Posts Tagged ‘Brian Arnold’

The Seasons of the Ninja Year

Friday, February 21st, 2014

I often think of the American Ninja Warrior year breaking down into major seasons roughly equivalent to the five major seasons that professional football players go through. The first phase is the off-season, when the next season is far off and you’re maybe not in full madman training mode, perhaps recovering emotionally and physically from the most recent season’s competition.  This phase is long and usually covers from late summer when the season finishes airing on TV until past the winter holidays, and can sometimes be a lonely phase with erratic swings ranging from intense motivation for the next season to self-loathing over having not performed better the previous season.  Many serious competitors really rachet up their preparation during this phase and change up their training regimen, including possibly building a number of replica obstacles themselves, usually including the one they failed the previous season.  This is a phase that really separates the serious competitors with serious aspirations from the “hobbyists”.  This past off-season more than any other I saw the quality and quantity of preparation from ninjas go through the roof.  I think the increased exposure in mainstream media of the show combined with watching Brian Arnold almost grab the title of the “First American Ninja Warrior” this past season really inspired many top ninjas to try a mad competitive dash to the top of Mt Midoriyama for American Ninja Warrior 6.

Right after the winter holidays and at the start of the new calendar year there is the “combine” part of the season when competitors start their “auditions” to get accepted to compete in the next season, and everybody works hard on completing a compelling submission video.  Getting accepted to compete in the upcoming season really swings on these submission videos in which applicants have to demonstrate both charisma and a compelling back-story as well as some serious athletic and obstacle course chops.  This is akin to the NFL combine as we audition for our dreams.  Most applicants and ninja regulars post our videos publicly for each other, which is sort of a tradition, and no doubt there is competitive pressure to improve your own video based on the escalating excellence of the submission videos of others.  Below is my own submission video for American Ninja Warrior 6 which I just entered a couple of weeks ago.  During this phase the ninja community comes alive as we start the busy chatter guessing where and when the regional rounds will be, and share our excitement and hopes about getting to compete in the upcoming season.

Once the “combine” period is over, basically when they close the submission window, we enter the most agonizing part of the year, the “pre-season” where we’ve effectively done everything we can to make the team, we’re just waiting to hear whether we’ve made it.  This is the phase where I, and my ninja brothers and sisters, currently stand at the moment.  The submission window just closed, and we’re waiting a painfully long indeterminate amount of time to hear (1) where this year’s regions will be, (2) when this year’s regionals will be, and (3) whether they’re actually inviting us to compete or not, which usually happens just a week before our designated regional round occurs.  This pre-season chapter is a painful stage full of hope, agony, and often overly intense physical training.  For me this is the phase when I punish myself with a diet that probably ultimately doesn’t make that big of a difference (I usually drop 10 pounds down to about 213), and I push myself to improve my burst cardio.  I also try to get as much training on actual obstacles as possible, which has historically proven challenging based on where I’ve lived.  The next two months are tough tough waiting, and I usually (somewhat) successfully Jedi Mind Trick myself into believing that I already have an invite to compete to avoid the distraction of uncertainty and to focus my attentions 100% on preparation.  Still, this time of waiting is tough, and my wife knows that this is a stage of increasing distraction and ninja obsession for me.

Finally, after having gotten a call confirming our invitation to compete usually around 10 days before the actual competition, we have our favorite stage of the American Ninja Warrior year – actually competing!  Let me say this with no equivocation, the experience competing in American Ninja Warrior is awesome!  From the camaraderie with fellow competitors, to the delicious anticipation right before stepping onto the course after dreaming of it all year long, to the actual attempt on the course, it is an amazing and positive life-altering experience.  I wrote about the experience at length after last season.  For most of us, the “season” lasts just one intense weekend.  For all but the top 75-100 people who advance to the National Finals a month or two later in Las Vegas, the “season” is brutally short given the lengths of training and waiting that preceeded it.  Even those that advance to the regional finals round only get to prolong their season by a few days, if that (regional finals rounds are usually within a day or two of the regional round).  But brevity of competition is the nature of this beast, and what we signed up for.  Mostly the “season” ends for us with mixed emotions – gratitude for getting to have such an intense experience, and disappointment for not having progressed as far as we wanted.  By the very nature of an obstacle course competition that nobody has completed in five seasons, most ninjas feel disappointed that they didn’t advance farther regardless of whether they failed on the first obstacle (the Quad Steps) of the opening round or the final obstacle of Stage 3 in the National Finals.  You are destined for disappointment of some level.

