Work Out Like: the Kodo Drummers

The troupe's highly physical show comes to Boston March 19.


Kodo’s “Dadan”/Photo provided

Yosuke Kusa and Leo Ikenaga are not typical musicians.

Kusa and Ikenaga are part of Kodo, a Japanese drumming troupe performing at Symphony Hall this weekend. But in Kodo’s hybrid audio-visual shows, which prize physical endurance right alongside musicality, drumming is equal parts art and sport.

We caught up with the duo to discuss fitness and one (very) unique training process.

On training:

Every Kodo drummer goes through a two-year apprenticeship deep in the mountains of Japan, totally removed from civilization. Everything from electronics to alcohol is banned, and trainees grow and cook their own food, sew their own clothes, and learn trades such as woodworking and pottery. They also undertake a rigorous daily training schedule, Ikenaga explains.

“We’d get up at 5 in the morning. We’d run down the mountain, we’d run by the beach—it’s probably something like five miles, six miles,” he remembers. “We’d do that every day, and then we’d go back up the mountain” to practice all day.

The experience may have been brutal, but Ikenaga says it taught him, and his cohort, invaluable skills.

“You’re able to handle the grind, both physically and mentally,” he says. “The mental and spiritual part is what makes it really special. We all have this shared memory, shared experience. We can work together, communicate better, even without words.”

On fitness:

“I think [given] the body-making aspect of our performances, it’s not just a matter of what we do on performance days but on our days off as well,” Kusa says through an interpreter. “It’s very important that we’re very aware of how beautifully we can present our bodies.”

The whole troupe, Ikenaga says, is highly attuned to what it takes to stay in shape, largely thanks to the apprenticeship training. For him, that means running, jumping rope for 30 minutes on performance days, ample stretching and rest, and plenty of practice on the drums.

Kodo performers also have a unique source of physical activity, Ikenaga says. “We’re performers, but we also load the truck, unload the truck,” he explains. “We get all of our equipment ready ourselves. Our day is longer than your typical performer.”

On diet:

Believe it or not, Ikenaga says he isn’t a stickler when it comes to food. “I’d like to say we eat super healthy, but to be honest, I think that there are times when I’m really careful of my diet and sometimes not so much,” he laughs. “We do everything in moderation.”

Kusa adds that it’s all about listening to your body. “If I’m feeling tired I would try to consume more meat and protein,” he says. “If I’m more concerned about my health, I would look into eating more vegetables and salads. If I feel like I need a little bit more energy I would concentrate my diet on carbs.”

For a sneak peek at Kodo, check out the video below. Or, catch their March 19 performance of “Dadan 2017,” part of the Celebrity Series of Boston, by purchasing tickets here.