While I’m certainly not an expert at running, nor am I even all that good at it myself, I do feel relatively comfortable saying that I can’t imagine that throwing your arms out to your sides is the most practical way to run. Despite the fact that we have been running for sport for centuries and pretty much nailed down the “ideal running form,” anime and manga seems to like to buck the trend and often shows characters in this rather unique running pose, with their arms thrown out to the side, like airplane wings.
Today we’re going to take a look at this running style, where it came from, and why characters are still depicted running that way. I hope you stick around!
Though I singled out Naruto in the title, this method of running is by no means unique to that series, nor did it even start there. Other notable examples of series that have included the airplane-style of running include:
- Dr. Slump
- Dragon Ball (Original and Z)
- Ranma 1/2 (specifically Ryoga, but also including Ranma)
- Saint Seiya
… and many, many more.
It’s so common, in fact, that this style of running even often appears in video games, live-action tv shows and movies, and even stage shows.
So what exactly is going on here? Is this just another quirky case of Japan being Japan, or is there actually some sort of reason for all of this?
As is always the case whenever we want to start answering the bigger questions, it’s important to break it down into the core details, so we know where to start looking. In this case, an important detail is who is running like that. By taking a look at the short list provided above, we can probably start sussing out some patterns here. In particular, this style of running seems to be most closely associated with fighters, or more specifically, martial artists.
And when you first thing martial artists, you immediately think of…?
That’s right, ninjas.
As it turns out, to the surprise of absolutely no one, this style of running is known as 忍者走り (ninja bashiri; ninja running), though its original meaning, and its application in the real world, are quite a bit different.
At its core, the concept behind “ninja running” is to conserve energy and to keep your body on track. Rather than waste the extra energy to move your arms together with your legs and also risk having your body slowly drift from side to side as your arms move, the idea is that leaving your arms loose and basically motionless at your sides is a more efficient way to move. And we all know that ninjas are fans of efficiency.
A really good, recent example of this is Yuka Ando,1 who was quite a sensation in Japanese news circles for her “ninja running” style in marathons. Rather than having her arms thrown out and to her sides – which would probably not be looked on favorably by the referees anyway – she runs her marathons with her arms practically dangling at her sides, barely moving at all.
That, in fact, is traditionally what “ninja running” referred to. Unfortunately, it has a bit of an image problem.
This style of running by trying to minimize effort and exertion also goes by another, less cool, and quite sexist name: 乙女走り (otome bashiri; girly running).
So while that may have been all cool and fine to use this kinda-historically-accurate (obviously, we have very little actual information about ninjas, and even less that can be trusted as accurate) ninja style, it doesn’t exactly come across as cool on screen.
The style of running that we’re more familiar with now as “ninja running” is constructed around the idea that the runner has a sword and scabbard with them and, in order to make it easy to draw the sword, uses their left hand to hold the scabbard to their lower back (and so it’s not hitting their leg while running) and has their right hand free to draw the sword at a moment’s notice.
After drawing the sword, the
runner ninja then pulls the sword in front of them with their right hand to be able to strike, and keeps their left arm back to hold the scabbard in place.
Once this pose took root in Japan thanks to a number of popular ninja shows and movies in the 1960s and 1970s, it has kind of just stayed there ever since as the way that ninjas and other martial artists are basically expected to run.
As time has gone by, however, we find ourselves with fewer and fewer characters who actually carry a sword with them, so there isn’t actually a need to hold the scabbard back, and they never move into the “sword drawn” pose. Meaning that it’s… well, kinda pointless in that case.
In short, basically Naruto and other characters run with their arms out because it’s now seen as the way martial artists run, even if there’s actually little practical use for most characters that do it. There is, however, some historical argument to be made for ninjas having a unique way of running, necessitated by their swords and the way they fought, so it is good to know that this isn’t a total wash!