Sumo Supreme

Sumo wrestling is a great spectator sport. I say that because it is a thrilling spectacle from ringside, whereas I can’t imagine what it is like to be an extremely large man wearing a small piece of cloth around my nether regions, and be routinely picked up and thumped onto a hard floor, but I don’t think I’d like it.

People often think that the sport is comprised of a lot of very fat guys pushing and shoving each other, while wearing nappies. Well, they aren’t nappies. They are called muwashi and the men wearing them are generally overweight, but are also agile, making the most of their intellect and technique as well as sheer, brute strength. It isn’t uncommon for a much smaller wrestler to beat a heavier one as he utilizes all of his Sumo skills.

Although superficially it seems simple, Sumo actually has rules and regulations which can be hard to grasp, especially for foreigners. It is a wonderful mixture of slow and ponderous tradition and mercury quick bouts.

In its most basic form it is easy to follow. Two men enter the ring and one man leaves. Each man tries to overthrow his opponent by making him step out of the ring or forcing him to touch the ring with something other than the soles of his feet. Very good matches last for minutes, but often a bout will be over and done with very quickly indeed as both competitors move at lightning speed towards each other, there is a quick scuffle and one of them is down. Next match please! This professional sport has the shortest duration between matches of any sport in the world.

In Japan there are six major tournaments (or bashos) each year and they are held all over the country. Typically the basho reaches Tokyo in May and tickets sell out in minutes. Each tournament lasts for fifteen days and the Emperor’s Cup is awarded on the final day to the Sumo wrestler with the best record of wins over losses.

Wrestlers in Sumo are called rikishis and like many martial arts, Sumo wrestling has a number of different levels to be achieved. Every Sumo wrestler aims for the prestigious title of yokozuna which is the highest possible. Once a wrestler claims this title it can never be rescinded, so it truly is the peak.

Sumo is interesting not only for the sport itself, but for the tradition and ceremony which surrounds it. Rikishis must lead a very particular lifestyle, even when not in training, and if they don’t follow the rules they may be disqualified from the Sumo Association. So, a Sumo wrestler must grow his hair long and be able to put it in a top knot (I’m guessing wigs and toupees have been tried, but probably get pulled off to great embarrassment in the ring).

He cannot eat breakfast in the morning and should only eat one enormous meal a day, obviously elephant-sized in order to keep him overweight. He can’t choose his own dress and even if popping down to the local 7-11 must wear a prescribed wardrobe so that their level of expertise is obvious to other late-night shoppers. Professional wrestlers are also required to live in Sumo stables, which although not for horses, do involve a lot of communal living.

So try and attend a basho if you are in Japan. It will provide a great adrenaline rush as well as a new-found appreciation for the ancient ceremonies and tradition which surround some professional sports.