Ninja Warrior


This is the whole story of how I ended up on prime time television on the second biggest TV network in the country earlier this year (it’s a bit late, as is increasingly characteristic with this blog, so some of you may already know how the ending goes). By “whole story” I do mean from start to end, and if you’re not in the mood to read, you can just scroll down to the bottom of the page to see the video of me making an idiot of myself.

At some point last year I was contacted by Ben da Silva and Aslan Steel, who were trying to drum up interest in order to get the Ninja Warrior show on British TV. They dropped me a line mentioning a team they were putting together to take on the Urban Attack obstacle course, an indoor race in a BMX centre in Manchester. I thought I should get involved, which I did (although a foot injury meant that I couldn’t actually run it in the end, but did go along and got some of my best sports photos so far, even though the race itself was a large-scale shambles and poor experience for competitors and viewers a like).

A POTATO PRODUCTION FOR ITV NINJA WARRIOR UK on Saturday 25 April 2015 ITV  PICTURE SHOWS: Contestant Joe Swales Ninja Warrior, the toughest obstacle course on television is coming to ITV this spring. Already a smash hit in the USA, Sweden, Malaysia and Japan, Ninja Warrior UK will be hosted by Ben Shephard, Rochelle Humes and Chris Kamara.  This brand new entertainment series is the ultimate test of strength, speed and courage.  Viewers will watch contestants pushed to their limits as they compete to complete TV’s toughest challenge. Contestants from all walks of life ranging from 'Have a Go Heroes' to 'Superhuman Athletes' are invited to take on the challenges of the course.  Viewers will be entertained by both those who can superbly execute the course to those who spectacularly fail, crashing out of the course into the water below.  Each part is laden with jaw-dropping challenges, heart-stopping excitement and adrenaline-fuelled action as the contestants attempt to complete three punishing and potentially hilarious stages.   250 ambitious competitors will start but few will successfully overcome the toughest obstacle course ever seen on British Television.  Can any survive to the end to face the vertical challenge of scaling the heights of an impressive scaling tower named, Mount Midoriyama, and be crowned the first 'Ninja Warrior UK' Photographer: Rachel Joseph ©ITV, FOR EDITORIAL RIGHT ONLY

I have to be honest – I mostly signed up because there were a cool bunch of people involved, not because I was a massive fan of Ninja Warrior. In fact I barely knew anything about the show, except that it was sometimes shown in the middle of the day on a low-budget cable channel here – Challenge TV or Bravo or another one whose channel number is so high that people don’t watch it – right after Takeshi’s Castle, which was also stupidly low budget and featured people making an idiot of themselves whilst some inane fool commentated over their efforts.

Then at some point I came across the Kacy Cinazaro video. In case you’ve been hiding under a rock for the past year, I’ve put it below for your viewing pleasure. She’s a truly outstanding athlete, and the first woman to ever beat the American Ninja Warrior course.

At this point I realised that the stuff on the TV here is years old, and that the show had evolved into something much bigger, slicker and more sophisticated.  But now, instead of thinking it was a bit stupid and potentially embarrassing, I thought it was so utterly hard as to be completely out of my reach. I identify as strong, but not as agile, nimble, small and light, nor many of the other attributes that Kacy obviously posses and I don’t! I can’t jump, I’m not accurate with my feet, and I definitely don’t have the balls to do things that parkour athletes would do with ease.

Fast forward a few more months, and Ben and Aslan won their campaign – Ninja Warrior was coming to UK screens. They seemed to have much more confidence in me than I did and when the applications opened occasionally pestered me to enter, along with a few other people who detected I wasn’t entirely sure about the whole thing.

I duly submitted an application and got called to an audition, which was relatively easy and also quite good fun, plus my hobbies of bar calisthenics, climbing and obstacle course racing meant that I knew more than a few people going for the show, three of which were in my audition group.

At this point, I still wasn’t bothered about the prospect of being on TV, since in my head it was going toc be aired at 11am on a Saturday morning on channel 463 – Suckyass TV – and no one was going to see it.

uktv-ninja-warrior-11Presenters Ben Shephard, Rochelle Humes and Chris Kamara (I actually had to google them, so bad is my
knowledge of TV stars)

That was until I got a letter saying that not only was I successful, but that it would be on ITV. Soon after came press releases, and articles like this one in the Guardian, with such reassuring quotes as:

“This exciting new format will showcase some inspirational achievements as well as hilarious mishaps on what promises to be the toughest course on TV.”

Eek. By the time the filming date came around, I was pretty much shitting myself and actually considering not doing it, but I talked myself out of that one. What also helped was the fact that I was getting an all-expenses paid trip to Manchester, including a night in an epic hotel designed by renowned architect Alfred Waterhouse. I made sure to ask when the production team called me with my travel arrangements that this also included a buffet breakfast, which it did. Result. I’ll do pretty much anything for a buffet breakfast.

What also helped, even more than the promise of a buffet breakfast, was the fact that a few nights prior to filming I’d gone to the pub with a bunch of friends, including most of the Invo8 OCR team (the top obstacle course racing team in the UK), one of whom is the biggest badass I know, and the other is one of a very small minority whose attitude and training I hold in very high regard. The advice they gave me could be summarised at “man up”, “you can do it” and “be more positive”. This was a bit of a kick up the arse, and I spent the next few days trying to talk myself round from my “ohmygawd I can’t do this” mindset to on of “fuck yeah bring it bitches”.


Tim Shieff, one of the best parkour athletes in the world, takes on one of the obstacles in the later stages.

A lot of words-with-self and positive thoughts later, and I felt much happier about the whole thing, and all that remained was the figure out what the hell it would actually involve, something that (I thought) wasn’t hard, since Facebook and Twitter were full of photos taken by competitors in previous heats. So yay – I just figured out what the obstacles were, googled footage from American and Japanese editions of the show, and found out how to approach each one.


“The Dancing Stones” – springy cushions on pillars

However, it wasn’t that simple, and on the day we all discovered that actually the obstacles changed every day. Oh dear… Whilst I am good at hanging off stuff and had been going to parkour classes to get better at generally ninja’ing around, I had failed to realise that developing skills in the are of swinging (*insert obvious joke*) might actually be pretty useful. See for yourself…


A lot of contestants (most of which, it has to be said, came off much earlier than me – the “Quintuple Steps” and the “Dancing Stones” claiming the majority of victims) were seriously angry when they emerged, dripping wet, from the water, ranting, swearing, shaking their fists, and a surprising number of people have asked since whether I was annoyed about it. Not at all – the only annoying thing was that I didn’t stop and think: had I have done I would’ve grabbed the ring behind me to generate back-swing and carried on, smashing my way up the warped wall. But otherwise it’s been an incredibly positive experience.

When I first did the first Backyard Jam obstacle race, Doug said “it’s a course that will reveal your weaknesses”, and the same is true of the Ninja Warrior course. It showed that whilst I’m good in some areas, I am completely inexperienced in others. I have a strong body but lack the knowledge, control and therefore confidence to use it properly. Since then I’ve had loads of things to work on, which is good because soon I’ll have another chance to put them into practise.

To be continued…

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1 Response

  1. jo says:

    Yay, great write up! You are an inspiration… And I’m seriously in love with Tim Shieff ;-) ha ha