Sumo is a full-contact wrestling sport developed in Japan, the only country where it is played professionally. According to the sumo rules, the wrestler or rikishi must force the opponent’s body out of a circular ring, or a part of the opponent’s body to touch the ground (other than his feet). Although some consider it a modern Japanese martial art, this definition is incorrect. Sumo preserves many ancient traditions from the Shinto religion. The wrestlers are requires to live in a heya, a communal training stable and live every aspect of their lives according to strict customs.
A number of scandals and controversies about match-fixing occurred over the last few years, affecting the sport’s reputation, the ability to attract new recruits and the ticket sales. Because of the way sumo is structured, top ranked wrestlers have many advantages over low wranked wrestlers, such as a greater status and higher salary. The Japan Sumo Association denied the allegations and even took publishers in front of a judge.
There are six sumo divisions named makuuchi, jūryō, makushita, sandanme, jonidan and jonokuchi, awarded to wrestlers according to the number of fights won and their experience. Makuuchi is the highest division and the most competitive one, because it consists of champions. Jonokuchi is the lowest rank where all the amateur wrestlers start. The professional wrestlers live in sumo training stables where the stable masters closely monitors their activities. Those who are lower in rank must do chores, while their sekitori colleagues can relax or manage their fan clubs.
The professional tournament are held six times every year and usually end with matches between high ranking competitors. The sumo rules in tournament forbid two wrestlers from the same stable or two brothers from fighting, unless they are in a final stage of the competition. The wrestling ring or the dohyō has a 4.55m diameter and is covered with sand. The competitors must wear a fixes costume, mawashi, before they enter the ring.
According to the sumo rules, both wrestlers must crouch and jump up at the same time at the initial charge. The referee can restart the match if the jump was not simultaneous. After completing the bout, the referee points a fan called gunbai towards the winning wrestler, although his decision can be disputed by the five judges who can order a rematch. The wrestler must then return to the starting position, bow and retire. If a lower ranked wrestler defeats a makuuchi, the audience will sometimes throw the cushions from their seats into the ring, although this practice is against the sumo rules.
The bouts usually last less than a minute and sometimes even a few seconds. Very rarely a bout will last up to four minutes, in which case one of the judges or the referee can call a mizu-iri or water break. After the break the wrestlers must return to the exact position. The referee must carefully separate the opponents and it’s his responsibility to reposition them. If the wrestlers continue for another 4 minutes, they may have another break and start from the beginning. A bout that does not end can lead to a draw, a very rare event in sumo. The last draw in a top division was recorded in September 1974.
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