It’s like a cross between capture the flag and no-holds-barred wrestling.

In the fall, many educational institutions in Japan invite the public onto their campuses for exhibitions of the talents and passions of their student bodies. The National Defense Academy, located in the city of Yokosuka in Kanagawa Prefecture, holds its festivities of this type, called the NDA Anniversary Festival, in November, and one of the most highly anticipated events on the schedule each year is the botaoshi.

Botaoshi literally translates to “pole toppling.” It’s a team competition in which one side tries to keep a wooden pole, measuring roughly 3.5 meters (11.5 feet) in length, upright for two straight minutes. Meanwhile, the other team attempts to tip the pole over, or at least 30 degrees away from vertical, through some extremely violent, full-contact means, as shown in this video from this year’s NDA Anniversary Festival, held on November 19 and 20.

▼ The action starts at the 1:10 point.

The National Defense Academy isn’t the only school in Japan that organizes botaoshi contests, but its competitions are by far the most famous. The fact that the participants are all training to join the Japan Self-Defense Forces means that the athleticism and courage on display are above and beyond what’s seen at other school festivals.

▼ More footage of this year’s botaoshi, at the 2:23 and 3:06 marks.

There’s also plenty of teamwork involved, with specialized roles dividing attackers into squads that attempt to scale the pole and others that try to push it over, and of course corresponding defensive responsibilities assigned to members of the opposing team.


And yes, this really is something the school does every year. Seen below are the National Defense Academy’s 2013 and 2010 botaoshi.

The dates for next year’s NDA Anniversary Festival have yet to be announced, but the growing popularity of its botaoshi among visitors means that when the time comes, the school should have no problems once again finding students ready and willing to carry on the tradition.

Related: National Defense Academy
Top image: YouTube/海老原正臣
Insert image: National Defense Academy
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