Sumo Clips

Working on a couple things that are too big to get done in a week... Here's some TV instead. Drawings are unrelated :)
I have never really been a sports person but there's some stuff about sports that I really like-- I like trying to figure out how to play the game, seeing strategies, seeing someone's expression come out through movement, seeing a culture through ritual, seeing individual hard work pay off, and tuning in to a lifelong narrative. I guess that's why I like the Olympics, which has all these parts, except the ritual is just TV. Lately I've been into watching sumo, which delivers on all counts big time.

Sumo is the national sport of Japan, and there's a lot of history and ritual to it, but the rules are pretty easy-- you're in a circle with one other person, and the first person to touch outside the circle, or touch the ground inside the circle with anything other than the bottom of their foot, is out. It's easy to picture playing this on the beach, perhaps some of us have (I have).


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:

Why am I watching this right now? I guess in a way it's soothing-- short blasts of interest in long unbroken strings, slowly adding up. Each match has a winner and a loser, but in the big picture, success is a matter of one person getting good, not about them being consistantly victorious. There's something reassuring about that.

Maybe it's even dumber than that.... Maybe I'm watching this because I miss going to shows and having physical contact with friends and this is just a maxed-out version of hugging, or wild dancing? Ahhh I would love it if someone would just lift me up and place me just outside of a ring right now...

links / misc

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].

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