“The Warrior Elite Within”
“What you get by achieving your goals is not as important as what you become by achieving your goals.” – Henry David Thoreau
The kids who pass through the doors of Stone Core Ninja Fitness are met with far more than physical challenges. They also are immersed in a developmental program designed to teach them five core attitudes: courtesy, integrity, perseverance, self-control, and an indomitable spirit. Owner, Phil “Stone Core Ninja” Jamison has designed his program with the show, American Ninja Warrior in mind, providing physical obstacles the kids learn to overcome as he helps them to develop the fortitude it takes to withstand those challenges.
Phil’s story reads like a plot for a movie, laced with everything you would expect to see a hero confront: tragedy, triumph, tests of endurance, monumental loss and rejection, and finally, redemption. At the age of 36, he has already become an inspiration to many, as he lives out his core values and imparts them to those he mentors and teaches.
Through his own personal challenges, Phil learned much of what he passes on to others today. His journey began in 2001, when he began following his childhood dream of becoming a Navy SEAL. (The United States Navy’s Sea, Air and Land Specialist, commonly known as the Navy SEALs, are the U.S. Navy’s principal special operations force and a part of the Naval Special Warfare Command and United States Special Operations Command.) During the initial phase -six months of BUDS (Basic Underwater Demolition Seal Training) – he found the extreme physical demands daunting, after being rushed to the emergency room with a core temperature of 91 degrees, and then developing pneumonia. In addition, he sustained multiple stress fractures, torn hip flexor and perforated eardrum.
He recognized his limitations both physically and mentally, and chose to leave the program for a time of introspection. “So I made the decision to walk away from that and I decided it’s not for me just yet. I want to try and identify what I need to do better, and come back, you know, overcome it,” Phil explained.
During that time, he met and married his wife, only to endure further life challenges when the first child they conceived was a tubal ectopic pregnancy, followed by a second pregnancy which resulted in a ruptured uterus. The obstacles ultimately proved to be more than the marriage could bear.
Concurrently, Phil began to mentor a young man, Anthony Melia, who had designs on joining the United States Marine Corps, which he did in 2003. In 2004, he had orders to deploy to Al Anbar, Iraq. “At the time of the war, that was the hottest place there was in the military for anybody. There was an average of like three to five soldiers dying a week out there,” said Phil.
At the age of 20, Anthony’s strengths were already being recognized, and his commander made him the fire team leader, a rare assignment for someone so young, giving him authority over 20 other men in his squad.
“So after six months your time is up there, and you’re supposed to go back to the mainland, the United States, but a new set of Marines had to come in there, and they needed a handful of Marines from the old team to stay behind and kind of show them the ropes… Anthony and like seven other guys decided to volunteer…” explained Phil.
After staying in Iraq for an additional two months, Anthony was anticipating his return home where he planned to marry his fiancé. Just two weeks shy of his departure back to the States, Anthony and his team were in a small town when they identified a vehicle they suspected to contain an IED (Improvised Explosive Device). In the process of checking it out, they were met with heavy machine gun fire.
“Anthony made the bravest decision of his life, to rise up to his feet and address the guy, and he actually hit the guy; he took him out at the same time that he got hit in the face,” Phil explained emotionally as he recounted Anthony’s final act of valor.
Unable to assuage his feelings of personal responsibility and guilt for the death of the young man he had mentored, Phil entered a dark phase of his life. He was on a downward spiral as his marriage disintegrated, and as he tried to come to terms with his aborted attempt to become a Navy SEAL.
After seven years of despair, he sought the help which led him to turn his own personal tragedies into triumph. He became a Christian and started on the path to recovery. As he rebuilt his own life, he learned much of what he knows today about leadership and how to be a person of authenticity. He emerged stronger and began helping others through their own struggles. This ultimately led him to become a fitness trainer with an emphasis on implementing his core values from childhood which he was now living out.
Renewed in spirit and mind, Phil began setting new goals for himself, including opening his own gym and becoming a contestant on American Ninja Warrior, a sports entertainment competition, in which competitors try to complete a series of obstacle courses of increasing difficulty.
