The sword and the whisper song

Recently I was sitting on my back porch, watching the sunrise, and tuning in to the language of the birds around me. Bird language is a little different than typical bird watching or bird identification by song. Bird language is a three dimensional practice of being aware of not just who is out there communicating, but what the landscape is telling you through the soundscape. Among other things, it teaches you how to detect alarms in the forest of approaching danger, well before you actually see or encounter it. 

On this recent morning I heard a whisper song that I had never detected before. What's a whisper song? Most people are familiar with bird songs. But there is a subset of birds that have an additional, much more subtle addition to their playlist- the whisper song. These are very quiet, almost murmurings of songs, whispered by a few birds. 

I had first learned of whisper songs while doing bird surveys in Hawaii. I was part of teams that would annually trek from the tops of volcanoes, through thick impenetrable fern covered native forests, all the way to the ocean in some cases. We would stop at designated locations, listen, then record the species of birds we heard. Many of these birds were endangered. Some have since vanished from the planet. Some sang very stealthy whisper songs. These were the hardest to detect. Imagine a recording of a squeaky wheel on a grocery cart, turned down to the lowest volume, and played 100 meters away. That's how challenging it was to hear these songs.

I had forgotten about whisper songs when I moved to California and changed professions (to become an educator). Then, one day I was sitting in my backyard watching my son try to lure a local Scrub Jay to come down and take a peanut off his head. That's when I heard a quiet murmuring of a whisper song behind me. To my surprise, there was a Scrub Jay, perched on the roof, looking at us while going through a near-silent repertoire of babble. I doubted what I was hearing until I did some research and sure enough, the local jays were known for occasional whisper songs.

Fast forward to the East coast where I live now. I was on my porch when I heard a very faint Cooper's Hawk call. If you are not familiar with Cooper's hawks, they are deadly to many of your backyard songbirds. They are silent hunters of the forest canopy and subcanopy. They specialize in killing birds. They are especially effective at decimating entire nests of their young. They are also one of the main reasons at the beginning of the fledgling season you see a lot of young birds following their parents screaming for food, and then within a few weeks, many of these young birds disappear.

It took me a moment to realize that what I thought was a distant Cooper's Hawk calling was actually an Eastern Blue Jay in the trees twenty yards away. In California, the Scrub Jays do a near perfect imitation of a Red-Tailed hawk. Whenever I would hear them doing this, I would look to the skies, and usually there would be a Red-Tailed circling overhead. Some believe that this is the way the jays communicate to each other that this predator is nearby.

But this Blue Jay was not only doing a whisper song of a Cooper's Hawk, it seemed to be doing this call to an audience of its three young fledglings. It hopped on a branch by these three birds and quietly did this call. These young birds at the time were being quite noisy with their begging calls. I couldn't help but wonder, was this the parent's way of saying, "Pay attention! Are you listening!! There is a Cooper's Hawk nearby! Do you want to get us killed?!!!"

But what does this have to do with ninjas or swords?

Ancestral knowledge, passed down from one generation to the next, with the intent of ensuring survival.

Two years ago I visited the honbu dojo for a week of training. I watched Soke (the grandmaster) Masaaki Hatsumi, teach about sword evasion. It was so subtle, quiet, a whisper song of movement. He hardly spoke. He deflected and controlled the sword at times with only his fingers, a light touch, sometimes just a single finger. At the time I was a green belt, and I understood that he teaches to the level of the 15th dans, so I know there were many levels of teaching that I wasn't comprehending. Still, I walked out of the dojo that day, struck by the value and effect of soft, subtle, and quiet.

There's another whisper of the sword I have encountered as a student of Sensei Roemke. It's the quiet sound that the sword makes when cutting through the air. It's known as tachikaze, which means "sword wind". It's one thing to hear this sound. It's another to create this sound yourself, and it feels sooooo good when you create tachikaze. Sensei Roemke has entire video sets on sword training if you want to venture down the path of tachikaze.

Here's a recent one from our Pathways Youtube Channel where he teaches how to draw and put away a sword. 

Ninja Mentor Suggestion
It's hard to find a youth that is not interested in wielding a sword. Grab a nearby ninja youth. Ask them if they want to "learn how ninjas draw and put away swords". Then go make or find a sword and practice these skills that Sensei Roemke teaches with them.

Within a few days, the family of jays I observed had dwindled from three young birds to two. I had to wonder if the surviving two had actually paid attention to the Cooper's Hawk warning, while the other hadn't. I also wondered if this evasion technique was ancestral knowledge that has been passed down from teacher to student since as long as there have been jays and hawks in the same neighborhood. 

Like avoiding the sword, there are valuable lessons to persevere, but sometimes you have to be listening for the whisper song.

