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Better Living Through Insane Obstacle Courses

G4 has been running this show, Ninja Warrior, or “Sasuke,” depending on how you grok kanji. We – the family – stumbled upon it late this summer by accident. We enjoyed it. It went from a guilty pleasure to a constant delight for all of us. Except for the Boy.

No, for the Boy, it’s now religion. The Boy, it should be remarked upon, is 7 years old. The Boy is in second grade. The Boy now spends every recess working on the monkey bars so much that his hands have turned, I shit you not, to a mass of blisters, and still he keeps going in the way that only an obsessed 7-year old can. At home, he literally – literally – spider-climbs up and down the walls. He uses our front hall to practice his body prop moves. He turns any thin, elevated surface he can find into a balance beam, and then tries to sprint across it, to the everlasting terror of his parents. He’s taken to doing sit-ups and push-ups when we tell him the walls need a break.

I keep thinking this would be a bad thing if I was telling him he had to do these things, but the fact is, all of this is of his own initiative, of his own accord, and he’s loving it. And every couple of days he asks if I’ll take him to Japan to compete when he’s old enough.

To which I’ve said, “Hell yeah!”

Thing about the show, if you’ve never seen it, is that somehow, someway, it crossed the line from Japanese-Game-Show-About-Humiliating-Competitors to something much more inspiring. There’s still the crew who shows up to compete in cosplay costumes and the like, but there has emerged, over the years (I believe the show is now in its 18th or 19th season), a core group of competitors, or “all stars.” Predominantly, they’re males in their 30s, Japanese, and the camaraderie between them is a tangible, wonderful thing. Instead of rooting for one another to fail, they obviously and visibly root for one another to succeed. They train together. They have clearly bonded.

About it being predominantly males – the root “Sasuke” course is not kind to women, though if this is honestly because there just aren’t that many women making serious attempts at it, or because of actual, honest, physiological differences of upper body strength, etc, yada yada, I can’t say. What I will say is that the show has spun-off into a “Kid’s Ninja Warrior” as well as “Kunoichi” or “Women’s Ninja Warrior,” and the women that I’ve seen complete that course are just as seriously bad-ass as any of the men. As far as that goes, the Girl, four years old, has little interest in the men’s competition, but when women run the course, or, better, when “Kunoichi” is broadcast, she’s riveted.

If anyone had ever told me that letting my kids watch a Japanese gameshow was going to be a great, inspiring, teaching device, I’d have laughed them out of my house and into the street to be run down by the #8 bus. Seriously.

Which brings me to Makoto Nagano, who is Like Unto A God.

So this past Friday, that was a big deal, you see, because after 17 competitions (though I understand they’re now up to 19) only one other person had completed the whole damn course, all four stages. Seriously. Out of some 1700 attempts, only two of them ever made it.

Nagano is the second to do it, and in our home, this brought Great Joy. Makoto Nagano moves, there is no other way to say this, like poetry. The man floats with grace. If the definition of true fitness and power is the ability to move one’s own body with precision, the way one wishes to, when one wishes to (something that’s been a minor thesis in the last two Kodiak novels), he is the walking, talking, definition of this ability. Batman moves this way. Elektra moves this way.

See for yourself:

Makoto Nagano needs his own damn comic book, and failing that, an action figure.

30 Responses to Better Living Through Insane Obstacle Courses

  1. alasdair

    Holy crap, that’s awesome.

  2. mercuryeric

  3. brother_d73

    My wife and I are huge fans of this show . . . ! There was a woman’s tournament not too long ago that we’ve recorded and have made our way about half-way through (the rest is waiting patiently on our DVR). It’s a refreshing change to all the reality TV that seems to clutter the channels these says . . .

  4. _tonylee_

    Funnily enough Makoto’s one was on today in the UK – I was utterly gutted when he got a whisper away at the end…

    Incredibly addictive television. Even if the UK version has Stewart Bloody Hall overdubbing.

  5. rubincomp

    Part of what’s so interesting about that is that it seems relatively unremarkable…until you realize that it’s only because he’s making it look so damned easy.

    But…don’t forget…Batman can do that whilst getting shot at.

    I guess that’ll be in the spinoff.

  6. lithera

    Sounds like you might have yourself something of a traceur in the works. Or a ninja. Either way, totally cool.

  7. aylara

    That video was :O

    And damn it, I already watch too much TV. >_<

  8. jmorse

    I was able to catch a few episodes and its amazing stuff. Is this guy a firefighter by chance?

    I’d like to see Alena participate in this.

