On Friday night, in the midst of finals, Columbia University held its first ever Naruto run down Butler lawn. Staff Writer Andrew Wang argues that the Naruto run carried extreme sociological significance, and believes that moments like these are important for Columbia’s sense of campus culture.
According to the laws of physics, the Naruto run becomes advantageous when executed at extremely high speeds. This is due to the body’s aerodynamic configuration. By flailing one’s arms behind them, the body becomes more compact, thereby reducing drag and increasing speed.
In 2017, scientists ran multiple trials examining whether the same is true at humanly possible speeds. Test subjects would complete a sprint using normal running mechanics, and then complete the same sprint as though they were a ninja.
Some of the findings were as expected: most subjects reported lower speeds when running with their head down, arms back, and low to the ground. About a third of subjects, however, somehow clocked faster speeds this way. This should not have been possible. The scientists were baffled and immediately shut down the project. The paper was never published.
I believe that this phenomenon can be explained in the interviews that followed the study. When asked why the Naruto run made them faster, one subject reported feeling that it was “something outside myself” that made him run faster. Another interviewee reported that she felt “more connected” with the ninja community when she ran like them. This is the key to understanding why the Naruto run works. We do not run faster because physics says so, but because society does.
The sociologist Émile Durkheim once wrote that rituals are what transform the everyday and the mundane into the sacred. Rituals are the organized, mystical, and sometimes inexplicable practices that we do not on our own, but in the shared presence of others. They consolidate our individual emotional processes into what Durkheim called the “collective conscience,” the sense of belonging that we share with others. On our own, we are nothing; together, we are everything.
The Naruto run is, indisputably, a ritual. On a cold, rainy Friday evening, students gathered in front of Butler Library for the sacred act. The congregation began awkwardly at first; many of us stood on the periphery, pretending we were waiting for a friend to study with. When asked, “are you here for the Naruto run?” we would respond, “Oh, that’s going on right now? I guess I’ll do it. I don’t watch the show or anything though.” But of course, everyone knew.
The run was magnificent. We charged down Butler lawn, our sandals pressing into the moist Butler grass, arms back, heads down, hearts full. Chakra filled our lungs with every breath. Shouting into the wind, we realized how much of the Japanese language we actually knew between all of us. Columbia’s first ever Naruto run was an out of body experience simply because it was shared by people actually willing to do it.
Certain skeptics have raised the argument that the Naruto run is nothing more than a meme. To that I would ask, what is a meme? A meme is something that speaks to the collective sentiment of how a social body feels. I believe that life demands meaning, and a meaningful life is one that embeds us in the lives of others.
Indeed, the central theme in Naruto is not that of self-reliance—as many incorrectly believe—but of collectivism. Leaning on others and caring for them. Naruto, the protagonist, is the carrier of the “Will of Fire,” a spirit shared among all members of the Village Hidden in the Leaf. It holds that every person is family, and that we should risk our lives in defense of this collective. It is in the village that we find our reason to live. We pass this spirit on to our friends, our lovers, our family. It is beyond reason. And yet we find meaning in it.
Columbia, we have found meaning. We have found it not in finding ourselves, but in losing ourselves.
picture via Andrew Wang