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 11:14 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.

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 143879

Reported Deaths: 3676
CountyCasesDeaths
DeSoto952799
Hinds9520193
Harrison6801105
Jackson6043116
Rankin521996
Lee477094
Madison4595102
Forrest360685
Jones341687
Lauderdale3340142
Lafayette312047
Washington3043106
Lamar273849
Bolivar237583
Oktibbeha237460
Lowndes227562
Neshoba2170113
Panola210347
Marshall206547
Leflore200389
Pontotoc192527
Monroe188877
Sunflower188754
Lincoln183664
Warren171757
Tate163049
Pike159958
Union159025
Copiah158840
Yazoo149538
Scott149429
Coahoma146742
Itawamba144433
Simpson143153
Alcorn142724
Pearl River142067
Prentiss138426
Grenada135844
Adams134148
Leake131643
Holmes124261
George121523
Tippah120430
Covington116434
Winston115824
Wayne115522
Hancock113337
Marion109046
Attala106133
Tishomingo105542
Newton102829
Chickasaw102132
Tallahatchie94727
Clarke88153
Clay86226
Jasper80421
Walthall73728
Montgomery71925
Calhoun71213
Stone71014
Carroll70114
Lawrence69814
Noxubee68917
Smith68616
Yalobusha67626
Perry63925
Tunica59519
Greene58222
Claiborne57416
Jefferson Davis53817
Humphreys52318
Amite50714
Benton48217
Quitman4766
Webster41614
Kemper40615
Wilkinson38422
Jefferson33511
Franklin3155
Sharkey30617
Choctaw3057
Issaquena1094
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 232506

Reported Deaths: 3457
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson30318491
Mobile19260356
Tuscaloosa12446148
Madison12204146
Montgomery12000232
Shelby971276
Baldwin819984
Lee750464
Morgan610447
Calhoun5964113
Etowah585764
Marshall579453
Houston503338
DeKalb460835
Cullman409636
Limestone400844
St. Clair396055
Elmore391061
Lauderdale378353
Walker348096
Talladega334042
Colbert294341
Jackson290524
Blount275436
Autauga261739
Franklin243633
Coffee230315
Dale225454
Dallas219631
Russell21753
Chilton216137
Covington212333
Escambia194031
Tallapoosa168590
Chambers167548
Clarke154919
Pike154714
Marion133935
Winston122523
Lawrence121436
Geneva11678
Marengo116424
Barbour116010
Pickens114118
Bibb113617
Butler113341
Randolph99521
Cherokee98524
Hale91531
Washington89818
Clay88823
Henry8386
Fayette83116
Lowndes78529
Monroe76811
Cleburne74214
Crenshaw70030
Macon69420
Bullock68919
Conecuh66814
Perry6686
Wilcox62318
Lamar6227
Sumter55322
Choctaw41713
Greene39917
Coosa3064
Out of AL00
Unassigned00
Tupelo
Clear
40° wxIcon
Hi: 59° Lo: 35°
Feels Like: 37°
Columbus
Clear
44° wxIcon
Hi: 61° Lo: 34°
Feels Like: 41°
Oxford
Clear
39° wxIcon
Hi: 57° Lo: 35°
Feels Like: 39°
Starkville
Clear
41° wxIcon
Hi: 59° Lo: 31°
Feels Like: 38°
WTVA Radar
WTVA Temperatures
WTVA Severe Weather