My Ultimate Ninja Challenge Experience On Discovery Channel.
In September of 2017, while filming the Discovery Channel exclusive television series Ultimate Ninja Challenge, I traveled to Japan with my fellow cast members and film crew. After a grueling 24 day survival challenge where nine contestants with a variety of backgrounds and expertise compete to survive nine Ninja styled missions and the rigors inherent. The challenge was for some very strenuous both physically and emotionally. My biggest challenge personally was peer-to-peer due to what at the time I perceived from some cast members as massive egos and upstaging with lots of backstabbing. Needless to say I survived all twenty four days, nine challenges with number 8 and 9 being solo, and rogue.
After being one of the five cast member contestants that completed, winning the Ultimate Ninja Challenges, we left Vancouver B.C., flew to Osaka Airport. After going through customs in Japan we hopped on a shuttle bus with our Producers, film crew and made our way to Iga City, home of the Ninja for over 900 years. The birthplace of Ninjitsu and the warrior fighting art.
After settling in at our hotel and getting some well deserved food and rest the next day we were afforded the opportunity to explore the beautiful town and historical landmarks.
As part of the reward for surviving the challenge we met with Ninja Master,
Jinichi Kawakami b. 1949, head of Banke Shinobinoden, claims to be the second last sōke and only heir to authentic ninjutsu. He says he is the 21st head of the Koga Ban family, mercenary and is the honorary director of the Iga-ryu Ninja Museum.
On the day of exploration in one of the most beautiful countries I have ever visited I was accompanied by two male cast members. We were so very honored and humbled to be there that we set our differences aside during the trip and took in the sights together which was nice. I truly enjoyed their company and the fact we all had fun together knowing full well that during the 24 day challenge we did not get along. We would have invited the two female contestants to join us but members of the male contestants didn’t like the behavior the two females had demonstrated and disrespect to the Japanese People’s. One female contestant was the night before at a dinner party carrying on with in appropriate conversation topics and impersonating Asians dialect, while making absurd faces mimicking what she perceived to be Asian and sticking out her teeth making an eccentric overbite. This behavior did not sit well with myself and obviously the other male cast members so we chose to exclude the two immature and very racist females Danielle Martin and Justine Kish.
So, we ventured out and headed to take in the local venues in Iga City. After getting a bite to eat we made our way to the Ninja Museum and Castle. We were so excited to be in such a historically enriched place that was mystifying. We eventually purchased our tickets to enter the Ninja Museum and Ninja House. Wow, what an incredible sight to see. Imagine this, you walk into a house that looks incredibly beautiful yet simple. Hidden in plain sight are trap doors, false floors and compartments where the Ninja would be able to hide and escape, surprise attack or secretly stash away weapons, valuables or food and water.
We had a tour guide walk us through a step by step introduction to the history and the lifestyle that the Shinobi the official name of the warrior Ninja lived. During the filming of the television series we had to compete in challenges designed around the nine Kuji-Kiri Principles:
The nine symbols are: rin, pyo, to, sha, kai, jin, retsu, zai and zen. Each symbol has a specific meaning. Learn more at www.wayofninja.com
Each cast member was in charge of a Kuji principal based challenge and a three member team. During my experience as being the leader of the challenge cast members attempted to sabotage it by refusing to assist until it meant their own personal failure to complete the mission. So, naturally my military background and experience as a Non-Commissioned officer in combat arms kicked in with my Always Place The Mission First Mentality, I executed the mission on my own. Eventually as I mentioned the other two saboteurs were forced to participate as they should have. Like I pointed out we all didn’t get along and the ones that did get along were probably playing politics. I’m a very blunt person and up front, I don’t hide the way I feel about someone and if I don’t like or agree I will make my position known. As cast members during the competition we’re making the hard decision to pull out of the competition and go home to their home or family for a variety of personal reasons it became a clique. I never viewed the television series Challenges as tough, after 18 years in combat arms with 42 months in combat during war time and hostilities around the world I know what tough truly is and this never came close. So, I chose to pull away from the individuals and let them go be fake friends with one another while I took care of myself and ensured mission success.
Therefore seeing the culmination of what we had just experienced filming in Canada in Saskatchewan near the Whistler ski resort, the ninja museum offered a clear visual by artifacts of the history behind what motivated the design of the challenges.
Ninja were farmers, average people fighting against tyranny. They were masters of stealth and weaponry. Hollywood and video games do not depict the Ninja in a proper light. However there’s a shroud of mystery that surrounds the Shinobi and Ninja lifestyle.
If I were to compare the Ninja of 900 years ago to a modern day equivalent, they’d be today’s Delta Force or perhaps CIA or MI-6.
