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Run4It Journal  •  Culture •  11.10.2019 •  10 min read

The story behind the ASICS brand

A sound mind in a sound body

It is widely accepted that regular physical activity has profound health and psychological benefits. Since the day ASICS was founded, the brand has been striving to help people live in health and happiness through sports. ASICS is an acronym of the Latin phrase ‘anima sana in corpore sano’ which translates to ‘a sound mind in a sound body’ and conveys the company’s ethos and mission – to encourage exercise as a lifestyle to promote total wellness of mind, body and spirit.

A producer of footwear, apparel and sports equipment designed for a wide range of sports, including running, basketball and volleyball, ASICS goal has always been to empower movement – and contribute to and enhance sports culture globally.

Kihachiro Onitsuka on a scooter

Lifting spirits in post-war Japan.

To better understand ASICS’ mission to empower movement, we have to look back in time and consider the context. Kihachiro Onitsuka created Onitsuka Co., Ltd (which later merged with GTO Co., Ltd., and Jelenk Co., Ltd. to form ASICS Corporation in 1977) shortly after World War II in 1949, at a time when the Japanese were having to rebuild their homes and their lives, following the devastating effects of the second world war. Living in post-war Japan, Onitsuka set out to raise the spirit and morale of the Japanese youth, through sport and athletics.

And for Mr Onitsuka, it all began with product development and innovation.

A history of Kaizen: continuous improvement.

Onitsuka Co., Ltd’s first big venture was to revolutionise the basketball shoe. The company set out to engineer a shoe to achieve the stopping, turning, and dashing performance required for basketball, making gradual improvements to the product in the months and years of the early 1950s. Mr Onitsuka had an epiphany at the sight of his pickled octopus salad one evening at the dinner table! It inspired the product team to deepen the dimples over the entire sole to resemble octopus suction cups. The first prototype actually generated too much stopping power, so refinements were made through rounds of testing and feedback with players at one of the leading basketball powerhouses, until they arrived at the best formula.

Onitsuka Tiger Basketball Shoes

Sketch of Onitsuka Tiger Basketball Shoes

This was a milestone in the company's history and testament to the Japanese Kaizen (or continuous improvement) philosophy, and modus operandi of founder Kihachiro Onitsuka.

Marathon shoes.

The company went on to pioneer countless footwear innovations for multiple sports including running, first taking on the challenge of producing marathon shoes – equipped with features required specifically for marathon running. This resulted in the release of the Marathon TABI in 1953, featuring a lightweight rubber sole and durable, breathable upper. The TABI was the first in a long series of marathon shoes.

Other early innovations included rubber sponge soles, nylon uppers and an air vent system designed to circulate air in the shoe (inspired by air-cooled motorcycle engines).

ASICS entry into the wider running shoe market.

As road running and jogging for recreation and fitness boomed in the late 1970s, ASICS released its first running shoes, aimed at the mass market. This marked a step change for ASICS and the point at which it established itself as a performance running brand.

Three men in front of an ASICS sign

 

Then 1986 saw one of ASICS’ hallmark innovations: shock absorbing Gel™ technology. The first Gel™-based running shoe was released in '86, using a silicone cushioning material αGEL (Alpha Gel), designed to cushion the feet from impact.

It would take pages and pages to describe every innovation and invention ASICS has made to running footwear since the brand’s inception, but the above gives you a flavour of the brand’s commitment to continuous improvement and the development of innovative materials and technologies for a specific purpose.

ASICS Research Institute of Sports Science (ISS).

The most obvious manifestation of the brand’s commitment to continuous improvement has to be the ASICS Research Institute of Sports Science, completed in 1990 in Kobe City, Japan. Built for the purpose of carrying out human-centric research and product development, through the analysis of natural human form and movement.

Runner in a Sport Science Laboratory

A garment being stitched

A shoe with sensors on it

A runner testing shoes on an uphill slope in a Sport Science Laboratory

The ISS is equipped with an all-weather athletic track with three different types of surface, two types of tennis court, a pool, an experimental gymnasium, an environmental laboratory that allows free control of temperature and humidity, a multi-purpose laboratory, a computer network system, a product laboratory, a sports medicine laboratory, and a training room.

The ability to undertake rigorous product testing in sports-specific environments is key to ASICS success. Simply put, better understanding leads to better product.

2 of 8 rule.

