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Clash of titans as sumo wrestlers pay Kadena a visit

By: Kenny Ehman

Date Posted: 1999-03-26

Kadena's Falcon Gym played host Wednesday, March 17 to a team of sumo wrestlers who provided both children and adults with a wonderful introduction into Japan's most traditional and demanding sports.

The 19-member Toyo University sumo team regularly competes around the nation, and although they amateurs, they did manage to give the standing-room-only audience a first-hand demonstration of a wrestler's awesome size and power.

Sumo is Japan's national sport, and was developed more than 1500 years ago as one part of the many religious ceremonies performed to appease the gods in return for a bountiful harvest. It was eventually reformed with rules and more technique, and it became a professional sport for the purpose of entertainment about 300 years ago. Since that time sumo has little changed, and is still rooted in tradition and customs.

An official sumo ring or dohyo is actually made from earth. It is packed down to form a very hard surface, which is covered with sand. It is marked off with straw rice bags that have been buried into the ring. The entire area is only eighteen square feet, with the inner circle measuring fifteen feet in diameter.

The rules of sumo are fairly simple to follow. The winner is declared after he has either knocked, pushed or propelled his opponent outside of the inner circle, or if any part of his opponent's body has touched the ground.

Last Wednesday the wrestlers first began by doing traditional warm-ups. Some of the larger wrestlers, standing well over six feet tall and weighing in at over three hundred pounds, showed not only strength but also amazing flexibility and agility for men their size.

Once the pre-match exercises were finished, the real excitement began. As the titans clashed, throwing their massive bulk around the ring, the crowd reacted with plenty of cheer. A big surprise came when Toyo's smallest wrestler, weighing no more than 170 pounds, defeated a much larger opponent by grabbing his belt and throwing him to the ground.

After the bouts between the team members finished, the audience joined in on the action. Children flocked down to the mat, where they stepped inside the ring with one of the huge sumo wrestlers. As the gentle giants played and had fun with the kids, parents and other spectators filled the gymnasium with laughter. Men and women then proceeded to give their wrestling skills a try with the Toyo team. Several of the men quickly learned that although the average sumo wrestler may look like an out of shape "couch potato", their power was very real and difficult to overcome.

For many of the wrestlers it was their second and third time demonstrating sumo to the military community on Okinawa. The event was first started at Camp Schwab a few years ago by Mio Iha and Maria Stephens of Camp Services. This year's demonstration was sponsored primarily by the USO in conjunction with 18th Services, and planned by Kathy Baker and Monica Lofton.

Hidenobu Hiradate, Toyo University's sumo team manager commented, "This is very fun for all of the sumo wrestlers. I think the people get to see that sumo is much technique. Size does not always matter, because a smaller wrestler with good technique can throw a larger opponent."

"I think events like this are very good," said team captain Yasutomu Miyakawa, who is a fourth year student. "I think sumo is gradually expanding around the world." Miyakawa mentioned that although he will probably find employment at a Japanese company after graduation, he will continue to do sumo as a hobby.

The biggest treat of the day went to the audience, who walked away with smiles and an experience in Japanese culture and tradition.

"We hope to bring the wrestlers back again next year," said USO Program Manager Kathy Baker. "The wrestlers enjoyed coming, and they had a lot of fun with the kids." She also mentioned that the USO will be holding many more community relations events both on and off base in the future.

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