Saturday, April 3, 2010

Americans, I have to say, a lot of us look at sumo wrestling as gross. I mean, what is it but a couple of obese men wearing diapers and shoving each other? How could something so icky be the national sport of any country, let alone a country as staid and understated as Japan is?

Every country is like this, probably, but we tend to knock things before we try them. How many of us has actually seen a sumo match? There's a drama to the sport that's addicting. It's fast paced. It's man against man. It's sheer strength and brute force on display. The men are disciplined, and (usually) reverent about the sacred nature of their sport.

Most of us wouldn't know that a typical match lasts less than 10 seconds. And unlike in American wrestling, there are no size categories. The lightest man can be pitted against the heaviest--and the heavier man has the advantage but no guarantee.

Over 70 official techniques are recognized by the Japan Sumo Association, and fans keep stats on which wrestler used which technique to defeat whom, just like baseball fans know which pitcher uses which pitch to strike out a batter.

I'm not a long time fan, and I still haven't seen a live match, but thanks to the wonderful world of youtube, anyone in the world can see the competition. There are official, two-week long tournaments six times a year, and new footage is being posted all the time (so I won't post a specific link here, as it will be outdated soon.) It's fascinating, and while it may never catch on here in the U.S. where we celebrate all things lean, there's something to appreciate about the strength of a man trained in hand to hand (or shoulder to shoulder) combat.

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