Twenty two-year-old Julia Lesperance is giving her all to obtain a black belt in the martial art of ninjutsu because failing to do so would be a blow to the Calgarian’s lifestyle.
“It is such a long road,” said Lesperance, estimating that it will take another eight years before she tests for her black belt.
When the art of ninjutsu originated in Japan, failing a black belt test meant death. Today, testing for one’s black belt may not mean death if the individual fails, but it will result in their inability to participate in any ninjutsu schools globally.
“I try not to think about it too much,” Lesperance said.
As a teenager who did not enjoy team sports, Lesperance found videos online of people doing parkour, which involves people moving rapidly through an area, negotiating obstacles by running, jumping and climbing.
It piqued her interest because it was regular people like her participating in incredible activities. They reminded her of super heroes.
Lesperance enrolled in parkour classes, which pushed her to work at a gym called No Limits. As she was mopping the floor one evening and watching a ninjutsu class, her instructor said to her, “you know you want to do this.”
And so, her journey with ninjutsu began.
Lesperance began to work through the different belt levels and is now working to achieve her blue belt, signifying her skills in the water element.
She has already mastered her green belt, showing skill in the earth element and will have to work through her orange (fire element) belt and her brown (void element) belt before she may test for her black belt.
Each element has a different movement and style to master.
“[Ninjutsu] just encompasses so much,” she said.
For Lesperance, ninjutsu has become a lifestyle.
“It seeps into every portion of my life,” she said.
She is currently training at Elements Pro-Training and works at Breathe Parkour.
“It’s not just fighting,” Lesperance said, adding that ninjutsu taught her how to set goals and achieve them, adding structure and purpose to her life.
Testing for her black belt means more than achieving her goal. It will be the difference between her continuing with her training or her getting kicked out of the practice globally.
For Lesperance the best times of her life have been involved with ninjutsu, which has led her to meet people who have been an important influence on her life.
“There is nothing like having a family outside of your family,” she said.
Nicholas Theriault has been training in ninjutsu for five years and started his training to add to his ability in parkour.
“The more I got into it, the more it became it’s own discipline,” Theriault said.
“It’s a way of life.”
Theriault has taught ninjutsu classes with Lesperance and has seen her in action.
“You get to see the emotional side of people because the physical walls are broken down,” said Theriault, describing Lesperance as a great tactician who really “knows her stuff.”
“She’s very dedicated,” he said, adding that Lesperance always has a goal in mind and is always seeking to better herself.
Although Lesperance’s ultimate goal is to achieve her black belt, she urges newcomers to ninjutsu not to focus too much on earning belts, but rather on the journey and what can be learned.
Focusing solely on the belts can deter from what ninjutsu is truly about, she said.
For Lesperance, ninjutsu is discipline, family, culture, a lifestyle and so much more.
“It has defined me as a person for so long,” she said.