The final stage of the American Ninja Warrior season is the “post-season” when the actual competition is often long done, and the show finally airs over a couple of months during its TV season.  As competitors we’re bound by silence to not talk about how we did until the show airs to maintain secrecy, so when the season finally unfolds on TV in front of millions of fans, friends, and family, it is an exciting time for the competitors to share how we did.  It’s also when our respective friends and family get to see the madness that inspires us on glossy network-produced TV, which is pretty cool, and we ourselves get to see how many of our ninja friends fared in regions and rounds other than our own.  Watching other ninjas compete motivates us, stokes the fire within, and reminds us that we began our journeys simply as fans of the show ourselves (usually Ninja Warrior Japan originally).  Often this is a fun stage for the competitors, we get to share our passion with people around us, and the competitors actively chat in our respective online communities offering support, encouragement, and commiseration to each other.  It’s the final stage of the American Ninja Warrior year, one that is often bittersweet as it concludes and you’re left wondering if you’ll ever get a chance to step onto the course again to redeem yourself.  You have fears that maybe the show doesn’t renew for another season, and maybe if it does they won’t ever let you back.  It is a lonely sad moment, until you convince yourself that next year will be different and you’ll train like never before to make that happen.  And that’s when the ninja off-season begins again…

Rinse and repeat.

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 AmericanNinjaWarrior.com 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 AmericanNinjaWarrior.com 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 AmericanNinjaWarrior.com 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 ANWBlog.com.  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.”

Top Stories from Denver Finals

Tuesday, August 20th, 2013

The last of the four cities that held the regional competitions for aspiring ninjas to qualify for the National Finals in Las Vegas of American Ninja Warrior 5 concluded last night on NBC.  It was a pretty thrilling finals in Denver, and we saw only 5 competitors complete the course out of 48 runners, by far the largest regional finals field we’ve ever seen in American Ninja Warrior.  Here are the top stories for me from the Denver finals:

Course Too Easy, Then Too Hard – The producers have a very challenging job every time they set up a course to find that elusive balance of building a hard yet achievable course.  Both the viewers and producers I don’t think like to see too many people finish the course, because it makes it look too easy and too surmountable by mortal folks, but they also don’t like it to be too insanely difficult that nobody can clear it.  In Denver more than any other region in recent memory the course swung from one end of the spectrum of difficulty in the preliminary qualifying round to the other end of the spectrum in the finals round.  The preliminary opening round in Denver was probably the easiest course in American Ninja Warrior history with 49 of approximately 130 runners clearing the whole course.  Then with a few adjustments for the finals round, including increasing the distance of a couple of the obstacles in the first part of the course that runners had already experience in prelims, it suddenly became such a difficult course that only 5 athletes out of 48 in a very strong field were able to clear the course.  I don’t point this out to criticize either course design in any way, because as we’ve seen in past years it is very hard to calibrate the “optimal difficulty” of a given course, just that for me as a viewer and a competitor the extremes of course difficulties was one of the top stories of Denver.

Paul Kasemir Just Consistently Awesome, Clocks Top Time – The soft-spoken 26 year old software engineer is a three-time Mt Midoriyama veteran, and one of the most consistently awesome competitors in American Ninja Warrior.  This cerebral and focused competitor sped through the course with seemingly little effort to register the fastest time of the Denver finals.  I actually don’t know Paul personally, but as a fan he’s one of my favorite competitors.

