Adding to the list of more traditional Japanese things, we went to a “lunch with sumo” thing today. We got to see a presentation with two ex-professional sumo wrestlers, where they explained what the life of a sumo wrestler is like, showed us some of the techniques that are used in a fight, as well as some of the forbidden techniques (like pulling the top knot), and then we got a chance to try our strength against them.
It’s pretty fascinating, listening to some of the training they have to do. So every morning, the train for 5 hours, doing 100 leg stomps, pushing against each other, flexibility exercises, among other things. Then the lower ranked sumo will begin preparing lunch for everyone – chanko: a hot pot dish. The higher ranked sumo get to eat first, which means that in some cases, the lower ranked sumo will be left with nothing but soup by the time it’s their turn to eat. Sumo will often drink about 30 beers as part of a meal!
It was amazing to see that despite their size, they are still incredibly flexible. The wrestler stretching in the picture has been retired for 10 years, and is still able to do this!
We learned that many sumo wrestlers don’t earn a salary, and it’s not until they reach a certain rank that they start earning a salary. Most will only get food and board in a sumo stable. The highest ranked sumo wrestler can get about $30,000 USD per match, with some matches only being 0.6 seconds, and some lasting as long as 5 minutes.
The main way to win a match is to push your opponent out of the ring. The other way to win is if your opponent touches the ground with anything other than the sole of their foot (which also includes the side / top of the foot), or if your opponent does a forbidden technique.
I never thought about it, but someone asked about life after being a sumo wrestler. They told us that the higher ranked sumo wrestlers will often become coaches at other stables. Those that don’t make it as far may end up coaches at places like high schools, or amateur clubs. Others will open a restaurant. It is quite rare for a wrestler to keep competing at the age of 40, with most retiring at around 30. When they retire, there is a ceremony where their top knot is cut off.
I asked how sumo are able to travel, given their size, and I honestly can’t tell if he was trolling or not, but he said that some of the smaller sumo wrestlers catch a taxi or travel by bike! Once they start hitting the 300kg mark, they’re not allowed to use bikes anymore, as they tend to break them. He also told us that when they fly on planes, they have to tell the airline so that the airline can space them out in order to stop the plane from being unbalanced by having a large amount of weight concentrated in one area.
Everyone got the chance to wrestle with them, and although they let us win in the end, we got to see just how strong they really are. My sumo wrestling match with Pulkit at our graduation was nothing compared to this.