Tomohiro Anraku is 16, and may destroy his arm before he's 17. © Uroty

Tomohiro Anraku is 16, and may destroy his arm before he's 17. ©Uroty

Although I grew up playing baseball in Ohio, I'm not much of a baseball fan. The game has always felt too slow for me to follow, both as a spectator and a player. As a center fielder with a tendency to daydream, I watched more than one embarrassingly catchable ball soar far over my head.   

However, I was deeply moved by a recent article in ESPN Magazine about Japanese baseball, and how its young star pitchers are sometimes expected to stay on the mound, throwing pitch after pitch, game after game, until they are physically unable to lift their arm. It's a Japanese tradition known as "nagekomi" which is the "repetition of a simple physical task beyond the point of exhaustion...the ceaseless completion of an exercise until you collapse." It is based in the martial arts, and there is surprisingly little information about it online, other than obscure references on a few Judo sites.

Some of these promising young pitchers end up injuring their arms so severely that they either ruin their careers in the majors, or ruin their chances of getting there in the first place. It's a cultural perspective that is hard for Americans to understand, as it seems foolish and self destructive. But there is something honorable, beautiful, and mystical about nagekomi, and the belief that pushing yourself beyond your limits can be enlightening.

I loved reading about their 8 hour practice, and how the players maintain their own field, because, as their coach says, "they need to learn a place in order to learn their places in it." Later, the players remove their hats to turn in various directions to face their different hometowns in order to pay respects to their loved ones. There is a reverence for the game that would seem unusual in a looser, more casual America, where sports are a secondary diversion. 

I wonder what a nagekomi photo shoot would look like.  How long could one work before being physically unable to create another image?  What would those last few pictures look like?


Jamie KripkeComment