The Japanese sport Bo-Taoshi, which translates to “bring pole down,” may be the most outlandish sport ever created, and although it may seem laughable to outsiders, it is a very serious and potentially dangerous competition. The sport can be dated back to around 1945, and is thought to have been invented as part of Japanese military training.
Bo-Taoshi is played with 150 people, split into two teams. The game is played around a large wooden pole in the middle of a field. One team’s objective is to defend the pole, while the other’s is to attack it. In a regulation match, there are two full games going on at once. The competition is structured like a race, and the first attacking team to take control of the pole and push it down to an angle of less than 30 degrees from the ground will win. On the other hand, the defending team that can hold off the attackers the longest and leave their pole standing at the end wins.
Despite the simple nature of the game, with one large pole and 150 participants, havoc is inevitable. Certain rules are not specified, and the game can seem largely unorganized to the inexperienced viewer. Defenders can stand anywhere they want around the pole, in whatever formation they please. Attackers approach the pole from all directions and use any means necessary to reach the top.
However, there is plenty of skill involved in Bo-Taoshi. The team’s strategy is a key component of any game. Traditionally, the defensive team has five types of players. The first is the ninja, who sits on top of the pole and uses his weight to keep the pole upright, in addition to kicking off any attackers that reach the top. He is the last line of defense and is the most critical member of the game. There are also pole supporters, who stand against the base of the pole and hold it in an upright position. Two other positions are the barrier and interference defenders. The barrier defenders are the outer shell that protects and surrounds the pole, while the interference disrupts the attackers who find their way through the barrier. Lastly, there are the scrum disablers, which try to eliminate the scrum offenders, which brings us to the offending roles. The traditional offense has two types of players, the scrum and the pole attackers. Both are instrumental to the other. The first line of offenders are known as the scrum. Their main goal is to contest the front line of the defense, and allow the pole attackers to use them as a stepping stone or springboard, so they can climb and jump over them in a leap towards the pole.
The Bo-Taoshi players wear protective headgear and are not allowed to wear shoes. Headgear must be worn by all players due to the physical nature of the game. The front line of the offense and defense act a lot like football players, and head-on collisions are very common. The lack of footwear can be attributed to the frequent jumping, stepping, kicking, and climbing in the sport. Shoes were banned because many of the players were getting injured and were fearful of being stomped, particularly in the face. Despite these safety precautions, however, many schools have banned the playing of the sport because of many injuries.
Today, Bo-Taoshi is mostly played by Japanese school children and military cadets. On their sports days, Japanese elementary to high school students will compete in this challenging sport. The National Defense Academy is also famous for playing the sport and is known for having its new cadets compete in it every year in the induction ceremony.
Interestingly enough, the recent popularity of the sport has led its arrival to the United States, as a Bo-Taoshi league has popped up in Richmond, Virginia. It was established in 2012 and is called the Richmond Bo-Taoshi Premier League.
Perhaps in a couple of years, Swarthmore could add a Bo-Taoshi team of its own.