Cal Sean graduate Bryan talks about American Ninja Warrior, COVID-19

Photo of Sean Bryan

The ninja’s focus was once on secrecy in carrying out missions. But at a time when people face various assaults daily, the task of the ninja may require appearing on national television to convey public hope. This is a task that a Papal Ninja understands more than anyone else.

Cal Sean Bryan graduate, a Catholic Church worker who was a member of the Bears Men’s Gymnastics Team from 2006 to 2008, is set to face challenges presented by an entirely new season of American Ninja Warrior, in which he is a fierce competitor. He competes as the Papal Ninja, a title that perfectly describes both his exceptional sport and his strong Catholic faith. Brian has been a major contender in one of the most popular TV series in the United States since 2016.

Reflecting on his dramatic journey from his time as a student at Cal University to his new life as a ninja, he sits down and gives the Daily Californian an interesting insight into the show’s new season.

Brian admitted that when this season kicked off, he was “the most nervous” ever – and with good reason. As one of the few “personal” Hollywood productions during the COVID-19 pandemic, “American Ninja Warrior” has taken strict precautions to ensure the safety of audience members and competitors.

The regional qualifiers were canceled, and instead selected competitors met in St. Louis for a period shorter than two weeks for the event. In addition to social distancing and the state of covering the face, the contestants were required to undergo continuous medical tests and checks during filming. Clearing the hurdles after each round was also a crucial process.

The immense energy of the studio’s live audience in regular seasons was replaced by video calls from rival supporters, which had its benefits for Brian.

“It (the video call) was actually more intimate than it usually is,” said Brian. “You can actually talk to them before you start, instead of being stuck with four or five obstacles in front of you.”

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This season’s competitive dynamic – especially with a new rule in place that puts competitors from similar backgrounds into teams, giving athletes a chance to save their teammates – may work for the better for a former college player like Brian. Not only is the body structure he has developed over the years beneficial, but the way he handles pressure – just entering the area with a greeting – has also prepared Brian to be an exceptional ninja. One crucial difference between the “American Ninja Warrior” and the gymnastics it raises, though, is the ability to quickly adapt to obstacles it has never touched before.

“You can’t test the hurdle before a competition,” said Brian. “Gymnastics has much fewer variants, while in ninjas, you never know how the obstacles interact.”

The unique gymnastics culture is also a staple of the formation of the Papal Ninja. In addition to the team’s tradition of appreciating sport as an artistic endeavor rather than a pure competition, Brian found teammates with the same passion for gymnastics and provided a space where he could really be himself. It was in this space that he discovered a new appreciation for his religion and faith.

“On coming to Cale, I made some promises to myself: First, I would always be myself; second, I would have a girlfriend right away; and third, to take my faith more seriously,” Sean recalls. “During this process, I found great inner joy and respect for serving.”

He shifted gears from his initial plan to become a business consultant with his degree in physics and considered his awareness as a call from God, decided to enlist in the Catholic service, and subsequently obtained a master’s degree in theology from the Dominican School of Philosophy and Theology. Graduated from Cal.

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His faith eventually led him to become a Pope’s ninja.

It’s as if the series of events leading up to Brian’s time in “American Ninja Warrior” was actually a complete storm. And while watching fellow former Cal gymnast Kyle Leto give him some attention to the show, participating in the show seemed unrealistic to him at first.

“I started watching the show two years before I submitted the application, and I thought, ‘Maybe I could do that,’” Brian said.

However, within the same week or two, he received messages from four different people who had no connection to each other, urging him to give the show a try. Moreover, finding a gym with a ninja training program in his neighborhood convinced him that all of these events were in fact a call from God, calling him to become a ninja.

Once Brian decided to take up the challenge, his progress came faster than expected. Not only did he endure a very selective process to appear on television, but after only two seasons, he became one of three finalists to reach the furthest stage in Season 9. Instead of just enjoying the growing fame and recognition, he intends to use it to fight some of the stereotypes of religious populations in the contemporary secular United States.

“I tried to utilize this platform to inspire people and help them develop their faith,” said Brian. “Being religious does not mean sitting in church all day long. If faith does not take a tangible place in your life, then what is the point of it?”

During the pandemic, his job as a papal ninja wasn’t limited to competing in the show. One of his observations was that people have become more accepting of the deity than before. With the COVID-19 pandemic making death imminent for people, along with increasing isolation as the actual lockdown prolongs, Brian has received numerous inquiries as to how to understand the situation.

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“At the start of the epidemic, I decided to start writing a book,” Brian said. “Many of the inquiries were of the same kind, so I began to compile a document and slowly respond to these questions.”

In addition to providing spiritual assistance to those in need, address current racial discrimination issues by holding the Zoom Conference. He invited famous guests, including fellow Ninja Nagy Richardson, former NFL player Anthony Trucks and Dr. Bennett Omalo, on whom “Concussion” is based, to offer some points of view.

“Being a papal ninja at this time helps me realize my own message and keep me responsible for the existence of people and responding to their needs,” said Brian.

In a sense, during the pandemic, the secret missions that ninjas used to perform are now brought onto the national stage, to reach those who need them most. And in order to reach more people who need help, showcasing their endeavors to “American Ninja Warrior” to expand support is the new ninja mission.

Whether on show or in service, Brian’s goal is always the same: to be there for the people who need him most. For Cal College graduates, who are the perfect complement of athletic stardom, religiosity, and compassion for others, being a papal ninja may be the most appropriate career.

He said, “Be brave, and go deeper.” “Courage helps a person overcome fear, and asking a deeper question can help you respond in a loving way.”

By fighting on the “American Ninja Warrior” this season, the brave Papal Ninja will fulfill his promise and hurry to save them. Fans can hear and testify Monday at 8 PM on NBC.

Contact Eriko Yamakuma at [email protected].

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