The Rituals of Slapping

Sumo isn't cool because it's a sport where deceptively fast, huge guys in tiny shorts slap each other until one falls down. It is cool (and it IS cool) because of HOW deceptively fast, really huge guys in very tiny shorts slap each other around. Sumo is as steeped in tradition and ritual as ikebana or tea ceremony, but with better snacks (yakitori!) and big guys getting thrown around instead of flowers. There is all the drama and reversals of a football or baseball game, but crammed into 30 seconds or less.

This past Sunday (May 13th) was the opening day of the Spring Grand Tournament, and the first time I've had the privelege of seeing sumo live. My friends and I were up in the nosebleed seats, but that's another advantage of the sport: you can see the wrestlers clearly no matter where you sit. I haven't kept up with sumo in years, but I was still jumping out of my seat during the good matches (a good match can last almost a minute). We had the added advantage of sitting next to the loudest guy in the stadium, who would belt out his favorite wrestler's name (AMAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!) and the whole packed house would take up the cry. That might not seem like any great accomplishment, but you try screaming "KOTOMITSUKIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIII!!!" at the top of your lungs and see how inspiring you sound.

As with all things minimalist, the beauty of the sport is in the details of the deeds. Rikishi (wrestlers) don't trashtalk each other in the dohyo (the ring), so they have to find other ways to intimidate the opponent. How heavily they stamp the ground, how hard they slap their belt and shoulders, and my personal favorite, how far they fling the salt into the air. Lest you believe the sport is all slapping and shoving, the technique involved is extensive; different holds and throws and ways to counter the opponent's moves. This is serious sport mixed with serious tradition, and I was seriously impressed.