Botaoshi: Japan's extreme school sport

It's a chaotic fury of bodies slamming, hands pulling, feet kicking -- and it's taking place at a school sports day.

Posted: Oct 26, 2018 11:29 PM
Updated: Oct 26, 2018 11:43 PM

Hundreds of bodies slam violently against each other, hands pull at limbs, feet kick at heads. It's a chaotic, violent assault -- and it's taking place at a school sports day.

While it may seem like mayhem, this is Botaoshi, a traditional organized sport played all across schools in Japan.

The basis of the game is comparable to a round of Capture the Flag: two teams challenge each other in an effort to reach a pole protected by an opponent.

But that's where the similarities end. Each game can feature hundreds of players, the safety precautions are minimal, tensions are high, the games are violent and undoubtedly dangerous.

"It's rugby, it's NFL, it's wrestling, it's sumo, it's crazy it's what it is. I've never seen anything like this," says CNN's Coy Wire while watching a game in Tokyo.

Human shields and a ninja: How it's played

Simply put, the aim of the game is to topple over your opponent's pole in around two minutes.

A single game of Botaoshi can have up to 150 players, 75 on each side, and every Botaoshi player has a unique role and position to play.

To start, a small group of defenders referred to as the Pole Support group lock their legs at the base of the pole, forming what is the base of a human shield.

Then, a second and larger group forms a thick layer of bodies in support of those at the base.

A third and fourth cluster, referred to as the Interference and the Scrum Disablers, form a layer of aggressive defense -- they are both tasked with actively pushing back any attackers from their human barricade.

The role of a Scrum Disabler is slightly more specific -- they are tasked with protection against Scrum attackers, or members of the opposite team who have launched themselves atop of other players in an effort to springboard through the barrier.

Finally, at the top of the pole sits a lone defender -- referred to as the Ninja -- as a final layer of protection. This player kicks back at attackers and uses body weight to balance any attempts to push the pole over.

The poles can reach anywhere between 10 to 16 feet, and although official pole-toppling rules can vary, it is commonly agreed that a 30 degree lift off the ground is considered a successful assault.

Origins of Botaoshi:

The origins of Botaoshi remain a mystery. However, one of the more common assumptions is that the sport began in the 1940s as a form of military training.

Although that theory is still unconfirmed, the game does feature prominently at the nation's military academy today and is played annually by cadets at Japan's National Defence Academy, surrounded by hundreds of spectators.

More common, however, is its presence in schools across the country -- from elementary to high school levels.

The tradition (and in some cases, gaming tactics) are passed down from school year to school year. Taking home the winning title is something the students take very seriously.

"It's so important. Botaoshi has been played in my school annually for 50-60 years and every senior student is dedicated to this game," says Iko San, a botaoshi player at Johoku Junior and Senior High School.

"It's so important for us at school sporting events because it is part of our identity."

Amidst the mayhem, students find beauty in the tradition.

"It was chaos, people are running around everywhere and we don't know what's going on. Although we were completely mobbed in the crowd, we continued to try and pull the pole down. I think that's the beauty of Botaoshi," says Ikko Chikusa, another botaoshi player at the school.

Safety concerns

With over 100 bodies slamming against each other and young players still in their teens, questions about safety inevitably arise.

There are some rules in place. Shoes, for example, are banned -- but only because kicking (including kicks to the head, if necessary) are common in the game.

Players have almost no protection aside from a soft padded helmet, and occasionally some knee pads. But, for some, concerns over potential injuries caused by the game are overshadowed by a sense of pride.

"As a teacher, I do get scared because I don't want anyone to get hurt. But, as a man, it makes me feel comfortable and proud of them. I have been here about eight years and I have never seen student get hurt," says Yukisan, a staff member at the high school.

