So yeah, I’ve been avoiding writing this blog post for the last 6 months. Finally, it’s time to stop hiding, errrrh, I mean share.

I chose, yes chose, to skip competing on American Ninja Warrior this season! Clearly, I’ve lost my mind. But in fact, this is all part of my larger plan of Ninja Warrior world domination, because…

To Win the War, Pick Your Battles Carefully

And for me, the process is as important as the goal. (More on that later.) 

For the 6th time, I put my heart and soul into creating the most powerful, honest, and impressive audition video I could possibly create. 

And for the 6th time, I failed! With close to one hundred thousand people submitting for just 600 spots, getting on the course is by far THE MOST formidable of all the ANW obstacles.

One of the casting directors for the show was even kind enough to provide feedback on my video!

“You’ve got a unique story, did great last season, and are energized on camera! You deserve another shot; let’s hope the executive producers agree.”

Sadly, they did not 🙁

But of course, I had a back up plan! When do real ninjas use the front door anyway? I’d mentally committed to doing the walk on line in Minneapolis, which would mean leaving my family for 4 weeks with no guarantee I’d get on the course. (I did the walk on line in Season 8 and 9 and was lucky enough to get on the course.)

And when the day finally came where I could leave for the walk on line, I found out that the line was already 15 ninjas deep! It had started over 5 weeks before the event. It just didn’t make sense for me to leave my family for 5 weeks this time.

The decision to skip this season was a difficult one, but it came from a place of strength and clarity. It was the right call.

Last Season, courage required me to dance with the mountain spirit, and transcend terror by spontaneously entering an altered state of consciousness. And this season, the most courageous thing I could do, the scariest thing, and ultimately the most rewarding, was to NOT compete. How strange and fascinating this ninja journey, with it’s challenges, realizations, and unexpected twists and turns.

Despite training year round and being in the best  (ninja) shape of my life, the timing just didn’t make sense for the TV show. In the off season, I also competed in the National Ninja League. I managed to qualify for NNL World Finals and finished in the top 30% of all competitors, competing along the very best ninjas in the world!


For me, Ninja Warrior doesn’t exist outside of all the other aspects of my life. Quite the opposite, it’s deeply integrated into all that I do: work, health, family, career, spirituality, food, and lifestyle. When I’m out there on the course, my wife and daughter are out there with me. That’s not a feeling, it’s reality; if something happens to me, it will effect my whole family.

Similarly, being out of town for 4 weeks doesn’t make sense for my entire family, then it’s a no go.  And I needed to be with my wife and daughter at exactly that moment. In the art of war, one does not choose battles that can’t be won. So the question became…

How Do I Continue to Move Towards My Goals Without Competing on the Show?

And the answer, in theory, was simple: testing! But in practice, it felt like absolute defeat. Once you test, you can’t compete that season. Alas, sometimes progress feels like moving backward, and sometimes you have to take the local train downtown to catch the uptown express.

Before filming each episode, ninjas who are not competing that season are needed to help test the course and make sure it’s not too hard nor too easy. It also allows the production crew to make sure all the cameras are working, among other things.

Testing involves a lot of waiting around, observing obstacles, talking about obstacles, and then having to jump into action at a moment’s notice. In other words, it’s great training for battle.

Testing is cool because you get “time on obstacles” and there’s always a chance that you’ll catch one of the executive producer’s eyes. So in May I went to Philadelphia to help test the course, which was not only a blast but also a very insightful experience.

And then in June I was invited to help test the National Finals course in Las Vegas! Ahh, Las Vegas the city of all the things I like least in life. But if there’s no sacrifice, it ain’t sacred. Dreams don’t work unless you do too.

We’re Going to Vegas! 😜

Testing at National Finals wasn’t just an opportunity to get more experience (and reconnaissance for when I compete at Nationals next season), it was also, in and of itself, a dream come true. Just to be a part of watching other ridiculously inspiring ninja’s commit to doing the impossible was an experience I’ll never forget.

Spectating from the sidelines, talking with other ninjas, hearing their stories, and watching them face their darkest demons and shine their brightest of lights (sometimes all in the same run) made me fall even more in love with this show/community/movement.

In other words, I felt so honored to be out there supporting these great athletes, learning from them, and most of all witnessing them face their fears with all of their strength. I recognize how privileged I am to have the freedom to follow my dreams, even when they lead me straight into the heart of a 100+ degree Fahrenheit sweltering dessert city.

Plus I had the chance to get on some of the Stage 1 obstacles, including the parkour run, warped wall, and dreaded double dipper! It felt really good to get a chance to touch the obstacles and complete them too. I can’t thank the good people of American Ninja Warrior enough for letting me have this opportunity.

The Double Dipper! This obstacle is INTENSE. Supper scary, and intimating as hell.

And if you can’t tell from these photos, the production of the obstacles is INSANELY WELL DONE! I couldn’t believe how hard working the obstacle crew was, and how well they did their job, under extremely intense and volatile conditions. These people are ninjas of construction, building huge, dynamic objects outside in the elements all while under the demands of high end TV production. It was truly a sight behold.

Stage 2, Tick Tock obstacle, with a huge man made pool.

Thank you Adam for helping make my dreams come true!

Peering out of the Mountain Cave

Having continued to work for my dream this season, albeit in an unexpected way, I’ve begun to reflect on where exactly I am on my journey. It feels a bit like peering out of a mountain cave, about one third up the mountain top, after having taken a long nap. The previous season was so intense that the wises decision was to take a break, heal, and get some perspective. A ninja nap, if you will 🙂

Looking outward, I’ve ascended enough to see the valley stretching outward to the horizon below. I can literally see the path I’ve taken just to arrive at this point, and can feel all the moments of glory, utter despair, and everything in-between that have forged me into the man that I am becoming. Looking downward is a very humbling experience, because this process has already thrusted me way out of my comfort zone more times than I can count.

