SUMO: (Part 5) THE BEST BOUT

 

In the last post I show a “epic” bout shot by shot – at least that is what it looks like on the camera. Here is what that same bout looks like on video.

The 11 second match

Here is a great example of the “psychological” part of the game. It actually worked. The gaijin sumo wrestler came up red faced and visibly flustered. The next time he stepped into the ring he lost.

The “psych”

 

The ultimate throw down.

The throw down

 

After this match just as gyoji was about to officially recognize the winner with his fan, the referee shouted out.

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The simpan conferred with the gyoji to decide if the win was official.

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After much discussion, he remained the winner.

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This match is blurry (My first video with the camera, still learning), but a great match.  Takanoyama Shuntaro, a Czech wrestler who weighs 50-80 kg less than his opponents.

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Takanoyama Shuntaro, Czech wrestler

 

This was a match with a ton of build up. Lots of pre-bout peacocking around to psych each other out. Had I blinked I would have missed it.

Shortest match of the day

SUMO: (Part 4) A BOUT SHOT BY SHOT

 

The build up, the build up, the build up. Crowds cheering. People yelling the names of their favourite wrestlers and taunts or encouragement (I have no idea which – but there was a lot of yelling) and the wrestlers place their fists on the ground …..

The bout doesn’t start by any special signal given by the referee, but when both wrestlers feel that they are mentally “ready”, and that their preparations have synchronized. It is only when both of them have placed their fists on the ground that the bout truly begins. But if the gyoji decides that one of the wrestlers has not placed both of his fists on the ground before the start (or if the opposing rikishi decides that he wasn’t completely ready) the bout is stopped cold (matta). The two opponents must now turn back to the starting position.

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The tachi-ai, that moment when two rikishi throw themselves against their opponent, is one of the most important phases. In fact, a good start most often allows the rikishi in question to fight the bout in the style that fits him the best.

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You can “feel” the impact.

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From that point on, the matches had a great variation. Some were over in the blink of an eye while a few were epic matches with the titans wrestling, pushing and trying to get the advantage.

Shot by shot, this looks like an epic battle (shot with my Canon 5D Mark III, 70-200mm f/2.8).

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The final shot that decided the outcome.

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But this wasn’t my favourite match of the day. I happened to catch that one on video.

SUMO (Part 3): THE PRE-BOUT RITUALS

 

The match is a multi-step process. It begins with the wrestlers entering the stadium and sitting across from each other, beginning the psychological battle.

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When the preceding match ends, both wrestlers rise and move toward the ring to begin a series of purification rituals. The yobidashi (announcer) will signify the start of the next match by signing out the names of the two wrestlers.

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They rise, and step up onto the dohyo. While facing each other, they look straight into the eyes, lean, and then turn towards their “corner”, located respectively at south-east and south-west.

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The first move, performed simultaneously by the both wrestlers, is the shiko. With the feet exactly at the rope edge (tawara) that marks the border of the sacred circle, and turning their backs to the center of the dohyo, they squat, clap their hands, raise their right leg as high as possible, and stomp it back on the ground loudly, then proceed to do the same routine with their left leg.

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Then they rise, step over the tawara, and squat down again in their corner. There, they receive the chikara-mizu, a ladleful of the “strength water” with which they rinse their mouth, and also the chikara-gami, a piece of paper they use to wipe their lips afterwards.

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During this time, it is the gyoji’s (referee) turn to announce the names of the two wrestlers, in a very high-pitched and specially trained voice. Once their purification is done, the two rikishi direct themselves simultaneously to the side of the circle where they entered, straight east or straight west. Again, they squat down facing each other, knees wide (this position is called ‘sonkyo‘). They clap their hands powerfully once, and then raise their arms to a horizontal position, to show their opponent that they are not hiding any weapons and that they wish to meet in a fair fight.

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They then rise, and return once again to their own corner. It is at this moment that the kensho are presented. These banners symbolize the prize money, placed on the bout by the sponsors, that will be given to the winner of the bout. One banner represents each sum of money, and they are displayed and carried around the dohyo by the yobidashi.

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Not waiting for the yobidashi to descend from the dohyo with their banners, the rikishi grab a fistful of salt from a container placed in their attributed corner, and throw it on the dohyo as they re-enter it again simultaneously.

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This salt is meant to purify the arena upon which the battle will take place, and to drive away any malicious spirits. The wrestlers now place themselves at the center of the dohyo, exactly behind the shikiri-sen, these “starting lines” drawn on the ground. Separated by only centimeters, the wrestlers stare again deep into each other’s eyes, and perform another shiko: clapping their hands, lifting up their right leg, and then their left.

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They rise, step back one or two steps to reach their desired starting position, then they crouch down yet again, their backs straight, before rising and assuming the shikiri position: knees spread, body leaning to the front, fists placed on the ground. They repeat all this twice more: they return to their corner, take a drink, wipe their body, grab and throw the salt, return to the center of the dohyo and assume the shikiri position.

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The wrestlers make a great show during these steps to “psych” each other out. In the junior matches they are not allowed to take these steps and years ago there was no time limit so they could go into the start position and stop infinitum. With each return to the side of the ring the crowd gets louder and louder.

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On a number of occasions the wrestler would grab an abnormally large handful of salt which would work the crowd into a frenzy.

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After they have returned into the circle for the third time, the gyoji informs them that the time limit allocated for the preparation has been reached, and that they should now finally start the bout.

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SUMO (Part 1)

 

Skipped blogging this week as I was in San Francisco with 90,000 other people attending Dreamforce which was flat out amazing. There is a world of change happening and it is very exciting times in our industry.

Before I flew out we knocked another one off the ‘Tokyo Top 10’ and went out to a Sumo match at the Ryogoku Kokugikan, the sumo hall.

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We were in a box about 6 rows up in the 2nd section which were spectacular seats. Now the definition of a box is very different in Japan than in Canada, where a box is a huge space with a bar and food. A box in Japan is a small area about 1Mx1M with 4 mats and a fellow pops in and out serving you food (bento boxes, etc.), green tea and beer, etc. This was definitely a time where being a bit smaller would have helped.

The seats were spectacular and the whole Sumo process was fascinating, steeped in history, tradition and well defined process. The match is fought in a dohyo, which is the sumo ring. The dohyo is 18 feet square and 2 feet high and is constructed of a special form of clay. Over the dohyo is a roof resembling a Shinto shrine with four giant tassels in each corner signifying the seasons of the year.

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Play the “3 of these are not like the others” game and spot my family (smile).

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A sumo match at the core is pretty simple, you win by forcing your opponent out of the inner circle or making something other than the flat of the foot touch the dohyo.

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However getting to this point is far from simple …

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