Disruptor: Randa Richards
With a massive social media following (182,000 followers on Instagram as of April 2023), you’d think Randa Richards would focus her content on primarily displaying her skills. However, refreshingly, her content is heavily focused on instruction and demonstration. She and her partner Michael Jones run Kunoichi/Shinobi Dojo, Cardiff Martial Arts Academy in South Wales, U.K.
Rank: 10th Dan
Style: Bujinkan Budo Taijutsu (Ninjutsu)
Where she teaches: Kunoichi/Shinobi Dojo, Cardiff Martial Arts Academy, South Wales, U.K.
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*Due to editorial limitations, parts of this interview may have been abbreviated.
Black Belt+: Ninjustu is so rare, a master of Ninjustu is rarer, but a female master is probably the most rare, who and what was your inspiration?
Randa: I remember watching a martial arts documentary on TV when I was 13 that covered Ninjutsu - it blew my mind. Even at a young age, I remember appreciating the wide spectrum of combat it offered and was just in awe of watching the multitude of skills exercised.
Fast forward to 16, I saw a tv show “Mind, Body and Kickass Moves.” One of the episodes showcased the Grandmaster of Ninjutsu - Masaaki Hatsumi. I felt like that 13 year old again, captured by his movements and sheer character. They filmed him in Japan and I was intrigued by the effortlessness of his movements.I remembered thinking how out of this world it would be, to train in this martial art.
I did some research and I was fortunate to discover a Ninjutsu class in the next town that I lived in. You can imagine my excitement. Off I went to the dojo, and it did not disappoint!
I have been lucky, throughout my journey, to be surrounded by exceptional practitioners of the art, a lot of whom have inspired me along the way.
I’d like to add, I do not consider myself a “Master.” I am forever a student, still learning to develop and progress my understanding and skills, in this lifelong lesson of Budo.
My instructors, Marc Moor and Ryan Hobbs have greatly influenced my training and I’m forever inspired by their ongoing teachings.
Black Belt+: Share with us your journey, how you got started and what led you to Japan?
Randa: Growing up in South Wales, U.K, my own journey started at 8 years old, with Shotokan Karate. After picking me up from gymnastics one night, my Dad commented on how bored I looked during the class. I agreed, and as we started walking, we came across a Karate class. Naturally pausing, we both stopped at the window to watch. “Wow!”
After watching Bruce Lee’s “Enter the Dragon” that my Dad had taped for me on video that week - this kid was hooked with martial arts and I started Karate the following week.
I entered my first Karate competition at the age of 10 and won gold in Kumite.
After moving abroad due to my Dad’s job at 11, I did not pick up Karate again until we returned to Wales. I recall my parents, encouraging me to get back into training. My Dad sadly passed away when I was 16. At 17, I was back in the dojo.
I returned to Karate, re picking up my 3rd kyu, and made the Welsh Karate Team for Kumite. My thirst for martial arts was back! I started Lau- Gar Kung-Fu during this time also and earned my 1st grade. All the while, I had also discovered Ninjutsu and divided my time across all 3.
But after a while, something had to give and I decided to focus my attention on my first and new love. I cross-trained in both, 5 nights a week, involving frequent weekends with squad training, competitions and seminars. I earned my Shodan in both Karate and Ninjutsu in 2010.
Back then, my Ninjutsu instructor would take annual training trips to Japan, where a group of students across his dojos would train with Soké Hatsumi and his top Shihans, at the Bujinkan Hombu Dojo (Home dojo of the Bujinkan).
Naturally, training at the source of your art is an enriching opportunity to say the least! My first Japan trip was in 2009, where I was fortunate to train in the first Hombu dojo.
After competing in Karate for a few years, I found myself getting disqualified in competitions more than “winning.” I dabbled in a few other arts (Muay Thai, Systema), though Ninjutsu started to take over and it gradually became my sole discipline.
After opening up a dojo with my partner in 2015, we have taken several trips to Japan, to maintain and continue our connection with the home of the Bujinkan. We hope to take a trip towards the end of this year, to continue our studies.
Black Belt+: What was training like in Japan and did they treat you differently because you are female in a male dominated art form?
Randa: For anyone passionate about their art, going to the source is a dream. My first trip was like being a kid at a candy shop. I did not really see much of actual Japan, but I saw the Hombu dojo daily. Classes are available throughout, morning to evening, every day. Like I said… a dream!
You can’t fail to ignore the essence of Budo when you step foot in the Bujinkan Hombu Dojo. Practitioners from all over the world gather to train with the Japanese Shihans, paying homage to our masters that generously share their knowledge. You make solid friends along the way, which keeps the Bujinkan flourishing.
As you delve deeper into Budo (this way of life) for me, you don’t tend to separate yourself as a female martial artist.
Put simply, the training teaches you that a body is a body, regardless of sex or gender. Affecting the structure of a body is key. Variants such as size and mass come into play, but again, that boils down to adapting to different body types.
I tend to try and separate emotion between me and my training partners - they are just a body.
From my own experience, this feeling is no different in Japan.
I did not feel that I was treated any different to that of my male counterparts. I felt equal to that of my fellow martial artists. We are all there to learn.
Black Belt+: Describe the art form? And what makes it different from other forms of tactical combat?
Randa: Bujinkan Budo Taijutsu (more commonly known as Ninjutsu) comprises 9 separate combat schools from the samurai and ninja of historical Japan. This spans across striking, grappling, locks, throws, and weaponry that consists of sword, stick, spear, knife, rope, to name a few.
