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 2)

 

The sumo match is a multi-step process which spans the entire day. In the morning you have the lower ranked sumo and through the day watch the matches as they progress to the last 2 hours, when the makuuchi division (top ranked) enters the stadium:

A top division wrestler will arrive at the stadium in the afternoon and enter the changing room. There are ‘East’ and ‘West’ rooms so competing wrestlers do not meet their opponents of the day before the match. The wrestler will change first into his keshō-mawashi, an ornate, embroidered silk ‘apron’, which he will wear during the ring entering ceremony, or dohyō-iri. There are four dohyō-iri on each day, two for jūryō and two for makuuchi division wrestlers. In each case there is a procession of those in the east changing room and one for those in the west. During the ceremony the wrestlers are introduced to the crowd one-by-one in ascending rank order and form a circle around the ring facing outwards. Once the highest ranked wrestler is introduced they turn inwards and perform a brief ritual before filing off and returning to their changing rooms. Yokozuna have a separate, more elaborate dohyō-iri; see yokozuna.

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Their ornate keshō-mawashi, cost between 400,000-500,000 JPN ($6K+).

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A surprising number of gaijin were wrestling.

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Once in the changing room the wrestlers change into their fighting mawashi and await their bouts. The wrestlers reenter the arena two bouts before their own and sit down at the side of the ring. There are no weight divisions in sumo, and considering the range of body weights in sumo, an individual wrestler can sometimes face an opponent twice his own weight. When it is their turn they will be called into the ring by a yobidashi (announcer) and they will mount the dohyō.[16]

After the wrestlers leave the ring, the dohyo-iri begins:

T he leading roles in the dohyo-iri are reserved for the yokozunawho have not taken any part in the ceremony up to now. Ayokozuna comes down the aisle attended by a senior gyoji and two maku-uchi rikishi in kesho-mawashi one bearing a sword. Over his kesho-mawashi theyokozuna wears a massive braided hemp rope weighing from 25 to 35 pounds tied in a bow at the back and ornamented in the front with strips of paper hanging in zigzag patterns. This is a familiar religious symbol in Japan. It can be found hanging in Shinto shrines and in the home over the “shelf” of the gods where offering are made at New Year.

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Once completed, the final matches began.

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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