Rock Climbers Dominate (Josh Cook, Brian Arnold, Isaac Caldiero, Colby Frontier) – A recurring theme of American Ninja Warrior 5 has been “the rise of the rock-climbers.”  I’ve long thought that elite rock-climbers would soon populate the upper echelon of competitors, and this is the year that prediction is apparently coming true.  It would be a dramatic overstatement to call myself much of a rock-climber, but having had rock-climbing as the foundation of my training my first years competing in American Ninja Warrior showed to me that the ridiculous grip strength and stamina of rock-climbers lends itself very well to the advanced stages of American Ninja Warrior.  I believe it’s more than just their grip strength and stamina which gives them an edge in ANW, but also the total body control that they have which was elegantly demonstrated by several rock-climbers who flowed through the difficult Pole Grasper utilizing all four appendages very gracefully.  4 of the 5 competitors who cleared the course in the Denver finals are fairly elite rock-climbers, including professionals Isaac Caldiero and Brian Arnold (I know Paul Kasemir climbs, but I think his base is more parkour than climbing).  After this season I’m pretty sure most serious American Ninja Warrior competitors will be hitting the rock-climbing gyms harder than ever.

Sam Sann Delivers Inspiring Performance – 46 year old Sam Sann ran on a badly injured ankle and delivered one of the most inspiring runs in American Ninja Warrior history by making it all the way to the Warped Wall and then up it on his final heroic 3rd attempt.  Him kissing the top of the Warped Wall once he got to the top on his bad ankle is a memory for the annals of the competition.  With an inspiring back story of growing up in and fleeing from Cambodia during the conflicts throughout Southeast Asia in the late 60s and early 70s, this ageless wonder will be a fan favorite for years to come.

APEX Athletes Struggle – Aside from Paul Kasemir who finished with the top time, a number of other incredible athletes who train at APEX together who we are used to seeing dominate struggled in the Denver Finals.  After witnessing a breathtaking display of speed and dominance in the preliminary round of Denver by speedsters Brandon Douglass, Jake Smith, Amos Rendao, and Tre Sussy Vaughn (not shown on TV but still with a speedy time), we saw speed-demon Brandon Douglass have to withdraw with an injury, Jake Smith fall on the first run of the Floating Stairs, Amos Rendao fall on the first rung of the Salmon Ladder, and Tre Sussy Vaughn fall early on that spinning bridge thingy (blanking on the name).  Although Jake Smith still was able to advance to the National Finals based on his fast time through the Salmon Ladder, after past years’ performances and their awe-inspiring runs in the opening round of Denver, their struggles in the finals round was surprising to many viewers.

Floating Stairs for Real – The immediate transition to the Floating Stairs from the Salmon Ladder clearly tested the stamina of even top-level ninjas.  As Akbar pointed out, the Floating Stairs is an obstacle that most ninjas would cruise through if it were at the beginning of the course and people could attack it with fresh muscles and grip, but it was something else entirely later in the course, and right after the Salmon Ladder.  Legitimate studs who have proven themselves top competitors in past seasons failed here, including Lorin Ball, Josh Grant, Jake Smith and Steve Volcko, as well as Camilo Brokaw, Caleb Garnham, and Chris Romrell.

These are the competitors from Denver who advanced to the National Finals of American Ninja Warrior 5, in order of finish:

  1. Paul Kasemir – Clear
  2. Josh Cook – Clear
  3. Brian Arnold – Clear
  4. Isaac Caldiero – Clear
  5. Colby Frontiero – Clear
  6. Casey Finley – Failed Pole Grasper
  7. Tremayne Dortch – Failed Pole Grasper
  8. Kyle Sinacori – Failed Pole Grasper
  9. Andres De La Rosa – Failed Pole Grasper
  10. Chris Romrell – Failed Floating Stairs
  11. Lorin Ball – Failed Floating Stairs
  12. Jake Smith – Failed Floating Stairs
  13. Caleb Garnham – Failed Floating Stairs
  14. Camilo Brokaw – Failed Floating Stairs
  15. Josh Grant – Failed Floating Stairs

24 Advance to Stage 2 in National Finals

Thursday, July 19th, 2012

Only 24 of the 100 competitors who advanced to the national finals of American Ninja Warrior 4 in Las Vegas completed Stage 1 and advanced to Stage 2. Derek Nakamoto killed it with the fastest time of 1:34.4. Tune in on Monday night July 23rd on NBC for the 2-hour season finale that shows these brave souls take their crack at Stage 2 and beyond, and find out if any of them became the first American Ninja Warrior!

