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Sumo - Japanese traditional wrestling

Fighting sumo wrestlers and the gyoji
Fighting sumo wrestlers and the gyoji

Simple and unique rules of sumo

The rules of sumo are very simple.
And sumo has a few unique rules.

  • Only two wrestlers have a match on a circular sumo ring 4.55 meters across.
  • The wrestler fights naked except for a loincloth called "Mawashi" with bare hands.
  • Both wrestlers must bow to each other, before and after the match.
  • Both wrestlers must start at the same moment.
    Therefore, both wrestlers need to find a timing to start each other with landing on own both fists and glancing into opponent's eyes.
    The referee (He is called "Gyoji") never call the start.
    But if one starts earlier even a little than the other, the referee orders them to restart.
  • To win,
    (1) He puts the opponent out of the ring, or
    (2) He makes a part of the opponent's body except bottom of foot touch the ground.
  • Therefore, a match mostly takes only within 10 seconds.
    If it takes over a minute, it's a very long match.
  • To win, the wrestler pushes and pulls the opponent's body and breaks down the opponent's posture using the arm, foot and body.
    And by gripping the opponent's Mawashi, he can throw and lift the body.
    But kicking, striking with the fist, gripping the hair, or pulling the ear, etc. are forbidden.
  • There is no weight class.
    So we can see sometimes interesting matches that a small wresler challenges a big wrestler.

Body of Sumo wrestler

Of course, bigger and heavier Sumo wrestler is more advantageous.
So, they must increase the weight and develop the muscles.

Now, the average weight of all Sumo wrestlers is more than 160 kilograms.

The weight of heaviest wrestler is over 200 kilograms, and even the weight of lightest wrestler is around 100 kilograms.

They seem very fat men, but the body fat percentage is about the same as common men.

When a wrestler rams the body against the opponent at the start of the match, it is said that the impact is the same as the power of collision with two-ton truck.
So it is necessary that the muscles and bones are extraordinarily strong and tough.

In addition, the swiftness and the flexibility are needed.

Oozumo (Grand sumo tournament)

Ryogoku Kokugikan arena
Ryogoku Kokugikan arena

Oozumo is the sumo matches by professional sumo wrestlers, and it is managed by the Japan Sumo Association.
It has a long history since the 17th century.

It is named "Grand Sumo Tournament" in English, and it is held 6 times a year.

  • January, May, September : Ryogoku Kokugikan in Tokyo
  • March : Osaka city
  • July : Nagoya city
  • November : Fukuoka city

Especially, Ryogoku Kokugikan in Tokyo is the home arena and it has the head office and the museum of Sumo.

Ryogoku Kokugikan

Every tournament is held during 15 days.

The first day is on Sunday and the last day is on Sunday two weeks later.
(In many cases, the first day is the second Sunday of the month.)

All professional sumo wrestlers belong to the Japan Sumo Association.
There are about 600 wrestlers, and all of them participate in every tournament.

Recently the number of foreign wrestlers has been increasing.

Japan Sumo Association

Ranking in Oozumo

Ring-entering ceremony by Makuuchi wrestlers
Ring-entering ceremony by Makuuchi wrestlers

All sumo wrestlers are ranked.

There are 6 divisions of rank.
Basically the wrestlers ranked in the same division fight together and they compete for the championship of each division.

The highest division is Makuuchi (幕内), and Juryo (十両), Makushita (幕下), Sandanme (三段目), Jonidan (序二段) and Jonokuchi (序の口) follow in the order of descending rank.

There are many wrestlers in each division.
New wrestlers start from Jonokuchi division.

Each wrestler is ranked with the number.

Additionally, wrestlers enter the sumo ring from east side and west side.
Therefore two wrestlers have the same rank number and the higher rank wrestler is given "east" and the other wrestler is given "west".
(For example, Juryo east 1st > Juryo west 1st > Juryo east 2nd > Juryo west 2nd > ...)

The highest division "Makuuchi" has the strong wrestlers.
So it has some special ranks.

General numbered rank is called Maegashira (前頭).

Above Maegashira, there are stronger four ranks.
The members in the ranks are the top wrestlers of Oozumo.

First, there are Komusubi (小結), Sekiwake (関脇) and Oozeki (大関) in ascending order.

They are totally called "San-yaku" (三役), which means three important posts.

Each of these ranks has generally only two westlers (east and west).

The highest rank above "Oozeki" is Yokozuna (横綱).
Yokozuna are the strongest wrestlers in Oozumo, and it is named "Grand Champion" in English.

Therefore, Yokuzuna is given special treatment.

The regular numbers of wrestlers in each division is the following.

Jonokuchi = about 40
Jonidan = about 200
Sandanme = 200
Makushita = 120
Juryo = 28

[Makuuchi = 42]
- Maegashira = about 30-34
- Komusubi = basically 2
- Sekiwake = basically 2
- Oozeki = a few
- Yokozuna = a few

As above, the wrestlers in Makuuchi is only about 7% of all wrestlers, so they are the top of Sumo wrestlers.

