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05-19-2011, 11:25 AM
.heya. (http://www.flickr.com/photos/bass_nroll/3208668339) by bass_nroll used under creative commons license.So in war, the way is to avoid what is strong and to strike at what is weak.
Sun Tzu

"You needn't fight," I said. "You needn't fight it. Don't get tangled up in it. Just side-step, on to another ground."
D H Lawrence, Glad Ghosts

Lesson not just karate only, lesson for whole life. Whole life have a balance, everything be better. Understand?
Mr Miyagi, The Karate Kid (1984)

Of course I know the rules. Simple. You hit him, don't let him hit you.
Mr Han, The Karate Kid (2010)
Sumo bouts are fought on a clay dohyo or ring. In Japan people used to think that sumo was the ultimate martial art. Sumo wrestlers were the biggest and strongest and most respected athletes in Japan. They were scouted and recruited from a very young age. They would join a sumo stable in their mid-teens and start on a hard rigidly-structured life. If they were strong and talented - and lucky - they would work their way up the sumo hierarchy until eventually they were entitled to a salary. A very few would reach the highest rank, yokozuna. These were the stars. They were supposed to represent the world of sumo with dignity.

But in the last couple of decades sumo's rotten underside has started to become exposed. Sometimes wrestlers were discovered playing golf or drinking with yakuza - gangsters. There was evidence of illegal betting. Even respected elders of the sumo world like Chiyonofuji (Kokonoe), one of the greatest yokozuna in history, and Wakashimazu (Futagoyama), were linked indirectly through their wrestlers to gangsters or to illegal betting.

Even more serious were the constant rumours of matches being fixed. I have no doubt about it. Once I was in the Ryogoku Kokugikan on senshuraku (the last day of a sumo tournament) and saw a fight clearly being thrown. The loser had already got a majority of wins so didn't mind losing. The winner got his eighth kachi-koshi win so saved himself from demotion. They didn't even try to make it realistic. Check the first wikipedia link on sumo below and read the paragraph about match-fixing including the Freakonomics analysis. The rumours exploded into another major scandal in February 2011 when text messages explicitly referring to fixing bouts were discovered on mobile phones. The messages gave details of how matches should be thrown and how much money would change hands.

Another problem in sumo is bullying. In Japan in school sports clubs, especially in high school baseball, bullying is often tolerated. Club seniors and even teachers push junior members to harder levels of training and supposedly higher levels of achievement. Usually it is not bullying just for power or for example to steal money. The perpetrators would not consider what they were doing was bullying but rather as helping the junior students to improve. But the result is many teenage children, usually but not exclusively boys, have miserable lives in sports clubs. In sumo it reached a tragic and horrifying low point in 2007 when a young man who had decided to leave a sumo stable was beaten to death by his stablemaster and his seniors.

For many years there has been clear and systematic discrimination against foreign wrestlers. Takamiyama (Azumazeki) blazed the way by becoming a popular sekiwake, the third-highest sumo rank. Konishiki became a successful ozeki, the second highest sumo rank. Many people thought he should have become a yokozuna, a grand champion. Then Akebono, a sumo wrestler from Hawaii, finally became the first foreign yokozuna. Now there is a limit of one foreign wrestler per stable. After the Hawaiian pioneers and the Mongolian wave of strong wrestlers now there are also some well-known wrestlers from Europe: Kotooshu from Bulgaria came from greco-roman wrestling, Baruto from Estonia came from judo and was a nightclub bouncer, and Kokkai from Georgia was an amateur wrestler.

Yokozuna have gradually lost their aura of dignity. One yokozuna, Futahaguro (Kitao), was thrown out of sumo for hitting the wife of his stablemaster. He became a professional wrestler. Akebono was reported to have hit a woman in a bar. After he retired he needed money and left the sumo world completely also to become a professional wrestler in mixed martial arts. Now as well as dignity sumo lost its reputation for invincibility. Akebono only won once and lost many times to knockout punches and to submission techniques. In 2010 a very successful yokozuna from Mongolia, Asashoryu, hit a man in a bar. He was eventually thrown out of sumo too. The one good thing you could say about it was at least he hit a man. So that's three grand champions who have left sumo. In the last thirty years only twelve wrestlers have been promoted to yokozuna so that's a fail rate of 25%. In fact in the twenty-first century there have been only two new yokozuna, in fact both Mongolian, so Asashoryu's expulsion makes it a fail rate of 50% for this century. The other two foreign wrestlers who became yokozuna are Musashimaru from Hawaii who retired in 2003 and Hakuho from Mongolia who is currently the only active yokozuna. Musashimaru was a nice person as well as a great wrestler and Hakuho also seems to be an excellent yokozuna on and off the dohyo.

