Ninjas assemble: stars from hit US game show call for Hong Kong kids to stop gaming and start moving
Wolfpack Ninja’s ‘Ninjadoc’ and ‘Wolf Pup’ set up obstacle course at Sevens Village to ‘plant seeds of greatness’ in Hong Kong youth
Why are Hong Kong kids sitting in front of a screen watching little electronic characters complete a maze when they could be physically doing it themselves? A troupe of American ninjas are in town to find out.
“So many kids are on their phones, iPads or playing video games,” said Dr Noah Kaufman, president and co-founder of Wolfpack Ninja Tour, a US-based obstacle racing brand setting up at the Hong Kong Sevens Festival at Lee Gardens, Causeway Bay, this week.
“It’s so easy to get a watered-down version of action and adventure on your video console, but when you have a real life ninja obstacle in front of you – or a rugby field for that matter – it’s real and visceral. We want to show kids it’s way more fun if you use your own body.”
Local ninjas will be able to test themselves on a 120-foot-long ninja obstacle course scaled specifically for young Hongkongers. The course is open to all, but only six to 16-year-olds are eligible to compete in the Wolfpack Ninja Championship from April 6 to 8. The top eight boys and girls will square off in a double elimination bracket before one ninja will be crowned champion on Sunday.
Fans of the hit obstacle course television game show American Ninja Warrior will recognise Kaufman – better known as the ‘Ninjadoc’. Aside from competing on the show for several seasons, Kaufman is also a casualty doctor, a black belt in karate, fluent in Japanese and an avid chess player.
“It’s definitely serious in there: stabbings, gunshot wounds, heart attacks, strokes ... I’ve been doing it for 15 years and it’s already a big problem. We envision this as a way to prevent millions of other problems, making the world healthier one kid at a time,” said Kaufman, a self-professed perfectionist.
When the opportunity arose to set up a course at the biggest sporting event in Hong Kong, the Wolfpack pounced.
“The whole event is aimed at fun and fitness – and there’s a desire to get the Hong Kong community healthy – so we look forward to promoting the ninja sport to rugby players and fans,” said Kaufman. “The kids will realise they have a little bit of ninja inside of them all, and if they continue to train after, maybe it’ll keep one kid in 20, 100 – whatever it is – from becoming diabetic, obese or developing heart disease.”
It is no revelation that Hong Kong youngsters do not get enough exercise and continue to show worryingly low trends in fruit and vegetable intake
“[Hong Kong] is a population we know could benefit from getting motivated and having role models,” said Kaufman. “Getting kids active and healthy falls in line with my dreams as a doctor; an ounce of prevention is a pound of cure, and the earlier they know that the better.”
Kaufman and co-founder Ian Dory are themselves fathers of young children and stressed the importance of encouraging healthy lifestyles at an early age.
“It’s all about getting kids off their phones, off the couch, and psyched to get moving,” said Dory – aka Wolf Pup – an avid rock climber and current American Ninja Warrior competitor. “It’s important to plant seeds of greatness while they are young.”
Although the show may not have fully reached the East, the pair have an enormous youth following in North America and started their very own Wolfpack Junior programmes.
“It’s been growing like crazy in the States and we’re getting there abroad,” said Kaufman. “We’ve had kids telling us they were inspired by us, families saying they lost 70 pounds together or got soda pop out of the house ... there is a real opportunity to make an impact here.”
“We realised we had this powerful megaphone to talk through, not just to our own kids but all over the world,” said Dory, who explained many young viewers look up to Wolf Pup.
“I tell my boy to eat vegetables and keep healthy; obviously he’s like ‘whatever, I want juice and TV’, but he listens to the [TV] characters. Now he says ‘I want to be a ninja like you, dad!’ so I tell him if he wants to be a ninja, he has to eat his broccoli to get big strong arms.”
Dory conceded that he had to lower his standards for the Hong Kong participants having tested the course at a pre-event activation.
“I shot for a pretty high success rate but we had about 5 per cent completion,” he said. “In Colorado I had very high expectations because the kids are very sports-centred, so we’ve scaled way back. The kids are going to fall but I want to see them work through it. Seeing their faces after completing it is awesome.
“One unique attribute of ninja sports is the camaraderie – man v course – pushing yourself to beat the other guy but at the same time encouraging each other to beat the course ... it’s sort of a metaphor for life.”
Dory also identified a problem in the way some societies perceive failure.
“It’s completely backwards; people should learn that failing is not a bad thing,” he said. “You are going to look like an idiot the first time – I fell right on my butt when I first did a ninja obstacle – but the only time you fail is when you stop trying.”
The Wolfpack Ninja Pro team members appearing at the event include Kaufman, Dory, popular Los Angeles-based duo Travis Brewer and Nicholas ‘Modern Tarzan’ Coolridge, and former Australia Olympic gymnast Olivia Vivian, “the Wonder from Down Under”.
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