Sumo

Sumo 101: Sumo school

by John Gunning

Contributing Writer

Sumo is a Darwinian world, but even in this harsh unforgiving environment, new recruits aren’t given a “Battle Royale”-style “here’s your mawashi — try to survive” induction.

Quite the opposite in fact. All new recruits must complete a six-month course at the “Sumo School” in the Kokugikan.

The school, which is located at the rear of the building on the second floor, consists of two main rooms. The first has a dirt floor large enough to accommodate three rings.

Many, if not most, of the young men who join sumo have no prior experience of the sport and it is in these rings they are taught its basic moments and techniques.

Before they get to that each morning, the students must jog around the Kokugikan several times, barefoot and clad only in their mawashi.

Recruits quickly figure out that they only need to pick up the pace when the older supervising wrestler is watching. Most of the course becomes a leisurely stroll with a chance to chat with friends from other stables.

After training and practice bouts, everyone moves to the classroom next door to study things like calligraphy, sports science, sumo history and civics. Outside experts are brought in to lecture on these and other topics while the tired and hungry wrestlers struggle to stay awake.

There are also tests and a graduation ceremony, but in reality these mean little as there are no penalties for doing badly or even failing to show up on numerous days.

Evidence of the lax attitude can be found in the fact that foreign wrestlers who can barely introduce themselves in Japanese yet are somehow able to pass kanji-intensive written exams about Japanese history and culture.