Ashida Kim’s Last Ninja Standing is a stunning accomplishment. Never have so many grudges been presented in one volume spanning more years of the politics of Koga Ryu Ninjitsu. Never have so many implausible stories been regurgitated with so straight a face. Never has the third person been invoked with less joy and more self-important posturing. This is a book for the ages, a book that presents — in a disorganized hash of autobiographical vignettes, reprinted martial arts techniques, affected profundity, and years-delayed stairwell wisdom — every issue on which Ashida Kim feels the last word ought to be had, and it is had by him without so much as a hint of parody or humor.
The book begins with a foreward and then a more lengthy introduction by Andreas Leffler, a seemingly earnest fellow who has authored quite a few German-language ninja books (including one titled, “Ashida Kim”). Apparently Mr. Leffler founded a German branch of the Black Dragon Fighting Society and the Ashida Kim book is either about Kim or a translation of Kim’s material, conducted with Kim’s approval.
After this we launch into a discussion of the “Cloak of Invisibilty,” with no explanation or introduction whatsoever. The secret of invincibility is apparently to take your cloak and throw it over another guy, which means you can, in fact, be invisible as a ninja. You just have to be content with being invisible to only one guy at a time.
Most but not all of the book is conducted in a disjointed, third-person style. For example, the chapter, “How Ashida Kim Got His Name” is a retelling of the familiar tale in which unnamed persons engaged in unidentified competitions gave Radford Davis the nickname “Ashida Kim” because this is derived from the term “big foot,” a reference to his fearsome kickboxing. Mr. Kim also claims that the ninjitsu style he learned, from a teacher named only as “Shendai,” came from the “Kimitake clan or family style,” which of course is terribly convenient if your [nick]name is already Ashida Kim.
The lore included in Last Ninja Standing is as fantastic as it is incoherently presented. Kim claims that as a baby, his father observed him “lying on a metal pan cookie sheet in the delivery room,” and that is father was amazed that Ashida Kim the infant was lying quietly on the cold metal without crying out. Much like baby Jesus, it seems, Kim was already otherworldly and self-possessed straight from the womb.
Returning to the third person, Ashida Kim recounts the meeting he supposedly had with John “Count Dante” Keehan in proximity to the turbulent 1968 Democrat National Convention in Chicago. This claim, which to my knowledge no one can confirm, has always been the foundation of Ashida Kim’s connection to the Black Dragon Fighting Society, and the reason he has used the BDFS logo and name to promote his work in ninjitsu to this day. There is also some history on Dante (which, interestingly, has had Frank Dux inserted into it) and some background on the 1968 convention by filmmaker Floyd Webb (who has been working on a Count Dante biopic for some years now). Ashida Kim’s interpretation of the Kata Dante form is presented in pictures, and then we’re off to the races, because Ashida Kim is now weighing in on the Aguiar family.
You see, William Aguiar II is named by writer Massad Ayoob, in a series of Black Belt Magazine articles on John Keehan’s legacy, as heir to Count Dante’s work and leadership of Keehan’s Black Dragon Fighting Society. Kim claims, in Last Ninja Standing, that “When [Aguiar] found out Kim-Sensei was keeping the tradition and the fraternity alive without his help, he wanted to come in, ‘claim the throne,’ and tax the students.” Kim says he tried to contact Aguiar II to no avail, until finally they spoke by telephone and reached some kind of agreement.
In 2005, Kim reports, Aguiar II passed away, and his son, Aguiar III, sent a cease and desist letter to Ashida Kim’s internet provider, claiming that Ashida Kim was infringing on a BDFS copyright owned by the Aguiar family. This eventually went to court and was thrown out because Aguiar III was unable to prove that he owned the copyright in question.
Interestingly, William Aguiar III is declared deceased in Last Ninja Standing. This is interesting because Mr. Aguiar himself, with whom I chatted briefly on Facebook, seems to be of the opinion that he is not deceased.
Ashida Kim publishes, about a third of the way into “Last Ninja Standing,” a section called “The Last Word,” in which he bitterly condemns those who have opposed or questioned him. The section ends with some sort of call to action. “Now is the time for all good men to come to the aid of their country,” he writes. “We are not sheep who can be fleeced and eaten with no regard for the much touted’human rights’ of political speeches… In every revolution there is one man with a dream, and all of us have it within us to change the world and make it a better place.” Mr. Kim then spends the rest of the book explaining why anyone who has criticized him is a great big jerk.
Before we get to that, though, we are treated to lots of ninja cross-stepping and hugging of walls in chapters on stealth and infiltration. Hanshi Frank Dux contributes a chapter called “The Best Kept Secret About Ashida Kim,” a long-winded screed capped by photos of Dux and Ashida Kim wearing tuxedos (which is worth wading through the chapter, if you ask me) at the USMA Hall of Fame induction ceremony in Nashville in 2009.
The book takes a turn toward the disgruntled when Ashida talks about pirated copies of his work, his unhappiness with his former publisher, Paladin Press, and all the people on the Internet bent on getting rich while keeping him poor. He claims that the only reason he has not “gone ‘old school'” and beaten or murdered his enemies is that “fighting is not the Way.”
Last Ninja Standing includes such gems of Ninjitsu technique as how to deploy the “ninja dust bomb,” “clouding the mind,” “two dragons seek the pearl” (A Three Stooges finger poke to both eyes) sleeper holds, and resuscitation (described in other Kim publications as the art of “killing” a man and bringing him back to life).
It’s worth noting that Last Ninja Standing is not a “book” at all. It has no ISBN number and is not available online except through Ashida Kim’s DOJO Press. It is instead a stack of photocopied 8.5 x 11 paper that has been bound on some sort of commercial equipment. Years ago, as a technical writer, I was responsible for a machine called the Binder 120 that did precisely this type of work. I can only assume Ashida Kim’s local Kinkos or other copy shop has something similar.
