For those who would like to see how they stack up against other athletes around…
Though everyone in the sport of Ninja agrees that there are different levels of athletes, there is no consensus at the national level about how to divide them up.
If you just want to play on the obstacles, that’s fine, but many decide that they want to actually run complete obstacle courses. We put together simple ones for birthday parties and private events, but these are typically rudimentary compared to the actual Ninja Sport.
Right now, the three largest national leagues – Ultimate Ninja Athlete Association (UNAA), World Ninja League (WNL), and Federation of International Ninja Athletes (FINA) – have some way of separating some of the “amateurs” from the “pros” at the adult level, but they have yet to do so for kids. In our experience, starting with one of these leagues is generally not a great way to start competing… for example a 9-year-old who has been training for 3 months probably won’t do very well against a 9-year-old who has been training for 3 years. In our regional Ninja Carolina League (NCL) in which we participate, there are beginner and advanced levels of competition in all age groups. We typically encourage some success at the beginner level at NCL competitions before competing in the UNAA (in which we also participate) or the other leagues.
It will probably be a few years before any accepted standard emerges for what the levels are at the national level (the USA Ninja Association is just in the formational stage as I write this). Although we’re staying on top of what is happening in the sport, we decided not to wait to define some levels ourselves, and encourage anyone who wants to progress to work through those levels.
Rock Solid Warrior has defined 4 levels at this point for kids ages 6 & over, and we’re working on better defining levels for teens/adults (with current loose definitions for beginner, advanced, and pro). We also have programs that introduce the sport to younger children (ages 4-6).
Group Ninja Classes for Kids
Our group ninja classes are set up weekly with a variety of stations appropriate for different achieved skill levels. We’ll do a quick warm up and fall training to help prevent injuries. They’ll be given a series of “stations” (that vary each week) that provide a variety of obstacles and some exercises that strengthen the muscles that help be more successful. They’ll hear about some of the basic terms used in the sport of ninja as they try related obstacles.
For kids, 6-15 (see Teens/Adults below for the older range) we strive to have less than 8 students per coach. If we have a class with a wide range of sizes, we’ll typically divide them up so the bigger kids are with a different coach than the smaller kids. They get the same instruction with a few adjustments based on wingspan and height.
If a child is 4-6, we typically start them in mini-ninja classes. These classes have our scaled down obstacles and focus on basic coordination and introduction to the types of obstacles (see example) they will see when they get a little older. We keep our ratio no more than 6 students per coach because we recognize the attention span is shorter, the distractions are more likely, and more physical assistance is needed. If a coach deems the child has advanced enough in self-control and skills (see sample test), they may recommend going to our Level 1 classes.
Typically, kids 6-15 start at level 1. This is where they learn a lot of the rudimentary skills in upper body and lower body obstacles. Each week, our top coaches set up 3 stations for that skill level (example 1 and example 2) Generally speaking, kids in Level 1 are not ready to compete. Depending on what skills and strength they come into the program, they will probably stay at Level 1 for several months. This can be accelerated by
- Strengthening at home: particularly dead hangs, pull ups, and core strengthening (sit ups, planks, push ups, etc.)
- Coming to some of our open gym times and working on the things they learned in class
We have tests to see if their skills have progressed enough to advance to level 2 where the obstacles are a bit more challenging.
Once they’ve advanced to Level 2, they will start seeing more obstacles that they might see on a beginner’s course (example), and they’ve begun to build enough strength, skills, and endurance to tackle a beginner’s course which typically are a series of 8-15 obstacles in a row with 2-4 minutes to complete. When they enter level 2, they won’t necessarily be able to do extremely well on such a course, but they are getting there. Again, we have tests in place to advance to Level 3. As they get close to Level 3, they should be doing pretty well on beginner’s courses, and will be encouraged to begin competing at that level.
At level 3, they are working through the obstacles they’ll see on a beginners course, as well as getting exposed to more challenging obstacles. They should definitely be competing at a beginner level and doing fairly well there.
Level 4 is for more advanced ninjas. We typically don’t offer too many of these classes, because, by the time an athlete gets there, they are usually competing at a higher level and training on our competition clinic, competition team junior, or competition team.
Group Classes for Teens/Adults
Some older teens fit right in to our “kids classes”, while others might want to join with the adults for classes. Right now, we’re only offering teen/adult “beginner” classes (to focus on introducing skills versus fitness) and “Ninja Fit” classes (to focus on fitness using obstacles to build the fitness it will take to successfully complete the skills). As these classes grow, we will most likely offer some intermediate level classes.
We have found that many adults, once they learn the basic skills, often rather self-direct their training or self-select training partners at their own level.
As they get more advanced, they may want to come out to “ninja nights” where 13+ and more advanced 11-12 year olds can tackle more advanced courses set up by our pro athletes. This is less structured, but tips and encouragement are given as athletes take turns on the courses set up and/or train on individual obstacles they are trying to improve on.
Competition Training Clinic, Competition Team Junior, & Competition Team
Our Competition Team is mostly made up of kids at Level 4 who are committed to the sport of ninja at a high level and show a level of discipline and character. Most of them compete at the Advanced Level in our Ninja Carolina League (unless it is their first full year competing and don’t feel they are up for the challenge yet).
In order to be on the competition team, an athlete must be recommended by one of our coaches and screened by our head coach. Usually our Competition Team Junior is ages 7-13 and Competition Team is ages 13+, but it is overall based on coaches discretion.
Competition Team and Competition Team Junior members will typically meet for intense two hour sessions twice per week, plus “homework” and are given the privilege of attending open gym at either location as well as joining in Ninja Nights if they are a bit older. They also get a team shirt and a discount at Rock Solid hosted competitions.
Not many young athletes are dedicated or skilled enough to handle the intense training and advanced obstacles of our Competition Team. However, many are ready for more than they get from our typical group classes and open gym times. So, three times per year, we offer an 11-week Competition Training Clinic, which is offered to advanced level 2 and level 3 athletes who either are involved in other sports during other parts of the year, or are exploring whether they are ready to make this “their sport”.
The Competition Training Clinic consists of advanced testing days on the front and back end of ten weeks of twice per week 1.5 hour sessions with our more advanced coaches, plus character building lessons and homework.
At the end of these 11-week sessions, the head coach will make recommendations for next steps which may include another 11-week session, some private lessons to work on some weaknesses, nomination for the competition team, or some other direction.
Ready to Compete?
In short we recommend kids get to level 2 before competing in league competitions, and we highly recommend starting with the Ninja Carolina League Beginner divisions for an athlete’s first year of competition, and to compete in as many of them as possible and practical to gain experience. If they have some success there, consider competing in one or more Ultimate Ninja Athlete Association (UNAA) Area Qualifiers, which MAY lead to Regional Qualifiers. Rarely does an athlete qualify at a Regional Qualifier for UNAA World Finals in their first year of competing, but it does occasionally happen.
The sport is still young, with the 2023-24 season being the 9th season of any organized league. We expect that levels of competition will continue to evolve over the next few years. Rock Solid Warrior is one of the leaders of the sport, and we’ll continue to help the sport advance as well as help our athletes advance.
For more about how the sport of ninja is organized, check out this Brief Intro to the Sport of Ninja video we made earlier this season. And, before your first competition, you may want to watch this video about What to Expect at your First Ninja Competition.