Self-defense puts modern spin on ancient art

15 years ago

By Elna Seabrooks
Staff Writer

    HOULTON — The Houlton School of Martial Arts is offering classes for adults and children in To-Shin Do — a modern version of the ancient survivalist martial art, Ninjutsu which dates back 900 years. 
ImagePioneer Times photo/Elna Seabrooks
SELF DEFENSE — Rachel Miller and Mark Sperrey, owners of the Houlton School of Martial Arts say the school teaches a modern version of Ninjutsu, a 900-year old fighting art.
    Mark Sperrey, the sensei (instructor) and co-owner, teaches classes, designed to provide a sense of  self-confidence and self-respect that transcend more than combative, self-defense situations.
    One of the benefits of the martial arts for a young person, according to Sperrey, “is that it helps them to learn to respect themselves, be more aware of themselves and it gives them a sense of discipline and balance among people.”
    He also says through the program, young people have to learn to pay attention and get along with each other. “They have to learn to work with each other, whether its grappling on the floor or rolling and tumbling together. They have to be able to learn that balance of being in the same room together and be able to control themselves.”
    The course is not just about discipline. It’s a course in self-defense. Even for young people, Sperrey says, there are techniques children can use to keep out of harm’s way. “With young kids, we teach them how to escape, evade and avoid a bigger person, an aggressive person — maybe an adult who might try to take them away.” He says due to size, a child cannot necessarily fight off an adult which is why the school teaches them strategies on how to handle threats.
ImageContributed photo
CLASS ACTION —  This class, in uniform, is learning the art of Ninjutsu at the Houlton School of Martial Arts.

    Twelve-year-old Casey Carmichael says he enjoys the school’s junior program. “It has helped me a lot. It helps my concentration.” Carmichael has been enrolled for a few months in a class of 10 students. “I like learning how to defend myself,” he says.
    In a rural area like Houlton, where dangerous threats are less than those in bigger cities, Sperrey, a Maine State Police detective, says: “To think you’re not going to be a victim of someone, someday is very foolhardy. In the world bad things happen.”
    And, he says there are benefits to taking self-defense courses even for people of substantial size. “There’s always somebody bigger, always somebody better, always somebody badder.”
    Sperrey holds a 2nd degree black belt “Nidan” in the art of To-Shin Do and is a brown belt in the art of Shotokan Karate with 14 years’ of martial arts experience. He is also a certified Defensive Tactics Instructor in Maine and a former member of the Maine State Police Tactical Team.
    The idealized vision the uninitiated may have of fending off a samurai-style attack is more myth than reality. While someone could, arguably, jump out of the bushes and strike an attack stance, Sperrey says the defense techniques he teaches in Ninjutsu are for real-life situations and confrontations.
    “We try to teach self awareness. Self awareness and self defense can be just being aware of your surroundings. It can be just be being aware of where you are sitting, of where you are going, honing those skills of being aware.”
    He says classes, naturally, differ for adults as opposed to classes for children. Even with regard to terminology – always with an eye to convey real-life issues. “We teach stick, blade, cord and projectile weapons. In other words, a stick may be a cane you walk with,” Other stick weapons might be a broom or an umbrella.
     He continued to describe everyday items that can be used defensively explaining how a woman, possibly being confronted, can throw her coat over an aggressive person to get several steps away. Other flexible weapons can be ropes, extension cords, or belts.
    But, it’s not quite that simple. Sensei Sperrey emphatically points out that the school teaches “proper order of movement. Every martial art has a correct way of doing things and a correct order to accomplish what you want to do.”
ImagePioneer Times photo/Elna Seabrooks
LIVE — Rachel Miller and Mark Sperrey demonstrate a self-defense technique taught in the Lessons In Violence Evasion course for women.

    In addition to the regular classes that run $55 per month for adults and $40 for children, there are private lessons. And, when space is available, adults and children are able to take more extra classes. “The beauty of a school like this is that people get to know each other. It becomes a family,” says Sperrey. 
    Co-owner, Rachel Miller, who handles the business side of the school said a specialized self-defense course in techniques for women is taught in a three-hour class that will be offered in the fall. LIVE (Lessons In Violence Evasion) stresses how women can evade, avoid and escape threats and dangerous situations.
    The Houlton School of Martial Arts, is located at 84 Main Street. Miller says it’s a great location for the school that is growing since it opened last February and now has 40 students.
    More information on the school or the schedule of classes is available by calling, 532-HSMA or visiting their Web site: