Last weekend, I spent about six hours over two days interviewing, photographing, and attending the grand opening of the Warrior Gym in Mount Laurel, New Jersey. It took that long because this place is huge. As co-owners Brian Kane and Vito Lasprugato emphasized, Warrior Gym is a great big playground.
Inspired by the hit TV show American Ninja Warrior, this gym is themed like a jungle. The central area looks like a rain forest with ninja trails on the jungle floor and more difficult ninja obstacles on the second level canopy. The flexible structure allows for limitless, quick change configurations suitable for children and adults, from beginner to pro.
To the right is the Temple. Looking right out of an Indiana Jones movie set, this multi-level parkour area invites you to try your skills on bars, walls, rails, and ramps.
This is what you see as you enter the gym and it just makes your jaw drop. Brian and Vito spent two years designing this place to accomplish that wow factor. But it’s not meant to be glitzy like chrome and mirror gyms. Instead, it provides the look and feel of the ANW set so that people training here get used to the distractions of bright lights, exciting atmosphere, and other TV production enhancements. Nearly a dozen veterans of the show attended the event and they all concurred. Warrior Gym nails it.
The grand opening started with a ribbon cutting ceremony at 12:00. The VIPs only event included ANW Ninjas giving autographs and pictures. This was a huge hit with the fans of the show. Parents escorted their wide-eyed children in to meet their television ninja heroes in person – Clint (the Smiling Ninja) Sarion, Michael Torres, Rachael Goldstein, Samer Delgado, Tanya O’Donohue, and Meghan Beatty. Co-owner Brian Kane, also an ANW contestant, had his daughter open the gym by cutting the jungle vine that separated us from the monstrous set. At the snip, we rushed in and started to play. The coaches and Ninjas fanned out to ensure safety, provide assistance, and interact with the kids, parents, and others.
Then at 1pm the star of the show, Isaac Caldeiro, appeared to the delight of the audience. Isaac was the first person to win ANW and go all the way to the top of Mt. Midoriyama. I’ll never forget watching that episode and the incredible athletic performance that Isaac executed through the course.
Ten lucky children heard their names called out. Isaac handed them a prize bag, shook their hands, posed for more photographs, then ushered the kids out to the playground for one hour of personal training. After that, it was the adults turn. I was one of those lucky winners. The prize bag was generously laden with signed photos, stickers, a grip strength squeeze ball, an Atomik t-shirt and a pair of Atomik grips. A perfect addition to my backyard rig.
Isaac guided us over to the jungle floor. He went right into instructor mode and demonstrated the first course which was leap pads, a jump onto a loopy cargo net, and finished off with some giant wind chimes. These twelve-inch diameter pipes were very difficult and require that I return to this gym multiple times if necessary until I get them. Hopefully the others in our crew will do the same. Most of them were Goliathon veterans. But we all struggled here.
The next course was even tougher. A zip line is easy but the transfer to grips spaced about six feet apart left most of us on the landing pad. Isaac explained and showed how to use your body for momentum, shifting direction, and gaining advantage. Then we moved to the hanging walls. This series of puzzle grips required tremendous upper body strength and the subtle swings of legs and hips to navigate pitches, transfers, and turns.
To get to the upper level, the jungle canopy, required most of us to conquer the warped wall. Again, after some tips and tricks from Isaac, we all gave it a shot. If we were not successful, we could choose to go up the short wall or climb the ladder in the back. So up we went to the canopy for a bonus round. Our hour with Isaac was up but he graciously chose to hang with us a while longer.
Upstairs we attempted the log swing, salmon ladder, and a rig with various fruit-flavored grips. And then our time was up. But the day was young. At 3pm, the gym opened to the public. They poured in by the hundreds. Mostly kids accompanied by their parents flowed through, up, around, and over the gym. They fanned out to the 30-foot rock climbing wall. This beauty included manual and automatic belays, a bouldering section, and a free-climb section (no grips). Over against another wall was a gigantic inflatable obstacle course. That was a big hit with the kids. For the most part, the parents milled around, took pictures, or waited on benches until their kids were exhausted.
For refreshment, you could go upstairs for pizza and drinks. The facility is entirely nut free and will remain that way. They already have a number of parties scheduled. The rooms are decorated in the same jungle theme. There are locker rooms, restrooms, and a lobby area. This is all courtesy of the former tenant of this massive building, an indoor tennis facility. Two more surprises awaited.
First, for those parents who want a little action outside the jungle, they can go over to the indoor driving range. Then through a set of double-doors tucked into a far corner, one could peer into phase two of the gym. It was another facility that looked to be about the same size as we were in. Plans for this area are still under wraps but it may include an indoor OCR course.
Brian, Vito, and staff are all fully certified and college-educated in multiple disciplines required to ensure that Warrior Gym is safe, teaching excellent techniques, and training people of all ages and capabilities including adaptive athletes and military veterans. Every new gym member will receive an individual assessment of their functional movement capabilities and goals. They will progress using corrective strategies and reversal patterns while the coaches also document your achievements.
The big day went on for a few more hours. Although I had to leave, still scheduled according to the press release were events such as a raffle drawing, an interview with Isaac Caldeiro sharing with the audience his secrets for winning ANW, and finally, to close the evening, a grand competition between all the Ninjas. Isaac would go first to set the baseline, then the others would follow to find out who, ultimately, would be the first Warrior Gym ninja of Mt. Laurel.
Brian and Vito have earned five stars out of five for a glorious execution and grand opening of this premium parkour and ninja gym. Expect to see more good things from this pro team soon. Their first UNAA Competition is December 16-17. Tickets are available at www.warriorgyms.com and additional information is available at their Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/Gyms.Warrior/