The Art of Perseverance

The term “ninja” has many associations in present day vocabulary.

There’s the stealthy Japanese warrior figure. Or a person with exceptional skills in a particular area, such as a culinary ninja. And an obstacle-surmounting, high-flying athlete, like those competing on American Ninja Warrior.

Going back to the word’s origin, however, ninja signifies perseverance, which aptly describes Tim Saguinsin, the Paper Cut Ninja, and his journey as an artist, small business owner and ninja athlete.

Family experiences, cultural history and ninja portraits all find their way into Saguinsin’s work.

Exhibiting a strong affinity for the arts early on, Saguinsin attended an arts-focused high school and then the Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore, where he concentrated on painting and sculpture.

“I was all set to become the greatest artist ever until I saw how expensive my tuition was, and I had to figure out how I was going to pay for everything,” Saguinsin said. “So I converted the knowledge and talents I had and started to learn how to use a computer.”

Pivot No. 1

Thus began his career as a computer graphic artist and animator, producing educational materials for children.

“I turn really complex lessons into something that a kid can easily digest,” he said.

“Coming Home to Holly Springs,” depicts Saguinsin’s family en route through many town landmarks.

That work took him to London and back, and he eventually landed in Cary, by way of Holly Springs, with his wife and two sons.

Noticing the popularity of paper cutting machines like the Cricut — thanks, in part, to the family’s many crafty friends — Saguinsin experienced a light-bulb moment.

“When I realized that I could use the files that I create on the computer in digital form and turn it into paper, that was it,” he said. “It was like being back in art school again. I was exploring all kinds of different things with it. I started developing my voice.”

Pivot No. 2

That voice turned into a business called Paper Chop Shop, producing vibrant and punchy three-dimensional paper sculptures and wall art. Everything from silhouettes to city skylines, animals and illustrated characters are brought to life through layer upon layer of colorful paper and creative, intricate cuts. Saguinsin is head chopper, a role he assumes on nights and weekends, after his day job as an animator is complete.

Each project begins with an original illustration on the computer, then is cut out on paper in careful detail.

The paper cut ninja, Tim Saguinsin, nimbly transitions between his roles as an artist, athlete and business owner.

“Nothing takes less than five hours. Most of the projects take anywhere from eight to 10 hours,” Saguinsin said.

One noteworthy piece, called “Coming Home to Holly Springs,” features a playful map of various Holly Springs buildings, such as the cultural center and Bass Lake conference center, which Saguinsin created for an art festival as a board member of the Holly Springs Arts Council.

Saguinsin’s work received a new level of notoriety when he debuted on the television show “American Ninja Warrior” as the Paper Cut Ninja, selected for a three-and-a-half minute hometown highlight out of 70,000 initial applicants.

“For my submission video, I talked about being the Paper Cut Ninja. I cut all the ninjas out that are on the show, and that was my schtick for getting on the show,” he said.

Saguinsin’s episode aired during the summer of 2019, and since then he has received multiple commissions for portraits of other ninjas.

“I was incredibly honored and privileged to have something on the show,” he said. “I want to get back on (“American Ninja Warrior”), because I want to do better than I did last time. I only got to the second obstacle. The water was cold. I want to be able to do it so I don’t get wet.”

Saguinsin fell in love with ninja training after completing a Spartan race with his wife and friends.

“That was my turning point. This is what I want to be doing.”

He jumped head first into promoting the sport by opening Warrior Tech training facilities in Morrisville and North Raleigh.

Pivot No. 3

“I realized there were no places to train for Spartan races, and I wanted to have a business where you could train for it,” he said.

“Four days after I opened the gym, I tore my achilles tendon doing the warp wall. … Two years later on the exact day that I tore my achilles tendon, I stepped on the course of ‘Ninja Warrior’ and was allowed to run that course.”

Fighting through problems and obstacles — and yes, perseverance — are part of the ninja training process, he says.

The Warrior Tech facilities have been hit hard by COVID-19, operating at low attendance for their usually popular track-out camps, group classes and birthday parties. Still, Saguinsin’s enthusiasm remains.

“It’s one of the coolest communities you’ve ever been to,” he said. “I want the sport to grow, and want everyone to overcome each obstacle.”

In the meantime, Saguinsin continues to develop his style of paper art, some of which can be seen at the Morrisville Warrior Tech.

“For me, I’m trying to find a way to get back to my roots of being an artist. I like doing commissions; it’s fun. But I really want to get back to being free to create whatever I want to create … work that speaks to me.”

Paper Chop Shop

Warrior Tech
220 Dominion Drive, Suite G, Morrisville
(919) 230-1992

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