You Give the Sport a Bad Name


America’s pasttime has been tarnished a number of times by inappropriate behavior. Japan’s national sport, sumo (相撲), sometimes carries a negative reputation in America, but rather than scandalous behavior, it is related to appearance. Many times I have heard people derided sumo as being silly and labelling it as fat men rubbing their bellies together. In fact it is a deeply involved and ritualistic sport which is no sillier than any other kind of wrestling. Also, the athletes are in tremendous condition in many ways.

MammaruThat being said, let’s take a look at a few examples of the kind of men that have helped generate this reputation. This first image I titled Mammaru (真ん丸), which can mean “complete” or “total”, but usually means “perfectly round” or “rotund”. Clearly he is carrying a tremendous amount of extra weight around the chest and belly. In his defense: he is flexible enough to turn his feet out almost 180 degrees; he dropped his butt almost to the floor when he squatted; and he is blurred in this shot because he is standing up so fast. Pretty impressive.

Crushing WeightOur next subject towered over his opponent. You can see the loser has a pained grimace because he is being bent over backwards, his elbows are locked in and his shoulders are being crushed together. The judge in the background, a former wrestler, is nervously leaning away from the probable landing zone. There are no safety ropes like boxing, and they routinely tumble down from the ring. I forgot to note the weights of these fighters, but the current range of the upper ranks goes from 106 kg to 232 kg. Some of these guys are probably tipping the scales a little more than that.

Ripped CzechAnd for the flip side of the coin. Have a look at Takanoyama (隆の山), born in Czechoslovakia as Pavel Bojar. You can click through to Flickr and see his chiseled back a lot closer up. When he first came to Japan he had to face some opponents more than three times his weight. He’s beefed up a bit, but he still needs another 20 to 40 kgs to throw around if he wants to get promoted to the top ranks. At the top ranks of this sport the regular winners are often much leaner than your average football lineman. Perhaps I will write a little about sumo in the future, but I probably won’t see a live tournament before next March.


4 Responses to “You Give the Sport a Bad Name”

  1. Sylvia Says:

    It’s kind of hard to respect an activity that requires an unhealthy lifestyle. It seems quite odd that Japan, being so healthy, admires such obese athletes. Perhaps it has just gotten out of hand and they all used to look like the statuesque Pavel.

  2. びっくり Says:

    You uncovered a couple interesting points. Part of it falls into the “Land of Contradictions” title which I apply (discretely) to Japan. It seems like labels like “…Japan, being so healthy.” apply to a large percentage of the populace, but simultaneously, “Japanese are unhealthy” could be applied. Middle ground on things seems thin. There is an unhealthy obsession amongst many (women, in particular) that they must be skinny and muscle is unattractive. This leads to horribly thin people without a healthy base of muscle. Further, anyone past their 30s who is very busy and has this attitude about exercise turns out pretty bulky. So, while Japan has many healthy traits, there are many unhealthy practices on the other side. Japanese are environmental, Japanese are shy, Japanese are humble, Japanese aren’t clever, … any of these labels that gets tossed about has an opposite, but not much middle ground. I think about writing about some of these issues, but don’t want to get into offensive turf.

    Typically Japanese people don’t admire the athletes for their obesity; they admire them for flexibility, speed, strength, grace, respectful behavior, fighting spirit, performance of rituals, and of course, winning! The top two wrestlers right now are probably leaner than 80 percent of the North American population and winning like there’s no tomorrow. However, the practice of trying to push your body mass over 140 kilos by your early 20s is not very healthy and usually results in a fair amount of fat build-up. Most of the wrestlers go on special diets after retiring to reduce the chance of dieing before they can appreciate their retirement.

    The two heaviest sumo of all time were indeed grotesquely fat; however, they were both Americans and didn’t get that much respect. My favorite from almost 20 years ago was Chiyonofuji, a Japanese wrestler of great size with a chiseled back like Takanoyama.

  3. fightingwindmills Says:

    That man’s breasts scare me. I want you to do lots and lots of posts on contradictory Japanese stereotypes! I love talking about those.

  4. びっくり Says:

    Yeah, I did some quick estimates and figure his breasts are almost as heavy as me. OK, I will think of a way to introduce my posts on the “Land of Contradictions”. It is funny because I think my tendency to fall at both ends of the spectrum make me feel a kinship to Japan. Every time someone stereotypes me, I think, “Yeah, they’re correct… but, the opposite is true as well.”

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