Anyone who knows anything about Japanese culture knows how important the traditions of the Samurai are. However, something a lot of people may not know about is the traditional Japanese swimming that also has a firm place in pantheon of Japanese Martial arts.
Traditional swimming was first thought to have come about during Japan’s feudal 15th and 16th centuries – a time when intimidating samurai swordsmen were a common sight.
This style of swimming was a survival technique – competitors would have to be strong swimmers to stay above water in that heavy armor and used techniques and styles that would help them swim in difficult conditions. After all swimming in a calm, tepid swimming pool is very different experience to trying to swim against a current or in wavy conditions – especially in all that armor. But if a warrior did end up getting thrown in a river or having to cross difficult waters, the traditional swimming training would no doubt give them the kind of strength and skills that would make it easier to survive.
In the video, from a Japanese swimming competition that took place in Yokohama this summer, we see Mutsuo Koga enter the swimming pool fully kitted out in Samurai armor. For him, it was a difficult task in the hot and heavy armor and he confesses that he hasn’t swum in 3 years.
Mutsuo’s father, Tadao Koga is a grand master of the Kobori school – which is one of 12 that are recognized by the Japan Swimming Federation. He said: “the primary purpose of this kind of swimming is to acquire practical skills for swimming in a real environment…If you can swim fast using Western strokes, that doesn’t mean you can survive in a natural environment.”
Traditional swimmers have to perfect a type of water treading that helps them to withstand powerful waves and they also have to learn the “hayanuki” stroke which enables them to swim against a current.
Despite the fact that this type of swimming obviously has its advantages, interest in it has waned in recent years. Tadao believes this is because the Japanese youth are more interested in other sports like baseball and soccer. However there has been a little bit of a resurgence with many of Japan’s older citizens taking up the sport to help improve their fitness levels and because they see it as one of Japanese noble arts.
Source: NY Daily News