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Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Sasuke 20 - Michael Milner - Special Agent Sasuke

"SASUKE" logo at the beginning of the TBS Broadcast of Sasuke 20

The following is a tribute to an American competitor, Michael Milner, in Sasuke 20 that was cut from the American Broadcast in the G4 network. He was shown in the original TBS broadcast and I wanted to make sure he got his just due. I will restrain from my normal G4 rant of showing only people they want to in order to monopolize the North American audience (they cut the Canadian James Eddy as well..) and create the illusion that the only way for Americans to get on the show is through G4 so I will only concentrate on introducing all of you to a wonderful person. Thanks to the Power of Sasuke I've been fortunate to be introduced to a great guy!

Special Agent Sasuke Michael Milner

First off, when I wrote my very first blog, which happened to coincide with the TBS broadcast of Sasuke 20, I had no idea Michael Milner would be reading it! Actually.. I didn't think anyone would read it .. but I digress... Anywho.. He was so kind to provide his own personal pictures and a story about his experience in Sasuke (article to follow below). As someone who has never been to Japan, let alone the set in Mount Midoriyama in Yokahama, Japan, it was nice to hear the experience from someone who went there and competed!

Special Agent Sasuke Michael Milner, Grand Champion Makoto Nagano and Michael Milner's wife ©Michael Milner

I asked Michael to provide me with as much information as possible so people can get to know him (me included). After reading a lot of data I realized how friggin' accomplished this man is! Good lord.. so from this point on.. He's my Special Agent Sasuke :) Hey.. everyone else wants a nickname.. I'm giving it to him :) Besides.. former SWAT guy is not my thing.. I know TBS picked that name but it sounds so passe like he's dying of old age or something (for pete's sake, dude is only 3 years older than me..).. so Special Agent Sasuke he is to me :D Besides.. the title is current :p Wow I'm digressing already.. stay on target.. Anyway, Special Agent Sasuke Michael Milner provided me with a great link to his personal background detailing his career (past and present) from a recent conference he was a speaker. This is a link to his current line of work - Director, Computer Crime Investigative Unit for the United States Army Criminal Investigation Command. Also a great interview conducted by the Federal Security Spotlight about his current line of work can be found here! (Very interesting stuff Michael :D)

Michael Milner being introduced to the crowd in Sasuke 20 (screenshot sent to Michael by a fan in Japan :D )

Below is an article Michael wrote to be included in a newspaper article and was kind enough to email it to me as well to be used in this blog.

Ninja Warrior for a Day - written by Michael Milner (my Special Agent Sasuke :D)

Imagine getting an e-mail on a Monday, inviting you to compete on television's toughest obstacle course the following Monday. In Japan. That's exactly what happened this past March, when the producers of "SASUKE" selected me to join 99 other challengers for this semi-annual event.

All-stars in line waiting to be registered for Sasuke 20 (L-R) Some female, another female.. Shinji Kobayashi (gray cap), First Champion Kazuhiko Akiyama (red suit), Grand Champion Makoto Nagano, Toshihiro Takeda (black suit), Kenji Takahashi (back to us with gray pants), Shingo Yamamoto (shaking hands) and unidentified lucky person in the world ©Michael Milner

Let's rewind a bit to find out how I got myself into this situation. I first discovered "SASUKE" in early 2007 when it began airing on American television as "Ninja Warrior." The program appealed to me because of the difficulty of the obstacles and the genuine camaraderie between the challengers. Unlike "American Gladiators," where challengers compete against each other and an army of buff brutes, everyone in "SASUKE" competes only against the course.

All-stars cheering on their fellow competitor (L-R) Katsumi Yamada, Toshihiro Takeda, Kazuhiko Akiyama, Makoto Nagano, Shingo Yamamoto ©Michael Milner

Another great aspect of "SASUKE" is the incredible diversity of the challengers: young, old, and every age in between, athletes ranging from Olympians to armchair quarterbacks, Japanese comedians and celebrities, acrobats, firemen, fishermen, and even a few regular folks. The intrinsic rewards of "SASUKE" almost certainly outweigh the extrinsic reward, since the prize for completing all four stages—approximately $20,000 before taxes—won't buy many sessions with a physical therapist or chiropractor.

Over the months, I watched most of the previous "SASUKE" competitions, and I wondered if I could be a challenger. I soon learned that the obstacles to getting on the program were almost as daunting as the ones on the "SASUKE" course. For starters, the competition takes place in Japan, and the vast majority of the challengers are Japanese. Also, the demand for slots is so great that the "SASUKE" producers hold qualifying events throughout Japan. And to top things off, I had no idea when the next competition would be held.

