Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Kanchuusuiei; or "Wait, I came for the Onsen"

Hypothermia is a condition in which the body’s core temperature drops below 35C/95F and prolonged exposure to cold conditions makes it impossible to replenish the heat being lost. Typical symptoms of hypothermia include shivering and mental confusion. So come along, everyone, and let’s go jump in the ocean.

The Japanese traditional kangeiko [寒稽古] or "winter training" is well known and many dojos in the U.S. and Europe hold some type of special winter class. IN Japan, kangeiko frequently consists in early morning training in a cold dojo or, in some cases, outside in the cold winter air. “Early morning” and “cold” seem to be characteristic features of kangeiko, regardless of the dojo or the martial art. In the Shishinkai dojo where I practiced judo in Kitakyushu, for example, kangeiko consisted in uchikomi and ukemi on the beach one Sunday morning in early February. At the Kodokan, kangeiko is held for a week in January and training starts at 5:30AM.
At the International Budo University and other dojos around the island of Honshu, people take part in a special form of winter training known as kanchuusuiei [寒中水泳] or “winter swimming”. At our last class with Kashiwazaki Sensei of 2011, he looked at me and said, very seriously, “Niko, Winter Swimming will be on January 10th at 4:30. January 10th, 4:30.” I took this to mean, “Niko, you will be joining us for winter swimming on January 10th at 4:30.” I roughly—and somewhat loosely—translated this for the other foreign Judoka as, “Hey, Kashiwazaki Sensei expects us all to join him for kanchuusuiei.”
So on the afternoon of January 10th, we found ourselves on the beach of Katsuura, facing the Pacific Ocean and bundled up against the cold. At 4:30 sharp, Kashiwazaki Sensei came running onto the beach, wearing his bathing suit and flip-flops and carrying a towel. With no more ceremony than to yell, “Come on” he dropped his towel and went running into the ocean. The rest of us quickly stripped to our bathing suits and followed him in…

You might argue that the 20 Degree C (68 degree F) waters of the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Katsuura are warmer than the air. I would respond by saying, “Go try it.” There is no “getting used to the water”. I dove straight in and started swimming before I could think twice about what I was doing.
Kashiwazaki Sensei swam out to where he could no longer touch the bottom and yelled for us to join him. AS we swam to his side, he pulled out his watch and said, “We have twenty minutes.” Apparently, twenty minutes is just enough time to enjoy the water before you have to start worrying about adverse affects.
After a few minutes, the girl’s judo club arrived on the beach and came running, screaming into the water. With ten minutes left to endure, we all joined hands in a huge circle and, shivering so hard that our teeth chattered, we all shouted our new year’s resolutions. While the girls shouted such inspirational messages as, “This year I will work harder at my judo!” or “I will recover from all of my injuries this year!” I decided to pick a resolution not only honest, but one I could be sure to keep. When it was my turn I shouted, “去年より、暖房を使いたいんですよ” (More than last year, I want to use the heating). Only because I am a foreigner, this got a lot of laughs.

Once we had all finished saying our new year’s resolutions and after we had chattered our way through the school’s anthem, twice, we ran toward the shore and our towels. As the wind once again hit us, we started shivering uncontrollably. My fingers were so numb that I could not feel the clothing in my hands. Combined with the lack of sight, I couldn’t tell if I was holding a shirt, jacket or towel. Kashiwazaki and the girls quickly threw on their jackets and ran toward the nearby hotel, where hot tubs and saunas awaited. My two friends and I, however, were not sure where to enter the hotel and, thusly, walked around in increasing agony for 10 minutes. Mental confusion?

Unfortunately, I was unable to get any good photos of our winter swimming experience. But no worries, I’ll have another opportunity! This coming weekend I must go again, with Kashiwazaki Sensei and joined by Kokushikan’s Nakajima Sensei, to swim in the waters off Kamakura. They tell me it’s even colder!

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