Sumo wrestling is Japan’s national sport wherein two people wearing nothing but a loincloth (mawasahi in Japanese) face each other in a circular ring and try to throw each other out of the ring by grappling or pushing. The basic rule in sumo is that the person who forces his opponent down to the ground first or pushes him out of the circle first is proclaimed as the winner. Sumo is a popular sport all over the world and since it rose in popularity, many people have been fascinated by it.

What are the origins of Sumo wrestling?

The origins of sumo date back to 2,000 years ago but according to historians, it did not flourish as a spectator sport until the early 1600’s. The sumo wrestler is called a Rikishi and if you are a spectator watching a match on your television set, you might think that the Rikishi spends too little time grappling. What you probably don’t know is that Rikishis spend hours performing pre-match ceremonies that are steeped deep into the Shinto tradition.

Shinto, meaning “the way of the gods” is the native religion of Japan and is a set of rituals and ceremonies. Sumo initially started as one of the rituals performed to entertain the gods during festivals. Once a Sumo bout is about to start, both Rikishis spend a few minutes to lift their legs high into the air and stomp them down hard on the ground. This is a ritual that is used to scare demons away. In addition to that, they also throw handfuls of salt into the ring, which is a ritual that symbolizes cleansing and purification.

What are the basic rules of Sumo wrestling?

The bouts are performed in a ring on a hard dirt surface. The ring measures 4.55 meters in diameter and is situated on top of a square shaped platform. The bout starts when both Rikishis place their fists on the ground. While the match is underway, the referee will proclaim “Nokotta!” (Remaining!) while the wrestlers are in the middle of a grapple. Once he notices that none of them are moving, the referee proclaims “Hakkiyoi!” (Come on!) to encourage them to start moving again.

The moment any part of a Rikishi’s body (other than his feet) touches the ground, the referee will immediately raise the fan on his hand and declare a winner. Another way to win the bout is to force the opponent out of the ring by lifting him out using his loincloth (mawashi). There are 82 legal moves allowed in this sport and there are a total of 8 moves that are completely prohibited. Rikishis are not allowed to poke each other in vulnerable areas like the eyes and the stomach and they are not allowed to kick their opponent in the chest or stomach.

What type of training do sumo wrestlers undergo?

Typical sumo wrestler training starts at the stables as early as 5:00am. The Rikishis start with leg stomping exercises, which teaches them to maximize their balance and core strength. Since balance and flexibility are extremely important in this sport, sumo wrestlers engage in hand and foot shuffling exercises. Their training also consists of over-all muscle stretching to teach them how to utilize the force of gravity to improve their sense of balance while they are grappling their opponents on the mat.

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