Sumo is a competitive contact sport where two wrestlers (Rikishi or Sumotori) face off in a circular area (dohyo). The sport is of Japanese origin and is surrounded by long ceremony and ritual. The Japanese consider Sumo a Gendai Budo (a modern Japanese martial art), even though the sport has a history spanning many centuries. Currently, there are two main form of Sumo – Professional Sumo and Amateur Sumo.
Professional Sumo is a competitive show, in which specially selected and grown heavyweight wrestlers compete (it’s clear, they must be male.)
Amateur Sumo is one of regular combative sports (like Greco-Roman wrestling) in which wrestlers grouped by weight categories compete each other according special rules.
Professional Sumo can trace its roots back to the Edo Period in Japan as a form of sporting entertainment. The original wrestlers were probably samurai, often ronin, who needed to find an alternative form of income.
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.
Currently professional Sumo is organized by the Japan Sumo Association. The members of the association, called oyakata, are all former wrestlers, and are the only people entitled to train new wrestlers. All practicing wrestlers are members of a training stable (heya) run by one of the oyakata, who is the stablemaster for the wrestlers under him. Currently there are 54 training stables for about 700 wrestlers. Boys selected for the professional rikishi career, are prepared from young age. By means of special caloric diet, they accumulate weight – professional Sumo is wrestling for super-heavyweights.
During past years, the sport of Sumo became very popular in many countries and continents. International Sumo Federation is recognized by MOK. In fact, Sumo has transformed from the activity for an elite to the most democratic and transparent combative sport.
Japanese wrestling Sumo is an ancient traditionally super weight men competition, which has had long traditions not to allow women even appear at a wrestling ring ("dohyo"). The main goal of a contest of two Sumo wrestlers ("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.
The winner and the loser of a Sumo bout are mainly determined by two simple rules:
- The first wrestler to touch the ground with any part of his body other than the soles of his feet loses.
- The first wrestler to touch the ground outside the circle loses.
On rare occasions the referee or judges may award the win to the wrestler who touched the ground first; this happens if both wrestlers touch the ground at more or less the same time and it is decided that the wrestler who touched the ground second had no chance of winning as, due to the superior Sumo of his opponent, he was already in an irrecoverable position. The losing wrestler is referred to as being shini-tai ("dead body") in this case.
There are also a number of other rarely used rules that can be used to determine the winner. For example a wrestler using an illegal technique (or kinjite) automatically loses, as does one whose mawashi (or belt) becomes completely undone. A wrestler failing to turn up for his bout (including through a prior injury) also automatically loses (fusenpai). After the winner is declared, an off-stage gyoji (or referee) determines the kimarite (or winning technique) used in the bout, which is then announced to the audience.
Matches often last only a few seconds, as usually one wrestler is quickly ousted from the circle or thrown to the ground. However they can occasionally last for several minutes. Each match is preceded by an elaborate ceremonial ritual. The wrestlers themselves are renowned for their great girth, as body mass is often a winning factor in Sumo, though with skill, smaller wrestlers can topple far larger opponents.
Sumo matches (basho) take place in a ring called a dohyo. In the strict sense, the dohyo is a top covering made of a mixture of clay and sand spread over the top of the ring. It is between 34 and 60 cm high. It is removed after each Sumo tournament, and sometimes pieces are taken home by the fans as souvenirs. A new dohyo is built prior to each tournament by the yobidashi, who are responsible for this activity. The yobidashi also build the dohyo for training stables and Sumo touring events. The circle in which the match takes place is 4.55 meters in diameter and bounded by rice-straw bales called tawara, which are buried in the clay.
Sometimes, a wrestler under pressure at the edge of the ring will often try to move himself round to one of these points to gain leverage in order to push back more effectively against the opponent who is trying to force him out.
At the center are two white lines, the shikiri-sen, behind which the rikishi must position themselves at the start of the bout. Around the ring is finely brushed sand called the ja-no-me (snake's eye), which can be used to determine if a wrestler has just touched his foot, or another part of his body, outside the ring. The yobidashi ensure it is clean of any previous marks immediately prior to each bout.
Sumo is an ancient traditionally superweight men competition, which has had long traditions not to allow women even appear at a wrestling ring ("dohyo"). 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 Sumotori 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 was considered as a taboo subject and should not be brought up with anyone involved in the "real" Sumo world.
As amateur Sumo has been born, the situation is dramatically changing. During past years Sumo from activity for select people became a popular sport; championships were organized in three categories (instead of one - superweight). For some reason, Sumo appears to be a very good sport for women. Women bravely stepped in this world and showed their worth quite successfully.
As for some other sports, there is a professional and an amateur side. That is where the International Sumo Federation (IFS) comes in.
The International Sumo Federation is a non-profit organization which represents amateur Sumo all over the world. Its main activities include supporting the Continental Sumo Unions and 84 National Sumo Federations in their promotion of Sumo, organizing Sumo World Championships, and lobbying the International Olympic Committee (IOC) in the goal to make Sumo an Olympic sport. Sumo is a sport for everyone, young and old, men and women and needs no expensive equipment, so is very easy to take-up. Every year National, Continental, and World Sumo Championships are held and, through the efforts of IFS and other federations, world-wide interest in Sumo is continuing to grow.
Interest in Shin Sumo (women's Sumo) is growing and 1997 saw the first major Sumo championship for women held in Japan. In October 2001, on the occasion of the 10th Sumo World Championships, that we held the 1st Shin Sumo World Championships in Aomori, Japan. In 2006 both the 14th Sumo World Championships and 5th Shin Sumo World Championships will be held on October 15th, 2006 in Sakai city, Osaka, Japan.
