Lenka Vostova is a woman martial artist from Czech Republic. She is 27 years old and practices Ninjutsu for about 10 years, studying more than 2 years in Japan. She is currently 4th dan, and has just finished her MA academic degree in Japanese studies in Czech. Her teachers are Sensei Dr. Masaki Hatsumi, the 34th generation Soke – the head of the Bujinkan Ninjutsu School, Shiraishi Sensei, and Noguchi Sensei, which are disciples of Dr Hatsumi sensei, and Pokorni Sensei from Czech, her first teacher.
My name is Ofer Cohen M.A, 10 Dan and I teach Ninjutsu, self-defense for women and Tai chi. I met Lenka in Japan while training Ninjutsu in the Bujinkan dojo and we became friends. I was impressed by her agility of movements, her body and soul wisdom although quite young, and by her motivation to learn the Japanese culture in general and the deep way of Ninjutsu from Dr Hatsumi Sensei and his disciples. 3 years have passed and we were fortunate to have Lenka in Israel for a 2-month's visit. I used this opportunity to interview her about womanhood and the Martial arts and related issues. A word of thanks is reserved to Navot Laufer, a Ninjutsu participant and a mutual friend for his kind assistance in maintaining the interview.
Q: Lenka; Why did you start martial art and is it connected with the fact that you wanted to feel more secure?
A: I started martial arts in the age of 15 in women self defense course and then I practiced karate for one year. But it seemed to me very limited, so in the moment I found out that there is an art of Ninjutsu I took my chance to learn this martial art. In the beginning I practiced for self defense and also because it was very interesting and I had good friends practicing with me.
Q: Why is it interesting for you even when you are a grown woman?
A: Because gradually I found that it is a way of a lifelong personal development and that I can apply things I have learned through martial arts studies also in my life outside of dojo. It is particular helpful in decision making and flexibility in changing life circumstances.
Q: Do you feel that martial arts can be helpful in real situation of being attacked by an aggressor?
A: Yes, I think they may be very helpful but we should not presume that since we learn a martial art we are safe and do not need to be careful. We also should not mix martial arts and modern martial sports since the essence is completely different.
Q: What is the difference between martial arts and martial sports?
A: Well, obviously martial sports derive from martial arts. Martial sports are preparing you for situations within the range of rules, within the range of the particular discipline and environment (usually gym, mats, ring etc.) there are tournaments in martial sports but there are no tournaments in traditional martial arts. There is also no separation based on age, gender, weight, discipline or performed weapons. Martial arts prepare you for real combat situation where everything you do is fair because you are fighting for your life. Since the concepts of muscle power, speed and athletic abilities are not of the biggest importance in traditional martial arts you can practice even in older age and the longer you practice the better you are. You do not have to be Superman to be an excellent martial artist. Even handicapped people on wheelchair can practice (and do practice also here in Israel) Ninjutsu.
Q: Martial arts are often connected with an image of violence and aggressiveness. Is there any contradiction between being feminine and being a martial artist?
A: The connection between martial arts and violence itself is wrong. True martial arts never rely on brute physical power and aggressiveness because they are limited and often can become your big disadvantage. And concerning the second part of this question- since true martial arts do not teach you to be brute and aggressive but to be soft and flexible I do not see any contradiction in it. My boy-friend doesn't think that I am not feminine even if I am beating him up…(laughing..)
Q: You are learning Ninjutsu. What are its qualities as a martial art and why do you think it is good for women?
A: At first Ninjutsu does not have any limitations. Martial sports as sport karate or judo work with weight categories, age categories and have strict rules that have to be kept. In Ninjutsu we know that real life is not like that. It is not always fair and in case of an attack there are no categories and no rules. In case of attack we have to fight for our life and not for medals.
And why is Ninjutsu good for women? Because it teaches this kind of approach. It does not require muscles and speed but its foundations are in understanding humans, situations and the tools you have in your hands. For the beginner students our techniques are based on movement of whole body, not only physical power. These makes Ninjutsu very good for women because they do not have to rely on their week points but can learn how to use their body weight, movement, good timing and distance. And intuition.
