Ten years ago, Martin Keller stood for the first time in front of the Boulder Ninja Skills in Sobrio. One and a half years ago, Martin decided to project Ninja Skills. Since then, he spent over 80 days under and at the block, until him on 30. January 2018 succeeded in getting through. We talked to Martin about the ascent, his perseverance in designing and the topic of work-life balance.
Interview with Martin Keller
First of all a heartfelt congratulation for committing Ninja Skills. How long have you been designing Ninja Skills?
Thank you very much, what a dream boulder! The first time I was there shortly after Nalle's first ascent, about eight years ago. You have to see the boulder with your own eyes, it is even better than it looks in pictures or videos. I hadn't tried it then, but it was at the top of my list all along. I tried it for the first time almost two years ago. In total, I had spent more than 80 days under the block. I was always very close, but the last bit of luck was always missing. In December of last year, I jumped off the easy exit because I could no longer feel the handles and did not have a crash pad to exit. At my age you get a little more cautious.
What went through your mind after you scored the boulder?
Finally!!! That went through my head. I had known for a long time that I could climb the boulder, it was very close a couple of times. So it was not a question of “if” but just “when”. But I didn't think it would take so long. But I don't have any stress or time pressure. The line, the place and the trains are something of the very best, 99% of which was always fun! But that seems to be a talent of mine. It's always super tight for me everywhere, but until I come up with something really difficult, it always goes for a while. But others train forever in the hall, I just “train” on the rock. In the end it comes out the same. Everyone should do what suits them, what they can and what they want. But I should hurry up a little, I'm already 40. If I continue like this, I'll still be doing gymnastics at 60 on some difficult lines that I still really want to boulder.
What ultimately made the difference, that it worked with the way through?
I had to change the beta back to my old age beta because a finger was swollen. Two years ago, I had tried this beta but could not solve it. In December I was able to resolve the sequence at once (more power !!!). And I had just climbed two days over Christmas / New Year over a period of two weeks. So I was really relaxed and after two days of getting used to it, I felt stronger than ever. The trains were still very heavy, but at the same time well controlled. Many forget that you become strong on the rest days, not in (over) training! This is especially true when you are no longer 20 years young.
In your instagram profile you write “Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better. ». You have a lot of perseverance. Where do you get the motivation, the drive from?
Giving up does not count. This is generally true in life. I find it extremely exciting to see what you can get out of it when you really want something and are ready to go full throttle for it. That means hard work and comes with some hardship. But "there is no such thing as a free lunch". Again, something that applies to life. Nothing has ever been easy for me. Neither in school nor in sports. But I still got a master’s degree at university, played football in the second highest junior league and can now climb one or two more difficult boulders in bouldering, although I only started climbing when I was twenty and at that time no 6a route came up. My strongest muscle is definitely my head. It is harder (more stubborn) than granite - also something that helps you achieve your goals in life!
You have opened numerous heavy boulders (eg Highlander). How do you choose your projects?
It is lines, movements, puzzles that fascinate me. In the past, the focus was certainly on the inspection. Today it is rather the process of finding an elegant, beautiful solution to a movement puzzle. The inspection itself is then much more associated with “work”. I often climb harder than I have to. Quite simply because I prefer to climb a “beautiful” movement / sequence or / and I want to skip gruesome grips.
What are the most formative inspections for you so far?
Certainly the first ascent of the Highlander on Sustenpass. I've lived through this dream over 13 years, focusing my whole life on it. Probably spent over two years of my life under this block. It was not my style, but the line and the idea fascinated me from the first moment. Although I could not pull at the beginning (the 17 heavy trains), I knew I wanted to get there. And that's how I got to work. When I got to 2016 at 19 on the boulder after a two-hour boarding with Splitboard in early April, this was the end of an 13-year journey. Finally at the finish. Infinite joy. But also a little sadness. Intense feelings in any case, but not only at the moment of the ascent. Rather, it was the experiences and experiences of the previous 13 years that are not often found in today's fast-paced world.
You're huge on the rocks, you're recently married and you're not a full-time climber. How do you manage to balance training, designing and the rest of your life?
Indeed, this is far from easy. But the day has 24 hours. You can already pack something in there. Instead of chilling on the sofa after work and watching TV (but I like to do it every now and then), I prefer to chill on my crash pad in Ticino. Just today I only got home from Ticino at two o'clock in the morning and had to go back to work at six. Of course, it would have been more relaxing to sleep in and spend the day on Instagram and chilling out. But not possible. It's also good that I need a lot of rest days and that I “only” go bouldering three days a week. So I'm not on the rock that much. But traveling a lot. And "training" for me is normal bouldering. It's not super efficient, but it's most fun and I can be out in nature. Nevertheless, of course, on a rainy day, I also have fun in the hall.
Do you already have a next goal in mind or are you going to take a break first?
I had break time / regeneration time over Christmas. I also do one in April and a five-week break in the summer. Now is the best season in southern Ticino. There are still countless lines that I want to climb.
New bouldering guide for Ticino available (issue 2018)
Video about the first ascent of Ninja Skills by Nalle Hukkataival
Martin Keller at the first ascent of No Mystery, Chironico
Credits: pictures Martin keller