History tells us that Japanese samurai, the Roman Legions, and the Spartan soldiers all underwent cold water swimming as part of their military and mental preparations.
The leaders of these hardened men of earlier millenia knew that training along the seashore, in lakes, and in rivers, especially during the winter and early spring months, would increase their tolerance to cold and various hardships, making them overall better warriors.
They learned to swim in all kinds of different water environments and conditions. The Japanese had specific terms for these types of swimming: shinden ryu (marathon swimming), kankai ryu (ocean swimming), suifu ryu (river swimming or rapids swimming), as well as other methods that were based on the topography and waterways (e.g., coastline or mountain areas). For example, if the samurai had to fight while wearing armor, they would study the kobori ryu (combative swimming) where the samurai would eggbeater (tread water) while keeping their upper body above water to fight with swords, fire arrows or guns while in or crossing a river.
As the Japanese samurai trained for “suieijutsu“, the ancient Japanese martial art of combative swimming, their purposes were multi-fold. The goals ranged from allowing the bushi (samurai) to silently sneak up on an enemy, to floating for long periods, and to fording strong rivers. The bushi needed to be able to swim while wearing armor, carrying flags, weapons, and banners. They needed to be able to use a bow and arrow while being almost submerged. Some training also featured grappling while in the water.
When we think of the modern-day warriors in our ice swimming contemporary times, men like Ram Barkai, Lewis Pugh (shown above and below), Ger Kennedy, Henri Kaarma, Alexander Brylin, Jacques Tuset, Christof Wandratsch, and many others including Jaimie Monahan.
Photos courtesy of the Lewis Pugh Foundation.