ASICS’ live by a simple rule. With every new shoe release, at least two of the following eight features must have been improved:

  1. Cushioning
  2. Stability
  3. Flexibility
  4. Fit
  5. Grip
  6. Breathability
  7. Weight
  8. Durability

Changes and improvements in a shoe’s design, construction and technologies must be significant enough to warrant a new model, to stay true to the Kaizen philosophy and do what is right and proper for ASICS wearers. To provide an example, the latest iteration of ASICS flagship stability shoe, the Gel-Kayano 26, features improvements in these two areas:

  • Cushioning: The use of Gel™ and injection of FlyteFoam™ Propel cushioning for an improved level of bounce and more fluid feel, keeping the same high level of support.
  • Fit: A wider toe box for an improved fit.

The inspiration for the Gel-Kayano was actually a beetle. In 1993, shoe designer Toshikazu Kayano set out to create a new type of running shoe: something supportive and structured, yet nimble underfoot. Searching for inspiration, he found an unlikely muse in the humble stag beetle. He noticed how its hard exoskeleton served as protection while still allowing the beetle to be quick and light and this inspired the support structures in the iconic Gel-Kayano shoe, which over the years has delivered reliable protection, support and cushioning to runners who want to go the distance.

Moving further, faster and beyond with ASICS running shoes.

ASICS divide their performance running shoes into 3 categories:

  • Further: Includes neutral and stability shoes built for comfort.
  • Fast: Includes lightweight neutral and stability shoes built for speed.
  • Beyond: Includes trail shoes, to take you off the beaten path.

Unsure what type of shoe is right for you? Take a look at our article Choosing the right running shoe: Neutral or Stability?

The ASICS range at Run4It

The staple of the ASICS range at Run4It lies in their most cushioned shoes, providing runners with maximum comfort for their runs. The neutral Gel-Nimbus and stability Gel-Kayano series have been ever-present in the range and are best known for their super soft cushioning whilst clocking up the mileage. The Gel-Nimbus is perfect for the neutral runner seeking maximum shock absorption in their stride, the Gel-Kayano is the other side of the spectrum with a lot of structure and stability in the shoe to hold the foot in place whilst keeping that soft landing. 

Some other models in the range include ASICS popular GT series. Shoes from this series are stability options for runners looking for extra support in their run. Scaling up in terms of the softness of the cushioning depending on what model, all ensure that everything is held in place for that perfect stride. The Run4It range includes the GT-1000 and GT-2000 series.

Known as the perfect all-rounder, the Gel-Cumulus, is a high-mileage everyday trainer that delivers a smooth ride every step of the way. The popular series ticks the boxes for all-sorts of runs no matter what goal you are striving for.

ASICS also launched the Magic Speed as part of their Project Speed range. Designed to push your limits and smash those PB’s, this carbon plated shoe is perfect for race-day or those quicker training sessions. 

ASICS FrontRunners

To continue the legacy of Kihachiro Onitsuka and celebrate ASICS' heritage, ASICS initiated the ‘FrontRunner’ project in 2010 to establish a global running community and bring together people from all walks of life with a common love for sports, to share their passion for running and moving their mind and their bodies. And in turn, inspire and motivate others to take up the mantle and get moving.

The ASICS FrontRunners team is made up of a very diverse group of people in 30 countries around the world. Young and old, beginners to elite, marathon runners, ultra runners, trail runners and triathletes – and it’s the combination of these attributes that makes the community strong and unique.

Find out more about who they are and what they do here: asics.com/gb/en-gb/frontrunner/team

The future of ASICS

ASICS commitment to human-centric design will continue long into the future. Since its inception, ASICS has developed a number of innovations and inventions, several of which have contributed to record-breaking performances at sports events across the globe.

Through analyses of natural movements and actions, the Institute develops unique materials and structures to meet the needs of athletes, making a variety of unique running shoe models to accommodate different conditions and ensure athletes have a comfortable running experience.

It’s an exciting time for brands in the running world, yet ultimately ASICS (like all its competitors) must work hard to evolve with athletes and runners and ensure it’s producing products honed to fit their wants and needs, in order to survive and thrive!

Sources:
“ASICS Global - The Official Corporate Website for ASICS and Its Affiliates.” ASICS, corp.asics.com/en/about_asics/history.

Runners wearing men's and women's Gel-Kayano Road Running Shoes

ASICS is an acronym of the Latin phrase ‘anima sana in corpore sano’ which translates to ‘a sound mind in a sound body’

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