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Sumo: More Than Just a Martial Art – The Sumo Wrestler

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

As sumo has its roots from a religious background (originally performed to entertain Shinto deities), sumo wrestlers lead a highly regimented way of life.

The Rikishi or The Sumo Wrestler

The Sumo Association prescribes the behavior of its wrestlers in some detail. On entering sumo, they are expected to grow their hair long to form a topknot, or chonmage, similar to the samurai hairstyles of the Edo Period. Furthermore they are expected to wear the chonmage and traditional Japanese dress when in public. Consequently, sumo wrestlers can be identified immediately when in public.

chonmage

Portrait of an Edo man with a chonmage hairstyle. (Image from Wikimedia Commons)

The Rikishi’s Lifestyle

The type and quality of the dress depends on the wrestler’s rank. Rikishi in jonidan and below are allowed to wear only a thin cotton robe called a yukata, even in winter. Furthermore, when outside they must wear a form of wooden sandals called geta that make a distinctive clip-clop sound as one walks in them. Wrestlers in the makushita and sandanme divisions can wear a form of traditional short overcoat over their yukata and are allowed to wear straw sandals, called zōri. The higher ranked sekitori can wear silk robes of their own choice and the quality of the garb is significantly improved. They also are expected to wear a more elaborate form of topknot called an ōichō (lit. big ginkgo leaf) on formal occasions.

sumo heya (2)

Sumo wrestlers wake up early for their daily exercise routine. (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Similar distinctions are made in stable life. The junior wrestlers must get up earliest, around 5 am, for training whereas the sekitori may start around 7 am. When the sekitori are training the junior wrestlers may have chores to do, such as assisting in cooking the lunch, cleaning and preparing the bath, or holding a sekitori’s towel. The ranking hierarchy is preserved for the order of precedence in bathing after training, and in eating lunch.

Wrestlers are not normally allowed to eat breakfast and are expected to have a form of siesta after a large lunch. The most common type of lunch served is the traditional sumo meal of chankonabe which consists of a simmering stew cooked at table which contains various fish, meat, and vegetables. It is usually eaten with rice and washed down with beer. This regimen of no breakfast and a large lunch followed by a sleep is intended to help wrestlers put on weight so as to compete more effectively.

In the afternoon the junior wrestlers will again usually have cleaning or other chores to do, while their sekitori counterparts may relax, or deal with work issues related to their fan clubs. Younger wrestlers will also attend classes, although their education differs from the typical curriculum of their non-sumo peers. In the evening sekitori may go out with their sponsors while the junior wrestlers generally stay at home in the stable, unless they are to accompany the stablemaster or a sekitori as his tsukebito (manservant) when he is out. Becoming a tsukebito for a senior member of the stable is a typical duty. A sekitori will have a number of tsukebito, depending on the size of the stable. The most junior are given the most mundane tasks and only the senior tsukebito will accompany the sekitori when he goes out.

The sekitori also are given their own room in the stable or may live in their own apartments, as do married wrestlers. In contrast, the junior wrestlers sleep in communal dormitories. Thus the world of the sumo wrestler is split broadly between the junior wrestlers, who serve, and the sekitori, who are served. Life is especially harsh for new recruits, to whom the worst jobs tend to be allocated, and there is a high dropout rate at this stage.

What do you think of a sumo wrestler’s life? Share it with us in the comments section below!

1. Sumo. Wikipedia.

2. Sumo. Japan Guide.

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