The word 'sumo' immediately brings two things to mind: the country of Japan and elephantine wrestlers who could crush anyone with their bare hands. Sumo wrestling basically involves these two very things, Japan and Sumo wrestlers. It is an example of a sport invented by the Japanese people, hundreds of years ago and was even used to resolve disputes. It is actually inspired from the Shinto religion and professional events even today consists of a number of Shinto rituals and practices. Professional matches are seen only in Japan and there is a strict set of rules that are followed. Every wrestler has to adhere to these customs and rules without question.
Rules and Customs of Sumo Wrestling
Sumo wrestling consists of six divisions namely makuuchi, jūryō, makushita, sandanme, jonidan and jonokuchi in decreasing order of rank. This is the hierarchy of the sumo wrestlers according to their experience and fights they have won. The highest division is called makuuchi and it consists of experienced wrestlers who have fought through the ranks to make it to the top. It is the most competitive division and consists of all the champions. The grand champion in this division is called the Yokozuna. The lowest division of sumo wrestlers is jonokuchi to which all the amateur wrestlers belong. They begin with training and have to win fights to rise to the higher divisions.
All professional wrestlers even of higher ranks have to stay in training 'stables', where their everyday activities are closely monitored by the coach or stable master. The lower ranked wrestlers have to do all the chores and have to give preference to the higher ranked wrestlers within the stable. Professional sumo wrestling tournaments are held six times every year. High ranking competitors are usually scheduled to fight towards the end of each tournament. The rules are that two wrestlers from the same stable do not compete with each other unless they have reached a final stage of the competition. The same rule holds true even for brothers, even though they may be from different stables.
In sumo wrestling, the wrestling ring is called the dohyō. It is a circular area, usually 4.55m in diameter, that is covered with sand. The competitors are known as rikishis and they have a fixed fighting costume that they wear which is known as mawashi. The referee is called the gyōji.
Rituals and Regulations
There are a number of customs that are followed as a rule in sumo wrestling at the start of each match. These include the ceremonial Shinto purification rituals, used to drive away evil spirits from the dohyō. In the first ritual, each wrestler claps his hands and then stomps his legs, while facing the audience. They then rinse their mouth and clean it with a piece of paper. They then take a handful of salt and put it into the ring to purify it and thus conclude the purification ritual. The opponents then enter the ring and stare each other down before charging to take on each other.
The basic rules for winning a match are:
- To force the opponent to step out of the ring.
- To force any of the opponent's body parts to touch the ground, other than the soles of his feet.
- Disqualifications may occur in the cases of use of improper technique and if the mawashi or wrestling gear comes completely undone.
- In case of absence of one of the opponents at the time of the bout, the absent wrestler can be disqualified.
Sumo wrestling matches last from a few seconds to about a minute. A heavy and bulky wrestler usually wins the matches, but a smaller wrestler could beat a bigger opponent by using cunning skill and good technique. This sport is greatly enjoyed in Japan and is considered a modern martial art in the Japanese culture. The top wrestlers are well paid and are quite famous. There are many controversies regarding sumo wrestling, including the exclusion of women from the sport, the difficult life faced by the new entrants, and the charges of match fixing against some top wrestlers. There is also a controversy on the limit of foreign wrestlers that are allowed to participate. This does not deter fans in and around Japan and even the world over from enjoying this exciting sport.