An Introduction to Sumo Wrestling: Rules, Regimen, Rigor

Sumo wrestling has been an institution that started in Japan during the Edo period as a form of sporting entertainment. Initially, wrestlers were likely to be samurai who needed to find an extra way of making money. Today, the sport has not only become popular with the general public but has spread all over the world. Many countries now have teams and participate in championships. Teams from Russia, Poland, Japan, and the United States tend to make the podium. But not only has the ancient sport spread to other countries, but it has also made its way to women.

Female sumo wrestlers face a slew of challenges. They struggle with the fact that their body types far from correspond to the standards of today’s society. These women are usually very overweight, but very muscular at the same time. It is an unusual aesthetic to be sure, but surely not one to be shamed by. Women wrestlers also deal with the fact that until recently, this sport was male-dominated, so they were not necessarily recognized for their talent.

An Introduction to Sumo Wrestling: Rules, Regimen, Rigor

The rules of sumo are pretty straightforward. A line is drawn around the wrestlers to create a ring. A sumo wrestler wins once he has his opponent touching the ground with any other part of the body than the soles of the feet. Another method of winning is when the opponent steps or is pushed out of the ring. A player is disqualified if their belt comes undone or if they use illegal methods of combat.

Bouts, or matches, usually only last a few seconds, though they have been known to last for several minutes. This is however rather unusual. They are traditionally practiced on a mixture of clay and sand. There are no weight categories in sumo, so a wrestler could end up sparring with someone twice their size. Although size is a major deciding factor in victory, highly skilled wrestlers can beat their opponents no matter their size. The record weight of a sumo wrestler was 366 pounds, but they are normally between 270 and 300 pounds. That being said, the wrestlers aren’t necessarily unhealthy as they do have regular exercise regimens.

An Introduction to Sumo Wrestling: Rules, Regimen, Rigor

Life as a sumo wrestler, male or female, is highly structured. The various rules are regulated by the Japan Sumo Association, which requires the athletes to live in communal sumo training stables. All aspects of their lives are regulated, from their manner of dress to their meals. These are in line with the traditions of the sport. For example, sumo wrestlers are not allowed to drive, although this is rarely an issue because they are usually too big to fit behind the wheel of a car. They are also required to wear their hair long in the traditional styles of the Edo period and to wear special traditional Japanese clothing that identifies them as sumo wrestlers even when they are out in public.

Members of the Japan Sumo Association are all former wrestlers and are the only people allowed near the current cohort to train them. As of 2007, 43 training stables hosted 660 wrestlers. All sumo wrestlers take on wrestling names that are given to them by their trainers or a supportive family member. This is especially the case for non-Japanese wrestlers. However, the names are not forever, they can be changed over the years. 

Sumo wrestlers put their bodies through the wringer, but they are not well paid for it. Depending on their rank, they are paid between $9,000 and $26,500 per year. That being said, given that they are housed and fed, the highest-paid wrestlers lead a passable quality of life.