Q: Do you think that women can achieve a high level in martial arts?
A: I think that true martial arts teach women that there are no limitations in their achievements based on their gender or age. The only limitation is the way of thinking.
Q: What about specific problems those women may encounter during their training of martial arts?
A: I think that the biggest problem is low self-confidence of women and unfortunately also the common (but mistaken) image of something violent, aggressive, manly. This applies to both genders and there are some prejudices about women in Budo on both sides. But a woman can be hundred percent feminine and still self-confident and strong.
Q: What are the essential things in women self defense?
A: I think there are two important things: First, to have the determination to defend herself in full extend if attacked, Second, to have environmental awareness- to know the risks, possible dangerous places and situations. To be aware that she may be targeted. To be aware that her behavior may attract or discourage an attack. I really do not think that relying on technical skills or on self-defense weapons is what women should do.
Q: Do you think that an instructor in self-defense courses should know if his/her female student have been attacked or encountered any violent actions against her?
A: Definitely yes since there is a need of specific approach towards women that have become a victim of violence.
Q: You came to Israel as a tourist from a very peaceful country. Do you feel intimidated or insecure in Israel?
A: Well, everybody at home was discouraging me from coming here because of the situation. But I do not feel less safe than at home. The thing that makes me upset is the suicide bombing. Yes, there are more safety risks in Israel than at my home country but on the other hand I am more alert and careful. For me as a martial arts student the security situation is also somehow interesting because I can learn quite a lot. I of course do not want to be blown to pieces but once I decided to come I have to take the situation here as a reality and accept it. Recent events in the USA show us that there is actually no really safe place on this world. But we should not get discouraged and scared because of it.
Q: What do you think; Is it better to have a woman instructor for teaching in women self-defense courses?
A: It much depends on level of the instructor, not on the gender, but we should take into consideration that having only one-sided approach is very limiting. I personally think that the best is to have man and woman teaching together with emphasize on the women needs.
Q: Do you think that Israelis are more aggressive than Europeans or Americans?
A: Definitely yes but it does not mean that they are less human. Living in such a conflict society makes an influence on everybody especially if you grow up in stressful and conflict environment. But aggression causes aggression. This is low of the nature.
Q: And what about benefits (as a martial artist) of living in a country in a situation as we have in Israel? Is there anything that we have and people from peaceful countries do not?
A: Yes, there are a lot of things to be learned from Israelis. They have the heart to fight for existence of their country, for their home. They have very strong sense of safety risks. And they know that violence and terrorism are things that really do happen. In peaceful countries as is also my country we can see it on TV but we would never believe that something like that could happen in our home. We feel safe and we hardly think about such things. We have no notion about self-defense in wide meaning of the word. Americans paid too expensive price for such na?ve attitudes.
Q: What do you think about Israeli women with regard to the issue of practicing martial arts?
A: Well first of all I feel that there are not enough women in martial arts in general, and Israel is the same. There are many that wish to study but are afraid for some reason.
I can not speak for other martial arts or sports but the women practicing Ninjutsu are very good. Since they do not believe that aggressiveness and muscle power is the only way they can easily grasp more important and advanced principles of movement and intuitive reacting on changes in their environment. Unfortunately they are not appreciated enough because of the wrong "aggressive and strong" concepts of most practitioners and even teachers. I think that good and really high level teacher is the most important thing for learning martial arts. Check carefully your feeling about what you see and hear and then decide. And do not let other people discourage you from what you want to do in your life.
Ofer: Thank you Lenka for the interview and we will expect to see you again soon in Israel and to keep on learning and practice with you.
Lenka: Thank you too Ofer, I enjoyed staying in Israel and I will surly come back again soon.
P.S. two more years have past. In February 2003 I met Lenka in Japan when we trained together with Dr. Hatsumi Sensei and the Shihans. Later this year in November, Lenka came to Israel for a short visit and we conducted together a Ninjutsu workshop, each teaching some important aspects that we learned in Japan.
Ofer Cohen 15Dan, Israel
Student of Shihan Danny Waxman (15Dan) and Doron Navon.
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