Season six of American Ninja Warrior is wrapping up, and it is probably one of the most under appreciated television shows on cable right now. The last season of ANW proved that America can produce extraordinary athletes capable of out-competing the best from anywhere else in the world. Anything that the rest of the world can do, the USA can do better– and nobody cares.
ANW has quite an enthusiastic following and it seems to be out-done only by CrossFit’s cult followers. The difference for me is that I actually admire the ANW competitors. This sixth season has shown strong and capable athletes, and has been one of a few instances that I’ve seen total unknowns out-competing Olympic athletes. Pros vs. Joes tried to give America a peek at what it would be like to have home-grown athletes face off against the pros in a variety of sports fields, but the results were about what we expected. The Joes rarely won against the Pros because they were competing in a sport that the pros were exclusively and specifically trained in. All of that changed with ANW.
Professional strength trainers, Olympic athletes, and seasoned ANW course veterans were losing against random and never before seen walk-on competitors. They were losing to 20-somethings with no prior ANW experience, 30 year old electricians, carpenters, prison workers, 40+ year old women, and 50+ year old fathers and grandfathers. I’ve never seen this type of skill or such a variety of competitors in any high-level sports competition. That’s what pleasantly surprised me and gave me hope that Americans might someday shake the moniker of “Amerifat.”
Cheering for the competitors in ANW is one of the few sports that I guiltily enjoy watching. I try not to fall for the faux nationalism that it can induce, and instead I find myself wondering first how it is that the USA is able to regularly and reliably produce strong ANW athletes, and secondly why nobody cares.
Petty opinions about strength as relating to racial superiority aside, the USA is most likely producing so many strong competitors because of sample size (hat tip to [email protected] pledge Ben for bringing up this point). The USA’s population is a little more than twice that of Japan. Living in a Bread Basket Country that provides generally (very) high nutrition food also contributes to this. The answer to my second question about why nobody outside of the USA cares about or is enthusiastic about American athletes is a bit more complicated.
ANW began with the Japanese Sasuke competition. ANW cropped up after a few spin-offs, and ANW competitors can sometimes be seen paying tribute to the Japanese ninja warrior tradition (not to be mistaken with the Sasuke show) with stylized clothing that imitates the shinobi shozoku. My guess is that the ANW competitors imagine themselves as adhering to some kind of honorable discipline and training comparable to the other admired Japanese warrior class, the Samurai. In actuality, the Ninja values and combat system were opposite of the ideals that the Samurai class held. It’s not really important whether or not the competitors are picking their value system correctly or even that they know the difference between a Ninja and Samurai (even though it would be nice). The reason that American competitors get excited about paying tribute to ancient Japanese warrior classes is the exact same reason that nobody outside of the USA gets excited about or admires the American athletic tradition.
The ancient Greek and Roman games were always in tribute to their gods, the games were a sort of religious experience for its participants and spectators. For the competitors the games were not just a competition but also a ritual that was designed to instill, reinforce, and promote religious and social customs or standards. Italian philosopher Julius Evola explains how the games were understood by the ancients, and how it would have been blasphemous to consider organized sports competition as being simply a contest of strength or skill.
“The games assumed the character of res divinae, and they have been replaced today by contemporary sports and by the plebeian infatuation with them. In the Hellenic tradition the institution of the most important games bore a close relationship with the idea of the struggle of Olympian, heroic, and solar forces against natural and elemental forces. The Pythian games in Delphi celebrated Apollo’s triumph over Python and the victory of this Hyperborean god in the contest with other gods.”
This is what the contemporary athletic and sports competition tradition is lacking, and it’s one of the same kinds of problems that American philosopher Francis Parker Yockey outlined in his opus Imperium. Whatever the USA might have had in its beginnings is simply lacking or altogether absent as much today as it was when Yockey wrote Imperium in 1948.
