Sumo

Sumo 101: Technique and strategy

by John Gunning

Contributing Writer

One of the defining features of sumo is how quickly bouts end.

Most fights take less than 5-6 seconds from start to finish.

Japan’s national sport is one in which a rikishi notorious for long, slow battles earned the nickname “Mr. One Minute.”

A matchup in any other ring-based sport that finishes inside sixty seconds, never mind ten, would almost certainly make YouTube as part of a “fastest ever wins” montage. In sumo, that’s an eternity.

That lack of time in sumo for a fightback or a change of strategy means the initial charge takes on an overwhelming importance.

I regularly get asked about ring strategy, film study and what rikishi do to prepare for particular opponents.

The answer? Not as much as you might think.

Your chances of emerging victorious skyrocket if you can win that initial faceoff, so rather than concentrate on what might happen in certain situations, wrestlers put most of their focus on being able to do their “own brand of sumo.”

In essence that means getting into the position or rhythm they favor immediately following the tachiai (initial clash), whether that means a right-hand inside grip or forcing the opponent backward with a series of thrusts to the neck and chest.

Watching film or looking for weaknesses in an opponent are far less important in sumo than in other sports. There really is no time to think during the vast majority of sumo bouts, so training your body to react automatically in each situation is key. It’s a major reason sumo eschews sparring in favor of full-speed bouts in training.

Try as they might, some rikishi do have “tells.” A subtle difference in how much weight they are putting on their hands or the placement of their feet can indicate the intention to sidestep or charge forward, allowing more observant opponents to take advantage of that information.

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