Kyoketsu Shoge, The power of rope and ring

Recently we guided a group of youth ninjas with our online live training program through the process of making kyoketsu shoges. What's a kyoketsu shoge? For starters it looks like this...

A rope, ring, and wood. To be specific, the ring in this photo is made from a dog chewie. This is the training version. The ancient ninja version would have been made from an iron ring, and used among other things to hit the hands of sword wielding opponents, causing them to drop their sword.

Last summer Mark and I co-led East and West coast summer camps where we had the kids make their own kyoketsu shoges. We realized that branches from trees made perfect handles. It was amazing to watch the focus (and quiet!) that kids put into carving, sanding, burnishing, and oiling their wood.

Then we started to train with them. OMG! Sooooo fun.

Target practice, wrapping around branches, spinning drills. I can't tell you how high the youth stoke factor was, and for the instructors too!!!

What was really cool was how the kids used their creativity with these. They quickly figured out that with the right throw, that they could wrap them around branches and use them as a rope swing, or to climb up into the tree.

Then Mark showed them this "advanced" neck spin in the video below. Check it out. So much fun. have to make one first! I'll save that for the next blog entry. For now, enjoy this one.

How to save your life with rocks and fire

Greetings ninjas,

Most people have heard of the four basics needs for survival: shelter, fire, water, and food.  Let's zero in on one of them...water.

I remember one of the most amazing experiences I have ever had with fresh water in the wilderness. I was about a week into a rafting trip down the Grand Canyon. One day of the trip, we went for a five mile hike up into the desert canyon. The temperature was over 110 degrees F. The dry desert landscape showed little sign of fresh water. That changed as we rounded a bend in the trail that put us at the base of a 500 foot high red wall limestone rock face. Hundreds of feet above us an enormous spring roared out of the rock wall face from a cave, landing in a large pool at the bottom of the cliff. It was the only time in my life that I have ever swam and drank the water at the same time. I can still hear the roar of the water fall. The dramatic contrast with the parched landscape surrounding this spring highlighted the value of this amazing resource.

As summer approaches, much of the northern hemisphere starts to dry out, shifting the water dynamic. Depending on the landscape, you only have a few days that you can survive without water. Less than 1% of the Earth's water is suitable for drinking. Over 3.6 million people die every year from diseases from drinking unsafe drinking water. Unless you find a spring where the water is coming directly from the ground, it is generally not safe to drink directly from most streams, lakes, ponds, or rivers. You have to purify the water.

One way to purify water is by boiling it. One way to boil water in a wilderness situation is by doing a rock boil. In this method, you heat stones in a fire, then after brushing the ashes off of them, you drop them into your container of water. You need to make sure these stones aren't "wet" stones, meaning that they aren't gathered from places like streams, or from underwater. Wet stones can be like a sponge and explode when heated.

Check out this short demonstration video where we show how to boil water with rocks.

It might just save your life some day.

Keep training!


Why ninjas should train with fire during a summer staycation

Greetings Ninjas,

As the longest days approach, I start to think of the fire element, meaning the giant ball of fire in the sky...the sun. I used to work in the arctic in a national park in Alaska where the sun wouldn't set for several weeks. It was hard to sleep. As I write this I am residing in the northeast corner of the U.S. and am grateful for some darkness (and sleep) as the days grow long.

With the approaching summer, up until this year, the routine has been to plan for summer adventures, which usually meant some form of camping. As the covid spread continues, how to accomplish this summer has become a bit more complicated. We opted recently for the backyard camping adventure, including cooking food over the fire.

As the "staycation" continues, I look for the opportunities to connect to the natural landscapes right out my back door. With fire on the mind, my thoughts go to practicing fire by friction, and in particular, bow drill fire making.

I first learned to make fire in Hawaii. I had gone to a wilderness survival class in New Jersey where they taught us how to make fire by friction. On my way out the door to catch my plane back to the forests of Hawaii, I asked, "do you know what woods I would use back in Hawaii to make a bow drill kit?"

"Nope. Just do the fingernail test I guess," they said. 

Don't worry. I explain it in the video link below.

So I did a lot of fingernail testing as I roamed the forest of Mauna Loa while working as an endangered species bird biologist. I eventually found a type of wood that passed the test, and soon was making fire. I later figured out that the tree I chose was a local Hawaiian Hibiscus. To my surprise, and actually not surprise, I would later learn that this species was the same tree that the ancient Hawaiians used to may fire by doing fire plows (that's another story that I'll save for later).

Learning to make fire by friction changed my life, in a really good way. I never looked at the forest the same way. My current bow drill fire kit is made of Basswood (Tilia americana), which not only makes one of the best fire kits I've ever tried, but also has edible leaves, is great for wood carving, and can be used to make cordage.

