A History and Style Guide of Sumo Wrestling

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When you think of sumo wrestling, one thing inevitably comes to mind. Sheer size. The sumo wrestlers of today are huge men that attempt to move others out of a ring or force them to the ground. In fact, the way they attack each other is similar to the way NFL offensive linemen attack defensive linemen, minus the uniforms and need for touchdowns. So keep reading for a good deal more on this martial sport that originated in Japan, the only place where it is currently practiced professionally.

History of Sumo

Sumo has changed a lot over the years, depending on the whims of the ruling parties and elite. What is known is that in ancient times it was associated with the Shinto religion and rituals correlated to it, via support from the Japanese imperial court. In fact, province representatives were even required to compete in contests known as sumai no sechie or in English, "sumai party."

The Sumo ring, called a dohyo, came into being during a tournament organized by the principal warlord in Japan, Oda Nobunaga (the Edo period). Wrestlers, called rikishi, wore looser loincloths at the time, rather than the less flexible and tighter mawashi they cloth themselves with today. In addition, the rules began to change during the Edo period toward those of today, as previously there were different goals other than to move an opponent out of the ring or bring them to the ground.

Along with this, professional sumo tournaments also began during the Edo period in the Tomioka Hachiman Shrine in 1684.

Beginning practitioners were mostly ronin (masterless samurai) that needed extra money. Soon after, these tournaments began being held in the Eko-in, though since 1909 they've been housed in the Ryogoku Kokugikan with a change to the Kuramae Kokugikan in the post war years until 1984.

Sumo Characteristics and Specifics

Sumo competitors are large, powerful men that rely on leverage, size, and power to push opponents out of the dohyo. Rikishi life is very strict, with all rules coming down from the Sumo Association. Along with this, wrestlers are often mandated to live in communal training stables known as heya.

There are six divisions in sumo. These are makuuchi, juryo, makushita, sandanme, jonidan, and jonokuchi. The top division is makuuchi, and they fall in favor from there respectively. Wrestlers initially enter into the beginning division or jonokuchi and attempt to work their way up.

At the top of the makuuchi division are the maegashira (numbered from one to about 16 or 17). Above these fighters are the three champions called sanyaku. They are titled komusubi, sekiwake, and ozeki in ascending order. The top dog is called the yokuzuna. The yokozuna is the grand champion. Interestingly, more than one wrestler can hold this title at the same time.

There are six Grand Sumo tournaments every year.

Sumo Rules and Etiquette

There are a number of rituals that wrestlers engage in both before their bouts (including what they wear) as well as just before. Of particular note are the ladels of water they are given to rinse their mouths while on the dohyo, as well as the way competitors squat facing each other, clap their hands, and spread their hands wide to show that they are unarmed.

In addition, rikishi throw salt in the ring, serving as one of the many ritual Shinto practices.

Then of course there is the crouch before they charge one another. Both wrestlers must jump up from this crouch at the same time at the start of the bout or risk a referee restart. The referee points a war-fan at the winner of fights upon their conclusion, though this decision can be questioned and ultimately overturned by five judges sitting ringside. Fights usually last less than a minute. If a fight goes on for four minutes, the referee may call a water break. Ties are extremely rare.

Sumo in MMA

Size isn't everything, folks.  Despite the fact that fighters like Lyoto Machida have used sumo wrestling to improve their takedown defense in the sport, wrestlers of this variety have not fared well in mixed martial arts as a whole.

 Along with this, Keith Hackney (kung fu) beat up Emmanuel Yarbrough (sumo wrestler) pretty badly back at UFC 3, and Royce Gracie was able to stop Akebono Taro by omoplata back in 2004.

Three Famous Sumo Wrestlers

 

  • Taiho: Taiho holds the record for most consecutive championships (6) and most tournament Championships (32) as a professional sumo.
  • Kitanoumi: Kitanoumi was the youngest Yokozuna of all-time and possesses the record for most wins in one year (82). He is second to Chiyonofuji for most wins in the Makuuchi division (804) all-time.
  • Chiyonofuji: Chiyonofuji held sumo's top rank for 10 years from 1981-91. He also holds the records for most Makuuchi division wins (807), most career wins (1,045), and is second in total tournament championships (31).
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Rousseau, Robert. "A History and Style Guide of Sumo Wrestling." ThoughtCo, Mar. 12, 2016, thoughtco.com/history-and-style-guide-sumo-wrestling-2308258. Rousseau, Robert. (2016, March 12). A History and Style Guide of Sumo Wrestling. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/history-and-style-guide-sumo-wrestling-2308258 Rousseau, Robert. "A History and Style Guide of Sumo Wrestling." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/history-and-style-guide-sumo-wrestling-2308258 (accessed December 13, 2017).