Title: The Reluctant Ninja: How A Middle-Aged Princess Became A Warrior Queen
Author: Cheryl L. Ilov
Publisher: Willow Bay Publishing
Cheryl Ilov surprised everyone, including herself, when she began training in an ancient Japanese martial art at the tender young age of 47. As a self-proclaimed middle-aged princess, she was the last person anyone would expect to study martial arts.
Cheryl had been living a charmed life until it all came crashing down after a traumatic experience thrust her into the vortex of hell known as PTSD. As she tried to deal with the devastating effects of the trauma, she slipped deeper and deeper into the dark pit of despair.
Her salvation came when her acupuncturist finally convinced her that taking some martial arts classes would help her heal from the trauma. Little did she know that decision would take her on a journey which would change her life forever.
Cheryl takes her readers on a roller coaster ride as she skillfully weaves her remarkable story of personal transformation and triumph as she overcame her fears, discovered her inner strength, and unleashed her warrior spirit.
I UNLOCKED THE DOOR TO THE DOJO, the martial arts school that had been my second home since the first time I crossed the threshold on a beautiful summer day in September 2003. Entering the dojo, I completed the required ritual of removing my shoes, placing them neatly on the shoe rack, and respectfully bowing to the Kamidana, a shrine positioned against the north-facing wall, considered to house the spirits of all those who have trained and gone before us. Those spirits were believed to be quite powerful, and not showing them proper respect could result in disastrous training sessions and even injuries in the dojo. Legend has it that the Kami, the spirits, also gravitate to certain students, looking favorably on some and disapprovingly on others.
Since the Kami were so strong, anyone not showing them proper respect was playing with fire. Or at least risking life and limb. For some reason, students who disrespected the Kami did not last long in the dojo. The shrine consisted of a rich, medium-brown wooden wall and shelf, much like a tall fireplace. On the center of the shelf was a miniature wooden structure in the design of a Japanese building. Inside were the sacred scrolls, which held many secrets of the ninja, as well as philosophies, traditions, rules, and history. At the top was a golden medallion, almost like a mirror, watching and recording everything that happened in front of it.
Once I had paid my respects, I stepped onto the mat and walked toward the dressing rooms, my stocking feet whispering softly, barely making a sound as I crossed the length of the padded floor. At the mat’s edge, as another sign of respect, which was expected every time a student entered and exited the mat, I turned, bowed again, and made my way to the ladies dressing room.
My gi, the traditional martial arts uniform, was hanging neatly on the hanger with my belt draped across its shoulders, exactly where I left it one year earlier. The only change was the thick layer of dojo dust that covered the heavy fabric. It was time to take my well-worn gi home. Over the past fourteen years, I’d had many tests of faith. Some were mere bumps in the road that were to be expected in any type of training, but others were so devastating and insurmountable that they almost took me down for good. I’d often thought about quitting, but the seductive pull of the art always drew me back to the mat. I couldn’t deny the call to train and to follow a path that was ordained to be mine by some unseen force—or perhaps a twist of fate—since it was a path I’d never wanted, nor was it one I’d chosen.
The truth is that I never went looking for the martial art of Ninpo Tai Jutsu. Instead, the art came looking for me. Once it found me, it would not take no for an answer. Apparently, some divine intervention, personal spirit guide, or another power had been assigned to me without my knowing about it. And without my permission. However, the personal transformation I’d experienced over the past fourteen years was nothing short of phenomenal.
When I first entered the dojo on that bright September afternoon back in 2003, I was broken, defeated, demoralized, and afraid of my own shadow. I was even afraid of the dark. Whenever my husband left town on business, I slept on the floor in the family room with lights blazing in every room, not wanting to be alone in the dark bedroom or far away from an exit, just in case I had to make a quick escape. I spent long, sleepless nights on the floor with my dogs cuddled around me, snoring peacefully. Even though I had six of them at the time, I knew they wouldn’t protect me. No one could. But now no one had to.
I was a strong, confident woman who could take down someone half my age and twice my size without even chipping a fingernail or messing up my makeup. It was a wonderful feeling, and I radiated the kind of presence and self-assurance that made people take notice and want to know my secret. At the spry age of sixty-one, I was certainly strong enough, fit enough, and spirited enough to continue training. But I was pretty sure my journey had come to an end. It was a decision that had been weighing heavily on my mind for the past year, during a much-needed sabbatical from the dojo to see if I missed it. I did, but not enough to go back to training on a regular basis.
It wasn’t the training that was the problem. It was the expectations and responsibilities that came along with being one of the highest-ranking students. I was expected to help run the dojo, clean the dojo, teach classes, assist with marketing and advertising, recruit new students, and still pay my monthly tuition. It was an interesting business model, one that had been instituted after my teacher moved to Hawaii to follow his dream, leaving the inmates to run the asylum while he supervised from a distance. He did come back regularly to check on the martial arts school he had opened over twenty years earlier and to smack us around a bit, both literally and figuratively.
After four years of trying to train and flourish under this model, I was growing extremely frustrated and resentful of the time the dojo was taking away from my personal and professional life. After all, I had my own business to run and my own clients to take care of. And they were paying me for my time, rather than the other way around. After taking a year off and weighing the pros and cons, I’d made my decision. It had been a tough choice—and one that kept me up at night.
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Cheryl Ilov has always had a passion for storytelling. Her writing career began by chronicling medical documents and progress reports for thousands of patients as a medical professional in both respiratory as well as physical therapy. Along the way, she discovered that weaving stories along with treatment modalities helped educate her patients and was a powerful tool in their recovery and ongoing progress.
She started a blog in 2011, writing about health, fitness, and life in general. Her elegant, friendly, and sometimes whimsical writing style captivated her followers, and several of her short stories have been published in The Pueblo Chieftain as well as FINALLY! Magazine, an international online publication for the over fifty population.
“The Reluctant Ninja” is Cheryl’s second book. Her first book, “Forever Fit and Flexible: Feeling Fabulous at Fifty and Beyond,” made Cheryl an award-winning author and was a #1 Best Seller on Amazon. She is currently working on her third book, which shares secrets of the ninja and life lessons she learned through her training that readers can apply to every aspect of their lives, without spending eighteen years training in a smelly dojo like she did.
Cheryl lives in Denver, Colorado. When she isn’t writing, dancing, hiking, or beating up bad guys, she loves nothing more than relaxing at home with her handsome husband and three Italian Greyhounds.
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