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    Botaoshi: Knock Down That Pole Or Die Trying No, This is Sparta

    Many of you may heard of botaoshi 棒倒ぼうたおし (botaoshi, literal: knocking-over pole), one of many fine activities to come out of Japan. Is it as awesome as yukigassen or as dangerous as onbashira? How about a little of both? The best way to describe the sport is a mix of capture the flag, rugby, and king of the hill style of play.

    The objective of the game is to topple the opposing team's pole to a predetermined degree from the ground before the other team reaches the same goal. I have read different variations of the objectives for the game, such as the existence of team flags, and appending them to the top of the pole. If I had to take a gander, these differing modes of play are probably meant to establish a safer playing environment. I for one wouldn't want my little kid to be involved in such a game. Maybe when they turn eight.

    The game is typically played during a Japanese school's (yes, even elementary school) annual sports day, although a notable amount have banned the sport due to the very aggressive style of play (polite way of saying that parents are getting soft).

    So what are the rules of the game? There isn't much information available on the game itself, but here is what I've gathered:

    • Two teams face off with each other. Each team is divided into an offense and defense force.
    • Offensive force is free to roam anywhere, while the defense force is restricted to an area around the pole.
    • Poles are around 3–5 meters in length (~ 10–16 feet).
    • One end of the pole must be in contact with the ground at all times.
    • Game ends when the angle of the pole relative to the ground reaches the predetermined angle—typically, thirty degrees off the ground.
    • Due to the aggressiveness, footwear is banned (Did you see the guy get stomped in the face in the YouTube video? Ouch…or should I say stinky?)
    • Head gear is also encouraged, to limit the effects of the concussion you'll most likely be getting.
    • Hand-to-hand combat is strongly discouraged, but I suppose kicking is okay?
    Botaoshi cadets at the National Defense Academy of Japan
    Source: Japan Ministry of Defense

    Botaoshi is famously played during the National Defense Academy of Japan's annual induction ceremony of new cadets. Every Spring, the school's four battalions form teams of 150 students each to fight for their battalion's honor in front of a crowd of peers and family.

    Each of the battalion teams are split into a 75-person defense group and a 75-person offensive group. To distinguish the two, the defensive groups are equipped with white garb, while the offensive groups wear their battalion colors (green, blue, red, and orange).

    If you watch the video, it may at first seem to be an unorganized brawl to topple over the pole, but I assure you there is some strategy to the game. Within each offensive and defensive group, each person has a role to play out.

    Within the defensive group, there exist five important roles:

    • Pole support — These people support the pole to the upright position.
    • Barrier — The hoards of people that form a barricade around the pole.
    • Interference — Harasses and interrupts any opposing force that makes it inside the barrier.
    • Scrum Disabler — Scrum is the offensive force's defensive formation that allows the offensive set up "spring-board humans" to "fly" above the barricade. Take notice in the video where some of the offensive bend over and allow their backs to be used as a stepping ground for their teammates. The disabler does whatever it can to hinder the formation and stop the offensive from spring-boarding straight to the pole.
    • The Ninja (aka Ezio) — This is the person that is standing on the pole and drop kicking anyone's face that gets near it. Probably one of the most important roles in the defense line up. If the pole is shifting to one side, it is their responsibility to counter the shifting by directing their weight to the opposite side. It doesn't take much weight to topple over the pole if the offense controls the top of the pole.

    As for the offensive group, three important roles exist:

    • Springboard/Scrum — Act as stepping blocks for teammates to launch themselves over barricade and straight to pole.
    • Pole Attackers — Attack and take over the pole from Mr. Ezio. Responsible for starting the collapse of the pole by using their weight and gravity on the top end of the pole.
    • General support attacks — Harassment, distraction, etc.

    Now that you have the general gist of the concept, it's time to advocate change! March over to your school's physical education department and demand kick ball be replaced with botaoshi!

    Header Photo Credit: 3yrsinjapan