FOR MANY OF US, sumo wrestling is a shoving match between two monumental males in diapers and prime buns. They’re thought of “athletes,” certain, however their solely job is to be fats and to slam into one another. Sure, they’re burlier than an NFL linebacker. However prime sumo wrestlers even have the velocity off the block of a sprinter, the pliability of a yogi, and the psychological stamina of a Trappist monk. Skilled sumo doesn’t have weight lessons, that means a 600-pound wrestler can face off in opposition to somebody 200 kilos. Nonetheless, it’s not sufficient to be the heaviest man within the ring.
“Most individuals don’t perceive that sumo wrestlers are very athletic,” says two-time champion Byambajav Ulambayar, who goes by Byamba. He’s initially from Mongolia and is among the most acknowledged wrestlers world- broad. “Professional sumo wrestlers are fast, versatile, robust, and fairly robust,” he says.
A conventional sport of Japan is lastly getting its due this aspect of the Pacific. USA Sumo, the game’s largest booster within the States, has seen an uptick in newbie participation, together with amongst ladies. Just lately, sumo was acknowledged by the Worldwide Olympic Committee—a vital step in getting it included in future Video games. There’s been a concerted effort to spur curiosity within the cloistered sport. Sumo’s governing physique in Japan has sometimes despatched its professional wrestlers on worldwide excursions, and sumo tournaments in Japan have extra English translations than ever earlier than.
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Don’t mistake this for modernization. A part of sumo’s attraction is how little it has modified in 2,000 years. That begins with an athlete’s complete devotion. Professionals dwell in a heya, or steady, which homes wherever from just a few wrestlers to dozens. There are round 40 heya, largely positioned within the Ryogoku neighborhood of Tokyo. They eat, sleep, and practice beneath the supervision of a toshiyori, or steady grasp. Exercises span 4 to seven hours a day, six days per week, in preparation for matches that usually final lower than 20 seconds.
The foundations of sumo are easy. If any a part of your physique touches the bottom besides the soles of your ft, otherwise you step or fall exterior the straw perimeter of the dohyo (ring), you lose. The one off-limits strikes are closed-fist punching, eye poking, and crotch grabbing. Every little thing else is honest sport. Anticipate to see plenty of pushing, throws, slapping, force-outs, leg sweeps, and the occasional physique slam.
To coach for this, wrestlers begin at daybreak on an empty abdomen, with an hour of aspect stomps, or shiko. Wrestlers squat, carry one leg to the aspect as excessive as they will, and stomp down—150 to 300 instances. They practice full splits in addition to correct tumbling method. “You’ve to have the ability to twist and transfer in a small area,” says Andrew Freund, director of USA Sumo. In main tournaments, the clay ring sits atop a platform, so getting shoved off ends with a two-foot drop to the ground. “In the event you’re stiff like a bodybuilder, you’ll get injured,” Freund says.
After that come calisthenics and velocity work to construct explosive energy, and method drills. The center of the exercises is sparring. It’s quiet—no music, no chatter among the many wrestlers, simply grunting and the slapping sound of flesh on flesh. Lastly comes butsu-kari. It’s much like coaching with a blocking sled in soccer. One wrestler stands tall whereas one other slams into him, pushing to the sting of the ring. That is carried out to exhaustion.
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All that burns plenty of energy, which get changed by a conventional meal of sumo stew referred to as chanko-nabe (see recipe, proper). It’s made in gigantic portions by junior members of the heya. Each part is athletic gas. The broth—which will be constructed from fish, pork, beef, or hen—comprises electrolytes, which assist with hydration and cell operate. There’s clear protein from issues like hen balls, prawns, and soft-boiled eggs, for constructing muscle. Noodles comprise energy-replacing carbohydrates, and greens and spices provide nutritional vitamins, minerals, and anti inflammatory compounds. Wrestlers have their very own recipe. The professional athletes eat a number of large bowls of chanko, together with a ton of rice and beer. A protracted nap follows, then further coaching and group conferences. Cap the day with extra chanko and rice, then it’s time for mattress.
No must don a mawashi (belt) to undertake some sumo habits. In the event you’re in Japan, attend a match or head to a heya that enables guests to look at morning observe. Nearer to residence, attempt grappling at a neighborhood martial arts faculty, or simply eat just a few bowls of sumo stew.