There is something ancient or call it magical about making fire by friction. Every time I do it in a public setting, people are somehow drawn like a magnet. Jaws drop, they don't believe what they are seeing, people really want to try it, and are so excited when the tinder bundle bursts into flame.

It's a great family connecting tool too. You can use 3-4 people together to make the bow drill work. We also pull ours out when we want to create space for an intentional fire, be it for remembrance (we started my father's 4 day memorial fire with one when he passed), celebration (we used one as part of our wedding ceremony believe it or not), holidays (my wife lit Hanukkah candles every night one year with her kit), and, and, get the idea.

It's really fun to go gather a kit as a family, then make fire by friction as a family. Just try it. I dare you to prove me wrong.

So the first step obviously is to make a kit. Here's a video below showing one way to make a kit.

Oh, did I say, it takes a bit of skill to get a coal after you make a kit? It took me a week to get a coal when I made my first kit. It was really fun though "failing". Good luck!

Keep training!

Teaching Youth Ninja Dive Rolls

Hi, this is Mark Roemke with Ninja Training TV, Pathways Dojo, and Ninjas in Nature.

Today's blog highlights a teaching from our youth ninjutsu training series. It is about hicho kaiten, also known as the "flying bird roll." While you may recognize this technique if you study modern training methods such as parkour, this technique has actually been used in ninjutsu for a very very long time. This lesson will help people, in particular kids, learn how to do a dive roll if they have never done one before. 

There are some important safety tips in this video that you should pay attention to as well. With a dive roll, when you are first learning it, you should bend your knees and get into a squat position so that you are closer to the ground so you don't injure your shoulder at first. You should also use your arms as springs while keeping a little tension in them so they don't collapse as you roll forward. 

If you watched my previous video from our Ninja Training TV series where I explained hicho kaiten for adults, pay close attention to the differences in how I explain this roll to youth. 

I'm going to hand the blog off to Ken Clarkson who directs our Ninjas in Nature program...

Ken here, with a short hicho kaiten story...

After leading the NiN program for several years, occasionally patterns start to emerge, such as- most kids don't know how to light a match. With hicho kaiten, I've seen an emerging pattern that comes second hand usually from parents.

When my kids first learned hicho kaiten from Mark, they were also playing soccer. One day I came to my son's game late. As I approached the sidelines, a parent came up to me and said, " should have seen what just happened! Your son got tripped up during a sprint with the ball and did some sort of ninja roll and popped right back up and kept playing!"

I asked my son later and he said, "yeah, I guess did something. I wasn't really thinking about it."

Fast forward a few years and this time I witnessed something similar with my daughter. She was playing defense and was knocked backwards. This time she did a koho kaiten (backwards ninja roll) and popped up again and continued playing. 

After this summer's NiN youth summer camp, a parent emailed me to relate a story of witnessing their child go over their bike handlebars in a wipe out, only to roll out of it. I couldn't help but think of Mark's previous story of his motorcycle accident. 

Another parent told me of their child getting shoved recently and falling forward, only to go into a dive roll.

It's a pattern. Kids learn the roll, then something happens where the roll protects them, and then I hear about it from parents. And, the longer we keep teaching this, the more I expect to continue hearing about. 

When thinking about teaching self defense to kids, a lot of focus is spent on things such as punching, kicking, and blocking. In reality, a kid is much more likely to trip and fall down than need to face an attacker. This is one reason I love learning ninjutsu and teaching it. The techniques are often very practical and are used in real life situations.

Just the other day I went to watch my son at his high school soccer game. A parent whose younger son Alex is in our after school NiN program said, "You should check out what Alex just did. He just did ninja rolls the entire length of the soccer field on the walk here to the bleachers." 

This is an important point. To fully embody this technique requires training, over and over, literally rolling over and over and over. This creates "muscle memory". When an accident is about to happen you don't have time to think "Oh, I'm going to do hicho kaiten." Unfortunately life doesn't work that way. 

So, check out the video. Show it to your kid, then go practice it, over and over and over...if possible, do it with them.

If you child is having trouble getting this technique, try teaching them zenpo kaiten first, which Mark taught in a previous blog.

Of course, we'd love to hear stories down the line if this technique helped you or your child.

Ok back to Mark...

We hope you enjoy this latest video. If you like what you see, you can access the entire Ninja Youth Full Set at

Keep Training,

Sensei Roemke

Teaching Youth Ninja Rolls

Hi, this is Mark Roemke with 
Ninja Training TV, Pathways Dojo, and Ninjas in Nature. I wanted to give you some details about today's blog, which is about how to teach youth zenpo kaiten naname. This is the forward diagonal roll. This video is an excerpt from our youth training series. We have created an adult white to black belt training series as well as youth and kid video training series. These videos are designed for instructors who teach youth groups or for parents who want their kids to train at home. These lessons are designed to compliment what they may also be learning in a martial arts class. These courses are an encyclopedia of ninjutsu techniques that can help any student brush up on techniques. 

