There are no points or rounds, it's just one moment and you're done. And to add to the tension there's a lot of ritual beforehand-- walking up to the ring, meeting in the middle, going away, meeting again, going away again... Meanwhile they try to stay mentally tough and silently psyche out their opponent. No one ever makes overt threatening gestures, they just throw purifying salt into the ring with a cool casual attitude, slap their big bellies, and effect a modern tough guy look-- disinterested, almost sad. Then finally they meet in a crouch in the center of the ring, and when both rikishi (wrestlers) have their knuckles down, it starts.
Most of the matches start with a tachi-ai, a huge collision as both rikishi try to explode to the edge of the ring and force the other guy out. Sometimes that's all there is to a match-- one well-executed blast and it's game over. But if you can survive past that, it's anyone's game. Maybe you can use their momentum against them somehow? Maybe you can grab their belt and lift them up and out of the ring? Maybe you both go flying out but you manage to touch the ground last? All are valid ways of winning. There's no punching, kicking, or hair pulling, but slapping and sweeping the leg are both OK. Sometimes people get hurt, but unlike other martial arts, the goal is not to injure or even subdue the other person, you're just trying to get them to touch the ground or leave the ring.
The rikishi are famously large, but they're big in what I consider an old-fashioned way-- large, strong, and flexible, but with no muscle definition. Just all-over strong. Not to say that they don't work incredibly hard! It's just that muscle definition is not a goal. They put whatever vanity they might have had about having extremely cut muscles into having very precise hair, which is a great use of vanity points in my opinion.
Sumo tournaments are held periodically in huge halls over the course of 15 days, with each rikishi fighting multiple times. There's a ranking system that I don't understand yet, but that means you can do good at a tournament and not win it. If you're especially rooting for one rikishi, and they don't win the tournament, you can still say "damn, my guy did great" or "my guy held his own" or "better luck next time, my guy". Unlike, say, Wrestlemania, where you either win it all or you don't.
OK, enough synopsis, here's some links:
Every now and then I look on youtube for the longest videos I can find with english subtitles, here's one from 2018: [youtube]. Unfortunately this video is highlights, so they zip right to the fight, skipping a lot of the opening rigamarole. Still it's fun to watch. I recommend choosing a guy to root for in each match-- it's more fun that way. They flash their pictures on the screen at the start of each match, I pick purely on vibe. Sometimes I try to infer a character at the same time, like "Goeido, he looks like a kind grocer, he helps you bring your bags out to the car". Ah, you guys know how to watch TV, I don't have to lay it all out...
Despite being highlights, this video is like 6 hours long-- I would start from the beginning and watch an arbitrary amount of it before moving on to other videos, that way you get a baseline of what's going on. You can check in again as you learn more. Please note that the crowd is sitting riiiiight up against the ring and yes those big boys go flying right at you. As I understand it, it's an honor to sustain an injury.
There are more videos from other years but they're broken up into days-- if that befits your watching style, here's a channel with the past year's worth of tournaments, with English announcers: [youtube].