The rules of amateur Sumo are essentially the same as in professional Sumo, with only a few differences. In amateur Sumo there is less emphasis on the religious and ritual aspects of Sumo. There are two types of dohyo – the earth dohyo and the mat dohyo. The earthen dohyo is the same as in professional Sumo, whereas the mat dohyo is made up of a plastic sheet with attached tawara being placed over mats. IFS often donates mat dohyo and mawashi to National Sumo Federations to help promote Sumo. There are gyoji (referees), but they wear a uniform similar to amateur boxing referees – a white suit with a black bow tie. Out of respect for different religions and cultures, male wrestlers are allowed to wear spats under the mawashi, and female wrestlers must wear a leotard under the mawashi.
There are three weight categories (for men and women) as well as the open category:
- Lightweight – up to 85 kg, or 187 lbs
- Middleweight – up to 115 kg, or 253 lbs
- Heavyweight – over 115 kg
- Lightweight – up to 65 kg, or 143 lbs
- Middleweight – up to 80 kg, or 178 lbs
- Heavyweight – over 80 kg
Of course, super-heavyweights attract the most interest of audience since, as a matter of fact, this form of wrestling is designed for them (that is in accordance to the laws of mechanics) although Sumotori insist on importance of skills and technique (the most right bottom video clip confirms this statement). A few years ago two massive ladies dominated dohyo - Veronika Kozlovskaya form Belarus (2001 World champion) and Olesya Kovalenko (2000 World champion) from Russia. The present heavyweight star is Ekaterina Keyb from Russia. Her height is 5’11", weight - 352 lbs and shoe size – 12 (American men’s size) or 46 (European men’s size).
In 2005 the 4th Shin Sumo World Championships in Osaka, Japan following female sumotori became world champions:
- Light weight: Satomi Ishigaya (Japan)
- Middle Weight: Svetlana Panteleeva (Russia)
- Heavy weight: Sandra Koeppen (Germany)
- Open: Ekaterina Keyb, (Russia).
Russian Olesya Kovalenko was the third in the heavyweight division and Estonian Erge Nugis was the second in the middleweight division. The Russian team was a champion in the team competitions.
Russian sumotori, Anna Zhigalova, is a 2005 World Champion in team competitions and 2005 European Champion in heavy weight and teams competitions. Another Russian sumotori, middleweight Marina Dvoretskaya, is a 2005 European Champion in middle weight and 2004 silver medalist in the open category.
Alina Boykova of Ukraine won the lightweight gold medal on the World non-Olympic games in Germany in 2005. In 2004 she was a World Champion.
Judging by Runet (Russian WEB) materials, female Sumo is getting the first position among female contact sports. The number of essays and interview regarding the topic seems to exceed the number of such publications about the rest of female combative sports (see, for example, the section Digest). While Russian sources consider female Sumo just as a real sport, many foreign publications describe it as a circus erotic show designed for demonstration of plentiful female flesh.
So, what the reason of that high attention to women's Sumo? According to heavyweight Sumotori Olesya Kovalenko, this form of wrestling is the most natural for women since in a spontaneous skirmish they often use shoves and pushes. At the same time, she categorically disapproves women participating in weightlifting. She also considers Sumo to be a very sexy sport. In this connection, it should be noted that even a traditional man-Sumotori looks like a plump woman (let those noble people excuse us). The more so wrestling of real plump ladies is simply a feast of female element and female flesh. It's quite possible that Sumo is the most harmonious and spectacular style of female combative sports and it is more than the others right for women. The body contact is not that tight and there are no pouncing, holds and clutches, so possibilities of traumas of breasts and other fragile female parts is minimized. Heavyweights not only don't feel any discomfort but also have advantages. Besides, unlike other combative sports, Sumo moves are not too abrupt which better matches women's nature. So, it's possible that Sumo will become a very popular women's sport.
Sumo is exceptionally popular amateur self-organized entertainment, a form of fungrappling. It is easy going, straightforward and non-violent contest, in which women feel themselves comfortable. People of any bodily constitution, particularly overweighed people are welcomed in amateur Sumo.
Sid Hoare, president of the British Sumo Association, knows that female recruitment can be pretty difficult. He claims that it's difficult to get women doing Sumo. You can't go up to a woman and say, "Hey, I think you'd be good at Sumo."
Prominent female Sumotori:
Documentary. Highlights from the women's 2005 Sumo World championships in Osaka.
Story about Russian Sumo star Ekaterina Keyb. "News Sky"
Women's open weight matches from the 2006 US Nationals
The 2006 Gallup, New Mexico Sumo Open. Outdoor women's and men's Divisions. Finals
Outdoor Sumo matches. Women and mixed bouts
Outdoor women and mixed bouts from the IMT Basho, June 18th 2006. Women vs. women and women vs. men.
Ekaterina Keyb attacks Fernanda Pereira (Brazil). World Games, 2005
Ekaterina Keyb against Erika Makai (Hungary). World Championship, 2004
Ekaterina Keyb in training
Russian sumo team, champion in the team competition in the World championship in 2000 (on the foreground - Olesya Kovalenko)
Veronika Kozlovsaya is ready to go
Marina Dvoretskaya (80kg) defeats Rie Tsuihiji (162kg). World chamiponship, 2004
Olesya Kovalenko just pushed her opponent out of the circle
Pirouette. Photo by Ekaterina Ogarkova. Reprinted by the author's permission
Sumo matches episodes