You’re supposed to run up the warped wall. I ran into it. The objective, of course, is to leap from the bottom of the concave wall and then—employing upper-body strength and a touch of grace—propel yourself to the top. Instead, I lumbered at the wall and smashed my knee into it. Still, I managed to ascend painfully upward, where I clutched, kicked, and heaved myself slowly to the top. Graceless and bruised, I passed my first ninja test.
Buoyed by my early triumph, I later sprinted across a wobbly bridge—suspended by slacklines—off which I front-flipped onto an inflated pad. But this brief display of showmanship was upended as I landed on my left hand, bending (and spraining!) my middle finger beneath my body’s weight.
Why so brazen on my first day ninja training? Guiding me was Noah Kaufman, a world-renowned ninja who recently opened a gym in Loveland and invited me to check it out. Luckily for me—really, for all who enter his ninja training ground—he also happens to be an emergency room doctor.
Kaufman, famous to some as the Ninja Doc from NBC’s “American Ninja Warrior,” is the man bringing “ninja life” to Colorado. In addition to opening the Wolf Den Gym, Kaufman co-founded the Wolf Pack Ninja Tour, which brings athletes from across the world to compete in head-to-head Ninja-style races. The tour’s inaugural event was held last spring in Denver, and the tour is returning November 3-5 in Loveland.
On its surface, ninja training may seem like mere obstacle course racing with a mythical twist. But there are some key differences. Ninja sport is very short, condensed racing, using primarily upper body strength and agility, Kaufman says. The obstacles come in various forms: suspended ropes and ladders, trampolines, plyometric boxes, and climbing holds, to name a few. But there’s also a deeper level to the ninja life. “Being a ninja means you are dedicated to self-improvement. You’re someone who tackles obstacles one-by-one and you can pick yourself back up,” he explains. “It’s really important that you’re in touch with your inner self. It’s not like you’re stealthy and go around and assassinate people.”
Assassination has no part in the Wolf Pack Ninja mission. Instead, Kaufman and his team are dedicated to making the world—and especially children—healthier. “We are a socially minded business,” he says. “We have a mission, and it is to make the world healthier one kid at a time.” In particular, Kaufman sees ninja training as a way to combat childhood obesity. He says that in addition to the obvious exercise benefits, it’s easier to teach kids about healthy dietary habits if they’re doing something they enjoy.
But ninja training isn’t just for kids. While Kaufman admits he has a bit of “Peter Pan syndrome,” high-caliber athletes like him (and average reporters like me) across the world are drawn to the new sport. Kaufman, for instance, is a long-time rock climber, and after watching an episode of American Ninja Warrior, he figured he could do it himself. So, he applied and was selected out of more than 70,000 applicants to appear on the show’s fifth season in 2013.
After several years on the show, Kaufman began training at his home in Loveland with several other climbers-turned-ninjas—Meagan Martin, Brian Arnold, and Ian Dory. Together, they founded the “Wolf Pack” team and started traveling to competitions. It wasn’t long before their popularity grew and other ninjas joined them. More than forty ninjas now compete as part of the Wolf Pack pro team, including some of the world’s best—including Jessie Graff, Joe Moravsky, and Flip Rodriguez.
Last fall, Kaufman and his team caught the eye of private equity investors in New York City, who offered to fund the new training facility in Loveland and bankroll the Wolf Pack Ninja Tour. Over the past year, Kaufman has been putting in 100-hour weeks—splitting time between the emergency room and building the Wolf Pack brand. His Loveland gym officially opened in August, but construction is still in progress and he hopes to soon open a second gym in Denver. And the tour that debuted last April is ramping up for an aggressive 2018 schedule—including events in Los Angeles in New Jersey.
If you want to see pro ninjas in action, tickets are on sale for the tour’s November event at the Budweiser Events Center in Loveland. Or, if you’re an average, curious athlete like me, you can head up to the Wolf Den for open gym on Mondays and Wednesdays, 6-8 p.m.
Beware the warped wall.