Akebono at his peak was an imposing and powerful wrestler. He had a great rivalry with the Hanada yokozuna brothers Takanohana and Wakanohana that revived sumo's popularity. He was over 2 m (6 ft 8) and weighed 230 kg (500 pounds). Although his centre was a little high because of his long legs his forward thrusting and pushing attacks were almost irresistible. But even though Akebono was theoretically one of the strongest martial artists in Japan he had never trained against punches or joint techniques or choking techniques. So in MMA he was like a beginner and in his professional fights he had too many weaknesses. In Japan for many years there have been international budo seminars run by the Nippon Budokan. You train in your own martial art but there is also an opportunity to experience other budo. I saw some people try sumo. Perhaps they thought they would be able to throw the big guys from the sumo club. I don't think any of them could do it though. It's very simple. If you've never learned to do a belt throw how can you expect to do it. You don't fight on your opponent's ground. You don't go where your opponent is strong. You don't play by your opponent's rules.

Konishiki was the heaviest wrestler ever. He is a popular TV personality and he owns a restaurant in Tokyo with a nice name: あんばらんす. Unbalance. It's a cool name because foreign words in Japanese are normally written in katakana but this is in hiragana so it has a different impact. Unbalance is kuzushi. It's one of the fundamental principles in all martial arts.

If unbalance is the reverse side - the ura - then the positive side - the omote - is balance. Always keep your balance. In everything. If sumo had kept its balance it would still be respected. I hope it can get its balance back. It's a wonderful sport.

~ * ~

wikipedia articles
glossary of sumo words
list of sumo techniques
very interesting article about Takanohana
interview with Baruto

free download of The Art of War by Sun Tzu

free e-book of The Woman Who Rode Away and other stories by D H Lawrence from project gutenberg of Australia

cool sumo photo http://www.flickr.com/photos/bass_nroll/3208668339/ .heya. by bass_nroll used under creative commons licence

http://www.aikiweb.com/blogs/moon-in-the-water-19051/ my blog on aikiweb

niall matthews 2011
Niall Matthews lives with his family in Japan. He teaches aikibudo and community self-defence courses and has taught budo for twenty-five years. He was the senior deshi of Kinjo Asoh Sensei, 7 dan Aikikai. He was the exclusive uke of Sadateru Arikawa Sensei, 9 dan Aikikai, at the hombu dojo in Tokyo for thirteen years until Arikawa Sensei's death in 2003. He has trained in several other martial arts to complement his aikido training, including judo (he has 4 dan from the Kodokan in Tokyo), kenjutsu (for about ten years) and karate (for about three years). He originally went to Japan as a staff member of the EU almost thirty years ago. He received 5 dan from Arikawa Sensei in 1995. This 5 dan is the last aikido dan he will receive in his life. His dojo is called Aikibudo Kokkijuku 合気武道克輝塾. Arikawa Sensei personally gave him the character for ki in kokki. It is the same character as teru in Sadateru - not the normal spelling of kokki 克己. It means you make your life shining and clear yourself.

05-19-2011, 04:25 PM
Well said and referenced. Compliments and appreciation.

I have enjoyed you joining the columns.

Knowing when to move and when to stand firm.

Wisdom/serentity is knowing the difference.

graham christian
05-20-2011, 07:39 AM
Interesting. You paint a nice clear picture albeit an unfortunate one. I remember watching Akabono on T.V.

Another thing I watched in the beginning was K1. What I found fascinating there was how a martial artist from one discipline starts off usually discovering what he doesn't know how to do or how to defend against and so I'd watch that fighters progress to see his improvement in those weak areas.

