sumo salt

An introduction to sumo

Since 3 of the big 6 yearly Sumo tournaments are held in Tokyo, it’s a frequent destination for KCP school excursions. Here’s the skinny on sumo.

Sumo wrestler Somagahana Fuchiemon, c. 1850

Sumo (相撲, sumō?) is a competitive full-contact sport where a wrestler (rikishi) tries to force another wrestler out of a circular ring (dohyō) or to touch the ground with anything other than the soles of the feet. The sport originated many centuries ago in Japan, the only country where it is practiced professionally.
Sumo is full of rituals from when it was part of the Shinto religion. First is a ring-entering ceremony, with all wrestlers dressed in ornate silk “aprons.” A leg-stomping shiko exercise drives evil spirits from the referree.

Ring-entering ceremony.

Two wrestlers step into the ring, squat facing each other, clap their hands, and then spread them wide (showing they have no weapons). They each purify the ring by tossing a handful of salt into it.


Rikishi crouch and stare each other down. Once they both place both fists on the ground on or behind the ring, they spring from their crouch for the initial charge.

The initial charge.

Life as a rikishi is highly regimented. Most rikishi must live in communal sumo training stables (heya), where everything, from meals to manner of dress, are dictated by strict tradition. All wrestlers have wrestling names. Rikishi grow their hair long to form a topknot, like samurai. The regimen of no breakfast plus a large lunch then a sleep helps rikishi put on weight to compete more effectively.

A sumo beya (arena).

Here’s a video of a sumo contest.

The official Grand Sumo site (Nihon Sumo Kyokai), where you can also buy tickets and see the schedule of matches, has some great sumo health exercises.
Sumo training includes some basic movements such as stamping, arm thrusting, and shuffling. Strengthening exercises draw the centre of gravity down to the lower abdomen (below the belly button) to strengthen and stabilize the spine, the body’s central axis.

Sumo squat exercises./Nihon Sumo Kiyokai

The site gives you 2 sets of exercises, with illustrations.  Try them!  Sumo wrestlers look chunky, but it’s *all* muscle!

[images wikimedia commons unless noted]