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The development of Sumo - Japanese traditional martial art

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The development of Sumo - Japanese traditional martial art

"Sumo" - a Japanese traditional martial art, where gigantic naked men wrestling each other inside a circle called Dohyo. Have you ever wondered when did Sumo start and how did it develop?

Waku Waku

Waku Waku

Published on 08 Jan, 12:00

The origin of Sumo

According to "Kojiki" - the Japanese oldest history book, the traditional martial art of Sumo originated from a wrestling match to "compete for the power of the gods".

Kojiki - the oldest history book in Japan (Wikipedia.org)
Kojiki - the oldest history book in Japan (Wikipedia.org)

Sumo became a form of "human-versus-human" martial art competition since 23 BC, in the 11th year of Emperor Suinin's reign, when a man named Nomi no Sukune fought against Taina no Kehaya under the order of the Emperor.

At the time, Sumo competition was where competitors had to risk their own lives.

Nomi no Sukune, who won the first match, is now worshipped at the Nomi Temple in Toyota City, Aichi Province.

Nomi no Sukune wrestling with Taima no Kehaya(Wikipedia.org)
Nomi no Sukune wrestling with Taima no Kehaya(Wikipedia.org)

After that, from the 7th to 12th century, Sumo wrestling became one of the aristocratic events taking place in the palace to pray for prosperous harvests.

Sumo – a form of Samurai training

The 12th century in Japan was the era of Samurai.

Sumo, originally an aristocratic event taking place in the palace, was at the time considered a form of Samurai training.

A Sumo match in the palace (Wikipedia.org)
A Sumo match in the palace (Wikipedia.org)

Sumo training was very helpful in close combat, therefore during the Sengoku period (Age of Warring States) from the late 15th - late 16th century, many Sumo tournaments were held and the most excellent ones were appointed samurai.

During this time, some wrestlers made a living by going across the country attending tournaments. Sumo started to officially be seen as an occupation that could make a fortune.

Sumo - a form of mass entertainment

Up until the 18th century, there were no more endless civil wars, Japan enjoyed the days of peace.

Consequently, Sumo wrestling was not used to fight, but instead as a form popular of mass entertainment.

Onogawa Kisaburo - A famous Sumo wrestler (Wikipedia.org)
Onogawa Kisaburo - A famous Sumo wrestler (Wikipedia.org)

Many Sumo wrestlers became famous during this period. Two Sumo tournaments were held each year in spring and autumn, lasted 10 days at Ryogoku Kokugikan in Tokyo (a gymnasium where many special events in Japan are held at).

People said that there were "men who worked for only 20 days but earned enough to live well a whole year", referring to Sumo wrestlers. So far, you can imagine the popularity of Sumo wrestling then, right?

In reality, however, Sumo wrestlers were not so relaxed but very busy, because apart from the main tournament that took place at Ryogoku, they also participated in other ones across the country.

Sumo - Time of crisis and present days

A Sumo wrestling match in Japan (Wikipedia.org)
A Sumo wrestling match in Japan (Wikipedia.org)

In the 19th century, an act called "No nudity allowed" was passed. People started to think that fighting in nudity was barbaric and embarrassing, however, Sumo wrestling remained unchanged.

After that, the "Sumo Association" was founded in Tokyo, Osaka, and developed into an official organization. (Later united as "Japan Sumo Association").

During the Second World War, there were times when Sumo wrestling was in difficulty resulting from air raids and wrestlers having to enlist for national service. Nonetheless, after the war, along with the reconstruction of Kokugikan, Sumo gradually regained its popularity.

Nowadays, Sumo wrestlers do not limit to Japanese, there are also foreign wrestlers. They also hold Sumo tournaments around the world.

Sumo in ancient times was meant to be a Samurai-training martial art, a Japanese ancient royal rite. In present days, it has become a form of entertainment.

Learning more about the history of this martial art, you might find it more interesting when watching a Sumo wrestling match!

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