Ninjette - skater with the London Rollergirls - takes time out of her hectic schedule to talk Roller Derby
by Lorraine Roberts
It’s a Monday evening and I meet Ninjette for coffee to catch up on how things have been going since the London Rollergirls' success at the 2011 World Cup Championships in Canada. I begin by asking her:
Definitely roller skating. I started as a child, maybe 4 or 5 years old and had skates that strapped onto my shoes with wellington boots as I couldn’t tie my laces. My older sister used to go to the roller disco and I joined her one day. About 6 years ago I moved to London and I went to the Roller Disco in Vauxhall at the Renaissance Rooms and it was amazing. I really enjoyed skating and that was how I got into it again.
One of our skaters, SkyRockit, wrote an article for a London paper about London Rollergirls and Roller Derby and it sounded so right for me. I had grown up doing judo so a contact sport on roller skates really appealed. I went along to the first training session and never looked back.
My mother is Japanese and although I grew up in England, after university I spent quite a long time in Japan so my name is from my Japanese heritage and from the motorbike Kawasaki Ninja. My number is 900, which refer to the engine size.
In some articles they talk about it being an alter ego and you read about skaters saying they are really shy in real life and extroverted in Roller Derby but in real life I am the opposite. I am generally quite confident but in Roller Derby there are so many big personalities I remain pretty quiet and let them get on with it. I think people just choose a name that they like or aspire to be. It could be their real name or like me, a name from their heritage or nationality or it could be from a film or band you like. People tend to choose witty puns. Some of my favourites are Bonnie Boiler (who has now retired) and one of our refs, Duncan Disorderly. Now some people are choosing to skate under their real name, such as Stephanie Mainey.
I think it is because they want the game to be taken more seriously so they have changed back to their real name.
London Rollergirls is the league. Then we have our A team, which is London Brawling, the All Stars Team made up of the top girls from the league. The B team is Brawl Saints and our C team is the newly formed Battersea Power. London Rollergirls was the first roller derby team in the UK.
I love it and roller derby seems to be a sport where other leagues are supporting this growth with boot camps and sending coaches out to train other leagues. We are really happy to have more leagues in the UK to play against and also in Europe...I mean Berlin is playing fantastically at the moment and both our A and B teams played them recently.
Yes, the World Cup was held in Canada and thirteen countries were represented, including Finland, Sweden, Brazil and Argentina. It was amazing.
The USA was going to be the clear winner with Canada coming second but we came 3rd beating Australia. We had hoped to beat Canada but hey, who knows what will happen when the next World Cup comes around.
A new skater would start out with a 12 -16 week training session, learning new skills such as how to stop, fall and the Roller Derby basics. After that, if you pass the assessments you can join the Rec League which has training twice a week, one day doing drills and the other doing scrimmage (playing Roller Derby). Every three months there are try outs for the main league. Some of the Rec league skaters choose to do this although you don’t have to have been part of a Rec League to come to try outs...If you are a good skater and you understand Roller Derby you are welcome to come and try out and if you pass the try outs then you can join the main league. Once you are on the main league you can get drafted into one of the main league teams. We have four of them. The Ultraviolent Femmes, which is my team, the Steam Rollers, the Suffra Jets and then the Harbour Grudges. We all compete against each other, organising our own bouts and audiences are invited to come and watch.
On the track at any one time you have 5 players per team. One is the point scorer known as the jammer and the other four players are blockers. The player with the stripe on their helmet is the pivot and traditionally they lead the pack and tell the pack what to do. If the jammer for some reason doesn’t want to continue jamming she can pass her helmet panty to the pivot who then takes over the role as jammer. The team with the most points wins. Points are scored when the jammer laps players from the other team – one point per person – so the blockers try to help their own jammer score points and prevent the opposing jammer from scoring points. This is done by clearing blockers out of the way, pushing them off the track and knocking down other skaters. A jam lasts for 2 minutes but the lead jammer (the jammer who legally got through the pack first) can stop the jam at any time by putting her hands on her hips. So you have one jamme,r a pivot and three other players and depending on where the jammer is will depend on whether the team is playing offensively or defensively.