I know viewers of the television series interpreted by role on Ultimate Ninja Challenge as nearly selfish or villainous. However what was not put on film for the viewing audience to see was the incidents of bullying, attempts at being controlling and disrespectful sidebars directed at me the was edited out or manipulated by post-production to set me in a negative light. My guess is it made for drama and entertainment value and at the end of the day I was paid handsomely and walked away as a challenge champion. Visiting Iga City was the reward and meeting Jinichi Kawakami having a ceremony on film for the final lesson in person.
What I found personally entertaining and also disappointing was the fact that upon receiving our Kuji on scribed rice paper from our Sensi the contestant Danielle Martin was voicing her great dissatisfaction about her receiving a worthless piece of paper. Saying she flew all the way to Japan for something so insignificant and valueless. On the show she was one of my biggest emissaries along with J.D., so I have no contentions about calling out their character.
In Daniel Martin’s case she failed to realize that the ceremony was not the true reward, it was meeting the people of Japan and experiencing the history firsthand. Meeting Jinichi Kawakami in person was the reward, three other original cast members never made it that far and she could have been more gracious for her opportunity.
Inside the museum of the Ninja was a plethora or ancient artifacts. There was on display wonderful outfits and uniform/costumes worn by the Ninja or that era. Lines up in display cases were tools of all types and weapons. The Ninja were definitely a formidable adversary that you would not want to confront because once you saw them it was too late, your dead.
During filming I was thinking the production focus would lay more towards survival and techniques rather than human drama. However when the television series aired I was greatly disappointed as to see that was not the case, a lot of what I filmed related to survival never made it to television. It was about six weeks into the show being aired on Discovery Channel that the show was canceled and pulled off air. Where the production and producers failed is they focused to much on the human relationship drama factors and not enough of the survival aspects. This was basically the Ninja variation of Naked and Afraid minus the nudity.
Stephen Rakin, Executive Producer known for Man vs Wild, starring Bear Grylls was one of the lead producers of Ultimate Ninja Challenge. Sadly his wife passed away during the filming of our show. He decided to work through her death and mourn her loss after filming. This is the same producer from Man vs Wild that had been bitten on his foot by a Fer-De-Lance Viper and sustained a gruesome injury where the flesh on his foot was eaten away down to the bone by the venom. He eventually healed after having skin graphs and surgeries.
Stephen Rakin told asked me if I’d do better on a mission or tv show working solo. I said, no I can do both. I can work alone, where I’d be able to actual teach and demonstrate having more control of what’s being filmed. On the other hand I can work well with others and my military career demonstrates, what got I. The way on this production was the unnecessary egos, poor attitudes, attention seeking performances and sheer disrespect from cast members to cast members.
When you take a group of personalities that are trying to rise to the top in their public figure careers, that are alpha type mentalities and competing for victory they form alliances. If you are to independent from the group the group will banish you. That’s exactly what happen to me. Aside of being outcasted for not being in the martial arts community like four of the winners, I was the eldest and smallest. So the younger professional fighters thought they could take charge of me and I’d conform. One the very first mission J.D., made a few attempts to establish dominance and he attempted to embarrass me for an innocent statement I made. I simply said to J.D., don’t talk to me that way. That hurt his ego, he nearly threaten to fight me for putting him in check. I was aware that all this film would be aired nationally if not globally and was not going to let this junior contestant with far more martial arts experience and far less survival and military experience talk to me in any form that’s disrespectful. So, that incident is what catapulted the agenda by J.D., to either get me to fight him and get kicked off the series and sent home, or continuing bullying by himself and the cast members he recruited to his efforts. Needless to say they failed and I walked away the ultimate winner of the competition. For my experience there were some really good people and a few two faced backstabbers.
After the show Justine Kish and Danielle Martin made efforts to harass me on social media made character attacks. Justine Kish I blocked of social media and off my cell phone due to her continuous prank calls and demonstrated immaturity.
I didn’t truly enjoy every aspect of the show or it’s design, to be fare I enjoyed aspects only. Do I regret the experience you might ask of me. Absolutely not, for me it was super easy, I’ve experienced much harder and am far more capable that what was offered during filming and afterwards. I’d love to do another television series that’s dedicated to pure survival solo or along with a co-host.
I get offered survival shows every year due to my world renown status as a world class expert of survival as a geo-survivalist. There’s a ton of networks out there that love survival shows and I am on the call list with several production companies that get contracted to cast for and produce this content. I’m open to starring in another series. I’d also like to get involved with making another movie acting or taking a role of a reoccurring television series.
Daniel W. Shrigley