Climbing a rope like an agile monkey touching her target near the ceiling, shimming down, running to do a pull up, swinging across a high bar and climbing a rock wall, then jumping off of a mini-trampoline and rolling and vaulting over one obstacle after another until she pushes the button and declares that she’s done. All accomplished in just one minute and 20 seconds.
Dr. Max Vercruyssen, President of Hawaii Academy, shares what draws so many parents to enroll their children in their popular Ninja Training classes. The children just love the obstacle courses and become stronger, while also learning to be more flexible, balanced, and limber and how to fall safely. As Dr. Max said, “We’re tricking them. All the children see is how fun this is and how much they want to be faster. But, I see them getting stronger, more coordinated, more agile each week, much due to the extra training they do on their own. We try to inspire them to enjoy the activities and seek fitness improvements (we regularly monitor for changes in test scores). We have them regularly doing push-ups and other strength-building exercises yet there is no violence, physical contact, or combative activities, just healthy competition within themselves to beat their last fitness test scores and obstacle course time. Essentially, they are tricked into getting stronger and constantly improving with these simple obstacle courses and exercises, and of course with the current media hype on super heroes, the television show American Ninja Warrior, and whatever the word 'ninja' brings to their minds.”
My three-year-old son, Cody, participated in the preschool ninja class with a very patient instructor, Mr. Mike. I was impressed with the way the youngest kids were patiently taken through various obstacles and how easily they picked up on new tasks. There was no pressure to do more than they wanted, and some hung back while others just went for it. The class moved onto swinging ropes attached to the ceiling and one four-year-old boy quickly took off propelling himself towards the top. I was in awe as he fearlessly reached the top and came slowly back down.
I chatted with one mom and asked why she likes Hawaii Academy, she replied, “The teachers here really stress the muscles you’re using and what the kids are doing mechanically while the kids just liked being timed and acting out what they see in those competitions on the TV show, American Ninja Warrior. My daughter just wanted to check it out at first and she wound up signing up for the ninja classes, joining a team, and she took first place in her category at her first competition. She just loves being here!”
The classes offered run from tiny preschoolers up to those in their 70s, 80s, and 90s (oldest student is 102) who can still do vertical jumps, long jumps, push-ups, pull-ups, and hand-grip tests in their ninja classes. Dr. Max stressed that the fitness testing is important for their senior members to know their risk of injury by having a baseline current fitness level to compare and improve upon. It’s also beneficial to know where you may be deficient and need improvement. Dr. Max showed me a picture of an 86-year-old doing the splits and shared how important it is to keep your fitness, strength and flexibility as you age.
Those who attend more classes and have joined teams tend to be better because of the practice time but it looks like everyone there is having a blast from the novice to advanced. Beginners are just getting used to the equipment and the younger ones are mostly learning to follow directions and basic techniques like tumbling skills. You have to be able to climb a rope up to the ceiling in order to move on to the intermediate courses and eventually more skill to move into advanced groups. Each year Hawaii Academy hosts the Hawaii Ninja Games (for ages 3-11) and the Hawaii Ninja Warrior Championships (for ages 12+), but competition isn’t the overall goal of the Academy. Their mission is promoting lifetime fitness and gymnastics for students of all ages and abilities. Ninja training is just a fun vehicle to get students to higher levels of fitness.