Sumo: Wrestling for the Gods

Sumo is a competitive style of wrestling where two opponents face each other, each trying to push the other down to the floor or out of a circular competition ring. Sumo is the national sport of Japan and originated as an act of entertainment for the Shinto gods. Though widely popular today, it is an ancient sport that still includes many ritual elements. Professional Sumo wrestlers must submit to a rigorous, calculated lifestyle according to tradition.

Sumo wrestling originated as a kind of ritual dance performed for the entertainment of the gods in the Shinto religion, one of Japan’s national religions. The circular ring used in modern Sumo wrestling is called the dohyō. It dates to around the 16th century when a warlord organized a competitive tournament. It wasn’t until the Edo Period when professional Sumo wrestling became popular as a form of entertainment.

The rules of Sumo wrestling are fairly simple. During the bout, two opponents push and wrestle one another until one either steps out of the ring or touches the floor with anything besides the sole of his foot. If either of these two things happens, the bout is over and the successful wrestler is declared winner. The bouts are usually only a few seconds, but occasionally last for one or two minutes before one wrestler steps out of bounds or touches the floor.

Sumo wrestlers, or rikishi, are usually young men between the ages of 25 – 30. They live extremely regimented lifestyles according to the rules of the Japanese Sumo Association. All wrestlers reside in communes, called heya, where they live according to strict traditions. They eat large quantities of food and go to sleep directly afterwards to gain body mass, a technique intended to help them win tournaments. They also take on special names, known as shikona, which become their special wrestling identities. These shikona are not necessarily related to their real names.

An elaborate hierarchy based on sporting merit exists in professional Sumo, so wrestlers are ranked according to their number of wins and overall achievement in the sport. There are six divisions of sumo wrestlers, the most elite being the makuuchi, and at the top of them stands the yokozuna, or grand champions. Wrestlers that reach the yokozuna status retain their titles forever.

Japan is the only country in the world where Sumo is practiced, and the Japanese consider it to be a martial art. There are six tournaments held every year, lasting 15 days each, in several cities across Japan. Sumo also exists as an amateur sport for students and hobbyist sportsmen, who participate in school tournaments or sports clubs.


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