Winning In Sumo. “Simple” Sport?

OK. Please bear with me for a few paragraphs. I have been hesitant to write this up because this is strictly opinion and I hate writing strictly opinion because I can be (and often am) wrong about things (not just sumo related). Also, sometimes I have been known to beat a dead horse after the worms already got to it and turned it to dust. So if this discussion bores you, I’m not hurt by you ignoring me. But, as a sumo fan, I have come to understand that the sport is NOT as clear cut as, “Winner touches last.”

One good example of the hidden complexity of the sumo rules is clear after the Hattorizakura/Ishihara bout. Thanks to Jake, Leonid, and John Gunning explaining this…but like Leonid mentioned on Twitter, I like to see rules written down. There’s an NHK Sumopedia video explaining tsuridashi. But what is the rule? Tsuridashi, according to the Sumo Kyokai website, does not mention that a wrestler is allowed to walk out.

A bout is won by forcing the opponent out of the inner circle or throwing him in the dohyo. To lose the match, it is not necessary to fall in the circle or to be pushed completely out. The rikishi who touches the ground with any part of his body, his knee or even the tip of his finger or his top-knot, loses the match. Or he need only put one toe or his heel over the straw bales marking the circle.

“The Sumo” pg 3 by NSK

Unfortunately, Sumo Kyokai documentation is not quite as clear to explain. The text above is from the English-language pamphlet on the Sumo.or.jp website. USAsumo also claims that the rules “in both pro and international sumo” are “very simple”. “Either force your opponent out of the 15-foot diameter “dohyo” (sumo ring) or make your opponent touch the ground with any part of the body other than the soles of the feet.” Takakeisho did this last night to Enho. Enho did NOT do this to Takakeisho.

In a strict interpretation of the English as I’m still trying to find the Japanese, in neither case does it say, “when”. If my opponent forces me out but I land last, perhaps because I fell a farther distance (as in over the side of the dohyo), he still forced me out. In the case of Enho, the decisive move was the force applied by Takakeisho which resulted in Enho falling back and out. Enho’s mawashi touch (which connected) and the attempted trip (which missed completely) had nothing to do with Takakeisho’s trajectory out of the ring.

Anyway, we also see instances of wrestlers leaping beyond the plane of the dohyo or cases like last night’s Enho bout. Whether it be the “dead body rule” or another rule for these certain special occasions, it is clear that what should be simple, isn’t. But it can still be logical and does not have to be at the whim of whomever is enforcing the rule at the moment. I find this a favorable interpretation because (to me) it is just. But I could be wrong and when I am, I like to be skewered with indisputable evidence. Thank you for sticking with my train of thought and making it this far. :) Feel free to skewer me in the comments.

What’s all the commotion? Part 1: Name calling

Unlike most western spectator sports, the voices of the yobidashi and the gyoji are part of the sumo experience. But what exactly are they saying?

There are two main types of vocals during a day of grand sumo. One is the yobiage, calling of the participants’ names. This starts with the yobidashi calling out the names in sing-song fashion, and continues with the gyoji, who announces the names, and in certain matches, also adds an additional sentence about the nature of the match.

The other type is the vocals during a match. These are the exclusive domain of the gyoji. We will explain those in part 2. In part 1, we’ll concentrate on the match announcements.

Continue reading