In Zagazig, the largest city in Egypt’s Sharqiya province, lives the country’s only professional ninja.
Abdel Kader Ahmed is better known by his other name, Abouda Ninja.
Egypt is hardly teeming with experts in the ancient Japanese martial arts tradition of ninjutsu, but that has not stopped Abdel Kader from sharing it with the thousands of students who have studied under him over the past decade.
The 45-year-old tinkerer-turned-martial artist was born into a working-class family in Egypt’s Sharqiya province in the 1970s, a time that saw a rise in the popularity of martial arts-themed films, both in Egypt and in the West.
“I grew up watching and loving martial arts cinema. I was mesmerised by the way they moved their bodies and the control they had over them,” Mr Ahmed tells The National.
He explains that as a child, he would memorise the films he watched and act them out in his room. His passion for martial arts was such a characteristic part of who he was that he was given an array of nicknames to that effect.
In the late 1980s, when he was a teenager, Abdel Kader was introduced to a television show that would take his obsession with martial arts to a fever pitch, the animated series Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
“I was really taken with the skilful use of weaponry in the kind of martial arts being portrayed on the show. I began asking those around me how I can start down this path. This was before the days of the internet, mind you, so I would just walk around from trainer to trainer asking if anyone knew anyone who could get me started on ninjutsu,” says Mr Abdel Kader.
He recounts that he was met mostly with ridicule from most of those he asked; they would mock his ardour for ninjutsu as childish and pointless, pointing him instead to other, more respectable martial arts like karate and taekwondo.
After encountering such difficulty, he acquiesced and began to study other martial arts instead, showing a precocious aptitude for them very quickly.
“I spent the majority of the 1990s studying under some of Egypt’s finest martial arts instructors,” recounts the multi-black belt fighter.
In 1999, he moved to Libya in pursuit of a better job opportunity as a car tinkerer. The move to Benghazi was a serendipitous one, said Abdel Kader, because there he met the person who would introduce him to that elusive sport, the one his heart desired most: ninjutsu.
A few months after his relocation, while he was sparring with a group of young men in Benghazi, his skills caught the eye of Captain Nasser Abu Green, the mentor who would turn out to be one of the few ninjutsu experts in Mena.
“Me and some of the other guys in my neighbourhood were playing around with nunchucks, when he beckoned to me with his hand. The rest is history,” remembers Abdel Kader.
After a conversation about Abdel Kader’s interest in ninjutsu, Abu Green offered him the opportunity to train with him and an elated Abdel Kader was only too happy to accept. Abu Green had trained multiple battalions in the Libyan special forces, so training an eager Egyptian black belt was not going to be a difficult task.
“He could see that I had a pretty good grasp on the basics of a lot of martial arts, which made it easier for me to move into more complex training pretty quickly,” says Abdel Kader.
Over the ensuing decade and under the meticulous instruction of his mentor, Abdel Kader mastered the use of more than 500 weapons, an important cornerstone of ninjutsu. Additionally, he perfected the acrobatic sport of parkour, another skill that is of great use to an aspiring ninja.
The tinkerer in Abdel Kader was particularly taken with Abu Green’s ability to make his own weapons from scratch, and he had the utmost respect for his refusal to use weapons made by anyone else.
The events of the Arab uprisings brought about economic strife for most of the region and Libya was no different. Coincidentally, Abdel Kader’s mentor and friend of 10 years passed away that year and he had no choice but to go home to Egypt.
Upon returning, he was adamant about not losing touch with his training and even more intent on honouring his teacher’s memory by training aspiring ninjas himself.
He opened a small academy in Zagazig and began training. His regimen caught the attention of many social media patrons, who quickly became interested in joining his classes, he tells The National. This was also the time that he began making his own weapons from scratch as well.
“I started with standard martial arts classes, but due to the high demand I expanded into workshops that trained the students how to master a number of weapons. I then began teaching parkour and even expanded into break-dancing after that. Acrobatic sports often use a similar set of skills,” he says.
He was approached by students of military and police academies in Egypt who wanted to perfect their fighting skills in the hope of making it into the army’s special forces.
“I began to be hired periodically by battalions of military officers who wanted to impress an audience with acrobatic skills, especially if they were preparing for exhibition games and things like that,” reveals Abdel Kader.
In 2019, he was honoured at a ceremony by Egypt’s defence minister for his work with the military.