Archive for November, 2013

Final Thoughts from American Ninja Warrior 5

Thursday, November 28th, 2013

Just a few short months after it finished airing on TV, I’m finally getting around to writing my final thoughts at the conclusion of the American Ninja Warrior 5 season (doh!).   A dramatic increase in the intensity of my job and some predictable post-season depression has undermined both my will and availability to blog about good old American Ninja Warrior.  My thoughts at the end of the season fall into three general categories:  This Blog, The Show, and Me, Me, Me.

THIS BLOG – Many of you may know that I operated this blog over the past years at the killer domain until the beginning of this summer.  I’ve been a fan of Ninja Warrior (Sasuke) and an aspiring ninja for a good number of years, and purchased the domain before American Ninja Warrior existed in an moment of inspiration that there would eventually be a competition in the US operating under that name.  From very early days of the show I started my blog using that domain to chronicle my journey as a middle-aged dad dreaming and attempting to compete in the world’s toughest obstacle course competition.  As the show grew and I had the honor to compete over the last four seasons, so did the following of my blog at that domain, and I soon routinely had over 10,000 visitors a month to my site from all over the world.

The blog itself evolved in its nature over time, originally starting as a simple blog about my experiences & training and morphing into a hybrid of my personal experience combined with journalistic reporting of the events and episodes of the show.  I realized that many people coming to the domain were looking for information about the show, and were not necessarily interested in my personal experience, so I felt obliged as caretaker of the killer domain and (sorta) ambassador for the show to cover general happenings of American Ninja Warrior to provide them what they were looking for.  This meant I began posting summaries of episodes with my personal observations and spin on the happenings.  That was a lot of fun, but it began to feel a bit like a burden if I didn’t cover every episode.  I didn’t want to let down my friends and fellow ninjas who might have competed in a given region or episode, nor the fans of my blog who grew accustomed to reading about them, and I felt compelled to write summaries of every episode even when I had little time to do them (and they were time-consuming).  The blog became less about my personal experience, and more of a general blog about the show.  For American Ninja Warrior 5 I didn’t even write a blog about my own experience and run on the course, which previously had been one of my biggest blogs of the year in past seasons.

This is all background to why at the end of this past season I just stopped writing blogs.  I transferred the domain to TBS and NBC in recognition of their intellectual property ownership of the name American Ninja Warrior when they requested it, and I ported my blog over to this new domain  At first I continued blogging as usual, but with hardly anyone coming to the new domain (and certainly not tens of thousands of people looking for general American Ninja Warrior content), I no longer felt compelled to serve up routine content.  Now a few months have passed, and I’ve been feeling the itch to write again about my favorite past-time, and somewhat liberated by the modesty of my new domain and negligible site traffic to return this blog to my roots and write about my own experience and aspiration as a competitor.  I’m sure I will still cover big news about the show, but I’ll hopefully be less of a compulsive journalist about it and more of a periodic personal columnist.  Thank you to what few readers of this blog I may still have, and I hope you continue to read about my experiences, and share your own thoughts and aspirations with me.

THE SHOW – As a viewer and a competitor, this may have been my favorite season of American Ninja Warrior.  With it being the second year that NBC was operating it as a prime-time show, there was a lot more invested in the quality and freshness of the course.  Instead of the obstacles barely being different from region-to-region, and from the previous season to the current one, the show invested in building many new obstacles that were fresh and never used in competition before.  This leveled the playing field as competitors had to first attempt these obstacles on the course in competition, versus having tried them in previous competitions or having built rote skills on them by having replicas of them in their backyard or at their local parkour/ninja gym.  As a competitor and a viewer, I loved this, and enjoyed trying new obstacles and seeing other competitors try their hands at new exciting inventive obstacles in their own regions.

One thing that saddened me a bit about this season, and this was entirely predictable and a natural byproduct of the success of the show, was the increased participation in the show of people who didn’t appreciate the original spirit of Ninja Warrior that emphasizes humility and camaraderie.  I know this makes me sound like a grouchy “old-timer”, but many good people who loved this original spirit of the competition did not get invited back to compete in this season, while a gaggle of newcomers arrived who seemed more interested in doing whatever they could do garner their moment in the limelight and lacked this defining humility.  This is certainly not true of all newcomers to the show, or even most…many of the new competitors are amazing people with inspiring backgrounds.  But every time I saw a competitor blatantly behave to grab the spotlight and act with arrogance it made me miss some of my old ninja friends whose spots they took more poignantly.

In terms of the sheer athletic quality and the determination of the competitors, this past season was a huge jump forward from an already high plateau.  This season attracted a number of amazing new competitors, and many veteran competitors took their game to a completely new level.  I know a lot of fellow competitors personally, and I’ve marveled at their dedication and sheer will to train and prepare during the long off-season.  There were as many as a dozen guys this year who I felt could have won the whole thing if a critical spot or two went their way.  Brian Arnold had an awe-inspiring run that ended with him just one rung away from completing Stage 3 and probably cruising up the rope climb in Stage 4 of the Vegas Finals, and earning the coveted title of the first American Ninja Warrior.  His near Total Victory has inspired other top ninjas to really accelerate their own training this off-season and I predict that there will be a mad sprint to the top of Mt Midoriyama in American Ninja Warrior 6, with the season witnessing the first winner of Total Victory and awarding the title of the original American Ninja Warrior.

ME, ME, ME – Aside from my blog entitled “Thank You Baltimore” that I wrote back in April right after having competed there, in which I couldn’t share any information about my actual performance on the course or my thoughts in its aftermath due to non-disclosure provisions, I didn’t write a single blog dedicated to my experience competing in American Ninja Warrior 5.  I explained why in the section This Blog above.  I still hope to write an article about my run in American Ninja Warrior 5 (not that many people would care this far after the event), but on a top-level I’ll share that I obviously fell short of my goal of advancing to the National Finals in Vegas.  In American Ninja Warrior 4, I sincerely feel that I narrowly missed achieving that goal when I couldn’t advance past the Warped Wall in the Midwest Regional Finals, missing by just a couple of inches.  This season I was healthy and not plagued by the healing torn Achilles that had undermined my jumping ability on the Warped Wall in ANW4, and I felt like I had a great shot.  But it wasn’t meant to be, I fell on the second-to-last obstacle in the opening regional round in Baltimore.  Although disappointed, the skinny waxy ropes of the Circle Cross obstacle and the cold night chill was simply too much for my grip strength and 215 lbs, and I can live with that.  My failure there was comforted by the failure at the same spot by a number of stronger ninjas than me – guys like Chris Wilczewski, Luis Moco, and Jesse “The Jet” Villareal among others.  I was bummed to have failed there, but I knew before I stepped on the course that the Circle Cross would be the “do or die” obstacle for me.  At least I didn’t fail on something that I knew I should have gotten past, so that helps me sleep at night.

After this season, after every one season in fact, I continually got asked whether I was going to try again.  Most people seem to fail to realize that I LOVE competing in ANW, am COMPELLED to compete, and I’ll keep trying my hand at it until they tell me to not come back again (and even then I might still try to sneak on!).  Fellow competitors don’t ask me this question, we all understand each other and what compels us to compete, and know each other’s competitive souls and don’t question that we will all be back stronger and more determined.  Civilians don’t get this though, and they mostly seem pleasantly surprised at my continuing delusion when I tell them that I will absolutely keep competing, even at age 42!  My next blog will be about my training, determination, and mindset this off-season as I prepare for American Ninja Warrior 6, but until then let me leave you with the words of the great poet Dylan Thomas:

“Do not go gentle into that good night,

Old age should burn and rave at close of day;

Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”