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TIME magazine on ninja running for olympics

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  • TIME magazine on ninja running for olympics

    TIME Magazine article on ninja running

    Breaking Away
    Asians can't sprint? Two world-class athletes are determined to disprove that stereotype

    Monday, Aug. 09, 2004
    When sprinter Shingo Suetsugu races around the track wearing his high-tech spikes and aerodynamic suit, he has another less visible secret weapon: he practices ancient techniques used by samurai and ninja to move more swiftly through the streets of Edo-era Japan. Suetsugu, 24, credits a centuries-old practice called nanba for the bronze medal he won in the 200-m race at last year's track-and-field World Championships, which made him the first East Asian since 1900 to land a medal in an international sprint competition. In Athens, the goateed native of Japan's southern Kyushu Island is entered to compete in the 100-m and 200-m dashes and the 4 x 100-m relay. Along the way, he will try to reverse a lingering perception among his countrymen that Asian athletes are somehow physically ill-equipped to be world-beating sprinters.

    Across the sea, 21-year-old Chinese hurdler Liu Xiang has adopted an equally idiosyncratic approach to preparing for the 110-m hurdles. "Plenty of mushrooms and seafood," the Shanghai native confides. "In traditional Chinese medicine, these foods are famous for giving you extra energy." With the aid of fish and fungi, Liu beat American multiple-world-title holder Allen Johnson with an Asian-record time of 13.06 seconds at a Grand Prix event in Osaka in May, and he continued his mastery with a pair of victories in Europe a month later. Liu's triumphs even persuaded the Chinese Track and Field Association last month to change its official view of his chance at success in Athens. Liu was previously classified as a "possible" top-three finisher. Now he's an "expected" medal winner for the motherland.
    However they achieve their swift pace, Suetsugu and Liu are blazing a new path for Asian speedsters. For decades—even centuries—Asians have been convinced that their genes prevented them from winning high-piston track events like the sprints or hurdles. Conventional wisdom held that the limber, compact Asian body was better designed for sports that required dexterity and precision. Hence China's dominance in gymnastics and diving, Japan's killer hold in judo or South Korea's command over archery and Taekwondo. Asians sometimes performed respectably in middle- and long-distance track competitions, but there was a tendency to chalk this up to mental toughness, not their natural physical gifts. "Asians are not as inherently talented in sports that require speed, energy and power," contends Wei Hongquan, a publicity official with China's State General Administration of Sport.

    Even Suetsugu himself appears to give credence to these stereotypes, lamenting: "I don't have a great deal of power to begin with. Compared to a black athlete, there's no competition."

    No universally accepted scientific study has proven conclusively that Asians have significantly less capacity than blacks or whites to develop fast-twitch muscle fibers, which help create speed. And what one person believes to be a physical impediment might, of course, be more of a psychological barrier. After all, the Chinese are perennial Olympic favorites in weight lifting, a sport that clearly depends on energy and power. And yet the notion that Asians can't sprint remains widespread—and both Liu and Suetsugu are determined to show that toughness of spirit can bridge the gap. "My physique is poor," says Liu. "But through extra-hard training, I can make up for my deficiencies." Liu credits his rise to an intensive muscle-training program designed by his coach specifically for Asian bodies.

    Liu's modest, easygoing manner belies his single-minded dedication to vaulting at top speed over 10 barriers, each more than a meter high. His parents wanted him to study computer engineering or some other profession befitting his middle-class Shanghai upbringing, but Liu was intent on athletics. He entered a local sports school as a high jumper and then switched to hurdles, although some coaches thought a Chinese athlete shouldn't even bother. But Liu, who hurdled for joy rather than obligation, was hooked. "I liked the fact that so much of hurdles is about technique and that you have to approach the sport very scientifically," says the 1.88-m athlete. "For some reason, the sport felt very Chinese to me, even though Chinese have not been so successful in it."

    Suetsugu, who was beaten in the semifinals of the 200-m race at Sydney four years ago, has come a long way in honing his nanba technique. First introduced to him by coach Susumu Takano (whose 1991 Japanese record in the 400-m still stands), Suetsugu's sumo-like stance in the starting block and stunning stride have become his trademarks. Favored by ancient Japanese assassins and swordsmen for minimizing stress on the body, nanba requires practitioners to run with the hand and foot on one side of the body moving in sync. (In normal locomotion, people swing the right arm forward with the left leg.) Out on the track, Suetsugu's stealthy ninja stride makes the traditional runners look like a bunch of Forrest Gumps with ramrod-straight backs, high-kicking knees and arms churning like something out of a cartoon. The technique obviously works: in addition to his 200-m bronze last year, Suetsugu took a surprise silver in the 100-m at a Grand Prix meet in Zagreb in June, ahead of England's Darren Campbell, the world bronze medalist. Nanba is employed by athletes in other sports: veteran Yomiuri Giants pitcher Masumi Kuwata used the technique to come back from an injury in 2002.

    For China, Liu's ascendancy—along with that of another Chinese hurdler, Shi Dongpeng, who placed fifth at the Zagreb meet—could finally help correct the nation's lackluster track record. In Sydney, China won just one track medal, and that came in the less glamorous sport of racewalking. Japan has a proud history in the marathon, but the klieg lights are far brighter in the sprinting events, and success in Athens would further electrify a nation already riding high on the exploits of exported baseballers, such as Hideki Matsui and Ichiro Suzuki, who have proved that in addition to precise pitching, Japanese can also smack a ball with considerable power.
    Still, Suetsugu is deliberately ignoring whatever hopes have been raised among his 127 million countrymen. Although he has a fair chance in Athens of winning a medal in the 200-m, Suetsugu has announced that he will concentrate on the 100-m, in which just making the final will be a long shot. His goal: to join the tiny élite who can run the 100 in less than 10 seconds. "I don't get as excited about the 200," he shrugs. "I'm after something more valuable than a medal." Like Suetsugu, Liu Xiang is chasing a distinctly personal dream. "I enjoy hurdling very much," he says, waving away suggestions that his success will motivate the Chinese sports system to scour the nation for a new generation of hurdlers. "People should only do a sport if they like it." Liu and Suetsugu may inspire future Asian runners to race for Olympic glory, but they are also promoting a less traditional Asian value: individual choice.

    Comments from the ninjitsu people please.

  • #2
    joke reply

    being an african american,we do have better genetics for running

    in the old african plains we ran for miles to hunt for food and to travel
    in the new american ghetto we run for miles to avoid police, bounty hunters and each other...

    if anyone was offended I apologize.
    just a little self deprecating humor
    my cousin is in the background talking about black superioirty so I am doing this to spite him and saving the page on his comp.


    • #3
      I did see something like this in one of Soke Hatsumi's books, I haven't seen this guy actually run but I bet it's pretty close. It looks like an odd way of running but hey if it works for that guy it must be good for him. As for how to do it, from what I could understand from the photos (the books were in Japanese, no English translation), it looks like they would run with aruki-steps (one knee crossing over the other) while drawing in their arms and throwing them out to the sides, running sideways basically.


      • #4