While many are all excited about March madness basketball, us martial art dorks are well into the first week of the Haru Basho in Japan. What is the Haru Basho you ask???? SUMO of course mi amigo! This is the second big Basho of the year (one happens every other month starting in January), and we are seeing the Mongolian yokuzuna's Hakuho and Asashouryu dominating early on much to the dismay of the Japanese fans! I personally think it is great as they are two of my favorite Rikishii (wrestlers).
Unfortunately for those of us not fluent in Japanese there is a lack of information on the ancient sport of Sumo both in print and on the world wide inter web! So I hope to offer a few resources you may find valuable.
First of all the majority of Sumo Forum's are not the most welcoming places to learn about Sumo.
Sumoforum.net has lots of information on it, but I find many newbies to forum are not exactly welcome especially if you ask what they consider "rudimentary" sumo questions.
Sumotalk is much more welcoming to newbies, but sometimes it is hard to get any straight answers on there. It has been my experience that the overwhelming majority of posters are arm chair fans who have NEVER wrestled in their life. I actually put up a poll on Sumoforum and I think maybe one or two people admitted to ever doing any Sumo!
The Grand Sumo Homepage is hands down your best bet for up to date info, rikishii profiles, rules, and general history and technique. They also offer live streaming video of the Basho direct from Japan, if you are so tech savvy (I am not. If you aren't either see below for your options to watch).
A while back I looked into getting the Japanese channel on Comcast in an effort to watch the Basho every other month. Unfortunately this service costs $25 extra a month!! And it is not pro-rated like other extra packages. For instance; the upcoming Elite XC event on Showtime April 11, one can order Showtime up on Saturday afternoon, watch the fight on Sat evening, and then cancel your subscription to Showtime Sunday morning, and only be charge a $2 turn on fee and the pro-rated cost for 24 hours of service with Showtime. One cannot do that with the Japanese channel. So I opted not to spend the crazy amount of money on it.
Instead I stumbled across the most wonderful site Banzuke where one can watch edited clips of the actual matches! Now if you are into all the pre-bout ritual and what not, this service is NOT for you. Whomever runs Banzuke.com edits the clips down to just the fight, no commentary, no ritual, just pure wrestling!
What is Sumo's significance in modern martial training?
I have had several students of mine ask this very question, and many people are actually quite critical of Sumo actually having any modern martial applicability critiquing the wrestlers weight, lack of striking, and obvious dismissal of ground combat. If I may....
Sumo is arguably one of the most ancient of arts still in practice today, and maintains true to its roots which lay in battlefield combat. The rules are simple; first one to go outside of the Dohyo (ring), or to touch any other body part to the ground other than his feet, is the loser. This forces the combatants to engage each other quickly so there is no stalling nor "running" away. The proximity mimics a battlefield encounter where one will be fighting in close quarters. Also if one is thrown or knocked down in battle he is doomed, as once on the ground your enemy can finish you with a short blade, or even battle mace or axe. For the most part, unless your opponent engages you on the ground, you are at a disadvantage lying on the ground with him standing over you! Hence no ground fighting in Sumo!
It is a common misunderstanding that strikes are not allowed. Open palm strikes are quite prevalent in Sumo, and the occasional KO (this a great KO off of the Tachiai) happens as well! But again it is human nature to quickly deal with strikes via clinching up and grappling as we see in Sumo, BJJ, and even in western boxing.
Matches are usually no longer than a few seconds which lends itself again to the reality of combat; street fights are quick, violent, and generally last under a minute.
Emphasis on strength and power is certainly paramount! Of course in a sport where girth and weight are attributes (their are no weight classes in Sumo, though you have to be at least 165# to be a pro-Sumo) they are going to add mass! However this does not mean they are fat or out of shape in the least bit! Lower body strength and agility are both heavily emphasized via squats (most beginners in my classes cannot perform 10 slow regular squats let alone Sumo squats), flexibility in the pelvic girdle, and balance. As a matter of fact the two current Yokuzuna (champions) Hakuho, and Asashouryu are two of the smaller rikishii! Asashouryu's body fat percentage is right around 20%. Though he looks much bigger, my body fat percentage was just measured at 16%. So below the layer of fluff there is actually quite a lot of muscle mass.
Misunderstood and under-appreciated here in the west, Sumo is one of the most popular martial arts in the world if we look at the level of interest and fascination it holds in Japan. Obviously there are many cultural and religious aspects involved with the art that I have not even touched upon, but are well represented in a few books that are available in English. I have most of the books I could find in English, but have not read them all. I will offer reviews as time warrants.
One frustrating aspect for me is the lack of training information, and technique details found in most all English language texts I have. Of course the majority of a Sumo's training is centered around actually wrestling, I would like to learn more about their approach to strategy and technique.
Hope you enjoy!