The Best Show on TV You’re Not Watching

I have a new hero, and he is a shoe salesman.

No, I’m not talking about Al Bundy.  I’m talking about Yuuji Urushihara, a humble 30-something shoe salesman from Japan.  What makes this seller of soles so great?  He’s one of the rising stars on Ninja Warrior, a biannual competition that takes place in Japan.  There have only been three champions in the tournament’s twelve year history – that’s three winners out of 2300 total attempts.

If you’re not watching this show, you are doing yourself a disservice.

What the Hell Is Ninja Warrior?

Ninja Warrior is a competition where “100 determined athletes” set out to conquer a ridiculously complex and difficult obstacle course made up of four stages.

Everybody who completes Stage 1 moves onto Stage 2, and whoever beats that moves on to Stage 3, etc.  Each stage gets progressively more grueling and exhausting.  By the time Stage 3 rolls around (at which point there are only a handful of people left), incredibly insane feats of strength and endurance are required.  It’s one of the most inspiring and spectacular shows you’ll ever watch.  Watch this quick video profiling Yuuji’s, and then let me tell you why Ninja Warrior deserves your undivided attention:

Yuuji Urushihara Ninja Warrior Profile

1. These are ordinary guys doing extraordinary things.

These aren’t overpaid athletes with steroid problems.  These aren’t hired mercenaries who compete for endorsements.

They are teachers, fisherman, firefighters, students, gas station attendants, and SHOE SALESMEN who compete because they love challenge.  Despite the normalcy of their day jobs, Ninja Warrior competitors are some of the most well-conditioned athletes I’ve ever seen.  Due to the unique openness of the competition; anybody can attempt to qualify, and anybody can win.  This year’s victory is equivalent to a no-name Macy’s employee qualifying for and winning the US Open in Golf, except with less man-boobs (sorry Phil).

Every once and a while there are some famous Olympic or professional athletes that attempt to conquer Ninja Warrior, and 100 times out of 100 they go home empty handed.  It must be humbling for an gold medalist to fall on Stage 1 and then watch as a 30-something shoe peddler go on to “achieve total victory.”  I can’t think of a better example to show that anything is truly possible if you are willing to work for it.

Even if you sell shoes.

2. These athletes train with purpose.

Ever since I started watching Ninja Warrior a few years back, I have developed a serious man-crush on Makoto Nagano (pictured).

This humble fisherman was the 2nd Grand Champion of Ninja Warrior back in the 17th tournament and has since become the leader of the “Ninja Warrior All-Stars.”  He’s built like a machine, trains like a machine, and it shows.  Look at his picture, and then think about how he probably trains.  Which one of these sounds right?

  • A) “Well, I go to a gym once or twice a week, if I’m not feeling lazy.  I hop on the treadmill for a few minutes, I go do a few bicep curls, and then I work on my abs.  I almost broke a sweat this time – what a workout!”
  • B) “I wake up at dawn on my fishing boat out in the middle of the ocean.  I climb the various ropes attached the mast, up and down, until my arms are ready to fall off.  After putting in a full day of work, I dock my ship, come home and train on my homemade ninja warrior obstacle course until midnight so that I can prepare for the newest obstacles on Stage 3.  I need to train harder.”

As Mark Twight, the trainer who prepared the actors for their roles in 300, explains: “Appearance is a consequence of fitness.” If you spend your time working to become harder, better, faster, stronger, you will absolutely start to look better as a result.  There’s nothing wrong with wanting to looking good, but make sure you are training with purpose to get there.  Every day in the gym should be an improvement in some way (even if by only one pound or one second) over the previous day.

Here’s a video profiling the man, the myth, the fisherman – Makoto Nagano:

Makoto Nagano Profile

3. They support each other.

I have never seen this level of camaraderie among such fierce competitors. Before taking on Stage 3 in this most recent competition, Yuuji was asked by a reporter what he was looking forward to after the tournament ended.  I can’t remember the exact quote, but it went something like “well, the tournament is great, but I’m really looking forward to continuing the great friendships I’ve made since joining Ninja Warrior.”  AWWWWWW.  And then to top it all off, after his run this year, a humble Yuuji simply remarked, “I owe all of my success to the competitors who came before me.  Without them this wouldn’t have been possible, and for that I am eternally grateful.”