Just over 100 pages into Last Ninja Standing, we come to the heart of Ashida Kim’s grievances with the Internet age. He details what he calls “The Cyber Wars,” complaining about a host of “trash-and-bash” bloggers and cyber-critics who are motivated by jealousy and hatred. Interestingly, in this section he continues to insist that neither Radford Davis nor Christopher Hunter are aliases of his (although he does not list the names, referring instead to “two names that were not aliases of mine), yet he later admits to using “Christopher Hunter” when writing a letter to Stephen K. Hayes in 1984.
The list of people and places Ashida Kim does not like is a long one. He hates Jimbo Wales and Wikipedia; he hates people who blog; he hates YouTube; he hates the troll site Bullshido.com… and he hates me. Yes, me personally, Phil Elmore. The book contains an entire chapter titled “Elmore” in the Table of Contents, in which he reproduces a screen capture of my attempt to make peace with his group of Koga Ryu ninja while completely characterizing the few interactions he has had with me. He claims, incorrectly, that it is because of me that he became known online as the “food stamp ninja” (due to his poverty) and that I started a bogus Facebook page intended to impersonate him (which I didn’t).
I was forced to phone Mr. Kim and warn him that such baseless accusations were grounds for legal action. He folded immediately and agreed to remove the offending section, but claimed that issuing a retraction was unnecessary because my “detective” (a friend of mine who purchased the book for me) was the only person who had, to that date, ordered a copy.
(If you happen to stumble across a copy of Last Ninja Standing that still contains the offending “Elmore” chapter, please let me know immediately so I can take appropriate steps.)
Pausing briefly to explain how to take out sentries (a common problem for the ninja on the go) before launching into what I suspect is a highly fictitious account of “infiltrating” A Stephen K. Hayes seminar. Kim seems to hate Hayes; he appears to resent the man’s high standing in the martial arts and ninjitsu arenas, and he also seems to resent what he presumes is the man’s wealth. He describes Stephen K. Hayes arriving in a “stretch limousine” for the seminar, then claims to have moved around Hayes in such a way that he could have taken the man’s life.
“He had no idea I was there at all,” Kim writes. “I could have clubbed him over the head and been gone before any of his buddies even made it out of the limo. But, I didn’t.”
Central to Kim’s hatred for Hayes seems to be that he thinks Hayes speaks ill of him at seminars, violating a rule that Ashida Kim believes to exist wherein black belts are never to speak ill of fellow black belts. Mr. Kim, having infiltrated Mr. Hayes’ seminar (by signing up and paying to go) reports no unpleasantness in the seminar he attended, which he describes as “very commercial” and “pretty standard.” He even describes Hayes as “amiable” before reproducing a letter he sent Hayes after the seminar (in which he uses the alias Chris Hunter). He received a polite, friendly reply the man he so hates, and he reproduces this as well. He goes on to claim that “I always joked that Hayes had to marry into his Ninja clan to be worthy of training. All I had to do was break a brick.”
Rambling sections that follow include “instruction” on board and brick breaking, a detailed account of the many movies in which Ashida Kim has appeared (invisibly) as an extra, his attempt to audition to be one of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles at Disneyworld (I am not making that up), the FAQ file from his website, and a couple of previously printed interviews. Kim rails against “knockoff” versions of his books “stolen and sold illegally” and warns that “the Black Dragon Tong of Retribution NEVER FORGETS, NEVER FORGIVES and NEVER FAILS…”
For reasons clear only to Ashida Kim, Kim reproduces a review of Martin Faulks’ “Becoming A Ninja Warrior” in which he savages the book and Faulks nonetheless responds to him politely be e-mail. He then reprints the text of his infamous $10,000 Challenge, in which he claims you must be willing to put up ten grand for the privilege of fighting him. (True story: Ashida Kim once challenged me to a fight. I accepted and, since my own fight fee is $9,999.00, I assumed I would be paying him the difference of one dollar for the bout. He subsequently withdrew from the challenge, which I believe means I won by default.)
Before delving into the mysteries of Dim Mak, the Delayed Death Touch, Kim describes (well entrenched in third person prose) how he was visited late one night by a mysterious limping Japanese man who mumbled, turned, and went away, no longer limping. This was apparently Kim’s Ninja Test, which means that if a mysterious sometimes limping foreigner pulls into your own driveway late at night to ask for directions, you are now obliged to become a ninja as well.
Sections on healing meditation and stress relief, as well as a few other healing techniques — all featuring a very fit looking Ashida Kim exercising crosslegged — follow. The book closes with some more autobiographical material and some ninjitsu history (including more commentary on Hayes, who seems to take the brunt of Ashida Kim’s anger over whatever it is Kim is angry about), some Frank Dux name-dropping, and more pictures from another SMAU awards dinner in Florida. In the very last segment, titled “Postscriptum,” Kim bemoans the suffering in the world, proclaims that martial arts are not about fighting, and attempts to rally the reader to his nebulous cause.
“Let us therefore come together,” he writes, “to set a good example for all, to be the heroes of our own lives, the captains of our fate, the masters of our souls. To live our lives as an exclamation rather than an explanation.”
Last Ninja Standing is a no more or less than an enemies list wrapped in a fantasy — an attempt by the man known as “Ashida Kim” to revise every incident over the course of a checkered martial arts career that could in any way reflect negatively on him. It is a bitter book, yes. It is not a particularly accurate book, no. Insofar as it offers new insight into Ashida Kim’s body of work, it is not even particularly useful, given that it is largely a rehash of subjects on which the author has touched in the past. Still, as curiosities go, it is worth examination, if only to verify that you are not yourself the subject of a chapter among its pages.