Even though I’ve been riding for seven years, I’ve never had any formal skills instruction and was counting down the days until the opportunity came knocking at the Ninja clinic in Bend, OR. Since I started working with Ninja I’ve read the curriculum, gone through albums of clinic photos, and read tons of 5-star reviews, but there were still plenty of surprises in store for me…
1. I didn’t have a single “A-HA” moment.
I had tons! I’m talking light bulbs going off, clouds parting, angels singing “A-HA” moments. I’ve had plenty pointers thrown at me haphazardly over the years. I’ve tried to follow a few of the well-intentioned pointers (lead with your belly button?) but they never stuck. And I knew enough to ignore some of the terrible advice (yup, I’ve heard them all). But the pointers I received at the Ninja clinic made sense and they STUCK! “Meerkat” at the top of a jump (ding ding ding!), point your knee at the turn (whoa!), wipe the dirt off the bottom of your shoes for a rear wheel lift (how did that just work?!). I witnessed other participants’ “A-HA” moments, too. When a participant was struggling with a drill the instructor would re-frame the skill in a different way, the participant would try again, and BOOM! Success.
2. Watching a skill is not the same as practicing a skill.
For the Fundamentals portion of the clinic I helped out as an assistant, took photos, and soaked it all in as a bystander. When I joined the Jumping Mini Clinic as a participant and was tasked with performing some of the moves I’d just watched dozens of times, I flailed! Despite knowing the mechanics, the “why” and the “how”, I couldn’t execute. I needed the time to session a drill, work the movement into my muscle memory, and then start working up toward the bigger stuff (like clearing table tops!). Now I understand why Ninja always recommends starting with a Fundamentals Clinic even if you consider yourself an Intermediate or Advanced rider and every 2-Day Camp starts with a review of the foundational skills. Not only does it help you learn the vocabulary your instructors are using, but these progressions build skills on top of skills. If you don’t have the key foundational pieces, the advanced topics will be more challenging to master.
3. A specific compliment means 1,000 times more than a generic “good job” or “nice work”.
During the cornering drills, a fellow participant commented on my form saying I had “great angles” and it totally tickled me giving me a boost of confidence that lasted the rest of the day (thanks, Ford!). While the “rah rah” cheerleading has its time and place, Ninja clinics and camps invite more direct and meaningful ways of inspiring us to succeed on the bike.
4. I made new ride buddies!
After riding together all day and giving each other high fives, I exchanged contact info with a few fellow Ninja campers to meet up for future rides where we could practice all the skills we just learned. I’ve heard both new and seasoned riders often say that don’t have people to ride with at their level and that they never have a chance to stop to session features or sections of trail that they want to work on. Problem. Solved.
5. Competitiveness has an “off” switch.
I’m annoyingly competitive. My boyfriend and I joke about who’s going to “win” yoga and I’ve been known to cut an evening short over a bad hand of cards. Coming to the 2-day camp, I was concerned about this obnoxious trait rearing its ugly head, but the format and ethos of Ninja didn’t leave any room for competition or ego. Only direct, supportive, and constructive communication with a hefty dose of comic relief! I didn’t feel the need to “win” anything and you know what’s better than a gold star? Riding the trail back to the trailhead “tapping” or “trapping” every single left-hand corner. My right still needs serious work, but now I have all the tools to master it!