Knots, Samurais and lots and lots of water
November 5, 2013 7:54 AM   Subscribe

Questions about keeping things tied underwater, and one about swimming a long, long way on a single breath.

1) What's the best knot to use to keep the laces on my swimming trunks from going untied underwater? I have been tying them with a double knot, then tucking them into my trunks before I enter the pool. (Laces are on the outside.) Perhaps I should do this when I am in the water instead, when my trunks and the laces are wet? Still though, what's the best knot to use?

2) What's the best way to keep my swim ear plugs tied up and keep the cord from coming loose? No matter how I knot up the cord, the water makes it looser and looser the longer I stay in the pool and I worry that eventually I'll yank the plugs out of my ears mid-stroke (ow). Is there a good way to knot it up, or should I wrap tape around it? I bound the cord using tape that came with the ear plugs but it came loose after a while, so I'm wondering what tape would last and hold. I imagine duct tape would work but it might be too bulky and get kinda sticky.

3) While Googling answers to these questions (and failing to find any), I came across this: "A Samurai was able to swim almost 75 yards underwater on one breath." Wow. But is it true? I can't find any sources to back this up. Also, does anyone know what techniques / exercises to use to develop the ability to do this?
posted by ditto75 to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (10 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Best answer: For #2, you could try daisy chaining the cord. Just pull it all the way through on the end to finish it. That will shorten it up.
posted by phunniemee at 8:02 AM on November 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

Humans still try to swim long distances underwater, and top athletes can swim more than 75 yards underwater on one breath. The key words are free diving and "dynamic apnea without fins".
posted by steinwald at 8:14 AM on November 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

I very much doubt the Samurai thing is true. Only a few athletes can do this and these are people who train in the water constantly. It's their sport. A Samurai spent his days training with a sword so that's what he was an expert on.

Maybe there was one Samurai who was able do this and it started a rumor ;) , but it's highly unlikely way it was the norm among Samurais.
posted by manderin at 8:35 AM on November 5, 2013

I came across this: "A Samurai was able to swim almost 75 yards underwater on one breath." Wow. But is it true? I can't find any sources to back this up. Also, does anyone know what techniques / exercises to use to develop the ability to do this?

My undergraduate/graduate work was in Japanese history. There is traditional Japanese swimming technique that involved techniques such as swimming while wearing armor, swimming with firing weapons and so on. Such training involved swimming underwater, but I am unaware of a basis for the 75 yards figure. There were various schools of such water training, and they would all have their own techniques and expectations. (sorry that the links are all in Japanese)

Not all samurai underwent every martial training. So, it would be more accurate to say that some samurai practiced water training that involved swimming underwater with held breath, but I am not aware of a basis for the 75 yards figure. Lastly, it is worth bearing in mind that for about the last 300 years of feudal Japan, the country was unified and there was little warfare to provide practical application of such training.
posted by Tanizaki at 8:47 AM on November 5, 2013 [2 favorites]

Navy Seals are required to be able to swim 50 meters underwater. I can imagine that many Samurai could swim pretty long distances underwater.
posted by steinwald at 8:49 AM on November 5, 2013

If today's record is 218 meters (238 yards) underwater on one breath without fins--- the human body has not changed that much and water is always the same. I bet hundreds of years ago a small group of people who exercised all the time could do 1/3 of that if they worked at it.
posted by steinwald at 8:57 AM on November 5, 2013

1) What's the best knot to use to keep the laces on my swimming trunks from going untied underwater?

Same bow you'd use on your shoelaces. Make sure it's tied as a square knot, not a granny knot. A bow based on a granny knot comes undone very quickly.

Tucking the whole thing inside the waistband when it's done is the right thing to do.
posted by flabdablet at 8:57 AM on November 5, 2013

Best answer: Awwww yeah, time to nerd out about knots. Knot tying is a disappearing skill in our society, as most people only know how to tie their shoelaces and maybe if they're lucky a square knot (which is basically a shoelace knot without the two "bights" or loops in it). Most people don't even know the difference between a square knot and a granny knot, which is an important distinction as despite the fact that they are tied very similarly and look superficially the same, a granny knot is totally worthless whereas a square knot is actually a very good, very simple, and versatile knot. (A symptom of this is all of the various little gadgets you can get for securing and adjusting straps and ropes, most of which are totally unnecessary if you know the right knots.) In any case there are many many different knots for different jobs, and knowing even a handful of basic knots can really make one's life a lot easier and allow a person to solve a lot of problems using ropes and cords, which are one of the most versatile and basic tools in the human repertoire. I've got a couple recommendations for your problems.