Yes slightly and there are also different types of jammer. Some are really agile and fast whereas others power their way through. With some teams some jammers are very successful getting through the pack but with others less so. It just depends on the team you are against and the pack you are playing with.
And for all those who kindly sent in questions, here are your answers.
I am the assistant captain for the Ultraviolent Femmes and Missyle Elliot is the captain. We work very well together and have worked really hard to develop the Ultraviolent Femmes as a team but I think our main role is to make the London Rollergirls successful. Our league comes above our team.
Across the league everybody is expected to help to make London Rollergirls work so there are lots of roles within committees such as the finance committee, PR committee, coaching committee, etc. Everyone does a lot of work and I would say I do more work on finance than in the role as captain.
We would love to be sponsored but income is mainly generated through selling tickets to watch bouts, monthly membership payments by league members and when lucky, kind people sponsor us such as Roller Disco. So if anyone wants to sponsor us please go to our sponsorship link and contact our sponsorship team. Our main problem is finding a venue and we would love to get a warehouse so if anyone wants to offer us a space…?
I think for a lot of women, yes, definitely. Women of any size and shape can play the sport and being able to use your size to your advantage improves a player’s body image. Lots of people think of the jammer being a smaller person who is agile and the power blocker being bigger and hitting like a juggernaut but that isn’t always the case. Some of the tiny Montreal skaters can hit really hard and some of the sturdier skaters are really agile!
It is not. There are men’s leagues. In the States there are a couple of Co Ed leagues where women and men play together and in the UK we have a couple of men’s leagues. Southern Discomfort is our local men’s league and they recently played a bout against the men’s team from Toulouse, France.
Don’t be so ridiculous (Laughter). That is Sky Rockit (asking that question) and she is the one that got me into Roller Derby (Laughter again).
We were expecting to come 10th as the lowest ranked team at regionals but we all trained really hard and in the end we came 5th which was great.
I have never had any embarrassing injuries but Bexorcist gave me a black eye which she seems to forget when she complains about people hitting her in the face (Laughter). During an interview for Radio Four someone took a skate to her lady parts and on the radio you could hear the safety officer ask ‘Do you want a ice pack for your fanny?’ Very funny
Every time we lose a bout we come up with strategies! Some of our coaches are really good at spotting how derby is developing and coming up with new strategies. I can’t think of our best strategy, perhaps when we used “wolves & gazelles” against The Hustlers from Texas.
The hard work of the referees and the NSOs (non skating officials)...Without them we wouldn’t play such clean games. The NSOs take notes on scores and penalties etc and they do such an amazing job.
That’s difficult. Roller Derby becomes an absolute obsession. We play three or four times a week so it is very difficult to balance.
This sport is really a good outlet so it is the other way. Without this outlet for my physical energy I would explode. It is completely fine to hit someone on the track as long as it’s a legal move so you can go to training feeling really angry and frustrated and leave feeling much more relaxed.
Team work bonding is really important and this seasons the Ultraviolent Femmes have really worked on this. The Steam Rollers have always had really strong team work and since we have started concentrating on this it has really worked for us too. Roller Derby is a team game and not for the individual. You sacrifice yourself for the team.
Winning strategies This is a hard one...Always coming up with a counter strategy so you know that if your opponents does something to you, you know how to defend it.
And the winning question sent in by William Parry (Two tickets won to watch the London Rollergirls play at Earls Court)
What makes a good Roller Derby player - speed, skill or a good set of tattoos? And what is your strongest attribute as a player? Speed and skill are very important. Good tattoos (Pause) Irrelevant but nice for certain bouts and perhaps the visual aspect helps to pull in a crowd. There is a tournament run by Tattoo Freeze so for them a tattoo would be very good but for me personally it’s not important. Speed, skill and mental understanding of tactics are very important. My strongest attribute...probably, from what I hear, is agility and I tend to play a lot on offensive helping our jammer. Tactics maybe too... I am also obedient and do what I am told (Ninjette laughs).
Having run out of time at the interview all that is left to say is thank you to Ninjette, London Rollergirls and all of you who took the time to send in your questions. Fabtastic!!!
Congratulations London Rollergirls for a great season and good luck in 2012. I for one will definitely be watching!
For information and tickets to the next London Roller Girls bout visit www.londonrollergirls.com