Sumo

Sumo 101: Keiko (training)

by John Gunning

Contributing Writer

Amateur sumo is a sport and nothing more.

Participants lead lives away from the ring and its governing body has long-standing aspirations to one day be accepted into the Olympic Games.

Professional sumo, on the other hand, is a lifestyle. Wrestlers are never off the clock. A rikishi is a rikishi 24 hours a day until the moment his topknot is cut off at a retirement ceremony.

Because of that, training in sumo is not a means to an end, but rather an intrinsic part of being a wrestler.

Keiko is the word chosen by many Japanese martial arts to refer to training. It has a more mindful nuance than the repetitive feeling of renshu.

Maegashira Takanoiwa carries another wrestler during an Oct. 31 training session in Fukuoka ahead of the Kyushu Grand Sumo Tournament.
Maegashira Takanoiwa carries another wrestler during an Oct. 31 training session in Fukuoka ahead of the Kyushu Grand Sumo Tournament. | KYODO

Sumo also uses the word keiko, but the general public usually attaches the prefix “morning,” turning it into asageiko.

That’s because unlike other sports, sumo never varies the time of its practice. Year-round, almost seven days a week, rikishi get up between 4-6 a.m. to train.

So intense is the workout that new recruits, even those coming from other sports, invariably lose several kilos in the first few weeks. That’s despite a far greater food intake than they would have had previously been accustomed to consuming.

Sumo training is also carried out at full speed. There are no sparring sessions or walkthroughs. Save for the lack of trappings, a bout in training is no different from one in a tournament.

The ferocity and violent nature of sumo training always surprises first-time visitors, as does the almost church-like atmosphere it is conducted in. Apart from occasional exhortations by the stablemaster, all you hear is the flat, hard packing sounds of bodies colliding.

But once training is finished, the spell is broken and the atmosphere lightens up considerably. Rikishi, happy to have gotten through another grueling session, are generally full of smiles and willing to chat.

Ozeki Takayasu (right) trains with maegashira Onosho at Sadogatake stable
Ozeki Takayasu (right) trains with maegashira Onosho at Sadogatake stable’s training base in Fukuoka on Nov. 1. | KYODO