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The Japanese are among the world’s healthiest people. They top Asia and came in fourth worldwide according to the 2019 edition of the Bloomberg Healthiest Country Index. They also have one the highest life expectancies in the world – 85.3 years compared to the global average of 71.5 years. What is more, you can stroll the streets of Japan and would be hard-pressed to spy an overweight person. They must be doing something right.
If you want to live long and prosper the Japanese way, you can sign up for some keep-fit methods they have come up with over the years.
Developed by Dr Izumi Tabata from Tokyo’s National Institute of Fitness and Sports, this exercise regime is one fitness enthusiasts the world over have embraced. The Tabata regime involves eight sets of 20-second intense workouts followed by 10 seconds of rest. The total exercise time comes up to just four minutes. But the aerobic benefits of this short session matches that of moderate exercise for an hour. The Tabata regime is also able to double your metabolic rate for half an hour after the workout. No wonder it is thought to be one of the most effective and efficient workouts yet.
In Singapore, Fitness Innovations Singapore Pte Ltd (FiT Singapore) offers Series Tabata™ (Speed/Cardio). The workout takes Tabata’s strict timing protocol and applies it to a series of exercises that increase in intensity gradually. The climax is a final round that exceeds 100% VO2 max or maximal oxygen uptake. Pure Fitness is another place you can get this high intensity interval training.
This is an ancient Japanese style of swordsmanship that involves quickly unsheathing the traditional Japanese sword, the katana, and using it in response to an attack before returning the katana to its scabbard. Dating back to the 8th century, iaido requires intense concentration as body, mind and breathing must be perfectly co-ordinated so the movements are swift and precise.
Shuhari Dojo Singapore is the only dojo in the country where you can take up this form of martial arts under the umbrella of the All Japan Kendo Federation / International Kendo Federation, the largest and most recognised body for iaido and kendo. There are levels, ranks, exams and even competitions if you want to get serious with your skills.
Another Japanese sport, though a much noisier one involving battle cries and foot-stomping, that involves sword-play is kendo or Japanese fencing. One of Japan’s oldest martial arts, kendo is a blend of power, skill and bravery. Today, the swords have been replaced by bamboo staves but the sport is no less deadly as evidenced by the thick armour which includes a breastplate and a metal-grille helmet that the practitioners are required to wear.
Singapore Kendo Club and Tanglin Kendo Club conduct classes. Kendo is an ideal way of building body, spirit and character. Kendoka (practitioners of kendo) say the discipline and humility required is what they enjoy most about the martial art.
More popularly known as a form of Brazilian martial arts, jiu-jitsu really has its origins in the traditional Japanese jujutsu and kodokan judo and was perfected by the samurai warriors. This type of self-defense uses your opponent’s strength against him. So, even if you are smaller and weaker, you would not be at disadvantage and would be able to take your attacker down with chokeholds and joint-locks. DFX Martial Arts and the Jujitsu Association of Singapore are where you can take up classes.
Aikido or the “way of the harmonious spirit” focuses on defence and redirecting your attacker’s power and energy so that no one is hurt. The aim is to overcome with fluid, circular movements. In that, it is actually a less aggressive sport because the objective is not to defeat but to resolve differences. Founded in the 1920s by Morihei Ueshiba who believed in harmony, peace and love, throwing, joint locks and redirecting attacks are central to aikido.
There are several options for aikido classes in Singapore. Shinju-kai has over 60 dojos in Singapore and overseas, and a team of 70 instructors and 100 assistants running daily classes for adults and children. Mumei Shudan Singapore has instructors certified by the Aikikai Foundation Aikido World Headquarters in Tokyo. Training at this dojo revolves around the Ki Musubi or Ki-no-Musubi (knotting or typing ki). This requires you to match your opponent’s movements, maintaining a connection throughout.
Think Robin Hood and Katniss of Hunger Games fame done Japanese style and you will have kyudo. Kyudo or the Way of the Bow is the ancient Japanese martial art of archery. Although it originated from the samurais in feudal Japan, archery in the country can be traced back to as early as prehistoric times. Today, kyudo is practiced by thousands worldwide. The People’s Association and Singapore Kyudo offer lessons for aspiring kyūdōka.
Karate is probably one of the most well-known of Japanese martial arts, not in the least because of the wildly famous Karate Kid movie franchise. Although irrevocably associated with Japan, karate’s antecedent may have come from the Indian Subcontinent via China before settling in the Ryukyu Islands in the 14th century. Today, the fighting style ofkarate primarily involves striking with hands and legs.DFX Martial Arts, Ashihara Karate and Shitoryu Karate Association are among the places you can take lessons.
Among Japanese martial arts, judo or the “gentle way” is a relatively new entrant, having only been created in 1882. Kano Jigoro developed the art because of the incidents of bullying he saw in the school he attended in Tokyo. He was only 14 years old then. Key to judo is throwing your opponent onto the ground and keeping him there.
Singapore Judo Club and Shun An Judo Academy opened by Southeast Asian Games gold medallist Tang Soon Onn are some of the dojos that offer classes.