Updated: Dec 13, 2022
I have always a big kid growing up. By the time I was in 6th grade, I was already over 6 feet tall (I'm now 6'5) and while not super-duper athletic, I always had a thing for combat sports. The wrestling team at my old high school was embroiled in a scandal, so I settled for the football team.
As an offensive and defensive lineman, I was one of the bigger guys on my team. But, I was never as big as a sumo wrestler. In fact, when I first started learning Japanese in 2008, my first Japanese teacher asked me if I would consider trying out as a sumo wrestler because of my size. Of course, that never happened.
But what exactly is Sumo?
Sumo is a traditional Japanese martial art and sport that is known for its spectacular and exciting matches. Sumo wrestlers, known as rikishi, compete in a circular ring, known as a dohyō, and try to force their opponent out of the ring or to the ground. Sumo matches are highly ritualized and steeped in tradition, and are an important part of Japanese culture.
The origins of sumo can be traced back to ancient Japan, where it was performed as a religious ritual to entertain and appease the gods. Over time, sumo evolved into a competitive sport, with matches being held at shrines and temples as part of religious festivals. In the 17th century, sumo became more organized and regulated, with the first professional sumo wrestlers appearing in the 18th century.
Sumo wrestlers are known for their massive size and strength, and the sport is often associated with the ideal of the "strong silent type." In order to become a sumo wrestler, an athlete must undergo rigorous training, including daily workouts and a strict diet. The top division of sumo wrestlers, known as the makuuchi division, typically weigh over 400 pounds.
Sumo matches are highly ritualized, with wrestlers performing a series of elaborate pre-match ceremonies. These ceremonies are intended to purify the dohyō and to show respect to the gods and to the sport of sumo. The wrestlers also wear traditional mawashi belts, which are made of heavy silk and weigh up to 44 pounds.
Sumo matches are decided by a variety of techniques, including pushing, throwing, and tripping. A wrestler wins a match by forcing his opponent out of the dohyō or to the ground. Matches are typically short, lasting only a few seconds, but they can also be long and grueling, with wrestlers using a variety of tactics to outmaneuver their opponent.
Sumo is a popular and exciting sport in Japan, with professional matches being held six times a year in Tokyo and other major cities. Sumo tournaments, known as basho, attract large crowds and are televised nationwide. In recent years, sumo has also gained popularity overseas, with professional sumo wrestlers from other countries competing in Japan and international tournaments being held in various countries. In fact, some of the more successful wrestlers have recently come from Mongolia, Eastern Europe, and parts of the old Soviet Union. The reason for their success is because of their homeland’s history of wrestling, especially for Mongolia.
Whether you're a sumo fan or are simply curious about this fascinating martial art and sport, there is no doubt that sumo is a unique and exciting part of Japanese culture. With its rich history and traditions, sumo is a must-see for anyone visiting Japan.