A Sumo Training Session
We quietly filed into the stable and after bowing to the sensei, sat cross-legged on the ground. For the next couple hours, we were to remain as still as possible, while the sumo wrestlers of the Kitanoumi Beya Stable conducted their morning training session. Trust me, I wasn’t going to move a muscle. I wanted to avoid the attention of these behemoths by any means necessary.
The summer sumo tournament was set to begin in a couple weeks, and our landlord had offered to take us to one of the morning training sessions in a nearby stable. It’s an exciting experience, but not something which tourists should try on their own. Sumo is a serious business in Japan, and the few stables which allow outsiders to watch a session do so grudgingly. Unless you have a Japanese friend who knows what they’re doing, the only way you’ll get in is with an organized tour.
After sitting down, we watched as fifteen tremendous athletes went through their morning routine. I use the word “tremendous” purposefully. These guys are of tremendous size, tremendous agility, presence and skill. I had never seen a sumo match before, but this morning we saw at least fifty sparring sessions. No ceremony, no messing around, just two giants slamming into each other, over and over.
After about an hour of watching from the sidelines, I started to pick up some things. Mass is an advantage, for sure, but the larger guy doesn’t always win. Most matches are quick, and smart wrestlers can end their bouts before their opponents even know what happened. Balance is equally important to strength, and speed is most crucial of all.
To amuse myself while watching in silence, I gave each of the wrestlers a nickname and graded them on their performance in the sparring sessions. There was the Prodigy, the Veteran, Thinker, Cannonball, Shifty, Newbie, Cream Puff, the Natural, Beauty, Sleepy and Workhorse. Prodigy was talented, while Shifty was small but clever, and usually emerged the victor. His matches with the Thinker were excellent, but he stood no chance against Cream Puff. Cannonball was great fun to watch, as round and explosive as his namesake, and the Natural looked exactly like how you’d imagine a “sumo wrestler” to look.
The training session was intense. Besides the sparring, they were forced to do exercises which would tire even a normal-sized athlete, and by the time it was all over, I felt exhausted myself. But mostly, I was hungry. I don’t know if it was watching such big guys for so long, but both Jürgen and I felt justified in marching across the street to Denny’s (yes, that Denny’s), and digging into a sumo-sized breakfast.