This martial art form is known to have originated in Japan hundreds of years ago. It holds, to this day a great religious importance for the Japanese. Certain rituals like using salt to purify are still followed by Sumo Wrestlers. These rituals are part of the Shinto religion.
This type of wrestling is known to have influenced other martial art forms in the neighboring countries like Chinese Shuai Jiao, Korean Ssireum and Mongoliam wrestling.
Back in the 8th century when Sumo, or Sumai as it was known then was practiced, there were less number of rules involved. The men would fight till death. Hence a wrestler losing in a Sumo match is called a Shini-tai meaning a dead body.
In the present day too, some shrines perform ritual dance when a man wrestles with a Shinto God or Kami. This is known as Sumai party or Sechie. In olden times this was held in the imperial court. It was mandatory for every province to send their representative to attend the ceremony. In those times, Sumo formed a part of training for warriors, who were known as Samurai. When Sumo wrestling first began, the Rikishi or wrestler had to throw the opponent to win.
Rule Changes for Modern Sumo
Later the rules were improvised to pushing the contestant out of the ring. The concept of Dohyo or ring was introduced in the 16th century. The Dohyo is filled with sand and clay and after every tournament, the sand is distributed to fans as souvenirs.
It is the Yobidashi’s responsibility to ready the ring for matches and training stables. If both wrestlers touch ground at same time, the contestant in upper position becomes the winner. If a wrestler uses illegal methods or Kinjite or his belt gives way, he is declared a loser.
Rikishis of olden times wore loin clothes as against the Mawashi, a kind of firm clothing worn by contemporary wrestlers. The rules and regulations for Sumo wrestling as a game were developed during Edo period and are pretty much followed till date.
The matches last for few minutes only as it is easy for the stronger contestant to throw or push the opponent outside the ring. A huge body mass over good wrestling skills is a great advantage. Wrestlers grow long hair and tie them up in a topknot, similar to the Edo Period Samurais.
Sumo Wrestling Attire
Rikishis dress according to their ranks and wear geta, wooden sandals as footwear. Trainees help with the responsibilities in the Sekitori and have to wake up early. Rikishis do not have breakfast but splurge on a Chakonabe, a large lunch consisting of different kinds of fish, meat, vegetables and rice. They consume excessive amounts of food and beer to gain high weights. This practice is known to have ill-effects on health, especially after the Sumo stops training, as discovered recently. The lifespan of a sumo is cut short by 10 years shorter when compared to ordinary Japanese. They often suffer from heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes etc. Keeping this in mind, weight standards of a Sumo Wrestler have been decreased enormously in recent times.
Retired sumo wrestlers called Oyakata have developed the Japan Sumo Association which holds tournaments and trains wrestlers. Wrestlers are ranked, promoted or demoted depending on their performance in the Grand Tournaments. The 6 divisions in decreasing order are Makuuchi, Juryo, Makushita, Sandanme, Jonidan and Jonokuchi. Each year 6 Honbasho (Grand Sumo tournaments) are held, 3 at Ryogoku Kokugikan – The Sumo Hall, 1 each in Osaka, Fukuoka and Nagoya. Foreigners too have participated in these tournaments, with the first one being Takamiyama from Hawaii.