I’ve become a huge fan of watching the American Ninja Warrior competition on TV. Over the last few years I’ve learned the rules, I’ve come to recognize some of the more sinister obstacles and even developed a fondness for a few of my favorite ninja athletes. See, I even call them “ninja athletes” instead of contestants; I’m really into this stuff.
I didn’t watch it the first few seasons because I thought it was probably some kind of anime crap for lonely teenaged boys or perpetually single young adults who still haven’t figured out why they’re perpetually single. I’ve got a guess, it could be the fact you’re fascinated by poorly drawn cartoon featuring overly attractive Asian women attracted to guys who play with swords. Maybe it’s that Japanese tattoo you got that you think says “Death Before Dishonor” but actually says, “Batteries not included” because the tattoo guy in the strip mall doesn’t speak Japanese either so he copied off the box his new ink gun came in or maybe it’s just because you’re pushing 30 and you still live with your mom.
When I found out Ninja Warrior was a live competition and not an anime fantasy show, I still avoided it because I heard it was a spin-off of a Japanese TV show. I saw a few game shows when I was in Japan and I have no interest in ever seeing another.
The best way I can describe a Japanese game show is that it’s kind of like watching a drunk trying to climb into an apartment through a fire escape window. There’s a lot of pain and humiliation involved for those involved and you feel kind of guilty for watching them but it’s still kind of funny and you can’t look away.
Why would I want to watch something that makes me feel bad about myself ... I’ve got mirrors in my bathroom, I don’t need any help feeling bad about myself.
A few years ago my grandson was able to convince me to watch an episode with him so I did … because I’m a grandpa and it’s my job to give my grandkids anything they want. He was taking a parkour class and told me he was learning to master several of the obstacles featured on the show and he explained what was going on so I was into it right away.
What I like about American Ninja Warrior is that it’s a sport that requires genuine speed, strength, agility and raw athleticism. Everyone runs the same course regardless of age, gender or experience level, it’s just a good old fashion race to see who can do all of the crazy stunts faster.
There are no steroid-fed giants dominating their competitors with brute superhuman strength, a few have tried but they can’t hack it. It probably won’t come as a big surprise to anyone who knows me and certainly not to anyone who’s been married to me that I’ve become a fan of a sport where size doesn’t matter, and it really doesn’t in Ninja Warrior.
A few giant pro football and basketball types have tried and failed to complete the most basic ninja course because they’re either too big or too heavy to hand walk across a pegboard or climb a salmon ladder. If you don’t know what a salmon ladder or a pegboard is watch an episode of American Ninja Warrior … it’s pretty cool stuff.
Possibly my favorite part of watching the show is that the competitors are competing more against the course than against each other. They actually train together and cheer for each other, there’s no trash talk or “in your face” nonsense between the athletes. I like sports and games where competitors just line up and go at it. Running, jumping and wrestling (real wrestling not the McMahon/Trump circus theater), the pure stuff that kids can do in a school yard without gear.
After watching pampered millionaire football, baseball and basketball players excessively celebrate a minimal achievement and whine like a first-grader when things don’t go their way, it’s refreshing to watch real people doing crazy but athletic stuff for the pure sport of it.
While other grandpas brag that their grandsons are going to be NFL quarterbacks or major league pitchers, I proudly tell anyone who will listen that one of my grandsons can already run up the warped wall and will someday beat Mount Midoriyama. It’s a ninja thing, and it’s pretty cool.
Rick Seley is an award-winning humor columnist. He may be reached at email@example.com.