Is American Ninja Warrior The Military's Secret Weapon?

Soldiers debate whether extreme obstacle course can get them in fighting shape

In the future, America's military could be trained as "Ninja Warriors."

Obstacle courses have long been a part of military training, but some servicemen feel it might be good to adapt the obstacles seen on the NBC summer series "American Ninja Warrior."

The show requires athletes to complete a grueling obstacle course in hopes of winning a $1 million grand prize. The final course is so tough that no one has ever finished it.

Still, that hasn't stopped athletes from trying, including 30 members of the military who will be competing Monday night for a chance to go to the National Finals in Las Vegas on Sept. 14.

The series attracts athletes of all kinds, including gymnasts, parkour enthusiasts and rock climbers, but Preston Griffall, who served in both the Army and the U.S. National Luge team, believes soldiers have an edge over other types of aspiring Ninja Warriors.

"You have to be mentally strong and focused, and be able to see a task and figure out how to accomplish that," Griffall told HuffPost. "I think that gives military personnel a big advantage."

He's quick to add that it only goes so far.

"Unfortunately, in this episode, everyone's military so there's no advantage for me," he laughs. "Of course, the Army is superior to all the other forces in the U.S." 

Although the military has used obstacle courses for much longer than "American Ninja Warrior" has been on the air, Dustin McKinney, a Navy Lt. based in Augusta, Georgia, believes soldiers could benefit by being "Ninja Warriors." 

"I do this to have fun, but we've got to stay in shape in the military anyway," he told HuffPost. "Instead of staying in military-type shape, I stay in Ninja Warrior shape, which is even better than I need to do in the military." 

Military obstacle courses aren't necessarily good preparation for the show, according to Ryan Stratis, a 12-year veteran of the Georgia National Guard who has competed on the show for seven seasons.

"I thought all the things I was doing in the military were going to put me above the other contestants," Stratis told HuffPost. "That wasn't the case.

"I had to learn a lot from other competitors, and get into parkour. The other contestants move much more physically than the military people do. Military obstacle courses are more confidence-based."

"American Ninja Warrior" competitor Sam Sann, who runs a gym in Houston that trains wannabe Ninjas, isn't so confident that the course on the show is good preparation for the rigors of combat.

"I don't want to disrespect the military, but they train for something different," he told HuffPost. "They can carry something heavy a long way, but the key to this course is grip strength in your hands."

Still, Griffall believes that any soldier can benefit attempting to be a Ninja Warrior.

"It's all pretty physically grueling, and it takes a lot of technique, a lot of balance and body awareness. Those are valuable skills for a soldier," he said. "It's important to be able to see an obstacle and figure out how to get over it in the safest and fastest way possible.

"If [the Army] did incorporate ['American Ninja Warrior'], it would quite possibly build a lot of strength for soldiers, which would be beneficial."