Yuuji, could you BE any more humble?

Here’s another great example of compassion – although Makoto Nagano was knocked out in the first round of Ninja Warrior 23, he stuck around to watch his friend Toshihiro Takeda, a fire fighter, take on the third stage.  When Toshihiro’s arms finally gave out and he fell into the water, a quick-cut to Nagano showed tears streaming down his face.

That’s how badly these guys want each other to win.

The men and women who compete in Ninja Warrior are all trying to better themselves.  When it’s not their turn, they become each others loudest and more encouraging supporters.  Hmmm, a group of people who are collectively trying to better their lives and elevate those around them…sounds verrrrry familiar.

4. They don’t whine when things don’t go their way.

Ninja Warrior is so enjoyable to watch because everyone competes on the same course with the same rules.  There are no referees to screw up a call, no teammate to use as a scapegoat, no “unlucky bounce” to blame a loss on.  After watching any other professional sport where multi-millionaires bitch and moan about ridiculous things, it’s a breath of fresh air to watch a competition completely devoid of that crap.  I don’t care what they say Ninja Warrior athletes are the ones who do it “for the love of the game.”

Imagine training every waking moment for a competition that happens only once every six months. During your first run, you finger slips accidentally 30 seconds in and suddenly you’re done.  I don’t know about you, but I would start letting the expletives fly.

Not these guys.

Considering how hard they train and how badly they want to succeed, it’s pretty incredible to watch an interview after somebody has just fallen.  The loser never says “I got unlucky” or “that shouldn’t have been there.”  It’s always something like this:

“I am disappointed, I guess I should have trained harder.  I will do better next time.”

Ain’t that the truth.  Sometimes you have bad luck; sometimes sh** happens.  Dwelling on it isn’t going to do anybody any good, so why bother?  Suck it up, move on, and start training for the next one.

Go Set Your DVR. Now.

I love this show, I love these competitors, I love how freaking inspired I get after every episode. If you have cable, run to your TV right now and set your DVR to record Ninja Warrior (it’s on G4TV, the nerd channel).  Re-runs of old episodes are shown pretty much every day, so you really have no excuse.  No cable?  YouTube Ninja Warrior, and kiss the rest of your afternoon goodbye.

If you’re REALLY crazy, G4 is currently hosting a competition this summer that will send a few Americans to compete on the next Ninja Warrior.  Who knows, maybe in a few years you’ll see me on Ninja Warrior…getting my ass kicked by a shoe salesman.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m gonna go do some pull ups.



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  • Well not to dismiss your cultural thing, I think it is pretty interesting that the “Amercianized” version called (naturally enough) American Ninja Warrior the competitors demonstrate the same attitudes and virtually none of them are Asian or Asian descent.

  • Pretty sure that’s because in order to compete in a competition like this, you have to have that attitude and mindset. Consider this: Americans who take Japanese competitions seriously may subscribe to their cultural mindset and attitude

  • Bob

    Has anyone heard of whatever happened to Monster 9 bankruptcy and if Sasuke will be returnning to the air? Also since G4 is selling out, will NBC completely screw over ANW season 5? When I finally have the drive to train for these things I find them falling through the cracks!

    Anyone offering more answers than a “simple” Google search can supply?

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  • hagen kirk

    The rights to Sasuke reverted to Tokyo Broadcasting System after the bankruptcy. Sasuke 29 is due to show this summer.
    This from the wikipedia entry for Sasuke.
    Ninja Warrior really is a fantastic show 🙂

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  • Chris

    The American version is NOTHING compared to the original. In the original the announcer was hysterical and energetic screaming something in Japanese.

  • Etan

    Totally agree

  • Etan

    Yeah, honestly I totally relate to this in my own experience as a fan of ninja warrior.

  • Erika

    That day is NOW!! are you going to try for it!?

  • Lika Khaled

    Heck yeah.. I was so touched watching how yuuji san completed the 3rd stage (when he achieved his 2nd total victory) then he said that he hoped nagano san would join him to face the final stage

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