The first season of American Ninja Warrior began production in July 2009. The season premiered on December 12, 2009 and most credit NBC with starting both an entertainment trend and a fitness craze, but in reality, NBC’s show was a reimagined copy of Sasuke. Sasuke is a Japanese sports entertainment television special. On this show, which premiered in 1997, 100 competitors attempt to complete a four-stage obstacle course. An edited version of Sasuke, named Ninja Warrior, is currently screened in at least 18 other countries.  The Japanese version is still considered by most as the premier competition.

These staged for television athletic competitions highlight amateur competitors with interesting if not compelling back stories.  These televised competitions which date back to the 1970s first appeared in shows like Battle of the Stars, Wipeout, and others.  They, and all reality TV, broke up the monotony of prerecorded dramas and sitcoms.

Ninjas on the other hand date back to the mid-15th century in Japan when certain Samurai families started practicing covert warfare focused on espionage, deception, and surprise attacks. Many of the Ninja’s activities were deemed dishonorable and beneath the honor of the Samurai or the military nobility.  Today we separate the negative and concentrate on the positive attributes of the ninja. Those qualities are:

G2N Slide Bar with Rings
  • Zen-like calm
  • Ruthless in focus
  • Weapon-savvy (where weapons are tools like speed, strength, agility)
  • Unorthodoxy – the power of creativity
  • Stealth & Camouflage
  • Agility
  • Mindfulness
  • Preparedness
  • Human, not “superheroes”

Ninja first collided with entertainment in the movie Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.  Although there is no real connection between this movie and the current television show, I maintain that the movie introduced the idea of conversion of normal to super or Joe to Ninja Joe.  This leads us to the current belief that a normal person can become a Ninja.  If a turtle can, then I can!

The interest in Ninja perfectly coincides with other societal changes such as an increased sedentary lifestyle, a decrease in active play, a reduction in physical education, and an increased reliance on handheld technology.  Everything from focus on safety to dual working parents have contributed to children’s decrease in physical activity.  No more can we just send them out to play, let them ride their bikes to school, or lead them in active recess or daily gym class. Television, video, and movies have captured the attention of children with creativity and excitement.   By making physical fitness creative and fun, we can win them back.  We need to convince them that it’s more fun to be the Ninja, then watch them. 

During this same time period, organized sports which are great activities have become increasingly difficult and time demanding.  In the world of gymnastics, we’re telling our children to succeed they need to devote more time (three – 5 days per week depending on level) and the skill level needed has become more and more difficult.  The skills that I competed at the collegiate level are now being done by Level 5 gymnasts.  Basketball players feel they need to be able to shoot a 3-point shot just to make the team. 

We have reached a tipping point where it’s more realistic for a child to think they can become a Ninja than a gymnast.  The confluence of society’s demands, and sports requirements has created a gap in activity.  Ninja-like obstacle courses provide just the right degree of physical challenge, problem solving, exploration, socialization, and fun. Children get to experience fun exercise while learning new and creative movements.  Those of us with an interest in gymnastics will discover those few children with the skills to try gymnastics.  For the rest the children, the exercise of mind and body is enough.  They learn, move, and build confidence.

A ninja obstacle course is relatively easy to assemble and inexpensive to acquire. They are popping up in all types of sports centers and fitness gyms that are interested in activating our children while growing their youth membership. Whether you build it as a business, a playground, or a personal fitness studio for you and your family, you will be building the core skills that are necessary for success.  And it will be fun along the way.  So, I guess the answer to “Why ninja?” is simple, “Why Not?”