The schedule of Oozumo

Yokozuna Dohyo-iri ceremony
Yokozuna Dohyo-iri ceremony

Each wrestler fights only one match in a day, so he needs high concentration.

The wrestler below Makushita has 7 matches during 15 days.
So he fights once in 2 or 3 days.

The wrestler of Juryo and Makuuchi has 15 matches.
So he fights every day.

They fight against different oppositions in the period.
Therefore, Oozumo is similar to league competition.

Yokozuna and Oozeki are the star players.
Mostly, they remain as the tournament favorites in the final stage.
So, the matches of Yokozuna and Oozeki each other are planned at the end of the period as big matches.

The schedule of a day is the following.

Some matches by wreslers out of rank start at around 8:00.
They are the debut matches of the new wrestlers.
Then, the matches of "Jonokuchi" start at 8:30.

Many matches are done in the order of ascending rank.

Before the matches of Juryo and Makuuchi, there are Ring-entering Ceremonies ("Dohyo-iri" in Japanese).
They are the ceremony that the wrestlers are introduced.

Then the matches of Juryo start around 14:30 and the matches of Makuuchi start around 16:00.
The last match of the day by Yokozuna ends just before 18:00.

Determining the winner

Tachiai of sumo
Start of a match

On a sumo ring, there is a referee who wears a traditional costume.
He is called "Gyoji".
He conducts a match, and determines the winner of match.

But there are 5 judges out of sumo ring.
If one of them has objection against the judgement by Gyoji, the gyoji and the judges discuss on the ring, then make a final decision.
(Of course, video images are used for the judgement.)

After the judgement, the wrestlers bow to each other and Gyoji announces the name of the winner.

Decision of the Champion

The champion is the wrestler who has had most wins in the division.
In most cases, the wrestler below Makushita wins all matches (7 matches).
The wrestler of Juryo wins over 11 matches in 15 matches.

If some wreslers are the same wins, playoff matches are held on the last day.

Usually the champion of Makuuchi has 12-15 wins in 15 matches.
And Yokozuna commonly get the champion. Because, he is the strongest wrestler in Makuuchi.
The champion of Makuuchi is the strongest hero of the tournament.

But, new young hero who becomes the champion sometimes appears.
It is also the interesting tournamnent.
Change of generation by new hero of sumo always excites the fans.

Promotion and demotion

After the tournament, the wrestler who has gotten many wins is promoted to higher rank.
By contraries, the wrestler who has gotten a little wins is demoted to lower rank.

If a wrestler on the high level of a division has gotten many wins, he is often promoted to higher division.
He will fight on the new rank in the next tournament.

But, it is very difficult to be promoted to the highest ranks "Oozeki" and "Yokozuna".

A wrestler of Sekiwake rank must continue to get marked wins for a few tournaments (about over 33 wins for 3 tournaments).
Then, if the Association recommends him for promotion to the rank of Oozeki, he can get it.

Additionally, to get the rank of Yokozuna, Oozeki wrestler must get distinguished wins during a few tournamens.
As a result, the Association recommends him for promotion.

In the history of over 400 years, only 73 wreslers have gotton the Yokozuna rank.

Only strong wrestler can become Oozeki and Yokozuna.
They must have the characteristic of dignity and be an example to all sumo wrestlers.

Traditional performances in Oozumo

Young sumo wrestlers
Young sumo wrestlers

  • All wrestler wear "Chonmage" of Japanese men's haircut in the Middle Ages.
    The wrestlers of Makuuchi and Juryo wear the high-class style of Chonmage named "Ooichou".
  • Before a match, each wrestler throws salt to purify the sumo ring.
  • After the last match of the day, a wresler performs a ceremony whirling a bow.
    It honors the winner of the last match, then a day of tournament is closed.

Watching Oozumo

In Tokyo, Oozumo is held at Ryogoku Kokugikan arena located in east side of the central Tokyo.

The Kokugikan is an arena for sumo, and it was constructed by the Japan Sumo Association.
Sometimes, it is used as an arena for other fighting sports.

See the website of the Japan Sumo Association, about the halls in other cities.

In the center of square arena, there is a sumo ring.
Basically wide area surrounding the ring is the reserved seats without chair, so the spectors must sit Japanese style.
This seat is separeted individually, and 4 spectors can sit in there.
The ticket is sold in unit of the seat, so it is expensive.

Behind these area, there are common chair seats.
This seat is cheap, but the spector must see the ring from a distance.

First match in a day starts at around 8:00 in the morning.
And the last match finished around 6 in the evening.
You can watch as long as you like with one ticket.
But most spectors come when the match of Makuuchi starts.

By the way, you can watch Oozumo on television.
During Oozumo is held, NHK (Public broadcast of Japan) broadcasts it live nationally.

The program is broadcast from around 15:00 to 18:00.
Therefore, you can watch the matches of Juryo and Makuuchi.
Of course, Yokozunas appear in the last few matches after around 17:30.

If you are in a hotel or ryokan in the time zone, try to turn on the TV.

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