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Baptism by Fire – My Experience with NSI, and What NSI Means to Me
By Morgan Bellinger

To those on the outside looking in, Natural Spirit International or NSI is the martial arts organization created by Datu Kelly Worden. An ever-evolving organization, NSI teaches a dynamic mix of martial arts systems and styles – Drawing from and respecting the traditional arts, but keeping all eyes focused on real world applications and defensive tactics. For those who find themselves on the inside looking out, NSI is so much more.

I feel very fortunate to have attended last year’s annual Water and Steel training camp, something I have not done for several years. I reminisced with guys that I have not seen for what felt like a lifetime, and I was happy to see friends in attendance that I had trained with only months before.  I also had the opportunity to meet a lot of new faces, some of them very experienced and capable martial artists, others who are now on their way.

Training with many of these new guys was a blast. The excitement and awe they were experiencing at the depth of material and the level of Datu’s skill was evident. The tone in their voice, the smile on their face, the very words they spoke and the energy with which they moved made it clear that they could not contain themselves. Like 6-year olds in a toy store they did not know where to start, but they were intent on taking it all. I smiled to myself as I was reminded of my first camp, and the simple fact that I had been the same way. Last year’s camp was no doubt the best Water and Steel I have attended. The whole weekend had me reflecting on my time in NSI and my training with Datu.

I have been training with Datu Worden for going on sixteen years now. Under his guidance I have grown as a martial artist, as a fighter and as a person. I owe him so much and it is hard to believe that our meeting and my admittance into NSI was purely by chance. Even more surprising was the fact that I had survived the initiation.  I met Datu in early ‘95, at that time in my life my job moved me around a lot. Every time I moved to a new town I would join the local gym and search out a worthwhile martial arts school. Taking a page out of Miyamoto Musashi’s Book of Five Rings and a few pages out of Bruce Lee’s Tao of Jeet Kune Do earning credentials and belts meant very little to me. My interest was in gaining practical knowledge and valuable insights, as well as sharpening my physical skills. When I walked into Datu’s school in University Place, it was only because I drove past it
every day for a month and the school was only a short three-mile run from my apartment. It wasn’t until I met Datu and he introduced himself that I realized who he was. I was finally able to put a face to the name and reputation that I had heard about so often before. Datu was well known throughout Tacoma and the surrounding cities. His name and reputation had come up in many conversations over the years with instructors and martial artists that I had trained with.  Before I met Datu I had trained in and studied numerous arts, most notably, Boxing, Muay Thai, and Eskrima, Jeet Kune Do, Wing Chun, Penjak Silat, and Kali. I had a whole lot of knowledge and what I felt was a high level of skill, unfortunately I had the attitude to match.

I remember my first class with Datu and NSI, I sat on a metal folding chair for a half hour maybe longer, and mentally picked the guys apart. In my eyes they were sloppy, they looked like brawlers, they didn’t even wear uniforms, and they wasted a lot of time doing pre arranged forms. I remember thinking that for a Jeet Kune Do school this was all wrong. Then Datu brought out the training knives and the guys began to play. What started out as rough play quickly became a smooth ballet. Knife work was something completely new to me and I watched intently, impressed by the fluidity and speed of their movements. The look of awe on my face must have given me away because it wasn’t long before Datu called me by name and invited me onto the floor. He partnered with me himself for probably close to an hour, at the time I thought it was because he knew that I was special.

As I have reflected on this over the years I now believe that it was simply because he did not want the guys to kill me – at least not yet! After class was over we talked for awhile, Datu treated me like an equal, like one man talking to another man, he was totally approachable, and this was very different than the dynamic that I had grown accustomed to with other instructors. It took me a long time to except being treated as an equal. I was so accustomed to putting my instructors on a pedestal that I didn’t know what to say or how to say it. I don’t remember much of the conversation we had that first day, my mind was whirling with all the new seeds that Datu had planted but I remember he told me to come back tomorrow and I did. The next day I came back with check in hand and that is when my martial education truly began. We worked some knife and some staff and then it was sparring for an hour, everybody squared off and started sparring, rotating partners every three minutes with the ring of a bell. Well everybody rotated, and Datu paired off with me himself.

Smiling, he invited me up into the boxing ring and began to slowly and methodically take me apart, piece by piece. He trapped me, and locked me and almost ripped my fingers right off my hand, he choked me and pulled my hair and hit me in the groin more times than I can remember. Flashes of this training session come to me now and again even after a decade has passed – I just smile to myself as I remember the good ol’ days. After a dozen rounds or so Datu turned me over to the boys, and these guys who I had considered the day before as nothing more than sloppy brawlers proceeded to continue where Datu left off, taking me apart round after round. Chris, big Ken, and so many guys who I haven’t seen in years schooled me repeatedly and thoroughly. Then big Ray stepped into the ring for a go and when he left the ring I was laying in the fetal position from a side kick, the likes of which I never want to experience again.  The first schools I joined, I joined with the intent of mastering that art. When I joined NSI it was because I wanted to be like the guys who trained there.

So what does NSI mean to me? That is not a simple question. NSI means many things to me on many levels, but first and foremost – NSI is my family. These guys (and gals) hold a place in my heart that can’t really be explained. Beyond that NSI is a source of knowledge motivation, and inspiration, not just from Datu but from every single person you touch hands with. Every single person has knowledge, and experience, and insight to share, and they are happy to share it and they expect nothing in return. Then there is Water and Steel – not just a family reunion, not just 3-5 days of intense training, but like Arthur’s Avalon it is a source of rejuvenation, a place we go to heal our minds and our spirits. If we are to look deeper yet we will see that NSI is a path towards growth, freedom and personal expression. For me, NSI cultivates an atmosphere of personal exploration and
development, not only
allowing for personal expression but encouraging it and demanding it.

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