A human body is a universal instrument. Though its structure is fragile,
easy to be injured, and not tough enough compared with other animals, it
has limitless possibility of being utilized in various ways thanks to the
huge brain it is controlled.
First of all, let's see why man stood up with two 'hind' legs. The main
reason for it is to use hands for manual works. As man began to utilize
hands, they sent tremendous amount of stimulus signals to his brain in
return. Thus, this interrelation urged the development of both his hands
and his brain. The second reason for standing up is that human brain had
developed enough to enable man to take balance while standing with two
legs, even with one. Needless to say, just standing, walking and running
require amazingly complex interactions among nervous systems.
Human eyes are also playing important roles. Thanks to his ancestors' arboreal
life, his eyesight was greatly improved and made possible to see things
stereoscopically. When his ancestors jumped from a tree to a tree, measuring
the distance precisely between them was indispensable, thus stereoscopic
eyesight is the very product of evolution.
A newly born baby can swim without being taught how to. It doesn't have
any fear toward water. Man seems to be a swimmer by nature, quite different
from apes, dogs and cats, which hate water instinctively. Above all man's
hairless skin makes its body less resistant against water and his body
shape is suitable for swimming from the viewpoint of hydrodynamics. A beautiful
feminine body is the very product of this. No wonder Zeus and other Greek
gods were attracted to her!
Man can walk at the rate of about 4 to 6 km an hour, run about 10 to 15
km an hour. These figures are too meager compared with those of other animals.
Take, a cheetah, for example, runs at the rate of 120 km per hour. If man
wanted to catch up with cheetahs and other animals, some kind of 'extension'
of the locomotive structure had to be invented. His two short legs were
There are six inventions which made it possible to extract limitless human
power and to move about almost anywhere on earth, even in air. I am not
speaking of those complicated modern machines, such as rockets, jeeps and
snow mobiles. Those inventions are simple and inexpensive enough to be
available for every man. We may walk, run, and jump and swim without any
gears, but those six inventions expanded the horizon of the extremity of
With only two wheels and a typical diamond-shaped frame, man can travel
as far away as possible so long as there are roads. It takes only one-fifteenth
of the energy required for walking to ride on a bicycle. This invention
enabled an average man to travel at the rate of 60 km an hour, at least
40 km. On going downhill, its speed reaches as fast as 150 km an hour.
Many improvements were undertaken, and now its basic structure is almost
complete. The combination of human power system and transmission system
of a bicycle has made what a modern bicycle is. If you want to travel around
a community area, say, roughly the size of city, Kanagawa prefecture (pop.336.846
in 1987), a bicycle is the most suitable, energy-saving, pollution-free
means of transportation.
Mountain bike is casting a new light on mountaineering and frontiers. This
kind of bicycle is sturdy enough to withstand running on a dirt road, in
the snow, and even in the rocky mountains, where only horses and other
domesticated animals and special motorbikes used to be able to carry man
If you have only three tackles and a healthy body, you can enjoy the underwater
world. They are a mask, a pair of flippers and a snorkel. Oh, yes, there
is Aqua-Lung. With the help of Aqua-Lung, you can explore the world 200
m below water. After all you have to depend on all those artificial gadgets.
But competing with fish is another fun! . If you choose skin diving, you
don't have to carry oxygen tank and hold a mouthpiece and regulator but
can swim freely as if you were a fish - or a jellyfish.
With naked eyes, we can't see anything clearly underwater. We have to get
the help of a water-proof glasses. Without flippers, we are too slow to
make a vertical movement underwater. Using 'monofin', which fuses two flippers
into one, we could beat even Olympic-class swimmers. And finally unlike
whales, our nostrils are not placed on the top of the head. To overcome
the inconvenience, man invented a U-shaped tube which enables him to breathe
with his face down. If only we could hold our breath as long as 2 hours
as a whale does! Sadly enough, we can do so only 2 minutes at the most.