As far as a knot for your trunks, I'd recommend Ian's Secure Shoelace Knot. It's the knot that I use for dress shoes and other situations where I want to tie a bow that looks decent and will not come undone. I've found that it is much more secure than even a double knotted bow, and it's more compact and nice-looking. It holds well even with stiff dress shoelaces that otherwise come undone half a dozen times a day. It takes a little practice to be able to tie it easily (any knot does, really) but once you get the hang of it it's not hard at all and can be tied in about five seconds. The advantages of Ian's Secure Shoelace Knot are that it is quite secure, is symmetrical and clean-looking, is easy to tie, and even is easier to untie (unlike a doubled shoelace knot, you can still just pull on the ends and it'll come out, albeit a little more stiffly than a regular shoelace knot).

For the cord on your earplugs, I would cut it and re-tie it at whatever length you find appropriate. (Cut it in the center first, tie it at the appropriate spot, retie as necessary until you get the knot in the perfect location, and then trim the ends and fuse the cut ends with a lighter.) I would use a fishing knot, such as a blood knot to join the cord. Fishing knots are designed for joining stiff, narrow-diameter, synthetic-fiber cord and for holding well underwater despite being tugged on by fish. Sounds pretty similar to your situation here. The blood knot works best with two cords that are made of the same kind of line, which is what you have here. It's trickier to tie than a shoelace knot, but once you have it tied right you won't have to redo it.

An alternative would be to cut the cord to one side (a few inches from one earplug) and tie a loop in the short end and some kind of adjustable knot on the long end. I really like the bowline knot for making loops, because it is one of the most secure knots in existence, is easy to tie once you've practiced it, and is also pretty easy to untie even if it's been underwater and been tugged on and gotten really tight.

For the adjustable portion, I would be inclined to try something like this rolling hitch in a variant where you run your cord through the loop in the bowline and then tie the hitch back onto the cord itself, creating a second loop. Note that there are two versions of the rolling hitch and that the variant I just described is often called the "taut-line hitch" but that the version I linked is better for your application than the version normally taught in the taut-line hitch. There isn't a simple adjustable hitch though that always holds well -- there's not enough friction, especially with synthetic cords, for it to really grip hard. A much more secure but slightly more complicated knot that I like is the trucker's hitch which is secured in place once it has been adjusted. (It also provides mechanical advantage which makes it very useful for lashing down loads. This is irrelevant to you but it makes it a real workhorse of a knot and worth having in your repertoire.)

If you don't want to cut the cord, tie a bowline on a bight. A bowline, as mentioned above, is a knot that just gets grippier and grippier the more it's pulled on -- and yet no matter how tight it gets, it's always pretty simple to untie by just flipping down the little loop in the knot and then loosening it up. I assume what you're tying right now is a half hitch on a bight (a bight is a knot-tying term for the loop you get when you bend a rope back on itself) which is essentially a slip knot. Just from the name you can already tell that this isn't going to give you a loop that stays secure when it's pulled on.

Whew! That got pretty long. Knots are a secret pleasure of mine though, they're just so damn useful. Every different knot is a different tool, and like anything else it's imperative to use the right tool for the job if you want the job done right. Hopefully this will help you out!
posted by Scientist at 10:11 AM on November 5, 2013 [6 favorites]

Yes, people can swim 75 yards without a breath, though it is not easy. When I was on swim team, doing hypoxic sets with repeated 25-yard swims was incredibly common; when we would go up to 50 yards a majority of the team could still make it. I know some people could do 75 as well. Me? My limit is 50 but I am also a wuss.
posted by dame at 11:10 AM on November 5, 2013

Between my sophomore and junior years of high school, I could do about half that, 1-1/2 lengths in a 25 yard pool. I was doing a lot of recreational swimming that summer, but not training particularly hard. 75 yards by someone who was working at it doesn't seem outlandish to me.
posted by Bruce H. at 2:05 PM on November 5, 2013

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