Order #, Finalist, Time
1 Derek Nakamoto – 1:34.40
2 Lorin Ball – 1:37.22
3 Brent Steffensen – 1:41.00
4 Danny Johnson – 1:42.31
5 Kole Stevens – 1:42.33
6 Paul Darnell – 1:44.98
7 Elet Hall – 1:46.00
8 Drew Drecshel – 1:46.08
9 Ben Snead – 1:47.02
10 Ahmed Toure – 1:47.56
11 Paul Kasemir – 1:48.29
12 Remi Bakkar – 1:50.98
13 Travis Rosen – 1:51.00
14 James McGrath – 1:51.61
15 David “Flip” Rodriguez – 1:51.66
16 Brandon Douglass – 1:53.18
17 Sean Noble – 1:53.20
18 J.B. Douglas – 1:57.50
19 Brian Arnold – 1:58.16
20 Evan “Rocket” Dollard – 1:59.57
21 Chris Wilczewski – 2:01.26
22 Will Dodd – 2:02.23
23 Josh Lobeck – 2:06.08
24 Nathaniel Spencer – 2:10.00

National Finalists in American Ninja Warrior 4

Saturday, June 30th, 2012

Here is a list of the 90 national finalists in American Ninja Warrior 4 who advanced to Las Vegas to compete on the Mt. Midoriyama replica uber-course that was built there. There will be 10 wildcards added to these 90 competitors to make an even 100 runners, which is the traditional number that competed in the original Ninja Warrior Japan (Sasuke) for many years. The identity of these wildcards will be revealed when the show airs.

15 finalists from each of the 6 regions (listed below in order of finish) fought their way through their respective regional rounds and then the regional finals to advance to the first finals of American Ninja Warrior held in the US. Mad props to all these competitors, and hit LIKE to applaud them and share this list to spread the word of their awesomeness!

Southwest
Evan Dollard
Jesse La Flair
Kole Stevens
Remi Bakkar
Brent Steffenson
Chad Simpson
Derek Nakamoto
Dorian Cedars
Dan Mast
Paul Darnell
Sedderick Bassett
Ryan Thompson
Dylan Curry
Ronnie Shalvis Jr
Michael “Frosti” Zernow

Midwest
Matthew Derouen
Andrew Karsen
Jack Morgan
Stephen Volcko
Arthur Skov
Michael Silenzi
Nick ‘Lovin’ Stephforn
Johnathan Morin
Scott Robinson
Will Dodd
Joshua Grant
Andrew Lowes
Nate Aye
Nick Kostner
Cade Halada

Northeast
Tim Shieff
Luis Moco
Dan Galiczynski
Chris Wilczewski
Elet Hall
Travis Graves
Jesse Villareal
Christopher DiGangi
Andrew Wood
Danny Johnson
Bradley Smith Jr.
Phillip Pirollo
John Sapinoso
Matt Mings
Michael Pericoloso

Northwest
James McGrath
Travis Furlanic
David Campbell
Sean Noble
Kyle Cochrane
Justin Sweeney
Josh Horsley
Nathan Sausedo
Justin Walcker
J.B. Douglas
Kevan Reoli
Ben Snead
Brian Kretsch
Gunner Bahn
Patrick McGrath

Midsouth
Paul Kasemir
Brandon Douglass
Brian Arnold
Jaret Salas
Kevin Klein
Sat Khalsa
Ahmed Toure
Josh Lobeck
Lorin Ball
Jake Smith
Bob Pondrom
Nathaniel Spencer
James Wyatt
Tremayne Dortch
Alan Connealy

Southeast
David “Flip” Rodriguez
Drew Dreschel
Travis Rosen
Jared “J.J.” Woods
Michael Ekhert
Bull Bullard
Sean Morris
William Brown
Thomas Hall
Brendan Kelly
Andy Taylor
Adam Grossman
Niko Bogucki
Tony Reddick
Paul O’Connor