But even in the short duration you can swim underwater just like a fish.
Almost naked, you can enjoy the transparent world at the edge of the sea.
SKIING AND SNOWBOARDING
Two strips of board will enable you to go downhill from the top of Mr.Everest.
Until someone invented skiing equipment, no one could had dreamed of exploring
the depth of Swiss glaciers. Snow is not something that hindered man from
traversing mountain area any longer, and skiing equipment has become the
most reliable means of transportation.
Nordic skiing is far more thrilling than ordinary skiing in artificially
designed slopes (Gelände) and it teaches us how to deal with severe
weather conditions of snow country. The trails on the side of a mountain
is the very symbol of human enjoying nature.
Snowboarding has fast become a fad. It also enables man to move around
freely on the snow. It requires a balancing act just like Windsurfing.
In the country where winter cold is very severe, the thickness of ice on
rivers and lakes is strong enough to sustain the weight of people, With
only two steel blades, man can smoothly slide on ice.
The pressure put on with the blades on ice makes it thaw in an instant,
and the resulting water plays the role of super-lubricant. In the Netherlands,
skating is a major sports and means of transportation throughout the network
of canals. Theoretically speaking, we skate with one blade, not two. This
requires surprising surprisingly complicated balancing adjustment of nervous
WINDSURFING AND SAILING
The most recent invention of sailing craft is this. On a piece of board
is a piece of stick combined with so-called 'universal joint', which enables
the mast to lean in any direction and at any angle. With this very simple
gadget, it slides on the water just like a duck and is simpler than any
other sailing boat, to say nothing of noisy motor cruiser. Man and nature
are directly put into one with the help of this simple board. Man cannot
walk on water, but this invention has made it possible to leap from wave
to wave and wander around the water as smooth as a mirror. Unlike surfing,
it can sail around anywhere as long as wind blows.
Of course, there are many kinds of sailing boats. When you grow older,
you may not be able to go on being a Windsurfer. Then, there is a small
boat for older people.
HANG GLIDER AND PARAGLIDER
A NASA scientist invented a simplest form of glider whose landing gear
is human feet. It has two triangle-shaped wings and this is the very application
of hydrodynamical research. Thanks to the strong ascent wind blowing alongside
the mountain, it can enjoy being a bird itself.
But Hanggliding is not suitable for older people. Even young people are
sometimes injured or even dead because of its difficulty in controlling
against the wind. So paragliding is recommended. They are safe enough for
elderly people to enjoy.
All these 6 require a skilled training but uses the simplest form of gears
which can be considered the extension of human structure empowered by his
muscle. Modern machines have been developed and sophisticated too far,
with the result that they have deprived us of the fundamental joy of doing
something and 'directness' concerning being with mother nature.
Take a sports car, for example, which used to be a symbol of manly outdoor
activity, is no longer attractive to some people, because sophisticated
mechanisms, such as microcomputers are introduced too far. Sailing boats,
too, equip too many electronics indicators, are degenerated into tasteless
sea-going machines. It is not a human skill that matters but the sophistication
of mechanism and the amount of investment! In modern times people are alienated
even in sports
Opposing such trends, many people are trying to find out the extreme limits
of human power by means of simplified tackles or none at all. Triathlon
(running, cycling and swimming)is one example. It is said that human structure
is so sturdily made that no one can foresee the actual limit of its endurance.
Presently, marathon runners are supposed to run at a distance of 42.125
km. But even if it were extended to 100 km, not a few people will gladly
participate in the race.
Those 6 sports mentioned above require the maximum human power ,and above
all, new dimension of human activities. Nowadays people are both physically
and mentally weakened by 'conveniences' of modern civilization, such as
air-conditioners and escalators. If human beings are to survive in the
space age, it is definitely necessary for us to build up versatile agility
and other capacities.
First Written April 1986
Revised May 1999
HOME ＜ Think for yourself ＞ Essays ＞ Human Power