Michael Milner being introduced to the crowd in Sasuke 20 (screenshot provided by Lost in Ube)

In December 2007, I was thrilled to see an item on the Internet announcing an open call for "SASUKE" applications. I knew the odds were against me, but I put together an application that focused on my athleticism, public service, and perseverance (bouncing back from three reconstructive shoulder surgeries). The initial feedback from the "SASUKE" producers was not promising, so I looked for another constructive way to spend my off-season from triathlons.

Michael Milner competing in a triathlon ©Michael Milner

I had recently read an article about parkour, which involves moving from point A to point B regardless of the obstacles in between, using a combination of running, vaulting, jumping, and climbing. All of that sounded like great training for "SASUKE" should I get an opportunity to compete at some point in the future.

Michael Milner competing in a triathlon ©Aaron Schwartzbard

That opportunity came much sooner than I had expected. During the final week of my parkour boot camp in late February 2008, I received a surprise e-mail from the "SASUKE" producers. They asked if I was still interested in participating and indicated that the competition would be taped on March 17th.

Michael Milner video as shown in the TBS Sasuke 20 broadcast (screenshot provided by Lost in Ube)

Even though I would be responsible for all travel arrangements and costs, I wasn't dissuaded, since this could be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

Michael Milner video as shown in the TBS Sasuke 20 broadcast (screenshot provided by Lost in Ube)

I had to fill out an additional questionnaire for the producers, and then I waited. And waited. Because of the logistics of getting from Virginia to Japan a few days before the 17th, I decided that I absolutely had to get the green light from the "SASUKE" producers by the 10th.

Michael Milner video as shown in the TBS Sasuke 20 broadcast (screenshot provided by Lost in Ube)

On the morning of the 10th, I found that much-anticipated green light waiting in my in-box: "Congratulations! You are chosen for the next 'SASUKE'." After a bit of scrambling, I was able to find a somewhat reasonably priced flight to and from Japan that didn't necessitate a second mortgage or selling a redundant organ.

Michael Milner video as shown in the TBS Sasuke 20 broadcast (screenshot provided by Lost in Ube)

On the morning of the competition, my wife and I traveled to Midoriyama, the outdoor complex where "SASUKE" is taped. The producers gave a walk-through of the course, and presumably lower ranking staffers demonstrated the obstacles before the taping began. Unfortunately, I was assigned a low number, which meant I would go fairly early and not benefit from seeing a lot of other challengers' attempts.

Michael Milner tackling the Sextuple Step (screenshot provided by Lost in Ube)

The eight obstacles in the first stage were largely unchanged from the previous competition, but that's not necessarily a good thing: The last time, only 2 out of 100 challengers completed the first stage.

Michael Milner completing the Sextuple Steps (screenshot provided by Lost in Ube)

I hoped that my parkour training would help with the Warped Wall and Half-Pipe Attack, but I had to get through the dreaded Jumping Spider before then.

Michael Milner getting ready for the Log Grip (screenshot provided by Lost in Ube)

As I soon found out, even the "easy" obstacles were anything but, as challenger after challenger failed to advance very far.

Michael Milner completed the log grip and on his way to the Pole Maze (screenshot provided by Lost in Ube)

I knew that very few first-time challengers had ever cleared the first stage, but I considered myself a winner for even making it to the starting line.

Michael Milner in the Pole Maze (screenshot provided by Lost in Ube)

I just resolved to do my best and hopefully avoid embarrassing myself on international television. After the starting tone, I felt tunnel-vision creeping in, and sensory inputs from the outside world seemed to fade away.

Michael Milner competing in the Pole Maze (screenshot sent to Michael by a fan in Japan :D )

I was totally focused on the course, and autopilot quickly kicked in based on my frequent mental rehearsals.

Michael Milner completing the Pole Maze (screenshot provided by Lost in Ube)

And just like that, I was at the Jumping Spider. This fourth obstacle had foiled many elite challengers in the previous competition and required that I hit the mini-trampoline squarely in the sweet spot.

Michael Milner getting ready for the Jumping Spider (screenshot provided by Lost in Ube)

Otherwise, I would not have enough forward and upward velocity to catch myself between the two walls.

Michael Milner on the Jumping Spider (screenshot provided by Lost in Ube)

Did I mention that I'd never practiced on a mini-trampoline? I ran a few steps, hopped forward, jumped up, and then took a swim in the muddy water below.

