We were lucky enough to be in Tokyo during the September Grand Sumo Tournament. When you hear the word “Sumo” I know the mental image of large men in colorful diapers come to mind, and you will be totally correct! And it's AWESOME. However, what I found most interesting is all the ritual and tradition involved in the sport.
Our arrival at Ryogoku Kokugikan
Origins of Sumo:
- The sport originated in Japan and continues to the be the only country where it’s competed officially.
- It was used a trial of strength for combat and Shinto religion ritual dances wrestling with the Shinto divine spirits
- Also can be traced back to the Edo period, where wrestlers were likely samurai or ronin looking for an additional form of entertainment
Life of a Sumo Wrestler:
- Sumo Wrestlers are required to live in “sumo training stables” under strict training and diet regimens
- They must grow their hair long to be placed in a top-knot.
- They must wear traditional Japanese dress / chonmage hairstyle so they can be identified immediately when in public
- Junior wrestlers wake up at 5am , while the higher ranked wrestlers, sekitori wake closer to 7am.
- They are prohibited from eating breakfast to enhance training, and must take a nap in the afternoon after eating in order to increase weight gain. (More from CNN)
- Unfortunately, this dietary regimen leads to shorter life expectancies due to health complications such as diabetes.
- Salaries range from: ~ $11k - $30k per month plus prize and bonus money for successful tournaments
- Many sumo wrestlers are recruited to the professional ranks during high school as strong judo competitors or from collegiate sumo clubs.
- We were surprised that not all sumo wrestlers originate from Japan. In fact, even among the senior sekitori we witnessed the matches of a Russian and a Bulgarian.
- The “Entry Ceremony” The wrestlers are divided into different classes based on skill with the best wrestlers competing at the end of the day. Additionally, there are “East” and “West” houses where wrestlers competing against a similarly skilled wrestlers from the opposite house. Before the top division of wrestlers competes, they enter the stadium in rank order and are introduced to the crowd.
- The fights take place in a ring called the dohyo with a roof resembles a Shinto shrine.
- Once a wrestler enters the dohyo: he faces the audience and claps his hands and performs the leg stopping “shiko” ceremony to drive evil spirits from the dohyo. (also demonstrating a surprising amount of flexibility!)
- Then they step out of the ring to receive a ladle of “power water” and paper tissue “power paper” to dry his lips. These pieces are given to the wrestler by a fellow sumo wrestler from the same house, but this must not be given by a sumo loser, therefore it’s given by the winner of the previous round or the competitor in the next round.
- They reenter the ring and face each other with open hands to demonstrate they have no weapons
- Finally, from a bucket in the corner they take a handful of salt and toss it into ring to purify the dohyo
- Matches consist of one round and every wrestler only competes once a day. The total wins over the course of the 15 day tournament are calculated to determine the overall winner
- There are no “weight classes” and we saw many “smaller” wrestlers defeat those almost twice their size
- The fight begins when both wrestlers come up to the two lines in the middle and place both fists on the ground simultaneously. The wrestlers determine when the match will begin (after performing above rituals) but if they take too long the official will command them to compete at the next placement
- They then spring from their crouch (the tachi-ai) and attack. Sounds like an explosion and the tangle lasts only about a couple seconds.
- Winner is determined as the first wrestler to be the first to push his opponent out of the ring or force him to touch the ground with any part of his body other than his feet
Adding my flipbook videos, but if those don't work, don't worry I've added the close-up shots.
make sure you see the lower right corner...
wouldn't want to sit in the front row...
We LOVE SUMO! Matt's now in training mode...