His attempts to become a contestant on the show have brought new challenges that have tested both his endurance and perseverance. When his video submissions were not selected for Season 6 or Season 7, he chose to wait in line at Venice Beach for 12 days with other hopefuls seeking to secure a walk-on spot on the show. Over time, the line diminished, as people dropped out, unable or unwilling to endure the wait. Phil said, “I’m a veteran (who has been) actually deployed to Iraq several times, so to me waiting in the middle of nowhere without a shower for X amount of days is a walk in the park.”
The waiting can take a serious toll on one’s health, however, as Phil discovered two days before the event was to commence, when he came down with shingles. A trip to the emergency room, and a heart-to-heart talk with his dad finally convinced him to walk away for the sake of his health.
But all was not lost. During his time waiting in line, he became acquainted with the producer and also one of the production guys who set up the courses for the show. Phil ultimately became a volunteer tester for the show. “So I got to test out some of the toughest obstacles I’ve ever done. I’ve been through some pretty strenuous stuff in the military for training, but some of the stuff that I do now in (American) Ninja Warrior – it’s pretty crazy,” said Phil.
Then once again, for Season 8, Phil chose to wait in line for 11 days for his chance to be a walk-on for the show. Just as they got to his number, production wrapped, and he was once again denied his dream. Always one to look on the bright side, Phil described the experience. “…It was a shocking moment and for me it was very disappointing — but also a sigh of relief — because you’re waiting for 11 days, plus you’re out there in the cold, you’re tired, you’re miserable. So it’s like, you know, I at least get to go back and take a shower and try to find gratitude and optimism.”
Phil did have some good news though, because two of the women who had been training at his gym were chosen to compete on the show. Although he was not competing himself, he was able to be there to coach the women and root them on.
One of the contestants was Shannen Parks, who at 5 feet tall, was classified as “Ninja Mom”. She had been training with Phil for 8 months before the show, pushing herself to conquer the warped wall. Phil’s model wall at his gym in Vacaville stands 15 feet tall, while the one on American Ninja Warrior tops out at 14.6 feet. Phil explained, “I believe in training just a little bit harder, more than you need, because if you can perfect the impossible…everything else will be a cakewalk.”
If you are interested in how Shannen did on the show, you will have to tune in to Season 8 of American Ninja Warrior, because as Phil disclosed, “I signed a confidentially report and there’s an honor system (so) I can’t talk about what happened on the show.”
Now that the filming for Season 8 has ended, Phil is back to focusing on growing his gym, thanks in no small part to one of
his clients, Rose Marie Wong. This spunky lady became Phil’s client at the age of 85! Her training with him enabled her to ultimately hold a “plank” (a challenging position that works almost every main muscle in the body at once) for 10 minutes and one second, a remarkable accomplishment for anyone.
Rose Marie played an integral part in Phil being able to open his own gym, because at a time when he felt he might have to give up due to financial constraints, she donated what Phil needed to jump start his business. Phil elaborated, “We became really close after that. When someone does that for you, it’s like an ‘Oh my gosh’ moment, it’s like, ‘I love you.’”
Although Rose Marie has since passed on, having succumbed to cancer this February, Phil is determined to carry on her memory, working hard to encourage and motivate anyone who passes through the doors of his gym.
“It is said that a man is never gone until he is forgotten,” said Phil, as he gave nod to Rose Marie, as well as his former protégé, Anthony Melia. In
fact, to honor Anthony, Phil gave his 6-year-old daughter Justus, the middle name “Melia” and his 5-year-old son, Kai, the middle name “Anthony.”
As he reflects on the broken road that has led him here, he remarked, “I’ve always lived by 1 Peter 5:10: ‘And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.’” (ESV)
His resilience and indomitable spirit are inspirational, spilling over onto any who come under his tutelage. As Phil helps kids to build strong bodies through physical challenges, and strong minds by developing a foundation of core attitudes, he continues to influence the next generation to achieve their own goals, and to live in support of one another as a community of modern day ninja warriors.
“I Did It!”
I stood up there tall and confident, took a deep breath and said “it’s go time baby, give it your best and let God do the rest.” This is how Phil Jamison describes his experience prior to running the American Ninja Warrior Season 9 obstacle course.
