Carmel youth’s ninja prowess keeps growing 


Andrew Saffen found some good uses for his winnings when he captured  the 2021 Ultimate Ninja Athlete Association world championship in the age 9-10 division in July 2021 in Las Vegas.

Saffen, who will be a Carmel Middle School sixth-grader in August, used his $300 winnings, along with birthday and Christmas money, to help buy parts for his father to build another structure for his backyard obstacle training course. His dad, Mark Saffen, threw in the labor for free. 

“He’s an amazing carpenter,” Andrew said.

Andrew, 11, encourages friends and neighbors to come over to introduce them to the ninja obstacle courses.

“Kids in the neighborhood love coming here,” Andrew said.

Andrew also donated part out of his winnings to #TEAMSEAS, a cleanup project to keep trash out of rivers and oceans.

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Andrew Saffen displays a box to collect candy wrappers for recycling as he hangs from his basement obstacle course. (Photo courtesy of Jamie Saffen)

“He started The Hoosier Ninja Project, turning his love for turtles to a platform to help protect and save the environment,” said his mother Jamie Saffen. Andrew will often catch turtles, clean them up and then take them back to the ponds.

Andrew started the nonprofit last year after he won the UNAA title.

“Through ninja (tournaments), I’ve been able to raise awareness each year,” he said.

Andrew will participate in Trick or Trash again this fall ( or trash).

“We had boxes and we collected candy wrappers during Halloween,” Andrew said.

Jamie said they collect candy wrappers to keep them out of landfills. The wrappers are compacted and recycled. 

Meanwhile, Andrew is preparing for some upcoming tournaments. He plans to compete in the Federation of International Ninja Athletics world championship Aug. 20-21 in Buffalo, N.Y. Then he’ll participate in the U.S. Ninja World Cup and U.S. National Championships Oct. 7-9 at Grand Park in Westfield.

Andrew won the World Ninja League Midwest Regional Champion in his age division in 2021 and 2022.

He recently finished second against older competition in a mini-competition in Columbus, Ohio. The winner was Jesse Wildman, who helps coach Andrew and has been on “American Ninja Warrior.”

“It was just for fun,” Andrew said.

Mark also turned the family basement into a training gym, including a peg board to climb and rings to jump. 

“Most obstacle courses are never the same, there is a difference in each one of them,” Andrew said.

Andrew’s interest in ninja competition started by watching “Ultimate Beastmaster” on TV. 

“There was a guy named Kyle Soderman, who was on the show and also on ‘American Ninja Warrior’ and he kind of got me into it,” Andrew said. 

Jamie said Andrew receives support from area and out of state gyms. He did some promotions for Ultimate Ninjas Indianapolis, which opened in June in Noblesville.

Andrew also is a competitive swimmer and plans to run cross country for Carmel Middle School.

“But I don’t love those sports as much as ninja,”  said Andrew, who also plays the tuba. 

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