Friday, August 16, 2013

Introduction to Sumo Part I-History and Rules

According to Japanese legend, the origin of the Japanese race depended on the outcome of a sumo match.  The supremacy of the Japanese people on the islands of Japan was established when the god, Takemikazuchi, won a sumo match with the leader of a rival tribe.

Sumo is an ancient sport that dates back 1500 years ago.  In the Nara Period (the 8th century), the Imperial Court gathered wrestlers from all over the country to hold a grand sumo tournament called the sechie-zumo.  It was a ceremonial banquet to celebrate peace on Earth and bountiful harvests.

Its origins were religious.  The first sumo matches were a form of ritual dedicated to the gods with prayers for a good harvest. 

Early sumo resembled Vale Tudo or MMA combining elements of boxing and wrestling.  It was no holds barred with few rules.  Under the Imperial Court, rules were formulated and techniques developed so that it came nearly to resemble the sumo of today. 

Sumo was regarded chiefly for its military usefulness and as a means of increasing efficiency of fighting men.  Later, samurai developed jiu jitsu as an offshoot of sumo.

After 1603, when warring factions were united under the Tokugawa Shogunate a period of prosperity followed marked by a rise to power of a new mercantile class.  Professional sumo groups were organized to entertain the rapidly increasing plebian class.  Sumo started as the national sport of Japan during this period (the Edo Period).

The sumo ring is called the dohyo. The ring is 18 feet and 2 feet high and is made of special clay.  The bout is confined to an inner circle a little over 15 feet in diameter.


A bout is won by forcing the opponent out of the inner circle.  Any rikishi (wrestler) who touches the ground with any part of his body, his knee or even the tip of his finger or his top knot, loses the match, or he need only put one toe or his heel over the straw bales marking the circle.

            Asasekiryu v.s. Takanoyama Day 12 Sumo Natsu Basho May 2013

Striking with fists , hair pulling, eye gouging, choking, and kicking in the stomach or chest is prohibited.  It is also against the rules to seize the part of the band covering the vital organs. Open palmed strikes, slapping, and head butting are legal as well as shoulder blasts.



There are no weight limits.  It is possible for a rikishi to find himself up against an opponent twice his own weight!

                               Fan favorite Takanoyama


There are six grand tournaments a year.  Three are held in Tokyo, one in Osaka, Nagoya, and Kyushu.  A tournament lasts for fifteen days.  Each rikishi fights once every day with a different opponent.  The rikishi with the best record of wins over losses is awarded the Emperor's Cup on the final day after the last match.

There are three additional prizes, the shukunsho (person with the most upsets over yokozuna-grand champions), the ozeki (champions), the kanto-sho (fighting spirit), and the gino-sho (technique).   To be eligible, a rikishi must also have won at least eight of his fifteen matches.

Next Time:  Part II Banzuke (Sumo Rankings) and Sumo Ceremonies

                                           My Sumo french fries....yum!

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