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Karate has always been one of those martial arts forms that never really had much appeal to me. The idea of repeating the same kata routines – with names like “Black Dragon Karate Chops 20 Weasels at Midnight” or whatever – to commit the moves to muscle memory always seemed kind of boring and counter-intuitive to me.

And now, upon learning that at least one school has students train half naked, in freezing water, in the dead of winter, I’m even less inclined to try the sport. I’d rather go four rounds in the Octagon with Brock Lesnar.

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The Chitoryu school of karate, based in Kumamoto City and run by possible real-life Dragon Ball Z hero Ryuichi Nakamura, takes a pilgrimage to Shiraito Falls in Kumamoto Prefecture every winter to practice kata while half submerged in the icy waters that can dip to near-0 (Celsius) and half exposed to below-freezing open air.

Apart from obviously improving mental and bodily fortitude, Nakamura Sensei says the practice also helps to eliminate the fear one might naturally feel in a real hand-to-hand combat situation by repeatedly forcing your stupid lizard brain to accept the idea of taking a dip in a waterfall in mid-winter year after year. Once your body and mind have gotten used to that, apparently, facing off against three or four ninjas just doesn’t seem so threatening anymore.

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Students begin by practicing outside of the water to warm up their bodies and decrease hypothermia risk. Then offerings of sake are made to the Gods to beseech them for protection. In what is perhaps the most important step in all this craziness, students finally consume some of the sake for themselves, utilizing the magical powers of alcohol in much the same way you did when you decided to jump off that roof into a shallow pool of water to impress your friends in college.

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It’s worth noting that only Nakamura Sensei is actually allowed to go under the waterfall, as the frigid waters do pose significant health risks to those that haven’t built up a mighty tolerance through years of training and exposure.

If, for some reason, the thought of doing this gets you excited, you can find information on joining at the school’s (Japanese only) blog here. There is an English homepage for the Chitoryu style here, but it’s unclear if English is spoken at the school itself.

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Oh, and if you still aren’t convinced that Nakamura Sensei is totally badass/insane, here are some photos of him doing shenanigans in Russia and under an even larger waterfall in Osaka:

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[ Read in Japanese ]