Michael Milner swimming after the Jumping Spider (screenshot provided by Lost in Ube)

The instant replay clearly showed what went wrong: I hopped too far, landing on the mini-trampoline's padded border instead of the sweet spot. The laws of physics prevailed, and thus ended my first attempt to conquer "SASUKE."

Michael Milner replay of the feet on trampoline at the Jumping Spider (screenshot provided by Lost in Ube)

After a quick shower and change of clothes, I had a chance to meet a number of the more famous and recognizable "SASUKE" competitors. They were gracious and friendly, and the expected language barrier wasn't really much of a barrier, since we all understood the universal language of "SASUKE."

Michael Milner replay of the feet on trampoline at the Jumping Spider (screenshot provided by Lost in Ube)

I won't spoil the results for those who haven't seen the broadcast, but suffice it to say, "SASUKE" retains its reputation as the toughest obstacle course on television. I'm hoping to compete again on "SASUKE" later this year, and I've been busy surfing the Internet for a good deal on a mini-trampoline.

Michael Milner interview by TBS after his run at the Sasuke 20 course (screenshot provided by Lost in Ube)

Additional comments left on my blog which I also wanted to share:

I was able to meet the All-Stars and other frequent participants (Mr. Hang Glider, Mr. Octopus, etc.), and we did out best to bridge the language gap. They are all class-acts, gracious, and friendly. I brought along plenty of Special Agent pins and patches for my new friends, which they seemed to enjoy.

Michael Milner's wife, Special Agent Sasuke Michael Milner, Mr. Sasuke Katsumi Yamada ©Michael Milner

They have some porta-showers set up. Hot water, too! (that was a question I had always wanted to be asked LMAO!!!)

In a nutshell, I was notified on 3/10/08 that I'd been selected to compete on 3/17. Travel from Virginia to Japan on 3/14 over 3/15. The morning of was very hectic, and I didn't have a Japanese translator with me. I had a low number, so I didn't get a chance to relax or really get settled before my run. I was most concerned about the Jumping Spider, due to a complete lack of trampoline training, and my misstep there took me down. Overall, a fun and challenging experience.Thanks for the kind words. Hopefully, I did well enough and made a sufficiently favorable impression with the producers to earn an invite back in September (this time with a bit more advanced notice).

Michael Milner being interviewed by TBS ©Michael Milner

One of the TBS staffers spoke English and was very helpful, but she was juggling a million tasks at once. The G4 staffers were quite busy as well, but they seemed nice. They did a separate interview with me after my swim, so I have only good things to say about those folks. I know that one other non-Japanese (Read: Canadian), non-G4 competitor also had positive dealings with them.

One of my new Japanese fans posted it for me to view. Being my own harshest critic, I've dissected every step and misstep a million times over. I now know how the All-Stars feel when they apologize for letting everyone down and then vow to train harder and return.

Michael Milner jump on the Jumping Spider (screenshot sent to Michael by a fan in Japan :D )

Additional articles written about him and his experience:

Friday, May 16, 2008 - - Story written by Tamika Matthews - Belvoir home to its very own ‘Ninja Warrior’
Thursday, May 22, 2008 - - Story written by Tamika Matthews - Win or lose, Milner leaves Japanese television competition a champion

Again I want to thank Special Agent Sasuke Michael Milner for taking the time to send all this stuff to me so I can share with the rest of you guys :) Let's hope TBS gives him another chance to attack the course in Sasuke 21! If you feel compelled to do so, please email Monster 9 or TBS to ask them to please allow Michael to be reinvited again this year!


Some Kinda Wonderful said...

Yes, much thanks SAS Michael Milner. And much thanks also to you, my friend, for putting up this post. You did a wonderful job. I enjoyed it very much.

lostinube said...

Great job putting things together. Hopefully he'll get another shot at the course next time (and with a bit more advance notice).

Arsenette said...

Thanks guys :) I was a bit nervous about this one.. mostly because it wasn't a rant on something personal.. it's basically a billboard to Monster 9 and TBS to get a reinvite :) I learned a lot and Michael was a real great person to get me what I needed.. and then some! Thanks Ube for providing the screenshots!

pamwax said...

Very nice Elsie. I hope Micheal gets another shot. Anyone who competes to a winner in my book.

G4 if you are listening show all the Americans in your broadcast.

tricia said...

Excellent, excellent Elsie. Let's hope the powers that be will give Michael another opportunity to compete. He'll do great.

Võ Văn Lộc said...

Tôi muốn có các cuộc thi SASUKE