Like you pointed out with the sumo, there were professional boxers who found they didn't know how to protect against kicks, especially to the legs. Things outside of their usual parameters taking their minds and their centers and physically of course taking them out.

More study and harmony needed me thinks, less feet of clay.

Thanks for the column Niall. G.

05-20-2011, 07:53 AM
Enjoyed this.



05-20-2011, 09:12 AM
Dear all.
Not the same discipline as Sumo, however Anton Geesink , the virtually unbeatable judoka, a tower of a man, ventured into tag team wrestling. Having seen this man at his peak, [he was amazing ] it was pretty disappointing to see him reduced to the wrestling/entertainment industry.
cheers, Joe

05-20-2011, 09:20 AM
Dear Niall,
Good article.Brings back memories of Sumo on the tele.Syd Hoare the judoka used do comment on Sumo on the BBC ? a long while ago.
While Akebono was a big guy, I never really thought he had any skill other than he was huge[mild understatement/My own favourite was Chihonfuji, not big by Sumo standards , but what a technician. He was fast , powerful and lots of skill.
Cheers, Joe.

05-20-2011, 09:44 AM
The recent article on Sumo lead me to write this piece about another incredible man.His name was Ghulam Muhammed aka The Great Gama. He was born circa 1882, died 1953.In a wrestling career of 50 years he never lost a bout.He toured England and accepted challenges from all and sundry.One of his most famous bouts was against the Polish strongman and wrestler the legendary Stanislaus Zbysko. The ensuing bout ended in 46 sec .
His training methods were quite simple,he did thousands of squats a day using a 93 kg weight [not a barbell].He also spent his time doing press ups.
I rate him and the Mighty Atom [an old time strongman who could bite through silver dollars and hold back a single prop airplane with his hair ]as two of the greatest strength athletes ever.
cheers, Joe

05-20-2011, 08:24 PM
Thank you, Lynn and Graham and Daren and Joe for your comments.

Anton Geesink died in 2010. He was really respected in Japan. Of course it was for winning the gold medal at the Tokyo Olympics in 1964. But Japanese people also remembered the class he showed waving his cheering team mates back so he could bow formally to his opponent. http://www.guardian.co.uk/sport/2010/sep/06/anton-geesink-obituary

Thanks for that background on those great old strength athletes, Joe. I agree Chiyonofuji (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chiyonofuji_Mitsugu) was a great yokozuna - the best sumo wrestler I ever saw. That wikipedia article mentions his last tournament. He lost to a young rising star Takahanada who also became a great yokozuna after that. Half of Japan was watching that fight. It was a clear changing of the guard.

Chris Li
05-21-2011, 01:37 AM
Dear Niall,
Good article.Brings back memories of Sumo on the tele.Syd Hoare the judoka used do comment on Sumo on the BBC ? a long while ago.
While Akebono was a big guy, I never really thought he had any skill other than he was huge[mild understatement/My own favourite was Chihonfuji, not big by Sumo standards , but what a technician. He was fast , powerful and lots of skill.
Cheers, Joe.

Chiyonofuji was great - but even he had respect for the power generated by the big boys: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ky54AVtT7UQ



05-21-2011, 02:58 AM
Thank you Niall for this interesting column.And thanks for the great advice: Always keep your balance in everything.Get the balance right, Depeche Mode (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ibeXowYyaxA)
the song (http://www.poemhunter.com/song/get-the-balance-right/)
Here in the Canary Islands we have a wrestling with a few similarities to the Sumo: the Lucha Canaria (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Canarian_wrestling)
A video (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VwgeOZajFp4)

05-21-2011, 06:37 AM
Thank you Niall for this interesting column.And thanks for the great advice: Always keep your balance in everything.Get the balance right, Depeche Mode (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ibeXowYyaxA)
the song (http://www.poemhunter.com/song/get-the-balance-right/)
Here in the Canary Islands we have a wrestling with a few similarities to the Sumo: the Lucha Canaria (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Canarian_wrestling)
A video (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VwgeOZajFp4)

How about the wrestling done in many of the tavernas in the Canary Islands when a bunch of merrymakers from the U.K
get 'blootered' ie drunk and start engaging in the Battle of Bannockburn/World War 2/ or Rangers and Celtic-or even argue over whose next to buy a round of drinks for 40 guys?
Cheers, Joe.