If you’re not familiar with the TV show American Ninja Warrior, it is a competition where competitors have to pass a variety of some of the toughest obstacles the world has seen yet. Phil has been working 6 years to achieve his goal of becoming a ninja warrior competitor. It starts with filling out a long extension application and submitting an audition video no more than 3 minutes long, describing your life and why you want to become the next American Ninja Warrior. Of the 77,000 submission videos, only a 100 are picked for the California region. If you’re not picked, you have the choice to stand in a walk-on line for 10 to 15 days for the potential possibility to run the course.
Since Season 5 of the American Ninja Warrior, Phil has been submitting video auditions only to be unsuccessful. It wasn’t until Season 7 that he decided to travel down to Venice Beach, California and camp out in the walk-on line. After waiting for a dreadful 12 days in the heat and with no showers in the vicinity, Phil came down with the shingles 2 days before Season 7 production began and he had to leave. In Phils own words “I was the number 16 walk-on. In spite of my physical condition I wanted to persevere through it and do my run, but my father talked me out of it. The ride home to Vacaville was very long and emotional.”
As time passed and Phil’s scars healed, he continued training only to prepare himself for Season 8 of the American Ninja Warrior. Sometimes he trained under poor health conditions and sometimes he over trained, because as an aspiring American Ninja Warrior you have to be ready for anything, plus you’ll learn your body’s limitations.
In March of 2016, Season 8 of the American Ninja Warrior was approaching. Phil, this time traveled to Universal Studios, Hollywood, Los Angeles to once again challenge the walk-on line. Ironically Phil was once again walk-on number 16. After waiting 12 long days he successfully made it into the production process. Production began at 9:30 p.m. During this time, he got to witness some of the most amazing Ninja Warrior athletes crush the course as well as others not succeeding. After production cycled 120 Ninja Warrior competitors through the course, Phil’s number was called to the starting point. As he stepped up and waited for the signal to go, the production lights shut off. Phil then hears the words “American Ninja Warrior Season 8 production is now over.” Phil describes the feeling to be a laser light focus that can only be felt when something extreme is about to happen. As a 12-year military combat veteran he stated “it’s very similar to the feelings I had overseas in the military when a crazy and intense job needed to be done and you just got to do it. Then all of the sudden it all goes away in the blink of an eye.” This was a very upsetting time for Phil, however, as Christian and as a man of faith, he believed that it just wasn’t his time.
As time passes, Phil continues to train out of his gym in Vacaville “Stone Core Ninja Fitness”, where he also helps the kids in his community become better Ninja Warrior athletes. In addition to teaching the art of Ninja Warrior, Phil is also a certified motivational speaker. Upon asking him what are some of his rituals that he does to stay motivated as well as keeping his sight on the completion of his goals? He said, “I listen to a lot of Tony Robbin’s speeches about Life, Leadership and Goals. There was a time I was listening to one of his speeches about “Changing Your Approach”. What it entailed was that once you have tried a specific method on achieving a particular goal and it’s not effectively working, you have to change your approach and try something new.”
Through the process of being a walk-on for the past couple of years, Phil built up a strong relationship with some of the Ninja Warriors as well as some of the casting producer members. One person who has become a really good friend of Phil is a three-time American Ninja Warrior veteran finalists Kevin Bull. Through time, Kevin gave Phil pointers on what he can do to achieve greater success on getting into the American Ninja Warrior to run the course. In addition, Phil built a relationship with Peter Szeliga, who is the lead producer for the American Ninja Warrior walk-ons.
As American Ninja Warrior Season 9 approaches, Phil again submitted another audition video to production tryouts only to once again be unsuccessful. After this upset, in Phil’s words, “these past few years have been taking a toll on me, I need to change my approach and try something new.” Phil contacted Peter Szeliga to gain information on how he can start the walk-on line for the Los Angeles, California region for American Ninja Warrior season 9. This also means that Phil would have to be the first runner of the entire season.
Many American Ninja Warrior competitors look to avoid being the first runner in any Ninja Warrior Competition. For this reason, they want the opportunity to identify what techniques are most effective and what techniques are ineffective, through the process of elimination. However, Phil had absolute faith and confidence in his technique, skills and willingness to overcome extreme obstacles.