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In this comprehensive article, we have decided to talk to you about Sumo wrestling. So, if this subject is of interest to you, keep reading as you won’t regret it!
Sumo wrestling is a form of wrestling that is specific to Japan. Because this is a national sport, in Japan, there are six tournaments dedicated to it each year in which hundreds of wrestlers compete. Three of the tournaments are held in Tokyo, one in Osaka, one in Nagoya and one in Fukuoka. Each tournament lasts for 15 days.
The sport has ritualistic elements attached to it and it can provide visitors with an interesting peek into the Japanese culture. Sumo wrestling has its origins in the Shinto religion and it has a long history that is believed to have begun in the third century. According to the historians, in the 1600s, wrestlers used to participate in competitions in an attempt to raise money for shrines and new temples.
Numerous traditions and rituals that are associated with this sport are still incorporated into modern tournaments. For example, salt is still thrown into the ring before a match as a way to purify the space. Also, wrestlers still drink ‘strength water’ before every match.
The structure of the matches
Before the match begins, there are a couple of rituals that wrestlers perform. During these pre-rituals, the opponents try to intimidate each other and they try to entertain the crowd as much as possible. The matches are fast-paced and they involve plenty of twisting and body locking. The purpose of a wrestler is to make his opponent to step outside the ring or to touch the ground.
Because there are no distinct weight classes in Sumo wrestling, gaining weight is considered an important part of a wrestler’s training. Still, it should be pointed out that weight is not the only deciding factor when it comes to winning.
The circle ring inside of which the wrestlers compete is called a Dohyo and it has a total diameter of 14.9 feet. Under each Dohyo, the Japanese burry things like rice, nuts, cuttlefish, and salt in order to purify it.
Moreover, a Dohyo is made of clay and its surface is covered with sand. Constructing a ring for Sumo wrestling can take weeks. At the end of some tournaments, fans often break off a piece of the Dohyo and they take it home as a souvenir.
The roof of the Dohyo is meant to represent a shrine and each corner is said to represent a season of the year.
As expected, there are some behaviors that are considered forbidden when fighting in the ring. For instance, a wrestler is not allowed to hit the opponent with closed fists, to pull his hair or to kick him in the chest or in the abdomen.
Also, the competitor is not permitted to grab the mawashi or the material that covers the groin area of the opponent. For those interested, a complete list of the moves that are considered illegal in Sumo can be found online.
Training and tournament days
While they train, Sumo wrestlers live in heya, or in training stables. Each stable is home to no more than 15 wrestlers at a time. Here, they have to follow strict rules and traditions that dictate every aspect of their lives, including what they eat and what they wear.
In Japan, these athletes are thought highly of and they are well paid. Given that they are seen as celebrities, wrestlers often have fan groups that idolize them. The tiles that they earn are retained for life.
What makes this sport so interesting and appealing to the masses is the fact that the wrestlers have to adhere to a specific type of life at all times. They have to wear special clothes at all times, they have clear sleeping and waking hours and they have to carry out specific tasks.
An interesting fact about wrestlers is that they are not allowed to drive cars. This rule is rather recent and it was imposed by the Sumo Association after a car accident involving a Sumo wrestler.
A tournament day usually starts at 8 in the morning and ends at 6 pm. However, stadiums are often empty during mornings. This happens because the juniors’ competition is not as popular. The big names in the sport usually compete starting from 2 pm. Yet, the best wrestlers often compete starting from 4 pm. As a rule, the best wrestlers are usually the last to actually set foot in the ring.
Although Sumo wrestling is a national Japanese sport, most of the competitors are not Japanese. Many of the top rankers come from Mongolia and there are also fighters that are originally from countries such as Bulgaria or Georgia.
It should be pointed out that, in recent years, a Sumo stable is only allowed to have one foreign wrestler at a time. All foreigners are expected to speak Japanese fluently and to have a good understanding of the Japanese culture.
Judges and referees
Usually, the judges wear black clothes and they sit on either side of the ring. If a judge is unhappy with the ruling of the referee, he is permitted to enter the ring in order to get a better look at the situation. Once their decision is made, the public is informed. The judges also have to explain their ruling to the audience.
The referees are placed inside the ring. To make themselves more visible, they often wear colorful costumes. The referees also have the task of introducing the contestants before each match. To keep the match alive, they can also make sounds of encouragement if they consider it necessary.
The referees enter the competition at a young age and they keep this profession until they retire. The sword that they carry at all times in the ring also has a special significance. A referee is at all times aware of the significance of the job that he has to carry out and is ready to take his own life in case of a bad decision.
Another distinct aspect that makes Sumo wrestlers so fascinating to the outside world of Sumo is the clothing that they have to wear at all times. From the moment a wrestler enters a stable, he has to dress a certain way and to grow hair so that it resembles that of a samurai. Because of this, Sumo wrestlers are easy to spot in trains and subways!
The clothes a wrestler wears depends on the rank that he holds. A wrestler with little experience has to wear wood sandals and a robe made of thin cotton throughout all seasons, including winter. High-ranked competitors are allowed to chose their own clothes.
In public, wrestlers are expected to behave in a certain way. They have to be soft-spoken and they have to refrain from showing emotions such as joy or disappointment. This is also true when in the ring. So, sadly, gloating is not an option if you decide to become a successful Sumo wrestler!
Sadly, women are not allowed to become Sumo wrestlers. Their presence in the ring is forbidden and considered impure.