How To-Shin Do Saved My Life
By Zipporah Abraham Paiss
It was an ordinary Thursday. I had woken early, attended school, and was dropped off at gymnastics practice. After a quick warmup, I was sent to the balance beam, warmed up, and performed my beam routine. Next, I was sent to the uneven bars.
My coaches explained the allotted time for warm up we would each be given: 30 seconds a person or two turns on the bars before we had to perform a full routine. I put my grips on quickly, not wanting to waste time and hastily applied chalk to the dampened white leather. The short warm up was unusual, typically we were each given two minutes for warm up, but I didn’t fuss. It was competition season and the coaches knew what was best for us.
The typical eight inch mat was absent from beneath the bars, and I requested one for softer landings. My request was denied with a quick smile and encouraging words of “you can do it” and “it’ll be a nice change.” With a deep breath, I jumped off the floor and caught the low bar.
Everything appeared to be going according to plan. I did a kip, jumped to the high bar, and casted to a handstand. Then, with ingrained muscle memory, I began to swing around the bar (a skill called a “giant”).
My body swung 360 degrees around the bar, each muscle tightened to expected performance and my spine was in alignment. After the second giant I swung down from eight feet above the ground and, attempting to slow my velocity, began to pull up for a third giant.
Suddenly I felt my grips leave the bar. The combined lack of chalk on the equipment and hurried warmup had combined to fuel a disaster. Lost in the air, my initial reaction was panic. For a split second I had no sense of direction and was raising up towards the ceiling, over 10 feet off the ground. Then my ninja training kicked in.
I was unaware of my orientation or how many flips my body completed prior to impact, but I knew my priorities. Protect my neck. Without thinking, I threw my arms back behind my head just like I would for a breakfall milliseconds before my arms and upper back slammed into the floor head first. Years of practiced breakfalls had taught my body to tighten its muscles to avoid pain during impact, and muscle memory kicked in tightening my back muscles. As the impact rickashayed down my spine, the clenched back muscles protected my cervical spine from breaking and the arms I had thrust backwards saved my head and neck from collision.
The fall was not painless. Though my spine was protected, my lower back muscles were
sprained as a result and a rib or two popped out of place. The impact itself had an accordion effect on my
diaphragm and I layed on the ground in astonished shock unable to breath for an undetermined period
of time. Yet, I am walking and talking. The injuries I endured hurt, but they will heal with proper care. Paralysis and death would not heal had I not taken years of ninja training.
I do not have enough words to describe the gratitude I feel for my years of training at the Boulder Quest Center that have kept me safe in gymnastics and on that day probably kept me from being paralyzed. We train and don’t know the moment when all our training will come to bear in the instant when it literally saves your life. I would probably not be writing this note if I hadn’t trained in To-Shin- Do. I knew just what to do without thinking - the benefit of muscle memory and cultivated courage. Thank you, Mary, and all my teachers who gave me what I needed - a Ninja response ingrained from years on the mat.