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A sumo mountain
by Thanos Kalamidas
2007-09-27 08:47:28
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However strange it may sound, out of my Japanese experiences what I enjoyed the most is sumo and after so many years I still watch it every time I have the chance! As a fan of football and classic sports, I never really liked boxing or wrestling. I don’t know why, there is something raw and barbaric about them; I suppose the thirst of blood not only between the athletes but also between the spectators has always kept me away.

Sumo on the other hand is a totally different case. Its history and the myths stand behind the two men who, within seconds, will be attempting to push the other out of the small circular ring known as dohyō. It's like two big solid mountains fighting, an epic fight, like a part of a saga.

The first time I watched a sumo tournament was in a huge arena in the suburbs of Tokyo, after a friend spent two days explaining to me the philosophy behind the training, how the sumo committee works and how the sumo fighters fight. Two days and then I realized that the actual sumo fight, the very first I watched, lasted less than forty seconds, including the ceremonial movements.

These young men are really dedicated to the sumo life style that has little difference from the traditional samurai life style. It is a combination of mysticism, mind exercise and physical power, while the grand masters of the sport (yokozuna) are legends. After watching the tournament, I remember my friend spending hours telling me stories about these men, stories that often reminded of sagas of bravery and dedication, and I know it sounds odd but this fight that lasted only seconds took dimensions of a huge fight that would take me hours to describe.

But then that’s what sumo is about. It is more about understanding the moves; it is what is behind all of it and what is coming out in only seconds - and then only if you are lucky to see it. Another if, if that sport meant or better communicated so much to me, how much does it mean for the people who actually practice it, the actual sumo fighters? These men transform all this spiritual and mystical experience for a quiet audience with ceremonial figures in seconds. It is the perfect play, the dream of every performer because that’s what these men are, performers.

But that’s the sensitive part, over the last few years, people from all around the world have been missing the point of what is behind sumo. These people saw two big men pushing each other in a small sand pile, trying to move each other from a white circle, and, of course, they saw the money because there is a great deal of money, glory and fame awaiting a yokozuna, the highest rank in professional sumo. They joined the Japanese league and even held the title of yokozuna, but they are pushing away Japanese people who had dedicated a lifetime to the sport.

A yokozuna is a role model for thousands, especially for kids, which is why before standing on this 'sand pile' a sumo fighter spends a lot of time learning to be humble, respectful and inspiring respect not with his size but with his actions - a real samurai. But then some thought that it is all just about fame and money, such as the latest sumo legend, seven-year holder of the yokozuna title, the Mongolian-born Asashoyu. He is the unfortunate example of this category and with his actions has brought the sumo association to a crisis.

Sumo is the national Japanese sport but very correctly the association gave any nationality the right to participate, so for the last few years there have been sumo fighters from all around the world participating in the national tournaments, including Russians, Chinese, Bulgarians and even Finns to name some. Most of them move to sumo from wrestling after finding the sport more suitable to their physical abilities or perhaps more profitable.

However bitter the truth and despite the fact that they have to go through training that includes the spiritual side of the sport, they are missing the point. Actually, missing the point leaves just the raw physical force and that means that they often beat the ones who have spent a lifetime learning the ways of sumo.

The big question then for the sumo association is if they should stop accepting foreigners into the tournament and if Asashoyu's punishment should extend to the harder move of expelling him totally from the sport. But then the man is a strong franchise and a money magnet for the association that organizes all these tournaments at a time when football is becoming increasingly popular in Japan pushing sumo more to the side.

I know, I know, I’m just a foreigner who has watched only a few tournaments but I have totally enjoyed these tournaments and to everybody’s amusement every time there is sumo on television I watch it, but all that definitely doesn’t make me a sumo expert. What it does make me is a real fan of sumo as a whole experience and not just the fighting and I think that's how it should be for the sumo fighters as well. If a sumo fighter cannot understand the experience and communicate it then he just becomes a piece of raw meat asking for blood and that is definitely not sumo.

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Emanuel Paparella2007-09-27 11:00:27
Indeed, take the spiritual out of any traditional sport which has assumed the qualities of a ritual for a people and what you are left is sadism, slaughter and brutality. This applies to the Spanish corrida de toro too. I have to remind my students of that, at least those who think of the corrida as a barbaric sport of sort by a semi-barbaric people who like to see a bull tormented and slaughtered. Strange that of these same students, when asked if they are vegetarian, few if any put up their hand, most of them are happy to merrely proceed to MacDonald to eat their brutally slaughtered cows better known as Big Mac. It is a brave new world!

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