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Japanese Sumo Wrestling

Among the activities associated with this country, also called the land of the rising sun, there is perhaps none which is as iconic of Japan as is Sumo wrestling. Steeped in thirteen centuries of history and tradition, Sumo originally served a religious and cultural purpose as a means of entertaining the deities to ensure a good harvest for the season. Over time, as Japan became embroiled in wars, Sumo was transformed into a form of military training, exclusively practiced by samurais and beyond the sight of the common man. Feudal lords, with their share of warriors, also conducted their own tournaments in their castles, which was aimed at increasing the one on one mortal combat skills of their warriors.

Towards the sixteenth century, with Japan in a period of lasting peace, Sumo eventually found its way back towards the royal court, as it now transformed itself into an imperial sport. Over time, strict rules were formulated as Sumo evolved into something close to what we know today simply as Sumo wrestling.

The rituals of Sumo

Opponents start by performing the chiri-chozu, where they squat across each other, extend their hands, then clap once. After this, each opponent performs the shiko, which is best described as an exaggerated act of foot stomping ritual. Then each opponent takes a fistful of unrefined salt and throws it over the ring, as a purification ritual. Salt was believed to have purifying power over evil spirits, while purity and purification rituals play a very important role in Shinto rituals, which was once the dominant religion in Japan.

Understanding the rules

The main objective of a Sumo encounter is to get an opponent to step or land outside the competition circle, or get any part of his body to touch the ground. The first person to get his opponent to do so wins. Most moves such as pushing and shoving, lifting, heaving, slapping and other similar moves are allowed, while punching, hair pulling, kicking the vital areas, and eye gouging are not.

The Sumo outfit

It consists of a 30 foot loincloth tightly bound and called a mawashi, which is used during training as well as official competitions. A length of twisted string, called a sagari, is tucked around the front of the waist portion of the belt. The sagari represents the sacred ropes that hang in front of Shinto shrines.

The referee

Each Sumo match is closely watched by a referee called a gyoji. Dressed in an elaborate costume, the gyoji watches over the two protagonists and constantly inform them that the bout is still ongoing or whether one of them have unknowingly stepped on the circle and therefore have already lost the match. Gyojis also use a gunbai to identify the winner of the match. A gunbai is a wooden fan.

The Sumo rankings & status

As Sumo strictly observes a hierarchal order, each level of Sumo is expected to behave according to their rank and status. The lowest rank is the junior rikishi. They are expected to do the cleaning chores, as well as help out in preparing the lunch. Junior rikishis are not allowed to have breakfast, but are allowed to sleep after a very heavy lunch, which serves the function of accelerating weight gain. Sekitoris are the next higher rank. Sekitoris spend most of their time in training, and have the junior rikishis serve as their occasional manservants. Sekitoris are already considered privileged.

Sumo wrestling has been gaining widespread popularity in recent years. The enjoyment of a Sumo match will certainly be increased if we have a deeper understanding of all the rituals, symbolisms and pageantry that Sumo stands for.

Submitted by:

Tom Takihi

Tom Takihi is the owner of Japanese Sumo Wrestling Website. To gain more information please visit http://www.japandiscovery.com/culture_arts/sumo/




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