As an instructor of our youth programs, one of the things that I think is important is to keep them excited and active while you are teaching them. If you are just standing in front of a room and lecture to them, you will quickly lose their attention, and they will shut down. My approach to teaching youth is to provide a mix of focus skills and drills with high energy activities. For example, I might do some sprint relays or obstacle courses, then go directly into a focus skill, and then return to more high energy activities before doing the next drill. We have a lot of these activities mixed into our training series. This approach keeps the kids happy. When you are happy and learning, you will grasp a skill much faster, and you will excel past most people who are doing more sedentary learning. 

Zenpo kaiten naname is a great skill to start youth down the path of ninjutsu. Kids love to roll, but a lot of kids these days don't get many opportunities to learn how to roll. This is a great way to teach them and get them excited. I hope you really enjoy this one. 

If you like this video you can check out the entire set of youth or kid training at our Pathways Dojo page or our Ninja Training TV adult white to black belt series.

In gratitude,

Sensei Roemke 

How Hicho Kaiten Saved My Life

Hi, this is Mark Roemke with Ninja Training TV, Pathways Dojo, and Ninjas in Nature. This is the second entry in our new ninja blog where I tell stories and share techniques from our training videos and expand on other aspects of the many programs and projects that we are doing with Pathways Dojo. If you haven't already seen it, check out my first blog entry where I talk about What is Ninjutsu?

Todays blog is about a roll called hicho kaiten, the "flying bird" roll. This roll is from Bujinkan Budo Taijutsu, or ninjutsu, the "art of the ninja". This particular roll is an amazing roll. It has saved my life on multiple occasions and has prevented me from getting broken bones or worse. Here is a true story of how hicho kaiten saved my life.

I was on my motorcycle, driving at about thirty miles per hour down a street. A woman pulled her car out right in front of me. She didn't see me so I tried to swerve around her at the last instant, but I ultimately hit her. As I realized that I was about to impact her car, I leapt up at the last second as my motorcycle hit the car, launching me about fifteen to twenty feet in the air. I went into a hicho kaiten dive roll as I came back to the ground. I was wearing a helmet and full leather riding gear, so those saved my skin. 

I stood up and walked over to the lady's door and said, "excuse me ma'am, but you just hit me." This roll literally saved my life. I was able to walk away from that accident more or less unscathed thanks to this roll.

One of the things that I tell my students all the time is that the elements of ninjutsu that will save your life just might be the practical, "basic" skills, like how to roll and fall properly. People fall and have accidents all the time in everyday life, but not everyone gets into a fight or self defense situation, unless you are a police officer, in the military, or are a bouncer.

This roll has also saved me more than once when I have gone mountain biking. I love to do some extreme mountain biking here in Santa Cruz. More than once I have gone over my handlebars, and guess what saved me? Hicho kaiten. 

Check out the video below on how to do hicho kaiten. You can practice it on mats, wood floors, cement, rocks, lawns, or out in a forest...anywhere. Once you learn how to safely do this roll it just might help prevent serious injury or possibly save your life one day.

We have much more about hicho kaiten in our white to black belt series at for adults or a full white to black belt series for youth at 

Keep training!
Sensei Roemke

What is Ninjutsu

Greetings ninjas,

This is Mark Roemke. I am a 15th Dan practitioner of Bujinkan Budo Taijutsu. This is our initial blog where I will be diving deep into discussions of this art. In this first blog, I explain in the video below a little bit about myself and the art of ninjutsu, and specifically, what the art of the ninja means to me.

I started studying martial arts when I was seven years old. I have been studying for a long time. I've been punched, kicked, and thrown around quite a bit. I'd love to tell you more about what I've learned along the way, and what gets me stoked about martial arts. Hopefully you will experience this stoke as well. 

I'd love you to come along on this ninja journey. In this blog series, I will dive into more detail about some of my favorite videos from our Ninja Training TV Youtube Channel to give you some inside perspective, background, and of course, help you feel the stoke. 

Below is the most recent video where I discuss what ninjutusu means to me.

If you enjoy this video, we have over 100 FREE training videos at our Youtube Ninja Training TV channel.  This channel and our Ninja Training TV website are for beginners who've never done martial arts and want to get into a fitness routine, develop a meditation practice, or martial arts routine. They are also for the more advanced Bujinkan artist who wants to take their art to the next level. 

I hope this first video about ninjutsu inspires you. And, if you want to take your training further, please check out our complete White to Black Belt training series plus a huge weapons training library at

In gratitude,
Sensei Roemke
15th Dan
Dai Shihan

P.S. At our Pathways Dojo in Santa Cruz, California, we fuse many arts with our training. We train a lot in nature, and want you to get back out in nature to train. You can learn more about this at