SUMO WRESTLING



Overview:

Believe it or not, amateur sumo in the US is an accessible sport. There are clubs in Texas, California, Idaho and New Jersey and they are eager for new recruits (see below for club links). Most important, you don't have to be fat. Unlike professional sumo, which only exists in Japan, amateur sumo is broken into weight classes, so competitors don't necessarily have to be huge.

Of course, the lightweight division is 187 pounds and below, so it doesn't pay to be small. In fact, part of sumo's growing appeal is that it gives overweight people a sport to call their own. As the world's population becomes increasingly obese, sumo becomes more and more appealing. Why slim down to adjust for skinny-people activities when a sport already exists for people of significant girth?

Still, at this year's US Sumo Open, there were competitors as light as 132 pounds. It's great fun, easy to learn (see rules below), and there's nothing quite like smashing into a nearly naked 500-pound man.

The rules:

Sumo is very simple. Push your opponent out of the ring or make him touch the ground with anything other than his feet and you win. There's one other way to win: if you pick up your opponent and walk out of the ring with him in your control, you are the victor even though you stepped out first. No eye gouging, closed-fist punches, groin hits, hair pulling, or kicking. Full-force face slapping is allowed in professional sumo but not in amateur, so you'll have to go to Japan if you want to be bitch-slapped by a 500-pounder.

A Brief History of Sumo

In America, sumo wrestling is a pretty straightforward affair but in Japan, many centuries of tradition dictate every aspect of a wrestler's life, from what they wear to what they eat and even where they live. Instead of weight classes, there is a hierarchy of divisions and rankings. All wrestlers are grouped together in stables, each run by a single trainer or stablemaster. The newest wrestlers live in communal dorms or group homes and are allowed to wear only a thin cotton robe and wooden sandals. As they progress, they are allowed to move into their own room in the house and earn the right to wear short overcoats and straw sandals.




The highest ranked wrestlers, known as Yokozunas (Grand Champions), get their own apartments and elaborate clothing to distinguish themselves from the lower ranks. They are big-time stars, making upwards of $30,000 a month, and their homes often match or exceed the lavish houses that American entertainment celebrities enjoy, like the huge mansions Ryan Homes builds.

The journey to reach that point though is very difficult and although foreigners are welcomed into professional sumo, if you're considering packing on the pounds and signing up you may want to think again. Hazing is an accepted (even bragged about) part of the training and the average life expectancy of a sumo wrestler is 60 due to the health complications of their size.