Big Boys

Anders Umholtz, Staff Writer

Sumo wrestling is just one of those things that’s always referenced in popular culture but practically nobody understands. Why are these men so fat? Where and why are they pushing each other? Why can’t I take my eyes off it? Following the thunderous success of my previous article on Kabaddi, today I will be explaining the sport of Sumo Wrestling.

Two hefty competitors called Rikishi step into the 4.55m diameter ring, called a Dohyo. The competitors engage in a religious ceremony that includes cleansing their mouths, throwing salt onto the Dohyo to purify it, and stamping their feet to ward off evil spirits. There’s also time for staring down your opponent, as well. After the ceremony, both wrestlers touch their fists to the ground and the match begins. A wrestler wins by pushing their opponent out of the ring or making them touch the ground with anything other than their feet. You can push, slap, trip, lock the limbs or grab the Mawashi (loincloth) of your competitor. You can also throw them to the ground if you want. No punching, though! This continues on for as long as is necessary for someone to score. Matches can end in seconds– but the longest recorded sumo match was 32 minutes long!

The game may seem kind of goofy to an outsider, but in Japan, it’s taken very seriously, often as more as a religious ritual than a spectator sport. It’s been practiced as part of the Shinto faith for 1,500 years, making it almost as old as Kabaddi, and is now considered Japan’s national sport! High-level sumo wrestlers dedicate their entire lives to training and gaining weight, so they are greatly respected. The discipline of these athletes in their extreme training regimens and lifestyle is among the greatest in the world. Rikishis live in a sumobeya (sumo stable) for the duration of their careers, and in the outside world are required to conduct themselves quietly and respectfully at all times. They have to wear traditional clothes wherever they go, and aren’t even allowed to drive a car! You can, however, compete at whatever weight you want, from 600 pounds to 150. However, if you’ve got two X chromosomes, you’re in bad luck: only men are allowed to compete in sumo wrestling professionally, so you’ll have to look elsewhere for your exotic foreign sport… might I suggest Jai-Alai, Muay-Thai or Snooker?

If none of those suit your fancy and you still want to get your fix of the sumo action, keep your eyes peeled for the US Sumo Open 2019 at California State University in Long Beach! Or try out the wickedly simple Chanko Nabe, the soup traditionally eaten by sumo wrestlers to pack on pounds. I also found a handy-dandy little app on the Google Play Store (also available on iOS) called NHK WORLD. This application is distributed by NHK, Japan’s official national broadcasting company, is completely free, and I used it to watch several hours of sumo wrestling matches while researching for this article. Check it out! Maybe next edition will talk about the wonders of Ultimate Frisbee or competitive Theatre…