— From the pages of FLL#22 • Photography by Silas Crews
I suppose I was expecting a Jedi.
Sitting in the cafe at Barnes & Noble, easily blending in with the other caffeinated writers, I was confident I’d be able to pick out Sensei Ben Delich from the crowd. He’d be wearing robes, of course, as he ordered an imported herbal tea with a subtle wave of his hand. The drink would hover obediently beside him as he found a table. His paperback, a meditation guide, would turn its own pages. How could I miss him?
He found me first. While my eyes were peeled for Ben Kenobi, Ben Delich slipped under my radar. I’m fairly certain he could have put me in a headlock before I knew what was happening, but he opted for a handshake. Even though he didn’t exhibit any Force powers, he had the serenity and confidence of someone who is prepared for anything.
And he very well might be. Delich has more than twenty years of martial arts training under his belt, and probably has more belts than he has pairs of pants. A sensei of the Danzan Ryu style of Jujitsu, he has obtained their highest level of physical achievement: a 4th degree black belt. He also holds black belts in Sykan Ryu Jujitsu, in Sombo, the Russian variation of Judo, and in the Japanese sword art of Iaido. In other words, do not pick a fight with him!
The Kung Fu Connection.
Ben was born in Lancaster, the youngest of four, and has two older brothers. “They used to beat the crap out of me,” he fondly reminisced. Kung Fu movies served as his introduction to martial arts. They were cheesy and fun then, but what he appreciates in retrospect are the archetypes they portray. “There’s always the teacher, there’s always the student…it might look like the teacher is abusive, but it’s always to better the student.”
He described one training scene that stuck with him: the protagonist is commanded by his teacher to do pushups on his fingertips, with raw eggs under his palms. Every day that he breaks the eggs, he has to eat them. As he progresses, the teacher stacks boulders on his back and orders him to use less fingers. After months of the all-egg diet, the student is able to do vertical pushups on his thumbs without crushing the eggs. Ben tried it as a kid, but could never figure out how to fry the broken eggs.
What really got the ball rolling was when a friend insisted they watch a Jujitsu class together. Impressed, they spent the whole week trying, unsuccessfully, to recreate what they’d seen. That weekend, Ben recounted the story to a family friend, who also happened to know Jujitsu. “You mean moves like this?” she asked, putting him into a finger-lock he couldn’t escape from. “I was jumping around like a monkey,” Ben said, “thinking ‘that’s so cool!’” Naturally, he signed up for classes.
Taking the Plunge
Ben assured me that there is room for humor in martial arts. When he was a student, he participated in one of the regular Kata (form) competitions. There are two parts to a Jujitsu Kata: a performance of prearranged techniques and a freeform combative sequence. The combative sequence allows students to choreograph a hypothetical fight in a mocked-up setting of their choice.
Given that opportunity, Ben opted for a “toilet defense” scenario. He set the stage with an overturned bucket and a plunger, then sat down to read the newspaper. When attacked, he used all of the tools at his disposal, defending himself with the newspaper and “of course I used the plunger right to the face.” Everyone in the dojo was doubled over with laughter; the teachers were barely able to grade his performance.
The discipline of Iaido is more dangerous, so it is treated with a greater degree of gravity. Though learned on wooden or blunted swords, serious practitioners advance to the very real shinken blade. Delich had only just acquired one, when his sensei asked to use it in a demonstration. “He’s snapping this sword out, extremely fast…an inch away from my temple and my carotid… and I’m sweating, I’m nervous.” The teacher seemed puzzled by his nervousness and examined the blade more closely. “Ohhhh,” he exclaimed, “is shinken!?!”
To Fall is to Rise
In The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams wrote that the trick to flying was to throw yourself at the ground and miss. Students of Jujitsu adhere to a less literal philosophy of “throwing yourself,” one that requires casting aside both ego and fear to be fully present in the moment. Our minds can get so fixated on an obstacle that we can’t see the path around it. “If you abandon your ego, and you abandon yourself, you’re no longer being held powerless,” said Delich.
An oft-repeated quote in Jujitsu circles states that, “For the lotus flower to fall is to rise to the surface.” Falling is a necessity in martial arts, both physically and mentally. If you don’t fall, you can’t learn to pick yourself up.
I was taken aback when Delich casually asked if I’d ever choked someone out. He asked it the way you’d ask “have you ever tried sushi?” or “have you ever heard of The Beatles?” Embarrassed, I admitted that I had never choked anyone out, nor been choked out myself. Ben explained that the choke-out was a standard part of training (at least when he was a student) both for combat practice and to learn revival and healing techniques. Jujitsu recognizes five states of consciousness, from fully alert to daydreaming to dead, and when someone has passed out, the goal is to bring them back fully alert.
A Little Vitamin A
Learning self-defense might not seem like a high priority in Lancaster County, but you can never be too careful. Ben cited two examples of students who were jumped in the city and relied on their Jujitsu training to bring them out safely. One told Ben that he was relieved when his attackers pulled out a knife—it was a weapon he had learned to defend against. Although it was seven-to-one, he fended them off.
The other student was grabbed by two thugs who assumed he was carrying a laptop in his satchel. They lifted him up and intimidated him, but he stayed levelheaded and chose not to fight back unless they hurt him. Dropping him, the leader demanded the contents of the satchel. The student reached into the bag. “Is this what you want?” he asked, and slapped him with a handful of carrots, all that was in the bag. “It took more internal fortitude not to fight in that situation,” Ben adds.
Delich finds that the principles of Jujitsu are not limited to the dojo. They find their way into aspects of his job, his family, his priorities. “After you train in martial arts for a long time, you gain an inner ability to sense what’s important in life.”
And who couldn’t benefit from that?
For more information on Danzan Ryu Jujitsu, visit www.roninkaidojo.com