Continuing our series on everything Sumo, as always check out The Sumo Ring on FB for up to date news and if you have any questions or just want to chat sumo!
Before the match begins the two rikishi first perform a Shinto practice of throwing salt in their respective corner onto the dohyo in a way of warding off e…vil spirits (in Japanese lore ghosts and demons were afraid of salt, which was seen as a pure element). The rikishi then perform a shiko or leg stomping exercise which is also meant to drive out evil spirits that may have attached themselves to the dohyo. Before setting up in the middle of the dohyo the rikishis are each handed a ladleful of “chikara mizu” or “power water” to give them strength by the winner of the previous match. Only winners of a match can hand out the chikara water as its bad luck for a loser to touch the ladle. This set up is MANDATORY and takes a couple of minutes to go through yet it is beautiful and graceful in its nature, plus recognizes the Shinto roots of Sumo’s origin.
The rules of sumo are pretty simple. Two rikishi enter into the ring or dohyo which is made of clay, straw and sand. Historically the dohyo has NEVER been touched by a female hand. This strict Shinto practice has been frowned upon by modern day critics and was put into the spotlight recently during an sumo tournament in Osaka. Traditionally the mayor of the city t…hat hosts the tournament or basho, awards the winner of the tournament the Emperors Cup. At the time Osaka just elected the first FEMALE mayor, who also happened to be a big sumo fan. Unfortunately she was not allowed to present the Cup to the winning rikishi on the dohyo and instead had to have the MALE vice-mayor give the award. In a more humorous story, a few years ago a drunken/drugged female fan ran towards the dohyo in attempts to either touch it or construct some sort of protest (she had flyers in her pocket asking for the protection of something or someone when she was apprehended). Before she could touch the dohyo though, she was tackled by some ushers and restrained.
Hakuho vs Asashoryu
Check out the above match between current Yokozuna Hakuho and former Yokozuna Asashoryu in one of their epic Yokozuna Vs Yokozuna battles!
In order to win the match the two rikishi try to either force their opponent out of the dohyo OR make a part of their body other than the bottom of their feet touch the dohyo ground. During a sumo match any type of physical attack is allowed whether it be pushing, shoving, grabbing or throwing. Even leg sweeps are allowed though usually they are done as a desperate, last minute attack and rarely ever work (except by the most skilled rikishis). A rikishi though can not punch or kick an opponent nor attack any of their vital areas (ie groin or eyes). Grabbing or palm strikes to the throat are allowed, which explains why many rikishi have very gravely voices. Head to head contact occurs often in sumo, even resulting in blood, and that’s ok BUT head butts as an offense move are illegal. As well as pulling hair is illegal too. Any rikishi performing an illegal move will be DQd.
An average sumo match lasts about 20 seconds, but there are instances where matches can go on for five minutes! If a match goes past a few minutes the gyoji can pause the match and order a water break for the rikishis. Once the break is over the gyoji positions the rikishi back to where they were and the match commences again.
After all the pageantry is done, the two rikishi’s square up in the middle of the dohyo at the two shikiri-sen or starting lines which are about a few feet apart from each other. Each rikishi will stan…d behind their respective lines, staring across from each other. When the gyoji or referee gives them the signal, they will crouch down and place BOTH fists onto the shikiri-sen and then collide with each other. Usually the gyoji’s are not too picky about a rikishi putting both fists on the shikiri-sen BUT they will halt the match if one rikishi charges earlier than the other. This is called a matta. BOTH rikishi need to charge at each other at the SAME time, which can sometimes be difficult with some rikishi being out of synch with each other. Some matches have had as many as five matta in ONE match. Usually this results in one or the other rikishi getting very upset at the other and when they finally synch up, it’s a very brutal match. You can NOT be DQd for doing too many mattas but its looked down upon if you have committed too many in your career.
Tokitenku getting pissed off
In the video that is uploaded Tokitenku (on the left) aka Mr. Personality (I have NEVER seen this guy smile, though close friends of mine who hang with the rikishi claim he does smile once in a while) is facing Yoshikaze (right). As you’ll see in the video, both rikishi are having difficulty getting in synch and this results in Tokitenku to even bitch slap Yoshikaze, which in sumo is perfectly ok because technically both men are not providing good sumo. Again a match can have numerous mattas and no body is DQd or lose points, but rarely do too many matches have mattas like this one.