Walk This Way

Watching people work together in pristine coordination is more common than one would expect. Synchronized swimming has been an Olympic sport since 1984. Marching band competitions are rather common and, despite a 2010 court ruling saying that it isn’t well-organized enough to count as a “sport” under federal education laws, competitive cheerleading is more widespread than one would otherwise believe. Synchronized movement — combined with pools, musical instruments, or a mix of acrobatics plus shouting — can make for an entertaining spectacle for a varied number of difference audiences.

And then there’s one Japanese university which takes all of this to another level — or, more accurately, to its core. Some of its students practice something called “shuudan koudou,” which translates to “collective action” or “group movement” — but is more accurately described as “synchronized walking.”

That sounds, well, dumb: how hard is it to all walk together? But check out this eight-minute video, below. It starts off militaristic, with ranks of men dressed alike — suits, not uniforms — marching in sync to the beat of a silent drummer, changing only when a drill sergeant-like voice commands it. But at about a minute and a half in, it goes from pedestrian (pardon the pun — and yes, it was an intentional one, but come on, who can blame me!) to seemingly impossible, as walkers weave between each other without breaking stride nor collapsing their columns — or bumping into each other.


How is this possible? In a word, “practice.” Oddity Central reported on a championship-winning synchronized walking squad, explaining their incredible dedication to the craft:

Prior to the program, the students practiced three days a week, for five months straight. Their training included exercises to get them in shape for the dazzling display. They ended up walking almost 1,200 kilometers during practice (roughly the distance between Paris and Rome).

And these aren’t just any random students. These students all attend Nippon Sport Science University (NSSU), an institution which trains the next generation of the nation’s physical education teachers. The synchronized walking program is an optional part of the curriculum and is non-competitive — the participants put on an exhibition at an annual university event, as they have for about 50 years — and is designed to teach discipline, the ability to work collectively, and as one Quora commenter noted, how “to manage large groups” of students in the future.

They’ll certainly be good line leaders.

AnchorBonus Fact: If you’re not familiar with synchronized swimming, here’s a video. It’s an elegant, graceful sport — and, apparently, incredibly dangerous. According to the Globe and Mail, “thirty per cent of synchronized swimmers at the elite level have had concussions.” How? Wikipedia explains, quoting a researcher who studied concussions: “As [the swimmers] go through their various routines, they’re literally kicking each other in the head.”

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