Minnesota Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 480091

Reported Deaths: 6502
CountyCasesDeaths
Hennepin995591576
Ramsey42700795
Dakota35723383
Anoka32968383
Washington21824253
Stearns18677200
St. Louis14644262
Scott13104104
Wright12400114
Olmsted1167988
Sherburne864873
Carver755340
Clay682284
Rice664190
Blue Earth585535
Kandiyohi576374
Crow Wing514280
Chisago493344
Otter Tail478770
Benton441090
Winona413548
Mower399231
Douglas390168
Nobles385147
Goodhue382468
Polk340762
McLeod336149
Beltrami334449
Morrison321446
Lyon311343
Itasca308245
Becker306841
Isanti303052
Carlton298344
Steele297211
Pine280316
Freeborn275923
Nicollet251241
Todd243830
Brown240037
Le Sueur230120
Mille Lacs225447
Cass217224
Waseca206317
Meeker205534
Martin186628
Wabasha18503
Roseau177617
Hubbard159740
Houston156214
Dodge15114
Renville146840
Redwood146327
Fillmore13638
Chippewa135735
Cottonwood133420
Wadena128120
Pennington125716
Faribault121216
Aitkin117633
Sibley116110
Rock115313
Watonwan11478
Kanabec106619
Pipestone100724
Yellow Medicine97517
Murray9408
Jackson92310
Swift87118
Pope7875
Marshall76615
Stevens7378
Lake72517
Clearwater71414
Lac qui Parle67916
Wilkin66410
Koochiching61711
Big Stone5093
Lincoln5022
Grant4848
Norman4648
Mahnomen4367
Unassigned43568
Kittson40421
Red Lake3534
Traverse3015
Lake of the Woods2131
Cook1190

Iowa Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 358981

Reported Deaths: 5342
CountyCasesDeaths
Polk57492544
Linn20508311
Scott18171204
Black Hawk16156286
Woodbury14835211
Johnson1371072
Dubuque13438192
Dallas1120090
Pottawattamie10678140
Story1011545
Warren549170
Clinton538983
Cerro Gordo530580
Webster514686
Marshall493372
Sioux490468
Buena Vista469436
Des Moines454059
Muscatine445989
Wapello4247107
Jasper404865
Plymouth392277
Lee372051
Marion355967
Jones293254
Henry292635
Carroll284448
Bremer276154
Crawford271235
Boone257530
Washington253344
Benton249254
Mahaska222745
Jackson219638
Dickinson215938
Tama211464
Kossuth206754
Clay192725
Hamilton191041
Delaware188739
Winneshiek186626
Fayette183832
Buchanan183128
Page181319
Hardin179538
Wright179031
Harrison178369
Cedar174722
Clayton167853
Butler165431
Floyd161939
Mills161820
Poweshiek153229
Cherokee153135
Madison152817
Hancock146429
Lyon145341
Iowa143723
Allamakee143444
Appanoose138147
Grundy138030
Jefferson137232
Winnebago136830
Calhoun133010
Cass132248
Mitchell129840
Louisa127741
Union125831
Chickasaw124513
Sac123618
Emmet120840
Shelby119433
Franklin118119
Humboldt116724
Guthrie116128
Palo Alto104021
Montgomery103636
Howard102221
Clarke99020
Keokuk97329
Unassigned9270
Monroe92128
Adair91126
Ida90732
Pocahontas85119
Davis82123
Monona81325
Greene76610
Lucas72721
Osceola69714
Worth6876
Taylor66212
Fremont5819
Decatur5709
Van Buren55918
Ringgold51516
Wayne48521
Audubon4839
Adams3264
Rochester/St. Mary'S
Mostly Cloudy
35° wxIcon
Hi: 36° Lo: 31°
Feels Like: 27°
Mason City
Cloudy
35° wxIcon
Hi: 36° Lo: 31°
Feels Like: 24°
Albert Lea
Cloudy
34° wxIcon
Hi: 35° Lo: 30°
Feels Like: 25°
Austin
Cloudy
36° wxIcon
Hi: 36° Lo: 31°
Feels Like: 26°
Charles City
Cloudy
36° wxIcon
Hi: 37° Lo: 30°
Feels Like: 25°
Mild conditions this week
KIMT Radar
KIMT Eye in the sky

Community Events