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Sumo: More Than Just a Martial Art – Rules

Date Published: Last Update:2015/05/22 Traditional Culture ,

In our last post about the Japanese traditional martial art sumo, we learned about its history. In this post, we will learn more about its rules and features.

Sumo Rules

The rules of sumo are simple: the wrestler who first exits the ring or touches the ground with any part of his body besides the soles of his feet loses. On the other perspective, the winner of a sumo bout is either the first wrestler to force his opponent to step out of the ring or the first wrestler to force his opponent to touch the ground with any part of his body other than the bottom of his feet.

There are also a number of other less common 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).

Matches consist solely of a single round and 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. Traditionally, sumo wrestlers are renowned for their great girth and body mass is often a winning factor in sumo. There are no weight divisions in professional sumo, and considering the range of body weights in sumo, an individual wrestler can sometimes face an opponent twice his own weight. However, with superior technique, smaller wrestlers can control and defeat much larger opponents.

sumo2

There are no weight restrictions or classes in sumo, meaning that wrestlers can easily find themselves matched off against someone many times their size. As a result, weight gain is an essential part of sumo training. (Photo by Stefan Bock on Flickr)

After the winner is declared, an off-stage gyōji (or referee) determines the kimarite (or winning technique) used in the bout, which is then announced to the audience.

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 very nearly 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.

dohyo

Matches take place on an elevated ring (dohyo), which is made of clay and covered in a layer of sand. (Photo by DozoDomo on Flickr)

The Sumo Ring

The ring, called dohyo, is 4.55 m (14.9 ft) in diameter and 16.26 square m (175.0 sq ft) in area, of rice-straw bales on top of a platform made of clay mixed with sand. A new dohyō is built for each tournament by the bout callers (or yobidashi). At the center are two white lines, the shikirisen, behind which the wrestlers position themselves at the start of the bout. A roof resembling that of a Shinto shrine may be suspended over the dohyō.

On our next post, we will know more about professional sumo.

References:

1. Sumo. Wikipedia.

2. Sumo. Japan Guide.

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