Linda Eskin
05-22-2011, 01:34 AM
Thank you, Niall. I have been entirely ignorant of Sumo (aside from ambient pop-culture references, of course). I appreciate the introduction and insights. It's a shame that in any sport where money is involved, disgraceful behavior is usually found somewhere.

05-22-2011, 06:17 AM
Thanks Carina and Linda. Korean and Mongolian wrestling have a lot of similarities to sumo. In some parts of England we have catch as catch can (http://www.the-exiles.org/Article%20Brief%20His%20of%20Eng%20Wrestling.htm). Niall

Demetrio Cereijo
05-22-2011, 06:28 AM
There's also an interesting folk style of wrestling in Cornwall (like in many other places in western Europe with a celtic culture background), and there is a legend about the jacket they use as the origin of the jacket used in Judo.

Regarding Canary Islands wrestling. It has more similarities with Ssireum (korean wrestling) than with Sumo.

05-22-2011, 06:45 AM
Thanks Demetrio. I know about Cornish wrestling and the jackets but I don't know the legend. Niall

graham christian
05-22-2011, 07:22 AM

A wee bit of humour on the topic. Two well known professionals trying a bit of sumo. Quite good for amateurs I thought.


05-22-2011, 09:44 AM
Hi Joe,
It would be interesting to see one or two of this merrymakers confront a canarian wrestler, I'm sure they would get fresh immediately:)

chris wright
05-24-2011, 02:00 AM
Hi Niall, another great article - i remember watching Sumo on TV years ago, i was really impressed with how flexible the wrestlers were.

On a side note the novel - 'the leopard' by Richard La Plante deals with the underworld and Sumo.
All the best

05-25-2011, 07:20 AM
Thanks Niall for this interesting column. It's sad that such a traditional sport has fallen into this sad state.
I had the opportunity to see live sumo only once when the "Sadogatake Beya" visited Israel (http://www.israel.emb-japan.go.jp/eojfiles/eojprofiles/Sumo2006.htm) a few years ago. They held a demonstration in the ancient Roman theater in the archeological park of Caesarea (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Caesarea_Maritima). I'm pretty sure that the Romans didn't have sumo performances but the ancient theater provided the appropriate feeling of a wresting show.

Diana Frese
05-25-2011, 08:30 AM
Hi Niall and "comment-ators' I'm still reading around and checking the links on this fascinating topic. I can't restrain myself any longer from remarking that, for fun, we once tried sumo at NY Aikikai, Yamada Sensei's dojo. He was, of course, formidable in seated kokyu ho (then called kokyu dosa) most of us couldn't budge him, except if he allowed us, to show us if we had the right balance and were extending correctly....

So for about a week or so, I think it was, we tried some sumo under his direction, and it wasn't just to be funny, although we laughed a lot. We were even given sumo names. Sensei was Yamadayama, his friend Maruyama Shuji Sensei, was Maruyamayama, I was Daianayama, and of course there are other suffixes from nature that people got for their "sumo names"...

We even had the name chant, "Nishi wa ...." "Higashi wa"
(on the west, and , on the east) similar to the boxing designation "in this corner..."

We tried to do the leg stretch in the air and the heavy stamp afterwards ... and the funny thing is the smaller, lighter dojo members did okay! There was a lot we learned about balance, and focus, etc....

It was a good experience, it was valuable. It's too bad the sport has gotten the downside of fame and fortune. In our dojo, many years ago, a brief intro to sumo was "all good"...

Hope this story from decades ago gives you all a smile...

05-26-2011, 09:03 AM
Thanks Graham - yeah Bob Sapp's background was American football so maybe he was more used to an explosive start from a crouch.

Thanks Chris - yes those guys are very flexible. I'll look out for that novel.

Thanks Ziv, that must have been very impressive in the Roman theater.

Thanks Dianayama - that sounds like a great idea!