In Guilderland, new storefront makes clients ninjas

Ninja Lab opened in Crossgastes Commons in June

Photo of Lynda Edwards

GUILDERLAND — As a teenager, Matt Maloney loved the forest near his Troy home where he could leap from tree to tree and somersault through the air.

It was good practice for what is called freerunning, a street sport that blends gymnastics, breakdancing flair, vaulting, tumbling and martial arts moves that is often done between high rise buildings. A freerunner must be able to grab narrow window ledges then flip themselves up to rooftops.

The U.S. military has adopted freerunning elements to train soldiers on how to move through  walls and fences without the aid of ropes or grappling gear.

For Maloney, jumping over alleys between hi-rises became normal.

"I guess my most dangerous move was jumping from a high-rise rooftop down to the top of a huge truck," Maloney mused.

Maloney, 28, now uses his skills indoors at Guilderland's Ninja Lab which opened last month in Crossgates Commons. The warehouse-sized space has equipment designed to reflect freerunning's cityscape challenges.

For example, Maloney estimates the widest gap over asphalt he ever leaped was eight feet. In the Ninja Lab, he can vault that distance with safety nets and padded mattresses below. He's one of a team at the new business who share the job title "ninja trainer."

They swing and leap and climb 14 foot tall warped walls, rope ladders, foam towers and jump onto swinging black metal panels that look like giant Swiss cheese slices. On a recent weeknight, Ninja Lab was packed with hordes of happy elementary school children.

Fort Plain art teacher and Lab co-owner Geoff Snyder built a ninja course for his own kids in their Scotia back yard when playground obstacles became too easy. At age 39, he made his American Ninja audition video in 2017. He was chosen to be a competitor on the NBC television show last year.

"I was born with a heart defect and I have a pacemaker but my parents always let me play sports," Snyder said. "I wore a protective shirt that sort of squeezed tight here—" he ran his hands across his chest—"when I played basketball."

Snyder's love of rock climbing piqued his interest in ninja training. He has a Ninja Lab in Saratoga with an obstacle course that's designed differently from the one in Guilderland.

Fellow ninja trainer Emily Holmes had scoliosis when she was a child and still has a metal rod in her back.

Holmes notes that she lost 25 pounds when she began ninja training. Maloney says that they already have one overweight client who is doing well on mastering the course's obstacles.

"Here's what I can tell you; sure, there are things Matt can do that I can't because I'm now 43 and he's in his 20s," Snyder said. "But I still practice and improve my muscle memory here and get better. No matter what shape you are in, if you come in, I promise we can help you do something you couldn't do before. That boosts confidence and it's fun."

Synder continued, "Who wants to exercise if it's not fun?"