James Bond novel that he smuggled into high school study hall. Being riveted as he read pages after pages, he then already knew what his childhood dream is, learning the art of Ninjutsu.
Quest for Ninjutsu
Being more concerned about psychological tactics, dirty tricks, and unfair setups that criminals are more like to use against a victim, Hayes traveled to japan and began his quest to find a grandmaster of Ninjutsu. In 1970s, he met and trained under the newly ordained grandmaster of Togukure-ryū ninjutsu, Masaaki Hatsumi.
The grandmaster was running a small club, only about 15 students, where Hayes was the only foreigner that time. Principles and techniques included footwork, body conditioning, body movement dynamics, body posturing, counter techniques, some ground hitting and tumbling escape skills, and grips for armed and unarmed techniques. Training was never fun, as the whole club just got together and the classes were not really systematized. It was more like exploring and creating vague techniques which was very unsafe. Students were being handled brutally without an formal training on how to receive such assaults. After years of hard work in mastering the art, Hayes achieved his tenth-degree black belt in Togakure-ryū ninjutsu in 1993.
The old fashioned discipline had a very unconventional, and rather an inhumane approach. The techniques were too extreme and had the potential to be worse, probably not legal on today’s self-defense legal system. Hayes remained bothered by that thought for a long time.
Finally, in 1997, after years of struggling to arrive at a compromise, Hayes dug deep into his belief and developed a new art called “To-Shin Do”. The art is based on his experience in Budo Taijutsu but he adapted the techniques to fit the kind of scenarios that modern people will encounter. The art is more focused in addressing what exactly will be thrown at us in a real assault.
“To” means “Bladed edge” while the character “Shin” means “Heart”. It represents the martial arts technology and the resolute spirit needed to prevail over the negative forces that attempt to drive us to defeat.
The training methods are based on a well tested system of ancient warrior disciplines handed down through generations after generations with a modernized approach. The program handles the kind of threats that are most likely happening in our contemporary culture. It includes techniques and strategies designed to deal with the following:
- Striking, kicking and punching
- Grappling, throwing, choking and joint-locking
- Multiple assailants and surprise attacks
- Stick, blade, cord and projectile weapons; and
- Psychological intimidation and bullying
Here are some videos of Hayes demonstrating his techniques:
Full contact is rather a rule than an exception. As most instructors tend to moderate contact, Hayes wanted to set a different approach. He uses an array of protective gears to safeguard his students. Although wearing a body armor may be unconventional, Hayes wanted to streamline the learning process as it provides a safety factor to the students as they execute and receive potentially injurious blows. He believe that such training will let his students know how it feels to throw full-power strikes against a living, breathing human being, therefore is essential for self-defense practitioners.
At the age of 63, Hayes is as prolific as ever, with 31 SKH (Stephen K. Hayes) quest locations across North America, Australia, Europe, and Africa. He established a foundation for an empire dedicated to promoting self-defense, self-improvement, physical fitness, and cultural understanding. Hayes is now considered America’s foremost practitioner of Ninjutsu.
Let’s hear it all from Hayes, about the “Art” behind Martial Arts: