My ninjas-

In my first post in this series I shared my epic American Ninja Warrior audition video and how during childhood, being forced to sit for 5 hours a day in school felt a bit too much like torture for a high energy little boy like myself.

And in part two, I told the story of how I used movement to heal myself, from both a drug addiction and a major neck injury.

These personal experiences are my motivation for competing on American Ninja Warrior; I see it as a huge opportunity to transform the education system through movement.


Don’t get me wrong; I love learning. I love good teachers. And I know that every kid is able to learn, as long as there is an adult that believes in them in their life. So why is our education system failing so many? How did we get here?

Origins of Our Current School System

Are you ready to have your mind blown? Good, because here is a cool TED talk for you that exposes the British Colonial origins of our modern school system. It’s worth watching the whole video, but definitely watch just the first 3 minutes.

The point made by Sugata Mitra (education researcher, scientist and 2014 Ted prize winner) is that the education system as we know it today was put in place by the last biggest empire in the world, the British Empire, to produce workforce for their bureaucratic system.

Now it all makes sense! How else could the British Empire organize their ships, trade routes, etc without computers? They had to turn people into computers, into human robots – so writing and math were emphasized.

I’m thrilled to have the privilege that I’ll be presenting alongside Sugata Mitra – 2014 winner of the TED prize award – at the AERO Conference in May, where he will be the keynote speaker.

School Design Revolution

The good news is that there is a movement to create schools that are learner-centered and democratic and nurture natural passions and abilities, instead of the more tyrannical systems mandating a top down standardized curriculum.

Einstein was mad brilliant, yo.

Einstein was mad brilliant, yo.


Of course, it’s beneficial to have some “rules” and “guidelines”, but beyond those basics, tremendous freedom, variation and creativity can thrive in schools. And standardization can be saved for building cars, not conditioning humans into robots.

Although in its infancy, the school design movement is bringing a tremendously exciting opportunity to change the fundamental nature of education and culture in the world.

Do You Want To Live In a Happy World?

Screw a “Happy Meal”, I want a happy world. I think we deserve it, especially our kids. And it turns out that investing in their well-being is crucial to making the world a better place.


World Happiness Report 2015

“Giving more priority to the well-being of children is one of the most obvious and cost-effective ways to invest in future world happiness.” World Happiness Report 2015


And while many kinds of schools are being created with a holistic philosophy, I haven’t seen one yet that puts movement at the core of education. And yet engaging and training the whole body is the best way to help students reach their full mental, spiritual, physical, emotional, and social potential!

“Happiness and well-being are best regarded as skills that can be enhanced through training” #WorldHappinessReport

Shouldn’t training those happiness skills start very early on, in school?

Embracing Challenges (Instead of Avoiding Them)

What would a school that exposed kids to a wise balance of left brain, right brain, heart, body, and soul education look like? Where developing self-mastery by facing physical obstacles was encouraged?

“It has been repeatedly found that when cultures let even very young children explore their own boundaries, for example even with knives, they have fewer injuries and accidents than those that don’t and the children grow to have great facility in navigating dangers when they are adults.” Thomas S. Cowan, MD – Paraphrasing research by Liedloff J. The Continuum Concept: In Search of Happiness Lost. 1986

My favorite example is from a kindergarten in Denmark (which, by the way, is now the 3rd happiest country in the world.)

“The school has a huge tree on its grounds with many branches to climb on. It is the goal of every child in the program to climb up high in the tree; the only rule (mostly unspoken) is that no one, no child or teacher, helps anyone else climb the tree. Usually the children can get near the top around age five or six.

Children even less than one year old show interest in climbing the tree. Between the ages of one and three, nothing much happens except the children circle the tree, feel its bark and just experience its massive being… the adults do nothing. They let the children circle the tree day after day, week after week, year after year. No offer of help or advice is ever given. Amazingly, according to teachers at the school, there is no hint of frustration or boredom with this process. What you see is inner determination.

Then one day, maybe after years, and maybe sooner for some than others–it makes no difference to anyone–the child scales the tree. Then entire community literally erupts in joy. Joy, not praise, not “Oh you are so good” or “you are so accomplished.” No rewards are given, no prizes, there is just the spontaneous eruption of joy for the child and for those who act as witnesses. No photos or videos are ever taken, yet the children will picture this moment for their entire lives.” ~ The Nourishing Traditions Book of Baby and Child Care

 10 Essential Life Skills Kids Develop Through Movement

Of course, movement is a worthwhile pursuit in and of itself. It should be celebrated because it is natural and an essential aspect of being human!

But here are 10 good reasons why movement should be put front and center of the education system:

  1. Confidence. If you’re strong and confident in your body, you’re strong and confident in your mind. Because remember, the mind and body are actually the two sides of the same coin. Facing physical fears that are real makes us more self-assured in general.
  2. Imagination and Creativity. Movement gives kids a way to express their creativity and imagination. They create their own games, add or adjust rules and use their imagination to turn a big log into a troll cave or a tall tree into a magical giant. And as Einstein said, “Imagination is the highest form of intelligence”.
  3. Engagement. “Kids learn through sensory experience, the more senses they engage, the more they learn.”says Adam Bienenstock, who designs natural playgrounds for kids.And that means they’ll be more motivated in school and absent less.
  4. Risk Management. Giving kids the opportunity to develop themselves through physical play, especially in nature and on natural playgrounds, has been proven to develop their ability to assess risk. “The more interpretive and natural the element, the higher the cognitive engagement. More cognitive engagement means less risk.” Adam Bienenstock
  5. Perceptual Awareness and Focus. You know that’s a good life skill to have, being aware of what the hell is going on around you. Man, if people just had that skill, so much suffering would be prevented. And how many of us struggle with focus and multi-task our days away unproductively. That just isn’t an option when you’re balancing on an obstacle suspended 5 feet off the ground.
  6. Perseverance. Falling and failing are absolutely essential, because they teach you how to get back up and give it another shot. And when you do finally succeed, all the struggle you endured in the process only makes the victory that much more satisfying. Since physical activity is physical, it involves falling. Duh.
  7. Intelligence. Yup. Exercise makes your brain work better. For many reasons. It’s that simple. Read “Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain” if you want to learn more.
  8. Collaboration and Empathy. The language of movement is written in feeling, so any movement done consciously develops our ability to feel. Furthermore, many physical games require high levels of social awareness in order for them to be fun, which helps kids connect to each other in various meaningful ways and develop their emotional intelligence.
  9. Goal Setting. Did you know that only 8% of people achieve their new year’s resolution? People don’t know how to set goals that are meaningful and achievable. Exercise goals are a highly measurable way to teach people – and kids – about the power of mastering goal-setting.
  10. Joy. Dare I say it, it’s actually joyful to move. The body heals itself through movement so it’s built into our design through millions of years of evolution. Many of us, sadly, have been traumatized by our earliest movement experiences at school and have created an identity out of that trauma. It’s become an excuse to remain sedentary and deny who we actually are.


Embracing Obstacles: The Ninja Temple of Movement

Ninja Temple of Movement

Imagine a school where movement was at the foundation of the curriculum!

In my personal life, business and service to Stoked Mentoring (the non-profit that empowers inner city kids through snowboarding), I’ve seen time and again that movement and overcoming physical obstacles builds a deep set of life skills and character.

Even more so, it helps young people (and adults) clarify their personal dream and mission in life and develop their courage to pursue that vision.

“We chose to focus on qualities of personal development rather than academic outcomes, as our criteria for measuring success… when human development is put first, academic, artistic, and vocational successes arise seemingly without effort.” Jon Young (Wilderness Mentor and Visionary Educator)

In other words, intrinsic motivation is absolutely crucial to the long-term motivation it takes to achieve any worthwhile goal.

So why wouldn’t we envision a school that puts these things front and center? Aren’t creativity, health and awareness at least as important as reading, writing and math? Can we finally sacrifice the idea that learning has to hurt?

My vision is to create a school of moving arts that becomes a symbol for the education revolution that is just now ripening into existence. It would be more than just a school, but actually a beautiful community of people who face obstacles together and shout with pure joy when one of the tribe overcomes a challenge.

The following five components would be the foundation of this communities philosophy:

  1. Holistic Engagement. Learning is natural, happens all the time and is driven by engagement. Engage the whole human being – body, heart, left brain, right brain, soul – and you create balance, harmony and continuous cycles of self-empowerment. The purpose of education is to create experiences where kids can safely explore their inner potential (rather than force a specific agenda upon them). When people make their own decisions, they learn better and make better judgements. Inspiring kids to become passionate lifelong learners is an essential goal of any humane school.
  2. Movement. The body-mind exists in a physical reality. Movement is absolutely essential for unlocking our full human potential. All kinds of play (imaginative, unstructured, structured, physical, verbal etc) games (collaborative and competitive) obstacles, and adventures build vital life and social skills way more completely than just academics. (And social skills are a much better predictor of happiness than money and academic achievements.)
  3. Culture. Kids learn more from the environment and culture they are immersed  than from the materials they are taught. Creating a community that works together towards a common purpose while celebrating the individuals and designing an atmosphere of collaboration, play, exploration, gratitude, purpose, healthy competition, equality and empathy are crucial to complete, holistic education.
  4. Creativity. The ability to create what matters most is the ultimate human skill. People, especially kids, best develop their creativity by harnessing their personal strengths to pursue meaningful personal projects through cycles of intention, creation, and reflection. Right brain activities such as art, pattern recognition, and emotional intelligence are absolutely vital to create a more balanced world.
  5. Nature Connection. Understanding and embodying a deep connection to nature is an essential aspect to mental and physical health and ecological harmony. An education that doesn’t foster meaningful connections and relationships to other species of living beings – plants, animals, bacteria – is incomplete. Retreats, survival skills, and wilderness rites of passage allow students to directly tap their inner source of power and develop self-mastery and radical self-reliance. Learning from the sacred wisdom keepers of the First Nations is vital in healing our relationship to Earth and understanding the symbolic languages of nature.

“Creative genius is not the accumulation of knowledge; it is the ability to see patterns in the universe, to detect hidden links between what is and what could be…Geniuses share one trait: transcendent experiences in nature in their early years…The more high tech we become, the more nature we need.” Richard Louv

Now that I’m a father (I have an 8month old baby, Emma, with my wife Alexandra) my mission of transforming education through movement has taken on a new level of urgency. Because when I look around, I see parents in Manhattan clawing to get into these expensive and hyper-competitive private schools and their 4 year-old having to be interviewed. And yet I can’t find a single school that is good enough for my ninja baby.

Ninja Baby -

I want my daughter to develop her potential at a humane school that embracing creativity and movement!


Preparing for Battle: Get Me On That Course

So I’m competing on American Ninja Warrior not just for myself, but for my vision and the countless people that I know it can serve, especially in the next generation. Kids need to learn how to master their body-mind through movement, and in the process can over come and avoid addictions, obesity, and diabetes.

I’ve never been so excited in my life! Excited to take on this challenge, share my truth with the world, serve others and use the stress of competition to develop my full potential.

Ninety percent of the battle is won in preparation. In my next post I’ll share exactly how I’m preparing for the American Ninja Warrior obstacle course (which, according to word on the street, is more difficult than ever).

I Need Your Help to Succeed!

Because honestly, that casting crew has the herculean job of sorting through fifty-thousand applications, each with a two to three minute video. Make their job a little easier by reaching out to them directly and telling them to put me on the show!

The casting company is called A. Deign & Co and here are their Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram pages.

Please send out one of these tweets or make your own with the hashtag #NinjaBaby:

With your help, I know I will get on the show! And the more people that support me and believe in me, the better I will do on the course. I have no doubts. Together, we can inspire an entire generation of kids to master themselves through movement and by overcoming obstacles!

Fear Is the Gateway to My Higher Power

It’s true, and has been a consistent theme in my life from early on. I’ve always been drawn to dangerous situations and intense physical experiences, it’s when I feel most alive.

From my childhood days of fighting older kids at recess to being a little punk drug dealer in high school, to doing back flips on my snowboard in college, to rock climbing in the Alps, and my vision quest, my fear has always been with me.  It might seem kind of bad ass, this path, but the truth is I’ve been compelled down this path by something deep inside of me – and at times that is truly terrifying.

But I’ve learned, through all my trials and rites of passage and training, that fear and terror are just energy that we project our insecurities onto. If we have the courage to really face the fear, feel it, even dance with it, it can be harnessed and directed – a powerful allie – instead of the ultimate saboteur.

And despite all the excitement, uncertainty, danger, and opportunity, I’m crystal clear about one thing (thanks to my past experience with “larger than life” obstacles): the only real obstacles are the ones I create in my own mind.

I’m not battling the course and the other competitors; I’m courageously facing myself – my fears, strengths and my vision – with open arms and an open mind. In front of a live studio audience!

So how will I emerge victorious? With the focus, sensitivity, and fearlessness of an ancient shark rising toward the light from the ink black abyss below. 🙂

As always, TrainDeep!




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