Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+Pin on PinterestShare on RedditEmail this to someone

Karate literally translates to “empty hand,” I’m guessing because you can kick somebody across town with no weapons save your lethal appendages. I think that’s pretty awesome, and I’m clearly not the only one. Possibly spurred on by “Karate Kid” and too many kung fu films, people everywhere seem to have adopted this sport–I studied the Korean martial art tai kwan do in college, but we even mixed some karate in there. If you’ve never lifted a finger or foot to study karate, I’m guessing all the kicking and pouncing still lit a fire in your imagination at one time or another. But there’s more to Japanese sports than white robes and hand-chopping. See what I mean below!

This girl may be “empty-handed”…but I bet she could still kick your butt

I got “matted” over and over during my martial arts days…you can’t go back again


We’ve all seen Steven Seagal do this…in like, every one of his movies

You know how Steven Seagal in (insert favorite smaltzy chop-socky flick) just kind of looks at the bad guy, grabs his hand, and takes him down in two seconds flat without appearing to make much effort? Well, that lack-of-effort thing is apparently what “aikido,” another Japanese martial art, is all about. According to an aikido practitioner I was lucky enough to talk to, using the energy given off by one’s opponent to bring them down gets results without unnecessary and wasteful physical exertion. Well, it seems pretty exhausting to me…especially for the other guy!

Sumo Wrestling

The audience in this picture is closer than it appears…

…so some of them are bound to get squashed!

Have you ever been to a party where people put on big, uncomfortable body suits and roll around on a mat, quasi-wrestling each other? Well, sumo wrestling is so. Not. That. Sumo wrestling, known simply as “sumo” in Japan, is about as quintessentially Japanese as a sport can get. Two super-toned guys insulated by mounds of fat first size each other up; then they charge at each other like bulls, using a series of special moves and wrestling holds to propel the other guy out of the ring and out of the competition.

Obviously the goal is to stay inside the ring, which makes sense not only for the sport itself but for what it may say about the Japanese mentality. “Soto” (outside) and “uchi” (inside) are extremely important concepts there–whether in the ring, the company or the social group, one would rather be inside than anywhere else. Being pushed outside, then, can be the epitome of humiliation. I’m not sure where I heard about sumo as a metaphor for soto/uchi thinking, and maybe it’s a bit too tidy, but it works as a simple guide.

In spite of its traditional Japanese-ness, some of the sports’ toughest competitors are actually foreigners. Those guys have to go through the same rigorous training as the others, even learning the special Japanese that corresponds to the sport. Whatever shape sumo takes, here’s to hoping for a long legacy to come!

Kyudo and Yabusame

This guy looks extremely calm…let’s hope there’s just cork on the other end of his gaze

Move over Katniss Everdeen…This is the real deal

Are you one of legions of “Hunger Games” fans who saw Jennifer Lawrence doing awesome things with a bow and instantly decided that you wanted to take up archery? My guess is you’d do best to start your training in Japan. Japanese archery, called “kyudo,” is a sport where both men and women can do some serious damage…or, if you want to be adult rather than juvenile about it, learn coordination and concentration. You can do it alone like these two practitioners, or in a line facing targets. I remember that we used to do some archery at camp, although I don’t think I could hit the target worth a damn no matter how hard I concentrated. Must mean I had a weak arm, bad eyes or both. Whatever the case, these people look to be in top form!

This dude can fire an arrow into a target while riding a high-speed horse. ‘Nuff said!

There’s yet another form of archery in Japan, one that the photographer says originated with the samurai, called “Yabusame.” The original intent may have been to hit an opponent in battle or maybe triumph during the hunt, but there can be no mistake as to why it is practiced today: So that those performers can prove without a doubt that they are cooler than the rest of us! No point in disagreeing, especially if the guy has a bow.


“I was once the student…now I am the master!”

Even just looking at kendo gear makes my head hurt

“Kendo” literally means, “the way of the sword,” but I would personally like to add some adjectives like, “big,” “long,” and “scary.” When I was still teaching English in Japanese junior high schools, I remember that some of the calmest, most interested and dedicated students in my class were also mean kendo players. With the helmet obscuring their faces, they would roar like lions and charge at their opponents with wooden swords raised and ready to strike. Then came the “crack!” of sword on sword, a sound they all seemed to relish. I would describe it all as, “hyper-aggressive ninja-style fencing,” but that’s just me. Kendo resulted in plenty of bruises but close to zero hard feelings, as these kids were totally into their sport. I never talked to any of them about it, but I can only imagine that it’s as close to being a Jedi as one can get. I’m just happy to be on the outside looking in.

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+Pin on PinterestShare on RedditEmail this to someone