A Real Ninja War­rior

I know a few mar­tial art–o phil es who’ve watched Amer­i­can Ninja War­rior on NBC and mut­tered, “Looks like fun, but I don’t see any ninja!” And they bring up a valid point. The hit spinoff of the Ja­pa­nese show cen­ters on an ex­hil­a­rat­ing ob­sta­cle course, bu

Black Belt - - Competitor Spotlight - BY ROBERT W. YOUNG

S han­nen Park com­peted on Ninja War­rior in 2015 and 2016 and plans to do so again, pro­vided her

taek­wondo train­ing doesn’t get in her way. As she at­tempted to climb Mount Mi­doriyama on the show, she billed her­self as #Nin­jaMom. Thrilled to have found a nexus where Ninja

War­rior meets ninja war­rior, I vis­ited said hash­tag at her home in Cen­tral Cal­i­for­nia to fling ques­tions at her the way Scott Ad­kins might pep­per a ri­val ninja with throw­ing stars. The fol­low­ing are her an­swers.

ROOTS: “I got started in taek­wondo when I was 10 be­cause I was bul­lied. In first grade, there was a kid who used to fol­low me around and hit me. I was re­ally shy and petite — I was al­ways the short­est kid in class. My par­ents put me in taek­wondo to learn some self-de­fense and con­fi­dence.”

RANK: “I am a third-de­gree black belt in taek­wondo. I have two world-cham­pi­onship ti­tles and four na­tional-cham­pi­onship ti­tles. I trained for five years, then took a break, got mar­ried and had some chil­dren, and started back about five years ago.”

AF­FIL­I­A­TION: “I’m with an or­ga­ni­za­tion called the United World Taek­wondo As­so­ci­a­tion. We do Olympic-style taek­wondo and are as­so­ci­ated with Kukki­won. I’m a cer­ti­fied in­struc­tor, and I teach classes at the stu­dio I train at. One of the classes I teach is called Champ Camp. It’s fo­cused on help­ing stu­dents earn a cham­pi­onship ti­tle.”

OB­SES­SION: “Com­pe­ti­tion is a big part of taek­wondo and a big part of what my fam­ily does. My hus­band and our kids travel to dif­fer­ent cities to com­pete. My hus­band, who’s also an in­struc­tor, won a na­tional cham­pi­onship in poom­sae and spar­ring. My son won his first na­tional cham­pi­onship last year in poom­sae. This year, we’ll all com­pete in the cham­pi­onship. It does take a lot of time, but it’s fun. What else are we go­ing to do on the week­ends?”

“The Ninja War­rior train­ing was dif­fer­ent, but taek­wondo def­i­nitely helped. You’re not do­ing any kicks in Ninja War­rior, but be­ing agile and phys­i­cally fit re­ally helped.”

ATH­LETI­CISM: “Go­ing to tour­na­ments mo­ti­vates me to do a lot of crosstrain­ing, in­clud­ing hot yoga, weights, run­ning, car­dio kick­box­ing and park­our. The Ninja War­rior train­ing — now, that was a whole other an­i­mal. I built a mini-course in my back­yard, not with ob­sta­cles but with other things. When you do park­our, the world is your gym. You’re al­ways find­ing ways to train, whether it’s climb­ing up a wall or jump­ing over some­thing or do­ing pull-ups on the mon­key bars in the park.”

AWAK­EN­ING: “When you watch Ninja War­rior, at first you’re like, ‘I think I can do that.’ Then you go to a ninja gym and you’re like, ‘Oh my gosh, I can’t do any of this!’ That made me start train­ing three or four hours a day, just do­ing ob­sta­cles. At the same time, I was test­ing for my third de­gree, so I had to get my taek­wondo train­ing in.”

CROSS­OVER: “The Ninja War­rior train­ing was dif­fer­ent, but taek­wondo def­i­nitely helped. You’re not do­ing any kicks in Ninja War­rior, but be­ing agile and phys­i­cally fit re­ally helped.”

STRENGTH: “Most of my ex­tra Ninja War­rior train­ing was based on up­per­body and grip strength be­cause that’s what you’re do­ing on the course. You don’t get a lot of that in taek­wondo. One thing I would have done dif­fer­ently in terms of train­ing is fo­cus more on the leg strength that’s needed for the early ob­sta­cles, when you’re jump­ing from plat­form to plat­form. Be­ing 5 feet tall, those reaches were re­ally far from me.”

EN­DURANCE: “In taek­wondo, I build my en­durance through spar­ring. I used to train with mostly men, of­ten tall men, be­cause it was mostly men at that school. The school I train at now is mostly fe­male, so it’s kind of dif­fer­ent. But I love spar­ring. A lot of fe­males shy away from spar­ring, but I make sure I at least spar on Fri­days, when I might go for an hour straight while ro­tat­ing through dif­fer­ent op­po­nents. That helped me a lot on Ninja War­rior.”

NU­TRI­TION: “I def­i­nitely eat healthy — high pro­tein, low carb. I can’t speak for the rest of my fam­ily, though.”

ROU­TINE: “I train in taek­wondo about three times a week: two days taking class, and Fri­days teach­ing Champ Camp and then spar­ring. I do yoga prob­a­bly five days a week. I also do body­weight ex­er­cises, stretch­ing and flex­i­bil­ity moves. De­pend­ing on the weather, I try to run out­side a cou­ple of times a week. If I can’t get out­side, I’ll run on the tread­mill. And then, de­pend­ing on my sched­ule, I do kick­box­ing. I al­ways stay ac­tive — every sin­gle day.”

MIND: “Taek­wondo has re­ally helped me with the men­tal train­ing needed for Ninja War­rior. It’s more than what you get from earn­ing rank and things like that; it’s about set­ting a goal. I al­ways have goals based on tour­na­ments I’m plan­ning to go to, and that gives me the men­tal strength to never give up. And when I do lose at a tour­na­ment, it mo­ti­vates me to train harder. I re­ally needed that kind of mo­ti­va­tion on

Ninja War­rior be­cause the course is pretty much im­pos­si­ble. I didn’t think that go­ing in. I was like, ‘I will just rely on my per­se­ver­ance — it doesn’t mat­ter if no fe­male has ever done it.’ But then once I ac­tu­ally got on the course, I was like, ‘Oh my gosh!’ It was a wake-up call. I needed that per­se­ver­ance to go back the sec­ond time.

“For me, that’s what Ninja War­rior is all about: It’s not nec­es­sar­ily get­ting up Mount Mi­doriyama or even fin­ish­ing the course. It’s about try­ing ob­sta­cles and, if you fail, go­ing back and try­ing again.”

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