“The second weakness of the American empire is the fact that the Culture-disease of Retardation in America has prevented the arising of true Imperial thinking. Imperial thinking cannot develop in a land saturated with pacifist propaganda, with pleasure-madness as the content of life, and intellectual averageness as the spiritual ideal. Imperial thinking cannot be built on ‘league of nations’ dawdling, nor on drooling idealism of any kind, and much less on blind hatred as the cornerstone of a foreign policy. Yet, for foreign-political purposes, this is all there is in America. There is no level of the populace, no American group, which feels any higher task than self-enrichment. There is no Samurai, no Comintern, no Black Dragon Society, no nobility, no Idea, no Nation, no State.”
Nobody likes the American athletic tradition because it is totally profane and without any deeper reason or purpose than physical excellence and victory against all other sports competitors. There is no inner discipline outside of the physical aspect of training, and there are no legitimate political, social, or religious goals. The American sports and athletic tradition is so void of meaning and values that our athletes have to go to outside cultures to ascribe anything deeper than the need to win. That’s why you see ANW competitors like Reko Rivera with the Rising Sun shaved and dyed into the side of his scalp, or even appearing in replica Spartan attire.
The Japanese warrior tradition does not stop at creating a physically capable and formidable warrior, which unfortunately is where most American competitors stop. It is a worldview and lifestyle that is designed to help the adherent transcend petty and worldly concerns of domination and power. Whatever the current condition of the Japanese warrior ethos and lifestyle is today doesn’t change the fact that ANW competitors are trying to make something deeper out of their own competition. They are trying to make something of their sports competition lifestyle and the only place they know to turn is to the eastern warrior ethos, which, as French philosopher Rene Guenon says, is the only thing that can help the West to truly be alive again.
“It is only by establishing contact with still living traditions that what is capable of being revived can be made to live again; and this, as we have so often pointed out, is one of the greatest services that the East can render the West.”
It looks like most of the ANW competitors are blindly groping about for something deeper than sports performance, but at this point I’ll take anything I can get. If their shallow tribute is only a shallow lip service then I suppose it’s a start. I hope it won’t stop there, so please try to look deeper than the spectacle of the sport when watching.
Zhang Yimou’s Hero (2004) gives a better explanation of what this warrior ethos and lifestyle is supposed to help achieve. Never mind that Hero is a Chinese story, but the moral of the story is the same as what the ANW competitors are pursuing. The power to dominate, subdue, or destroy an opponent or foe was actually secondary to lifestyle and discipline itself. Nameless (played by Jet Li) commissions Broken Sword (played by Tony Leung) to paint a word for “sword” on a large scroll. The scroll is later delivered to the emperor by Nameless as part of an assassination attempt.
In the moments leading up to Nameless aborting the assassination attempt, the Emperor remarks to Nameless about his new-found understanding of Broken Sword’s scroll:
“In the first stage, man and sword become interchangeable. Here, even a blade of grass can be used as a lethal weapon. In the next stage, the sword resides not in the hand but in the heart. Even without a weapon, the warrior can slay his enemy from a hundred paces. But the ultimate ideal… is when the sword disappears altogether. The warrior embraces all around him. The desire to kill no longer exists. Only peace remains.”
Team USA beat Team Japan in last year’s Ninja Warrior competition. It wasn’t even close. The competition was a total blowout with Japan losing so badly that most people thought that the competition was rigged. I don’t have a dog in the fight, so it doesn’t matter to me whether or not it was rigged, but it stands to argue that America does produce superior athletes. Japan hasn’t produced superior athletes, and yet still we cheer for them while admiring and respecting their sports and warrior tradition. We cheer for them and take on their own culture because we unconsciously know that our own offers nothing more than fighting, sweating, and the temporary glory of victory on the field. There is no redemption in the American athletic tradition, there is only the burn to find another opponent, and the frenetic race to learn the game. Anything that the world can do, the USA can do better, but we’re still falling dead last in teaching a martial spirit and cultivating a sports tradition that can teach our people how to live.