Prior to their first live experience, many people are under the impression that sumo is a plodding sport in which two overweight men slowly try to force each other backward in a straight line.
That illusion is always shattered within minutes of first sitting down to watch a training session or a tournament.
The sheer violence and ferocity of sumo is a jaw-dropper for first-time viewers.
Full-contact, open-hand strikes which can, and do, knock opponents out. Leg sweeps. Thrusts to the throat and face. Forearm shivers. Sometimes it seems as if there are no restrictions on what is allowed in the ring.
That, of course, is not the case.
While its rules are relatively lax compared to other grappling sports, sumo has well-defined illegal moves which can cause the instant forfeiture of a bout.
One is striking with a closed fist. Another is eye gouging.
Those two can be found in many forms of wrestling, but other forbidden moves are particular to sumo.
Hair pulling is one example. Putting a hand on the back of an opponent’s head to pull him to the ground is fine, but if you yank on the topknot it’s an immediate loss.
Grabbing the part of the mawashi the runs front-to-back between the legs is also a no-no.
The rules of amateur sumo vary slightly from the professional version.
Straight thrusts to the face are allowed in international tournaments, but roundhouse slaps or nodowa (shoving the throat) are forbidden.
Kids tournaments both in and outside of Japan further restrict what is allowed, and referees will even stop bouts when the two wrestlers are in positions which can put pressure on the neck.
That doesn’t mean the youth version of sumo is soft — I know that from personal experience. It was a 120-kg 14-year-old who snapped my humerus into three pieces.
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