Wadaiko, Yatai-bayashi, and fitness

Disclaimer: I’m going to ramble about taiko for a while. This post has no real rhyme or reason behind it.

So it’s probably no secret that people who play taiko drums professionally are extremely lean and fit, right? Just search for “taiko” and you’ll be confronted with pictures of mostly-naked, wire-lean men killing themselves on giant drums.

If you go a bit deeper searching for documentaries or articles on the profession, you’ll discover that a lot of these folks go running in addition to practicing their music. “We like to run 10km every morning at 6am” seems to be a (horrible!) mantra among a lot of these guys.

My class, while claiming to be a “beginner” level course, does a really good job of introducing us to multiple techniques and styles that challenge us to improve. Right now, we’re working on a song called “Yatai-bayashi”. Go ahead and look it up, I’ll wait.

Hardcore, isn’t it?

There are specific rhythms that you have to do with very particular movements. For example, sometimes after you hit the drum with your right hand, you need to bring the drumstick high over your head and lean back while you continue drumming with the left hand. Other times you need to rock back and forth like you’re doing crunches while keeping up a steady rhythm and also, at the same time, remembering how to breathe. It’s intense.

My teacher refers to this song as a sort of “marathon” – you really gotta pace yourself and know your limits if you want to successfully do this piece. While it looks like it’s killer on your abs, it’s actually worse on your thighs and legs, so you do have to train them up so you don’t cramp or drop out of your position during the song.

Classmates have been left panting on the floor, feeling like they’re dying, but honestly for me the leg thing is the toughest. Keeping a single position is my personal challenge, whether that’s to sit in seiza or hold onto the drum with my toes. Classmates end up with bloody drumsticks; I end up wincing every time I stand up for the next day or two.

It’s fascinating because it really points out differences in fitness and each of our own limitations and goals.

Upper body strength is NOT one of my strong suits, but I feel like taiko has really helped with that regard. You try holding drumsticks the size of rolling pins over your head and sloooowly tapping out a rhythm on a drum for fifteen minute stretches and see how you feel after.

Now I wonder if it’s going to help with my lower body strength too.

…and I find myself starting to say, “Oh yeah, running. I don’t personally enjoy it, but I’m starting to understand why they do it to endure this. Their full-body strength must be awesome with running AND training for performances.”

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