Weighing In On The Sumo Spirit – Part 1


An ancient ritual.
A venerable spirit.
Sheer physical power.

Welcome to the world of sumo wrestling. One of the most intriguing full-contact sports in the world, sumo wrestling is a form of martial arts originating more than 2000 years ago from Japan – the only country that held, and still holds, professional matches. So, the next time you are in Japan, be sure to plan a trip to a sumo hall or stable to catch some of the action. Here, we give you a quick rundown on Japan’s national sport.

A highly masculine sport, sumo wrestling thrills us with its blend of theatrical, ritualistic elements with fast, powerful and sophisticated techniques. A key ritual involves the dramatic act of scattering salt in the air before the match to mark the ring as a sacred place, as salt is believed to possess purifying powers. The wrestlers also clap their hands to ask for the gods’ blessings, before moving their arms in a highly ritualistic way as a symbolic act of purification. These movements, plus the fact that they are almost naked (with the exception of a linen or silk belt), also show the wrestlers are unarmed, bringing forth a key spirit of sumo: honesty.

The rules are straightforward and easy to follow. This theatrical sport plays out on an elevated ring (dohyo) constructed of clay and topped with a layer of sand, where two wrestlers find themselves in a face-off. The game starts when the referee yells “Hakkeyoi!” The duration of a match ranges from a few intense seconds to several minutes (perfect for the self-professed attention-deficit types amongst us!), depending on how skilful the wrestlers are. According to the Japan Sumo Association, there are at least 70 techniques realised in two main strategies: oshi-zumo, where the wrestler pushes his opponent out of the ring and yotsu-zumo, where the wrestler grabs his opponent’s belt (mawashi) and swiftly shoves him onto the ground, or carries him out of the ring. The first to shove his opponent out of the ring or touch the ground with any part of his body other than the soles of his feet is the victor.

This is Part 1 of our two parts coverage of sumo wrestling. Stay tuned for Part 2, where we look into the weighty topic of why sumo wrestlers got that big in size and how they stay big.

Further Reading:


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Author: Catrine Carpenter

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