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Nanba Walk2011.12.13

    What if you could achieve a quantum leap in physical performance, simply by correctly integrating your body movements?


    Imagine being able to release tension and move with physical finesse? Stand without fatigue. Make a better impression. This is the promise of Nanba Movement.


    Originating in traditional Japanese culture, Nanba is found in the distinctive movements of the Samurai and martial arts, Japanese folk dancing which is based on the movements of farmers working the land, the graceful and rhythmic movements of traditional craftsmen and artists, and even in the polite and efficient movements of merchants selling their wares.


    Call it resonance, call it awareness, but the Samurai knew how to walk with a sense of presence. They could run too, though not large in stature, their armor typically weighed about 30 kilograms (65 pounds).


    Though this is sometimes portrayed as a swagger in the movies, actually it was more compact and efficient than just throwing their weight about. It was not even exclusive to the Samurai class. With some variations it was shared by people in all walks of life in Edo Period Japan (1603~1868).


    This style of movement, in which body movements are compact and centered, with high upper and lower body integration, is known as Nanba Walking.


    The word Nanba is thought to have been originally written with the Chinese characters 難場, meaning difficult place, suggesting that Nanba movement was designed to get you out of trouble, or do a physical task more easily. It is similar to another word deriving from that period, yaba (矢場, literally arrow place); a difficult situation would today be described as yabai. It naturally evolved into variations to make life and work easier, whether you were a Samurai drawing a sword, a farmer planting rice, a craftsman working with tools, a Kabuki actor on stage, or a merchant handling goods.


    The fleet foot delivery runners (hikyaku, or flying legs) ran relay services on foot to deliver packages between Edo and Kyoto, approximately 500 km (310 miles). While ordinary service took 30 days, express services could be run in 10 days, and super express in just 6 days, over 83 km or 50 miles a day, and carrying a load! No wonder the delivery company Sagawa Kyubin uses the hikyaku image for their logo.


    One characteristic of Nanba running is that the runner’s arms and legs are extended together on the same side, not opposing left and right, as is common today. This characteristic of Nanba movement runs through all of the Japanese martial arts, traditional crafts, and of course Samurai walking. It is also the style of walking featured for virtually all people in the Edo Period woodblock prints by Hiroshige and other artists. Many people today have lost the knack for moving in this way, and when they attempt it, they move like a robot stiffly lurching from side to side.


    As the Edo Period ended Nanba walking was almost systematically eliminated from daily life, in Japan’s frantic attempt to catch up with the West. The new Meiji government used Western military marching as the model to instruct elementary school children in how to walk, swinging the arms and legs in large opposing movements.


    Some athletes have a natural Nanba style, such as Michael Jordan in basketball, or Ichiro in baseball. Rhythmical, fast, and natural. High on energy. Resonant. Professional athletes in Japan have achieved world class results by deliberately applying Nanba movements in their running, being coached by martial arts teachers to gain an extra edge. Marathon runner Takahashi Naoko made use of Nanba training and won a Gold Medal at the Sydney Olympics in the year 2000.


    Rhythm Tap dancers move in a Nanba style, putting the same side arm and leg forward when executing a step, leaning into rather than away from the movement. Nanba movement is taught at Toho Gakuen, one of Japan’s leading music colleges, to help students play their instruments more effectively, and to prevent injuries from repetitive practice.


    Many cultures have recognized walking and running as essential to mental and physical health. Make it a part of your daily routine. Make it natural, and make it Nanba.


    For more information on Nanba training, visit the following websites. (English) (Japanese)


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    Article Writer

    William Reed

    William Reed is a renowned author-speaker who coaches physical finesse and flexible focus for a creative career path. A certified Master Trainer in Guerrilla Marketing and 7th-dan in Aikido, he combines practical wisdom of East and West to help you learn personal branding at the Entrepreneurs Creative Edge.

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