single combat



History of Women's Sumo

Japanese wrestling sumo, ancient traditionally super weight men competition, which has had long traditions not to allow women even appear at a wrestling ring ("dohyo" – ring for Sumo with clay or plastic cover). The main goal of a contest of sumoists ("sumotori") is to push an opponent out of a dohyo or to force him to touch the ground by any part of a body except a sole of the foot. So, Sumo competitions are accomplished mainly in standing position, which were considered as the most esthetic and noble form of wrestling by ancient Greeks. Endless rituals and ceremonies are considered to be very important in Sumo.

Русская версия


Poster for the Kitan Club, 1951
Source: Mudwerks

This sport was established utterly in 17th century when 72 canonical Sumo techniques were written down. They are based on sacred "Shinto" rituals, which are performed for the gods. From time immemorial sumotori represented a small "selected" group close to emperors. Until now they have lifetime full government support. During past years Sumo from activity for select people became a regular sport, popular among both – men and women. Championships were organized in three categories (instead of one - superweight). The three female weight categories are: below 65kg, below 80kg and above 80 kg.

For a long time women were prohibited fro even watching Sumo contests because it would be considered as desecrating of this sacred Samurai ritual. In 1873 the ban on watching Sumo was lifted and women became zealous fans of this wrestling style and contributed to revival of its past glory.

Despite Sumo seems to be the most masculine sport, as early as in the 1700's women Sumo ("onna-zumo") did exist. It started in Osaka and was performed in connection with prostitution houses. Matches were organized between women and also between women and blind men. Some of female sumoists were actually skilled wrestlers. By 1744, onna-zumo's popularity had reached Edo (Tokyo). Tournaments were held at Asakusa Temple until authorities closed them down on the basis that it was immoral. However, due to popular demand, the matches continued at different locations in northern Japan. A few exhibitions even took place in Hawaii. But by 1926 this form of activity was completely banned for women. For male Sumo world it was not even the same sport. Men's professional Sumo has a long history and it is considered as a very honorable activity whereas women Sumo was tied to prostitution houses and was more for male entertainment. As a result, it is considered as a taboo subject and should not be brought up with anyone involved in the "real" Sumo world.

Sumo is not just a martial art or a sport on its homeland, it's also a folk movement which million of non-professional people are seized. It seems that by the year 2008, Sumo might become a trial sport at the Olympics. Although women do practice Sumo as non-professionals and make up a large percentage of Sumo fans, they are still not permitted to touch the dohyo that the professional male sumotori use.

Sumo is the extreme ballet of giants. A Sumo match usually lasts just seconds and success depends on a lighting-fast start. That's why stout athletes looking clumsy must be incredibly quick. The heaviest American male sumoist weighs 330 kg (727LB). In the recent past he was a world champion but since he lost speed he was unable to win even a bout. Heavyweights are queens of female Sumo. Then most famous are Olesya Kovalenko (110kg) and Veronika Kozlovskaya (170kg). A Sumo match is a tough and dynamic bout but sometimes you can see graceful pirouettes on the mat and flitting on one leg that it takes avid aesthetes' breath away. When women came out into the dohyo having overcome all obstacles, it turned out that this "men only" activity matches them very much. Besides, women practicing Sumo can be confident about their safety and actually shouldn't be afraid of traumas.

The spontaneous development of female Sumo came in handy for the authorities in Japan because one of the major conditions for a sport to be included in the Olympics is women's participating. During the past 3 – 4 years female Sumo teams are organized not only in Asia but also in Europe. The "men's only" activity turns out to be very fashionable for women! International paradox! Today two slanting swarthy girls may be seen on the small dohyo who weigh 165 kg – it's difficult to imagine so heavy oriental beauties, which were famous by their delicacy. Also blond Russians, Estonians and Germans are there.

Imagine a small spot – just 4.55 meters in diameter where two fighting giants have no room to maneuver. The one is lost who touches the dohyo by any part of the body, except bare feet or who is pushed out of the circle. Such simple rules allow everyone, even a novice who didn't know much about Sumo to figure out what is going on on the dohyo. Simple and spectacular! And massive sumoists develop a strange feature for combative activity – sensitiveness. You have to precisely feel dohyo, its borders and distance to the surface. In the old times the dohyo was bordered by paling consisting of sharpened bamboo steps. Fear of death made up the sensitiveness. Now the intuition acts instead.

There are 87 canonic techniques – "kimarite": various pushes, turnovers and throws. Although all the moves are numbered, classified and named quite esoterically Sumo is one of the most freestyle wrestling forms. Something about 700 more combinations of these moves exist. It has minimum restrictions: no punch but anything else – welcome. For the Russian unrestricted spirit Sumo is just a revelation! A real find!

In the traditional professional sumo wrestlers compete nude. This should symbolize purity of body and intentions: not bearing a grudge. Only closely woven cotton loincloth – "mawashi" (width of 40cm). It is thrust between legs and is winded around waist 5 times. You really have to have something to grasp at in order to throw the opponent out! But such a semi-striptease would distract spectators. What if the mawashi unwinds? So, in order not to generate spicy feelings female sumoists wear halter-tops, shorts (missing for men), and a belt ("mawashi") around their waist and on top of the shorts. Thus, the main distinctive feature of female sumoists (unlike male ones) clothing is covered hips.

In order to get weight sumotori eat special food. The Sumo wrestlers don't have breakfast but at about noon they feast on high caloric soup "tyanko-nabe" which is cooked in the special big pan. One-burner with the pan with water is installed in the middle of the table where the eaters are sitting around. After the water has boiled, bullion components are added there: soybean sauce, soybean pasta, sweet sake, chicken bones, garlic, ginger, sesame oil, brown seaweeds and dry tuna. After a while meat and seafood are added. During competitions chicken is more preferable than beef or pork. The reason is that a chicken stands on two feet whereas a cow and a pig – on four feet, which means defeat for a sumoist. So, chicken, fish, shrimps and mollusks are being boiled. The third stage of the cooking is flavoring the soup by mushrooms, onion, soy cheese, eggplants, Chinese cabbage, Korean spicy cabbage, seaweeds, radish dikon, amorphophallus jelly, carrots, radish, spinach. Besides, eggs, Japanese pasta and rice tablets. They take lees by sticks and drink bullion. Tyankonabe is eaten every day but it doesn't pall on wrestlers. Components change provides variety of food.

Sumo is the oldest wrestling style. Its age is more than 2000 years! Judo, Kun-fu, Ushu, and other Karate-Aikido are descended from Sumo. They say even Russian Sambo does too. But sumoists have never participated in Olympics. But now there is a hope that in the third millennium the oldest wrestling form will become a new young sport on the international arenas.

Female Sumo
The Sumo wrestler Miki Satoyama, right, threw her opponent during the heavyweight class of the Japan women's sumo championships in Sakai city, in southern Osaka on October 3, 2010.
Photo by Yoshikazu Tsuno/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
From New York Times

Female Sumo
Sylwia Krzemien, right, of Poland beating Francoise Harteveld of the Netherlands for a gold medal at the world championships, which Eastern Europeans dominated.
Photo by Janek Skarzynski/Agence France-Presse — Getty Image
From New York Times

Female Sumo
Female Sumo
Curious moments at female Sumo contests
Photo from Curious Pictures

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Last updated: November 1, 2004

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