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A Day in the Life of a Sumo Wrestler


Getting a topknot (Japan Sumo Association)

Every sumo wrestler belongs to a stable, which is where they live while they are young. A stable is managed by a stable master, a retired wrestler who was a good wrestler in his prime. There are currently 54 stables. Referees, ushers, and hairdressers also live in the stables. The stable master is referred to as oyakata (boss), and his wife, who is called okamisan, plays an important supporting role behind the scenes.

There are a number of different divisions for the wrestlers, ranging from the makuuchi and juryo divisions at the top (sekitori), to makushita, sandanme, jonidan, and jonokuchi below them. Wrestlers begin receiving a salary when they become a sekitori at the rank of juryo or higher, and they also get to wear a keshomawashi, a lavishly embroidered apron-like cloth that comes down to their ankles, when they are introduced before the beginning of a tournament. More than anything, though, they get to have people around them take care of their everyday needs. Sekitori also wear their topknot in the shape of the leaf of a ginkgo tree. And the mawashi that a sekitori wears in the tournaments is made of silk and can be one of several colors, while wrestlers in the makushita division or lower can wear only a black cotton mawashi. Sumo is a world in which results are everything, and there is a great difference between how wrestlers of different ranks are treated and how much money they receive.


Wrestlers wearing keshomawashi (Japan Sumo Association)

Wrestlers wake up early in the morning and train hard in the hope of moving up the ranks. Mornings in a sumo stable begin at around 5:00 am. First, the unranked wrestlers begin their training. Each stable has a ring for practice. To begin with, wrestlers stand with their legs apart and their hands on their thighs or knees, with one foot bent and planted firmly on the ground as they raise the other high in the air. As they extend the knee of their leg that is planted on the ground, they strongly bring their other foot down into the ring. This ritual stamping (called shiko) improves their lower body strength.


The matawari exercise (Japan Sumo Association)

Another exercise is called teppo. Wrestlers push their hands forward along with their hip and leg of the same side, alternating between left and right. Teppo teaches them the basics of moving their feet and hands as they try to topple an opponent. Another exercise involves planting their backside on the ground while they have their knees extended, opening their legs 180 degrees, and leaning forward until their chest touches the ground. Matawari, as this is called, is used to develop flexibility in the lower body, which is important for a wrestler.

Next, the wrestlers engage in what is known as moshiai, in which the winner of a practice match continues to take new challengers, and they also practice butsukari-geiko, in which wrestlers take turns throwing their bodies into each other. The ranked wrestlers are allowed to sleep a bit later, and they join in the training after they get up. They do much the same training as the younger wrestlers, and they help them as well. Talking with each other is of course not allowed during practice sessions, and the most common sounds that can be heard are those of these large wrestlers throwing their bodies into each other and taking heavy breaths. Practices get more intense as a tournament approaches, and the stable master watches from in front of the practice ring, occasionally entering the ring to give instructions to his charges.

At 8:00 am, the young wrestlers go to the kitchen to help prepare chanko. Chanko refers to the food eaten by sumo wrestlers, and it includes stews, Chinese food, sashimi, and deep-fried food. Stews are the most common dishes, but foods enjoyed by younger people have been included in recent years, such as rice with curry and hamburger steaks. Sumo wrestlers eat two meals a day, having breakfast at around 11:00 am and dinner at about 6:00 pm. Practice ends at around 10:30 when the younger wrestlers have finished preparing the chanko, and the wrestlers then take a bath, with the higher-ranked ones going first. They eat breakfast after fixing their hair in a topknot. And of course when they eat, the higher-ranked wrestlers go first again. Once the morning meal is over, the wrestlers have free time. Many of them take naps to help them get bigger.