I still remember it like it was yesterday. I was 16 years old, sitting in the back seat of my parent’s car thumbing through the latest issue of Black Belt magazine when I came to a full page advertisement for the 1989 Tai Kai with Ninjutsu Grandmaster Masaaki Hatsumi. To my shock and utter astonishment this 3-day seminar with the master ninja and his top students from Japan was being held in the United States. Not only was it being held in the US, but in my home state of NJ, not even an hour drive from my house! Something clicked in my brain – I HAD to go to this thing!
I begged my parents to allow me to go. Remember, I was under 18 years of age at the time and couldn’t drive myself; I needed my parent’s permission and also one of them to accompany me all 3 days of the seminar – a tall order! I remember explaining to them that this was the man I had read about for years and dreamed of training with since I first saw him in Ninja Magazine in the early 80′s. That I owned every book he had written and every article written about him and his art, Togakure Ryu Ninjutsu. And that I read and re-read all of those books until the pages were dog eared and marked up with my poor penmanship in the margins. I practiced all of the things I read in those books religiously and could almost quote them (little did I know at the time how much longer it would take to truly understand them!).
My parents knew my crazy fascination with all things martial arts, especially ninjutsu, and could see I was very, very serious about this seminar. After figuring out who would accompany me what days, my Dad on the first day, my Mom on the second, and my Grandfather the third day, they gave me permission to go. Keep in mind that in 1989 ninjutsu was billed as the art of assassination and showcased by such movie masterpieces as Sho Kosugi’s Revenge of the Ninja!
So me parents were a little concerned about the type of people I would meet and interact with at this seminar. Little did they realize that I was in the presence of true Warrior-Knights and that Tai Kai venue, for those 3 days, was the safest place on the planet. Huge thanks to my parents for having the trust and insight to know that their slightly eccentric 16 year old son, who still dressed up in black pajamas and played ninja in the backyard, understood that this was the path he should take.
1989 New Jersey Tai Kai
The seminar itself was a blur of meeting amazingly skilled people, watching mastery in motion, learning like drinking from a firehose, and feeling totally overwhelmed. Hatsumi Sensei was astounding. He deftly defeated one opponent after another both empty-handed and with almost every weapon imaginable. His command of movement, space, ad timing was incredible; I had never encountered anything like it before. I was hooked.
Now I said above that the entire 3 days was a blur, which is true. But one particular incident stands out in my mind like it happened yesterday. It was meeting the teacher who would have the greatest influence on my martial path and life for the next 20 years. Hatsumi Sensei had just demonstrated about 43 different variations of tying up his opponent with a hanbo (3 foot stick) and I was completely lost. My training partner was a newbie as well so it was the blind leading the blind. We attempted to muddle through, but we just could not figure out the simplest of the henka (variations) that Sensei had shown. I looked around for help and saw an American instructor walking towards us. I knew this guy. I had seen him on stage with Hatsumi Sensei and the other senior instructors and I owned his books. They were in my beat up and constantly read and re-read collection of ninja books. Jack Hoban walked up to us and said, “You look lost.” I dumbly nodded my head and asked if he could help us out. He reached for the hanbo and said one word – “punch”. I punched. Next thing I knew I was lying on my back with a hanbo somehow, inexplicably wrapped around my head and arm. Pain flooded my body and I couldn’t move. He looked down at me and asked, “Got it?”. Not knowing how else to respond I again dumbly and with a lot less mobility nodded my head. He let me up and walked on.
Two months later after having quit my karate training and somehow pestered my Dad into driving me to Asbury Park, NJ for Jack’s monthly Saturday seminar, I began training. Later that year I recieved my driver’s liscense and drove myself every Tuesday and Thursday night an hour each way to attend Jack’s weekly classes. I never looked back.