Hate to break it to you normal-walker, but the way you’re walking right now is inefficient, ridiculous, and just plain wrong. You know how you’re overly moving your hips and twisting your body like a pretzel, causing yourself to exert more energy than necessary? What about the perpetual falling forward that you’re doing while you walk? Wait, you didn’t know about those things? Sorry to assume like that, I just thought your mom taught you how to walk. You didn’t teach yourself, did you? Allow me to be a gent and show you the proper way to walk, then. Sure, you’ll be turning heads and look like a weirdo, but you can laugh in their face when their kimono is all rumpled up and yours isn’t. This style of walking/running is known as Namba Aruki (not to be confused with Nanpa Aruki, that would be gross), and it feels great.
What Is Namba Aruki (なんば歩き)?
Namba Aruki is the running style of the express runners (hikyaku) during the Edo Period (1603-1868) whose job it was to run messages quickly and efficiently between Edo and the other provinces. Usually they would travel in pairs, one having a pole with a box or package on the end, and another that had a pole with a lantern on it inscribed with the characters “official business.” Needless to say, communication was key to an effective government, so these express runners had to be very, well, express. They would regularly run from Edo to Kyoto in 6-8 days. Considering that’s approximately 300 miles (~480km) on foot, I’d say it isn’t all that shabby. I would certainly subscribe to their Hikyaku Prime program if they had one.
Of course, doing all this running must have been tiring for them. That being said, there was a lot of time and opportunity to figure out a better way of running. Something more efficient… something that would get them to their destination faster overall… something a little more namba, perhaps?
But it wasn’t just the express runners who used this style of walking. If you’re wearing a kimono Namba Aruki will also make it so it doesn’t get rumpled up (because you don’t move your hips or upper body back and forth like with normal walking). Also, if you have a sword (aka you’re a samurai and/or Tom Cruise) at your hip walking in the Namba style will prevent the sword from swinging side to side, which would get irritating after a while (and make it harder to draw while you’re running). Lastly, if you’re wearing geta and walking through the muddy streets, this style of walking would prevent you from splashing said mud up the back of your hakama or pants, or even onto other people. So, even beyond the express runners there were many reasons for people to walk this way in Edo era Japan.
But what exactly is it? Check out 0:24, 1:16, and 5:10 for the basic idea:
When you do Namba Aruki, you move your left arm and left leg forward at the same time. Then, you move your right arm and right leg forward at the same time. This may seem inefficient at first (and it is, until you practice), but when you’ve honed your namba aruki craft down to a science you gain many benefits. If you’d like to do just that, check out our Namba Aruki Guide in our Guides section.
Benefits Of Namba Aruki
So why should you start walking in a way that makes you look like a fool? Are there actually benefits to this? In several martial arts, particularly Japanese ones, the benefits of Namba Aruki are more obvious. Kendo and Aikido in particular get a big boost from learning this because many of the basic footwork actually revolves around namba aruki (though very few dojos teach it nowadays for some reason).
But what about your regular day-to-day life? What if you want to get up and namba aruki all the way to the 7-Eleven across the street to get your Wild Radiation Slurpee™? You’re in luck, my friend. Even you can benefit from this special Edo-style walk.
According to the Japanese Wikipedia page on Namba Aruki, you’ll get all this and more with your Namba Aruki Slurpee.
- Longer lasting stamina by twisting your body the bare minimum.
- Stable posture with reduced twists in the upper half your body
- No wasted energy and increased explosiveness (when you push off to walk or run, you sicko!).
- More power by moving one arm, hip and leg at the same time, like the wooden pole used by sumo wrestlers in training.
- Less strain on your body by climbing steep slopes or stairs in the Namba running style.
So there you have it. So many good things happen to people who are willing to look like a weirdo while walking around in public. If this isn’t your cup of tea, perhaps incorporating namba aruki training into your sports regimen is? Namba Aruki in modern sports is got fairly in Japan for a while and still is to a certain extent.
Namba Aruki In Modern Sports
There are a number of professional athletes from Japan who trained with Namba Aruki in mind and ended up doing pretty well. Perhaps the best known is Shingo Suetsugu who set the Asian record for the 200 meters at 20.03 seconds during the Japanese National Championships. But he as well as other runners who incorporate Namba Aruki only do this walk to a certain extent. The idea is to train with Namba Aruki and apply the concepts of efficiency into the regular sprinting, not to run in a true Namba Aruki style.
Several successful Japanese basketball teams also incorporated Namba Aruki in their training. For example, the Toho High School Basketball Team was selected to participate in the inter high school meet, representing Tokyo. You’ll hear about other athletes using Namba Aruki as well, to varying degrees.
That being said, these examples aren’t “true” Namba Aruki styles. They were just incorporating what they learned from it into what they normally do. Suetsugu is quoted as saying that he “had been consciously thinking about the movements of the Namba style while running and this lead to an increased awareness of the running style.” So, while beneficial he wasn’t actually out there running by swinging the same hand and foot at the same time. A shame. That would be fun to see.
Still, you can see why some athletes think about Namba Aruki in Japan. It is efficient. And while it doesn’t necessarily lend itself to modern sports, a lot of the ideas behind it does, meaning you could do the same thing for yourself, too.
The End Of A Namba Aruki Era
It’s not entirely known how many people walked like this back in the day. Some people think that quite a few people used Namba Aruki, others think it was more of a special and practiced movement style done by a small percentage of the Edo population. Based on what I’ve read, I tend to agree more with the second theory. I think some of the higher class, samurai, and express runners used Namba Aruki. It definitely helps a lot with kimonos and swords, which matches up with the higher class / samurai statement from before.
There are several theories on why Namba Aruki became extinct, too. One theory is that it disappeared with the introduction of conscription where the marching style being used was that of the Western military training (opposite hand and foot swing, body twists). Others say it is due to “Westernization,” though this could simply be part of the”critique of the modern/Western” going on at the time. What we do know is that in film and photographs taken in the early 1900s, nobody is using Namba Aruki, but beyond that it’s not too well documented. Perhaps it came to an end when swords, kimonos, and geta became less popular. It just wasn’t as useful anymore, and the effort to practice it outweighed the benefits you’d receive.
So, the question remains. Was Namba Aruki something that a small percentage of people did (probably), or is it an ancient walking style many people did that disappeared with the dodo? Certainly if I got my hands on a time machine, this would be one of the last things I’d bother checking out.
I for one hope to bring Namba Aruki back, though, which is why I wrote this guide on how to learn and practice Namba Aruki. Perhaps hipsters will pick it up?
Read: Namba Aruki Guide
I hope you go out there and start walking in Namba style now. It’s really quite fun and definitely feels very different. I’ve been practicing this for a couple months now and the girlfriend absolutely hates walking around with me in public, so mission accomplished, I suppose. Oh, I also feel less tired when I walk long distances. That’s pretty good too. Why don’t you give it a try and see how it works for you? Be sure to let us know, too!