If you live outside of Japan, you have probably heard of sumo wrestling, but don’t fully know what it is. For most outsider, they picture it as two large men wearing diapers (the diapers are actually mawashi, which are loincloths,) who press their bellies against each other. But there’s a lot more to it than that! If you’re traveling to Japan, you should appreciate the art of sumo, and we’re going to explain what sumo wrestling is.
Let’s start with the history of sumo wrestling. Sumo has been around for a couple thousand years, but didn’t see its place as a spectator sport until much later. The sport has religious connections in Shinto, and wrestlers will begin the matches by performing rituals. The sport itself helped to entertain the kami, or gods, during the matsuri, or festival.
When you see sand in the sumo arena, it’s a symbol of purity. There are tassels on the canopy’s corners, which are the four seasons. The gyoji, or referee, dresses as a Shinto priest. These are just a few of the symbolic things you will see if you look at a sumo match.
When the wrestlers enter the tournament, they get purified. Some of the rituals include throwing salt and being put in string, which are representative of ropes in shrines. So that’s a general rundown of the history and symbolism of sumo, but what about the wrestling itself? Sumo wrestling is quite exciting, and this is due to the lack of rules. A wrestler can’t do anything dirty, like pull hair, choke, aim for the crotch, or punch with a closed fist, but everything else is fair game. It takes place in a 15 foot ring, raised from the ground on a block of clay. This block is a dohyo, and there’s a new one every tournament.
To win, you must make your opponent touch the dohyo with anything besides his feet, or push him around the ring. It begins with both fighters being on a line in the center, and both fighters will begin by charging, or tachi-ai. This is a great way to take advantage over your opponent. The resulting match can be quite intense.
With that said, why are sumo wrestlers so portly? This has to do with the laws of motion. The bigger a sumo wrestler is, the harder he’ll be to throw around or push. The match would be quite boring if it was two skinny people pushing each other around! Not only that, but due to their dieting and exercise, sumo wrestlers are quite healthy, and are less prone to the diseases you would expect from obesity.
There is a lot more to sumo than what we can describe in such a short article. We’d recommend doing some more research into the sport, or watching a match for yourself. As we said, they’re a lot more exciting than what a foreigner may picture them as. It’s a time tested sport that will be a staple of Japan for years to come.
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