TV channel NHK has English-language sumo on their website but they only have the most recent tourney, which is kind of sad because everyone's sitting far away, uncrushable. As with the youtube stuff, it's highlights only, but I think they stream the tournaments live too, in which case you'd get the whole kit and kaboodle. But you have to figure out when to tune in, and then remember to do so. [NHK]
- If you want to get into rules and culture, there's a great series called Sumopedia. Each 2 minute episode focuses on a different aspect of sumo, and their shown in kind of a random order, which works for me. Again, you can watch as much or as little of this as you want, and come back later if you want more info. Sometimes I avoid context because I think I enjoy figuring things out myself, but really there's always a lot to figure out (in any domain) and having more info at the start rarely detracts from my enjoyment. [youtube]
- "Mongolian Eagle" is a good documentary about Kyokushuzan, a rikishi from Mongolia. There are a couple non-Japanese rikishi, mostly Hawaiians and Mongolians, and there's a guy from Georgia right now who's really good (Georgia the country, not Georgia the US state). Anyway maybe for an American audience just getting into sumo it's good to have this medium outside perspective? Mongolian wrestling is a lot like sumo, it just has better costumes and it's set not in a ring but a boundless plain. These guy are extremely good at standing, never really thought about that as something you could be really skilled at. If you watch this and then pivot to other Mongolian wrestling vids, that's not wrong. Sakiko shared an elevator with this guy when she was a teenager, and said he was really friendly and funny. [youtube]
- OK this one is goofy but I liked it, in sort of the same way that I like seeing school plays-- it's the US Sumo Open from 2014. Obviously you're not seeing the same level of ability as in Japanese Sumo, and physically, these people are like mouseketeers compared to the real deal. But the amateur has a different kind of drive than the pro, and sometimes I need a refresher on that. It's fun to see athletes who still have to work at a hardware store the next day, or whatever. There's less pageantry in US sumo, which is too bad but sort of understandable. And the ref is just like, a guy with a bow tie and a whistle, whereas all the refs in Japan look like magnificent brushed metal fountains and carry a small sword to use on themselves if they ever make a wrong call. Anyway like I said this is kind of goofy but I had fun. Watching a few matches of this really helps you keep in focus just how good the Japanese sumo wrestlers are. Maybe this one is on a "check it out" level and that's it. [youtube]
- Finally, here's a compilation of my favorite wrestler, Mainoumi, nicknamed "the department store of techniques". Compared to everyone else he's absolutely tiny, but he has tons of tricks to level the playfield and keep everyone guessing. My favorite of his tricks is nekodamashi, or "tricking the cat", where he claps in front of his opponents face, making them distracted for a split second while he gets into position. And there's a legendary match on here where he fights the enourmous Konishiki, who looks to be about 4 times his size.
I put this at the end because I was worried that if you watched this first, without any other understanding, it might seem dull, or not special. But I think it's really inspirational! I mean it's so fun to watch the regular big guys battle it out, but it's incredible to watch Mainoumi just flow all around them and influence their movements to his advantage. He has an endless stock of elegant solutions to the one seemingly intractable problem of "these big boys want to flatten me".
Oh yeah, and when he was just starting out he was too short to get accepted, so he convinced a doctor to inject a few centimeters of silicone into his scalp so he'd be tall enough! That's some real outside the box thinking! After this they loosened the height requirements.
Oh yeah the video is here: [youtube]
links / misc
- support fund for undocumented people in RI - [gofundme]
- petition to remove this bullshit adminstration's piece of shit postmaster [link]
- petition to rename Victory Day [link]. This is a holiday that only Rhode Island celebrates, the full name is Victory Over Japan day and it's a beach day for Rhode Islanders. Keep it a day off but shit can we change the name for christ sake? Lois Harada has been pushing this for years and this past weekend she rented a plane to fly the "rename victory day" message over beaches. Lois rules, her website is here: [link]
- Brian Nicholson wrote in about last week's post ([link]) to let me know that there's more than just one translation of Sugiura available-- In addition to the Picturebox book there was a story in RAW and some stuff in 2 issues of Ganzfeld (also published by PictureBox). Unnnnnnfortunately one of the stories in Ganzfeld is... the same one I'm doing. Well, that doesn't change anything, I'm still going to finish it.
I sort of spun out on this earlier in the week because I remembered that back in 2005 I asked my local comic book store get the Ganzfeld but then when it showed up I couldn't afford it-- I didn't realize it was going to be that expensive. $29.95 in 2005 money is $40 today (adjusted for inflation). I had to convince them to just keep it on the shelf in the store. It was really embarassing. I guess that's why I do everything for free or inexpensive-- I want my audience to include me.
Anyway I'll post the second half in a little bit!
- Mickey Zacchilli is starring in a new fan dub of AKIRA that Sophia Foster-Dimino organized/edited. Michael DeForge is also in it, alongside James Kuo, O Horvath, and tons of other buds. It airs Friday at 8. [link]
OK, that's it for this week. It's still nice to put these posts together each week, even when it's not like a cloud-parting epiphany, even when it's just "some links". If anyone has a good source for sumo with English commentary, and it's full matches, drop me a line, or if you just want to say hi, that's also a valid reason to drop me a line. Shoot me an email or leave a message on the contact page [link].
If you want to get these posts by email you can sign up on the substack- [substack]. Please note there's a free option and a pay option-- both get exactly the same thing. --------- end new writing --------------------------------------------->