I am revisiting my first unfinished novel with enthusiasm this summer, and I hope to finish it soon. Here is a sneak peak at one of my middle chapters – no spoilers here. This novel is inspired by actual events that took place in my life during my childhood years spent in Japan as a navy brat.
We entered the dojo and immediately noticed the framed pictures that covered one wall – pictures of Isamu’s ancestors, we later learned, who were all masters of a form of ninja training that had been passed down from generation to generation since the early 15th century. Most of the pictures were paintings. The oldest few looked like charcoal drawings on bamboo, covered in some sort of lacquer finish.
“Who is this?” I asked. I pointed to one of the only photographs on the wall. It was a young, bare-chested ninja student. His arm, leg, chest and stomach muscles were well defined and impressive.
“That’s my grandfather when he was a young man.” Isamu answered. “He was killed in the Hiroshima bombing.”
“I’m sorry,” Scott said. We were all sorry.
“Hey,” Isamu said, “It wasn’t your fault, and you have nothing to be sorry about.”
We looked at the other two photographs on the wall and could tell immediately that one was Isamu’s father at about Isamu’s age and the other was of Isamu himself.
“Was your father good with the ninja skills?” I asked.
“He is the best,” answered Isamu.
“Is?” asked Scott. “You mean he still practices?”
Isamu smiled at us and said, “ninja training is a lifelong pursuit. I hope one day to be as good as my father.”
I marveled at this. I had completely misjudged Isamu’s elderly father as he stacked cucumbers in his knee high boots, coveralls, and apron. My respect for the man immediately increased.
“Do you think we could ever see him in action?” I asked.
“I wouldn’t press your luck,” responded Isamu. “Right now I’m having a hard enough time convincing him to let me train you here. One day perhaps. In case you didn’t notice, my father isn’t very fond of Americans.
“You mean he doesn’t like us?” I asked.
“Well, no, not as a group anyway,” Isamu answered. “He blames all Americans for the death of his sister, parents, and grandparents.”
“The bomb,” added Martin.
“Yes, the bomb,” answered Isamu. “In truth, he probably also struggles with guilt because he survived.”
“How did he survive the bombing?” Scott asked.
“He was attending school on the other side of the island.” Isamu answered. “I have been praying that he will find peace and be able to forgive the Americans. Forgiveness and complete healing will only truly come when he gives his life to Jesus.”
Isamu’s words were foreign to me, but I thought about them for the rest of the evening. How does one give his life to Jesus? And why would this bring complete healing? I wanted to know more from this new teacher of mine.
The rest of the evening – the delicious dinner and the training – went by quickly. The conversation around the table was pleasant, although Isamu’s father was mostly silent with the exception of a few grunts. He did seem delighted when Martin and I spoke in Japanese, so I was determined to say as much as I could in his native tongue. He watched us. He complimented us on our agility with the chopsticks – not openly, but by softly whispering of his admiration to his wife who was seated next to him. Because their dining room was small, we were able to hear everything that he whispered, and for me, it was enough that he noticed us and thought well of us.
After dinner we returned to the dojo, and after our stretching exercises we practiced our falling techniques and hung from their training bars. Isamu then introduced us to some agility training on what looked like a balance beam that sat just one foot above the floor. The balance beam was rounded on the top surface and resembled a fallen log in the forest except that it was shiny and somewhat slippery.
“Balance is a critical skill for ninja.” Isamu announced. He jumped onto the log and ran across its thirty foot length without difficulty. When he jumped off the far end he encouraged each of us to follow his example.
Martin was the first up. He jumped onto the log and almost immediately lost his balance. His arms shot out to his side, and he struggled to stay on the log.
“Good, Martin,” encouraged Isamu.
With the encouragement from Isamu, Martin settled himself and then tried to run across the beam. About halfway from the end Martin’s body started leaning precariously to the left, and his next footstep landed him on the floor.
“That’s okay Martin, shouted Isamu. “Get back in line, and try again.”
Scott was up next, and he performed about as well as Martin. Then it was my turn. I jumped up onto the beam and fell off straight away. I didn’t let that deter me, though. I cautiously climbed back on, and, when balanced, started making my way across the beam. I was the first besides Isamu to make it all the way across without a spill.
“Great job, Pat,” shouted Isamu. I could hear the hoots and hollers from Scott and Martin too.
“Now we work on speed,” Isamu said. “Soon you should be able to move across the beam while running.”
We spent the rest of the early evening alternating between balancing, falling, and hanging exercises, and even though we never threw a punch or a kick the entire first day, all of us went to bed exhausted and excited about the new skills that we were learning.