Each school illustrates different tactics, strategies, mindsets and attitudes from battlefield arts to bodyguard applications, close quarters to long range; they teach the understanding of distance across hand to hand combat and a wide array of weapons.
The emphasis is learning “Taijutsu” – a blanket term for mastering body mechanics and skills to apply to all movement, whether unarmed or not.
What I love about this art (Bujinkan Budo Taijutsu aka Ninjutsu) is that it encourages you to figure out and develop your own advantages, to your own body, and provides the freedom to explore what truly works for you. It is not competition based. The art of Ninpo emphasizes the ability to endure and persevere. With that, comes the attitude and mindset to survive.
It does not singularly rely on striking, grappling or weapons alone but rather, brings all of these together as a whole. You don’t look to out box a boxer or out throw a judoka. You keep all of these links strong, so you don’t have to rely on any one of them - but can call upon any, should you choose to.
The ability to adapt is one of the Ninja’s most valuable asset.
Black Belt+: You have created a very successful presence on social media, what are your goals in reaching your students, fans and curious observers?
Randa: I started my Instagram profile shortly after creating our dojo page on Facebook, in 2015. With a successful social media presence himself, my instructor, Marc, encouraged us to join Instagram, to spread the word of our dojo and to widen people’s social awareness of Bujinkan Budo Taijutsu.
Along the way, I’ve shared my journey, thoughts and snippets of training. I’ve simply shared my passion and I am grateful for the people that have noticed my profile. I never thought that it would “take off” as it has. I’m very humbled, as I consider myself a student, who is simply sharing what fuels her soul. Like I said, I’m no master. I’m still learning myself.
The beauty of social media is that it builds great connections. I don’t advocate online training to be a single source of reference for Martial arts education. But it is a useful tool all the same, to gain a wider reach and awareness of what’s out there to consider.
My goal is to empower people to start Ninjutsu and to inspire people to believe that they are capable of more than they realize. Everyone should be able to defend themselves. I get that the dojo can be intimidating, though it does not care about age, race, sex or gender.
Turn up and show up, for YOU.
Black Belt+: What is the emphasis of your teaching?
Randa: My emphasis is on self defense/survival and the philosophies of Budo - it can be applied both in and outside of the dojo. It transcends to everyday life.
As I have been taught myself, I teach principles that can be applied to all aspects of training as opposed to techniques that only work in isolation. The beauty of Budo, as I touched upon earlier, is finding what works for you and empowering students to learn how to be in sync with their own mind and bodies, along the way.
Movement, distance and timing are the key elements that I have learnt from my teachers and this is what I strive to pass on.
The art of strategy and survival, the flexibility to adapt, is an emphasis throughout all of training. Movement is movement, and it is the understanding of time and space between you and your opponent, that dictates the wind. If you can run, do so. If you can’t, then look to survive.
Black Belt+: Tell us about your teaching seminars and how you spread the word of your art?
Randa: In recent years, my partner and I have been lucky to be invited to teach seminars in Europe and the U.S.
Seminars are a great source of inspiration. They encourage innovation and allows you to assess where you currently are in your own training, and highlights what you could work on or might be lacking. They take people out of their comfort zones, for you are not only surrounded by the usual people you train with, but also others that you may have never met before. Hence, drawing back to the ability to adapt yourself accordingly, is key.
I have trained in various seminars across the world. I have come away from many, with an absolute buzz, from learning alternative training methods, making new connections and sharing the love of Budo.
My aim is to transfer that same feeling into the seminars that I teach. Like with any martial art, spreading the word of the art in a positive way, encourages more people to be open to you and the art you seek to convey.
Black Belt+: Who are your martial arts heroes and inspirations?
Randa: I watched a lot of martial art films growing up. They all really inspired me back in the day, to the point where I wanted to be a “Martial Artist in the Movies” like Zhang Ziyi and Maggie Q! (One could dream!) And who doesn’t like Buffy?!
Bruce Lee, films like The Karate Kid, Hero, Crouching Tiger Hidden, House of Flying Daggers, Naked Weapon, Fearless, Ip Man, Goemon, Shinobi No Mono, Seven Samurai, Ong Bak, The Raid, Kill Bil, Blood Sport, Fighter, the list goes on! I just wanted to be in them. I remember watching the likes of Michelle Yeoh, Lucy Lui, Jet Li, Donnie Yen, Jackie Chan on screen, in simple admiration.
Entering the world of Budo, my martial art heroes and inspirations are endless. Masters well into their 50s and 80s, continue to train with such effortlessness - they’ve mastered how to conduct themselves so efficiently, that their movements are minimal yet acutely effective. This inspires me greatly. For I wish to continue and do the same, with the hope that I will grasp a fraction of what is passed on.
Black Belt+: What keeps motivating you to stay passionate and curious about your art?
Randa: When you observe practitioners of Budo, they all seem to get better with age.
Unlike the competitive aspects of martial arts where you find strength and speed decline through age, Ninjutsu has never focused on these. The understanding of movement, distance and timing, only increases. Strategies become more refined, and the body and responses become more natural.
Throughout my time, I have seen many people come and go. Not everyone stays the course as it’s a damn right hard journey. There are 9 schools to study. Sufficiently covering even 1 alone, is a task in itself. Bringing them all together is no mean feat. It takes a lifetime and more to digest the teachings that Budo has to offer.
What keeps me motivated is knowing that I have so much to learn. What keeps me passionate is that both mentally and physically, Budo has saved my life on a number of occasions. And it’s all about paying that forward. Budo is life.
You can learn more about Randa and her school here: https://www.facebook.com/kunoichi.shinobidojo
And here: https://instagram.com/randa.richards
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