    “Our next contestant is Alena. She’s an assassin who has killed nearly 40 people! *Audience cheers as the other competitors look at each other and gulp*

  9. teapot37

    No, he’s the captain of a fishing boat. They like to show footage of him doing sit-ups hanging off the side of the boat.

    Nagano’s successful final run and the 3 successful Kunoichi final runs all are “save until I delete” on my TiVo. I have yet to see the first successful run (by a crab fisherman – what is it about fishermen?)

  10. jmorse

    Ok, just watched the vid. That was seriously impressive.
    Thanks for sharing.

  11. davesbu

    that’s god damn amazing.

  12. sweetdragon

    But can he breathe in space?

    Holy CHRIST. O__O

    I’m not even into athleticism and that impressed the living hell out of me. Not only fluid grace, but economy and efficiency of movement. He doesn’t waste a single breath or muscle flex. It’s beautiful to watch.

    Why wait for an action figure, Greg? Write someone loosely based off of him into a comic! Have him challenge the great Batman!

    Actually, I can see Batman looking at this guy and going. “Hrm. Do it again. Faster.:)

  13. midusunknown

    Japan seems to make it all better, even american gladiator style gameshows! I’m going to have to start watching this, because my prior goal in japan was merely to win at takashi’s castle, now it’s to be the next sasuke!

  14. neodragonstar

    That was freaking awesome. Thanks for sharing.

  15. stacyx

    Ninja Warrior is totally awesome. We watch it just about every night at work. I’ve started recording it on the TiVo at home. Ninja Fest is coming on Nov 14th.

  16. admin

    It’s “Sasuke 4″ I think, and I’m blanking on his name. But, yeah, it’s something to behold, though the final stage is, arguably, a little easier. And I emphasize “little” and “arguably.”

    God knows, I couldn’t do it even if someone had set fire to the rope.

  17. admin

    Innit just? Nice to hear from you! I’ve been enjoying your festival of linkage!

  18. admin

    I’ve no idea who does the commentary in the G4 version. He’s gotten better, but for the most part, I’m happy reading the captions. First one he did, though, man…he called the events like he was calling NASCAR.

  19. admin

    I cannot tell you how delighted I would be if he decided that traceur was the way to go.

    He has gotten very serious about gymnastics and the like, even taking courses at a local acrobatic/theater company.

  20. admin

    Dunno. I think the leg injury might keep her out of qualifying.

    Anyway, Atticus wouldn’t let her. Too much heat.

  21. admin

    Re: But can he breathe in space?

    Every time I watch him in the balance tank during stage 2, my jaw drops. It is quite literally like he’s floating.

  22. admin

    Oh yes, and TiVo is primed for it, believe me. The Boy is counting down the days.

    Not like I am, too, or anything. Nope.

  23. stacyx

    Heh. Watching G4 is like torture. They show commercials for it all the time and I’m like “Stop showing that! I want it now!”

  24. lithera

    I have a friend up here who is into parkour. It is one thing to see it on the screen. It is an entirely different thing to see it in person. Even the simple stuff seems impressive in person.

  25. parthalon


    Truly amazing to watch.

    Perhaps there is a Japanese counterpart to Gotham’s hero, a counterpart who just happens to be the captain of a fishing boat?

  26. adam_0oo

    That was fantastic. If you are only glancing at it out of the corner of your eye, it doesn’t look that hard. That is until you see what he is actually doing, its all his grace and economey of movement that makes it seem easy. He practically seems like he is falling through half the course.

    Though to tie it into what alot of people are talking about Batman, could you imagine a movie with someone like this? Like the begining of the last Bond, showing Daredevil or Batman roof running like that? Amazing.

  27. lisaatneptune

    Anime is getting children to exercise! There is hope for TV after all. Too bad we have to import it.

  28. erink

    And he is easy on the eyes too.

    The course is relatively heavy on upper-body brute-strength moves, especially in the later stages, so it’s rare for a woman to get past stage 1. But if I’d discovered this when I was rock climbing regularly, I’da been on a plane…. There are a lot of moves that can be done easier with climbing technique but tend to get done on the show by sheer strength.

    Interesting that your daughter only watches the women. I never really bought into that gender-specific role model thing because I felt I’d had plenty of heroes and role models who were men, even though I was never going to be one. But maybe I’m just a strange case. I was a kid in the 70s, after all; I somehow grew up not knowing that women weren’t physically as strong as men…!

  29. gabbicus

    That show is MESMERIZING. :) I can not believe how invested I get into whether they make it up that wall or not.

  30. supergodginrai

    That is impressive. Thanks for the link / info, now I’ll have to look into this.

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