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The History and Traditions of Sumo Wrestling

The History and Traditions of Sumo Wrestling

Sumo wrestling is a traditional Japanese sport that has its origins dating back to the early 8th century. The sport is steeped in tradition, and the unique mix of athleticism and endurance required by the participants has made it one of the most popular spectator sports in Japan and across the globe. In this article, we will explore the fascinating history and traditions of Sumo Wrestling.

Early origins of Sumo Wrestling

The earliest records of sumo wrestling date back to the Nara period (710 – 794), where it was first introduced as a ritualistic dance meant to entertain the Shinto gods. Over time, it evolved into a physical contact sport, with competitors following strict rules and regulations that were designed to ensure fairness and protect the safety of the participants.

During the Edo period (1603 – 1868), Sumo wrestling gained even more popularity and began to be included in various festivals and ceremonies across Japan. It was not until 1909 that Sumo was officially recognized as a national sport in Japan.

Traditional Sumo Wrestlers

The traditional Sumo wrestler, or Rikishi, is a larger-than-life figure with a massive build and an impressive physique. They follow strict rules that dictate their diet, training regime, and clothing, which includes the traditional mawashi or loincloth.

The Rikishi also wear a topknot known as Chonmage, which was originally worn by samurais. This topknot of hair is an important symbol of the Sumo wrestler’s status and represents their discipline, strength, and commitment to the sport.

Sumo Wrestling matches

Sumo wrestling matches take place in a clay ring called a Dohyo. The objective of the match is to force your opponent to step out of the ring or to make any part of their body other than their feet touch the ground.

Matches are performed with a series of elaborate rituals, including the throwing of salt into the ring to purify and sanctify the space. The wrestlers will also engage in various showy and entertaining rituals before the match, designed to intimidate and showcase their strength.

Sumo Wrestling Championships

The biggest event in the Sumo wrestling calendar is the Grand Sumo Tournament, held six times each year in different locations across Japan. The tournament attracts thousands of spectators who come to watch the best Sumo wrestlers compete for the title of Yokozuna, the highest ranking in the sport.

The Yokozuna is considered the face of Sumo wrestling and is revered as an icon for the sport. The title is awarded based on the wrestler’s performance, conduct, and the level of respect they command from their peers.

Sumo Wrestling Culture

Sumo wrestling is more than just a sport, it is an integral part of Japanese culture. The traditions and rituals associated with the sport have remained largely unchanged for centuries and are deeply rooted in the cultural identity of Japan.

Sumo wrestling has also inspired various cultural expressions such as Sumo-themed art, fashion, and even anime and manga. It has become a symbol of Japanese identity and a source of pride for the nation.

Common Misconceptions about Sumo Wrestling

There are many misconceptions about the sport of Sumo wrestling, one of which is that it is only for men. However, there is a women’s version of Sumo wrestling called “Sumo-Jinku,” that is gaining popularity across Japan.

Another prevalent misconception is that Sumo wrestlers are obese. While it’s true that competitors strive to gain weight to increase their strength, they follow a strict diet and exercise regime to maintain their impressive physiques.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q1. Are there any weight restrictions for Sumo wrestlers?

A1. No, there are no weight restrictions for Sumo wrestlers, but they must be able to move efficiently within the ring.

Q2. Is Sumo wrestling popular outside of Japan?

A2. Yes, Sumo wrestling has gained popularity in many countries, with dedicated Sumo wrestling clubs and competitions held across the globe.

Q3. How long do Sumo wrestlers train for?

A3. Sumo wrestlers train for several hours a day, and their training includes weightlifting, running, and specific exercises to build strength and endurance.

Q4. How is Sumo Wrestling scored?

A4. Sumo wrestling matches are scored based on a complex set of rules and criteria, including the wrestler’s performance, technique, and strength.

Q5. What is the biggest Sumo wrestling tournament in Japan?

A5. The biggest Sumo tournament in Japan is the Grand Sumo Tournament, held six times each year in different locations across the country.

Q6. How much do the highest-ranking Sumo wrestlers earn?

A6. The highest-ranking Sumo wrestlers earn millions of yen each year, with the highest-ranked Yokozuna earning tens of millions of yen.

Q7. Why do Sumo Wrestlers stomp their feet before a match?

A7. The foot stomping is part of the pre-fight ritual and is meant to intimidate the opponent and prepare mentally for the match.


Sumo wrestling’s deep-rooted traditions and rich history have made it an iconic and highly respected sport. It is a symbol of Japan’s culture, and its unique blend of athleticism and endurance has captivated audiences across the globe. Despite its complexities and misconceptions, Sumo Wrestling remains one of the most exciting and fascinating sports in the world today.



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