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A guide to sumo

A guide to sumo

Sumo wrestling is a full-contact martial art in which the goal is for the wrestler to force his opponent to touch the ground with a body part other than his feet or to push his opponent out of a circular fighting ring. While these are the most common ways of determining the winner of a sumo bout, there are other ways that the winner is determined. For example, if a wrestler’s belt (known as a mawashi) comes undone, they automatically lose, and the same goes for any wrestler that uses an illegal technique (known as a kinjite). If a wrestler fails to show up for a bout, even if he is injured, he loses automatically.

Led by tradition

The sport was born in Japan, which is the only country where sumo is practised professionally. Professional sumo wrestlers in Japan are known as rikishi and they live a strictly regimented life. Most rikishi live in heya, which are communal sumo training stables. The Japan Sumo Association regulates the rules that rikishi live by in these stables; everything from the food they eat to the clothes they wear follows strict, centuries-old traditions.

The ranks of sumo

There are six levels of professional sumo wrestling that are made up of around 550 rikishi. The only way that a rikishi can rise up through the ranks is by winning the majority of his bouts at major tournaments. They are, from top to bottom:

  • Makuuchi- 42 rikishi.
  • Juryo- 28 rikishi.
  • Makushita- 120 rikishi
  • Sandanme- 200 rikishi.
  • Jonidan- 260 rikishi.
  • Jonokuchi- 80 rikishi.

The highest rank a rikishi can achieve is known as ‘Yokozuna’. This means “horizontal rope”, which stems from the white Shinto-style rope that champions wear around their waist. Since the title was created in the 1700s, only 72 men have achieved it. When Yokozuna are no longer able to maintain the rank’s standards, they are expected to retire as they can never be demoted.

Some of the most famous Yokozuna of all time have been Mongolian. Asashōryū Akinori was the first Mongolian rikishi to earn the title in 2003. Asashōryū was one of the highest-achieving rikishi of all time, winning 25 top-division championships throughout his successful career, and in 2005, he became the first-ever rikishi to win all six honbasho (official tournaments) in a year alone.

Sumo fighting methods

The most crucial part of a sumo bout is the beginning. Both rikishi position themselves in a deep squat facing each other and move their bodies into a crouched position headfirst with their fists resting on the ground. This prepares each rikishi to spring up and exert the maximum amount of force against their opponent to push them off their feet.

A sumo bout only lasts for one round and, in some cases, only lasts a few seconds. A large body mass is considered beneficial in sumo but there are no weight divisions. In 1969, the average weight of top-division sumo wrestlers was 125 kg but it has since increased to 166 kg in 2019.

While sumo is not one of the most popular martial arts in Australia, the Australian Sumo Federation has been active since 1992 and owns several amateur sumo clubs dotted all over the country.

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