Ninjitsu at the Golden Naga: My Walk on the Ninja Side

Everyone kneels and faces a candlelit shrine on the opposite wall. Class starts with a bowing ceremony.

A few aspects of ninja class—or more accurately Ninjutsu Bujinkan class—are what I expected. Almost everyone is dressed in black, their clothing like stealthy versions of the traditional gi worn in other martial arts. The instructor, Dennis King, appears to expend almost no effort as he demonstrates elegant ways to bring opponents to the ground.

Most of the class, however, defies my expectations. First, there’s nothing mysterious or dark about it. King is very much warm and friendly, as are the other students.

The women I worked with during class, King’s wife Jessica and her sister Anjie, are very supportive.  They thoughtfully answered any questions I had and walked me through each technique. For everything we practiced that evening, one of us ended up on the ground. Despite constantly being coaxed off my feet in firm but gentle ways, neither my bum nor my ego was bruised. No one else seems to mind, either—I didn’t catch a whiff of animosity or attitude. We’re all here to learn.

After class, a flight of stairs was a challenge for my quivering quads. The next day, I can’t stand up or sit down without visible and audible effort.

“My whole perspective is one of love, respect, perseverance first,” King said when I talked to him a few days after the class.

King is a certified instructor who’s practiced Ninjutsu Bujinkan for 19 years, and has been teaching for almost 9.

“The number one philosophy is to live, to survive, to endure,” he said.

Bujinkan differs from media portrayals of ninjas and martial arts in almost all respects. The art dates back 2,600 years. There are no teenage turtles, no cryptic messages or talk of kicking the rival dojo’s butt.

“The preconceived notions of the Karate Kid dojo don’t apply,” said King. “I initiate a technique and then everybody tries to emulate that.”

Everybody trains with everyone else regardless of level. This could be intimidating, but I think it makes sense. Watching Jessica show me something, I can see that she might be getting a more nuanced understanding of the technique. I also trust that she knows what she’s doing and that I’m not in any danger.

“It’s soft, it’s slow, it’s safe—but you have to be present,” King said. The techniques are meant to be harmful. That’s why they’re so effective (and why this martial art is not meant for sport or competition). But by taking them slow and paying attention, they can be taught safely.

There’s a possibility that a woman founded the art. There’s no direct historical backing for this opinion, but many of the techniques seem suited for a smaller person.

“She was probably a very small woman based on the teaching,” said King. “It’s a smaller person being attacked by a larger adversary.”

Bujinkan is quite like some other martial arts in this aspect. And like others, many of the techniques could be lethal but the focus is not on killing your adversary.

“Don’t take their life, take their power,” King commented. “That’s a very feminine approach.”

Modern martial arts are generally male dominated but King said that’s changing. Women and men are equally matched in Bujinkan despite their physical differences.

“Some of the best martial artists I’ve ever seen are in the Bujinkan and they’re women. They’re phenomenally good and I would train with them anywhere,” said King. “They’re really soft and you have no idea why you’re dying.”

My dash of ninja training left me wanting more. Maybe not to bring potential foes to their knees, but to bring this calm, collected ninja confidence to myself. Maybe you’ll see me there if you stop by. But then again, maybe you won’t…

King teaches Ninjutsu Bujinkan on Tuesdays and Wednesdays from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. at the Golden Naga Martial Arts Center in Corvallis. The classes are $15 for drop-in or $80 per month. Look for their flyers around town and mention the flyer to get three free classes. For more information, call King at 541-752-0965 or visit

By Lana Jones