Looking back into the cave, I’m so grateful to have taken a moment to seek refuge, recover, and process my experiences from Season nine of ANW. Despite my very best efforts to share what happened to me in my previous blog post, no words will ever do justice to the radical ritual that I experienced in Cleveland. Quite simply, I walked off of that City Finals course a new man.

It was such a profound shift in my being that fifteen months later, I’m still processing what exactly that even means. The darkness of the cave is strangely comforting, yet deep inside some primal urge calls me up and out towards the light.

Gathering my strength, I dare cast my eye’s upwards to the summit, a treacherous path leading straight to heaven’s gate. And I can’t help but wonder… not how good will it feel but rather, what will I have learned and who will I have become – physically, mentally, and spiritually – in order to be worthy of such heights?

Following your dreams is a great way to feed your inner child.

Ninja Warrior Is a Spiritual Practice

 These days, there’s a lot of confusion around spiritual practice. Is it different than religious practice? What is the purpose, anyway? Is it just imagination and visualization? How do I know if I’m doing it right?

For me, it’s simple. Spiritual practice is anything one does to wake up and realize one’s full potential. First, by becoming more aware of my power, then learning to master it, and finally developing the wisdom to know how to use that power to do the most good possible.

I meditate, and have so regularly for over two decades. I practice two ancient energy forms, tai chi and qigong, and I’ve been doing what could loosely be called “dream work” ever since I can remember, working with altered states in both dreams and waking reality. All this is wonderful, and each has helped me grow so much. But ninja warrior may be the most important of all the tools I use to investigate my potential and reality. This is a real adventure, because on that course, there’s no where to hide; the pressure is a beautifully terrifying opportunity to face one’s inner demons.

the ninja hero's journey - jonathan angelilli - american ninja warrior -

Journey to the depth’s of the under world to rise up, higher than ever

Because with Ninja Warrior, whatever is in my heart gets magnified one thousand times once I get on that course.  It’s so easy, too easy, to fool myself in most aspects of life (especially with seated meditation!) But the obstacles don’t lie. I either complete them, or I don’t. And either way, as long as I’m paying attention, I learn something deep about myself. I’m not sure I can say the same for anything else in my life, with the one glaring exception being parenting.


You’ve Got to BELIEVE (With your WHOLE Being)

 Physical strength is important, it’s the foundation. Mental strength is the second floor. And the apex of the pyramid is spiritual strength. What exactly is spiritual strength? My current best definition is the ability to give and receive spontaneously, without limitations, in service of the greatest good. This is the treasure I seek on this ninja quest.

All strength qualities are important, and influence each other, but if I had to pick the one that can make all the difference in competing on American Ninja Warrior, it’d have to be spiritual strength. How else can we explain the fact that most of the top ninjas are “faith based”? Even the ones that aren’t religious, I can see how deeply they believe in themselves.

And then there’s the fact that many physically strong ninjas go down on obstacles they can easily complete when no one is watching.

When it come to committing to doing the impossible, the fundamental question is this; what is your relationship to the unknown?

This is not the cheap “just do it” make believe of instagram porn fame. This is something radically different; every molecule of your being knowing you can do it. Only  can you literally leap into the void with the complete awareness and strength!


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8 years ago today. 🔹 I love body painting others… And myself, especially before competing. This was before the 5th Ave Mile, which I ran in 5:16s. (I think I could break the 5min mark if I really prioritized it as a goal. Could be kinda cool to run a mile faster than ever at age 40!) 🔹 When I compete, I commit 100%: not to winning, but to growing. And that level of commitment can feel terrifying, at times, because it is a commitment to the unknown, to confronting self-imposed limits, to surrendering control to a higher power. 🔹 One of the things I’ve learned is that whatever is in my heart before and during the competition gets multiplied 1000x out there on the course. This is why competing – especially on American Ninja Warrior – is a spiritual practice for me. 🔹 There’s nowhere to hide. Nothing to do. I’m spiritually buck naked out there on the course. 😳 And that feels like dying. And it IS death, perhaps, in a way: ego death. Alas, there’s no re-birth without death. 🔹 Painting myself is intrinsically calming and soothing. It reminds me that all of life – even, perhaps especially, the terrifying moments – are a gift. It’s a great privilege to compete on this magnificent stage called Earth. 84,000 generations of human ancestors struggled to survive and thrive just so I could have this gift! There are no words that could even come close to doing justice in describing such a gift 🎁 (And no emoji either!) 🔹 Painting myself reminds me that this “existential terror” is self-induced. It is adversity I have chosen. And perhaps that will make me stronger for when it’s inevitably time to face the adversity life offers me without my consent! ❣️🌎☯️🙏 #anw11 #NYC #ninjafitness #ninjawisdom #traindeep #exercisealchemy

A post shared by Jonathan Angelilli (@traindeep) on

I Shall See

The next chapter remains to be written. My training has taken some very interesting turns, as just the process of continuing down this path is helping me heal all of the childhood traumas I still carry in my body. Because when I get on the course, anything that hasn’t been processed will weigh me down. But my training is a blog post for another day! All I’ll say right now is that there are 3 fundamental questions when it comes to Ninja Warrior:

  • What is your relationship to fear?
  • How good are your observational skills?
  • How good are your movement skills?

I honestly have no idea what exactly will happen next on my ninja vision quest, and that’s why it’s so exciting. I’m confident that I’m only just beginning to scratch the surface of my true potential in this amazing sport. No matter what, it’s already all been worth it, and I’m exactly where I’m meant to be.

Jonathan Angelilli

⛩️ #TaiChiNinja ⛩️


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