To many people of the Western world Sumo wrestling looks baffling. There seems no skill in two greatly overweight men dressed in nothing but underwear trying to shove each other out of a circle. But like almost everything in Japan, Sumo wrestling has a lot more then at first meets the eye. A great number of things in Japan are shrouded in mystery and the real relevance and importance is never obviously apparent. Sumo was supposed to have originated as part of the Shinto religion, and it was once one of the ways the Japanese welcomed in the New Year.
The Beginnings of Sumo
Born out of a religious ceremony, Sumo soon became popular as a sport in Japan. The wrestlers had an almost sacred aura around them, and their lifestyle was one of pampering and luxury. It is believed that professional Sumo started around 1400, part of the Muromachi period. And during this dynasty Japan started to flourish and become wealthy. As prosperity grew in Japan so did the popularity of Sumo, and it was no longer restricted to religious events. Turn the clock forward two hundred years the first ever yokozuna of Sumo was proclaimed and it was a wrestler called Tanikaze Kajinosuke.
For anybody that has studied martial arts they will know that the gym or mat that they practice on is called a Dohyo. In the case of Sumo, the Dohyo is a clay ring surrounded by a rope. The ring is divided by two white lines that dictate where the wrestlers should stand before a bout. The odd tradition of each wrestler throwing salt on the clay is to purify it. A gesture referring back to old religious times.
Even though there looks as though there are no particular rules to Sumo there are definite objectives. The main ones being to force an opponent out of the ring or force them to touch the floor with any part of their body apart from the feet. You may also have noticed that there is a considerable amount of slapping going on during a bout. This is because a closed fist is not allowed, neither is the pulling of an opponents sacred topknot.
Becoming a Pro
It is hard to break into the top tier of Sumo wrestling. Students who first take up the sport are called rikishi. And their apprenticeship is both long and arduous. The wrestlers live in what are termed stables, where they train, eat, sleep, eat, drink, eat, during their whole career. It is almost a monastic life, but with a little luxury thrown in for good measure. Rikishi treat the higher ranks like gods, they cook, clean, and do any menial task asked of them. They cannot dine until their superiors have eaten their fill and retired. But these young fighters learn their trade by training with the heavyweights, and that is their payment. Sumo is a unique sport and it is deeply rooted in tradition; it has become part of the very culture of Japan. Because of televised bouts Sumo is now famous all over the world, and some non-Japanese wrestlers are becoming true experts at the art.