The Peaceful Ninjas, a holistic education movement that empowers youth to create world peace by cultivating healthy bodies, clear minds and strong spirits, is quickly becoming a mindfulness festival favorite for organizers, vendors, parents and children alike.
The movement opens the path for youth ages four and up to learn ancient and indigenous ways through a game called Peace Sticks as well as yoga, mindfulness practices, health, nutrition and connection to nature, according to Zachariah Fisher who co-founded Peaceful Ninjas with Shine Rilling. “We seek to hold space to empower young people to live in harmony with nature and cultivate their life force energy to its highest potential for the creation of peace on earth,” Fisher said.
How a Mindfulness Game Led to a Movement
Fisher said he has always had a profound love of working with children and that in his early 20s he was hired as the youngest head of Lausd Elementary Sports Program at the time and ran camps, ranging from major sports to drumming, yoga and dance. “Having left that to pursue higher paying work, my love for working with children never fizzled. I would drive passed schools on way to my corporate sales job and tear up with a deep longing to return to this love.”
Meanwhile, Rilling, who had been traveling around to different festivals since 2010, was offering a very popular moving meditation game, called Peace Sticks, that he and his brother invented. One night, Rilling and Fisher got together and decided to put together an event for local kids that would build off of the core principles of Peace Sticks—Cooperation, Harmony, Community.
“My brother and I invented the Practice of Peace Sticks 10 years ago,” Rilling said. “As we learned from playing and teaching it to people, it revealed itself as an amazing way to fully engage in movement, energy, meditation and the zone.” Different than most other sports, the key to Peace Sticks is in helping each other.
“[Shine] had been playing around with the idea of expanding Peace Sticks into what he called the School of the Peaceful Ninja. We named the first event ‘The Initiation of the Peaceful Ninja’ and put a date on the calendar for October 2015.” The event drew a good crowd and it was a “smashing success.” It was that day that Peaceful Ninjas officially launched.
The two friends went on to put on more events and the word quickly spread. In a short period of time, the Peaceful Ninjas were getting invited to offer workshops or run entire family villages at large conscious transformation festivals, including Lightning in a Bottle, Hanuman Festival and Lucidity, among others. The big break came when the founder of Bhakti Fest asked Fisher to bus kids in from the inner city to Shakti Fest last May. “In many ways, that event was our coming out party and the momentum since then, just two short months, is exponential,” Fisher said.
Learning Through Three Pillars of Peace
Peaceful Ninjas is built on five literacies—physical, mental, emotional, social and global—of holistic learning, which are contained in three pillars: Inner peace, outer peace and world peace.
The Inner Peace pillar: Physical, Mental and Emotional literacies. “Peace starts within. We cultivate inner peace through self regulation and awareness,” Fisher said. The Peaceful Ninjas cultivate focus, cognitive flexibility, social emotional learning, meta-cognition and self reflection as well as promote deep relaxation, compassion, presence and expansive orientation. “We lay our foundation for these literacies by establishing stillness through focused breath, yoga, qigong and mindfulness.”
The Outer Peace pillar: Social literacy. “We connect with each other through the principles of cooperation, collaboration and mutual empowerment,” Fisher continued. “All of our activities are dedicated to creating harmony in relationship through peaceful language, the way of the circle and non-competitive games. We encourage the unwinding of negative concepts and beliefs through tools such as non-violent communication and a relating to one another with compassionate, non judgmental empathy.”
The World Peace pillar: Global literacy. The Peaceful Ninjas radiate the peace they have cultivated out into the world as ambassadors of Peace. They call forth a reverence for nature and all living beings through connection with the elements, animals, plants and seasons in addition to taking deep care to notice how our actions, individually and collectively, impact the environment as a whole.
“Both Peace Sticks and the Peaceful Ninjas are a paradigm shift from competition, and being against each other, to learning how to help each other and interact in balance and harmony,” Rilling said. “Our mission is to create a global curriculum founded on these principles that can be used in education, for children and beyond, as well as providing the highest quality teacher training.”