Sumo wrestlers graphic

An Introduction to Sumo

Since 3 of the big 6 yearly Sumo tournaments are held in Tokyo, it’s a frequent destination for KCP school excursions. Here’s the skinny on sumo.

Sumo wrestler Somagahana Fuchiemon, c. 1850

Sumo (相撲, sumō?) is a competitive full-contact sport where a wrestler (rikishi) tries to force another wrestler out of a circular ring (dohyō) or to touch the ground with anything other than the soles of the feet. The sport originated many centuries ago in Japan, the only country where it is practiced professionally.

Sumo is full of rituals from when it was part of the Shinto religion. First is a ring-entering ceremony, with all wrestlers dressed in ornate silk “aprons.” A leg-stomping shiko exercise drives evil spirits from the referee.

Sumo arena

Sumo arena.

Two wrestlers step into the ring, squat facing each other, clap their hands, and then spread them wide (showing they have no weapons). They each purify the ring by tossing a handful of salt into it.

Sumo rikishi crouchSumo rikishi crouch.

Rikishi crouch and stare each other down. Once they both place both fists on the ground on or behind the ring, they spring from their crouch for the initial charge.

Sumo wrestlers training

Sumo wrestlers training.

Life as a rikishi is highly regimented. Most rikishi must live in communal sumo training stables (heya), where everything, from meals to manner of dress, are dictated by strict tradition. All wrestlers have wrestling names. Rikishi grow their hair long to form a topknot, like samurai. The regimen of no breakfast plus a large lunch then a sleep helps rikishi put on weight to compete more effectively.