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Marines battle sumo wrestlers in annual Henoko exhibition

Date Posted: 2004-06-10

HENOKO, Okinawa, Japan — U.S. Marines battled heavyweight sumo wrestlers in the annual Henoko Sumo Wrestling Tournament at Mae-no-Hama Beach here May 29. The tournament is a precursor to the annual dragon boat races.

With different rules than traditional sumo wrestling, Okinawan sumo wrestlers stand upright and grasp each other's belts. By using strength, momentum and a combination of moves they force their opponent's back on the dohyou (ground of the sumo ring) to receive a point. The first wrestler to score two points wins. Winning a match against the sumos proved difficult for the Marines.

“Not only does my back hurt, but my ribs, chest and arms are also throbbing,” Pfc. Ed K. Vides said, after being toppled by the heaviest sumo wrestler in the tournament.

Prohibited moves in Okinawan sumo wrestling are minimal when compared to other sports. Infractions that can result in a lost bout include intentionally grabbing an opponent's hair or throat, ear slapping, kicking to certain parts of the body, bending fingers and bear hugging.

According to Lance Cpl. Jason G. Alvarez, this tournament was the perfect opportunity to leave the barracks and get involved with the local community.

The wrestlers were well underway until a sudden rainstorm disrupted the action, postponing the tournament until the storm passed.

“A little rain can’t ruin the tournament,” Alvarez said. “If you are going to take away anything from being stationed in Okinawa, you may as well do something because you may never get the chance to do again.”

Before the championship finale began, friendship matches pitted Henoko residents against Marine competitors. In six matches, two Marines hailed victorious.

“After getting beat, I realized that my opponent was a local favorite,” Pfc. Raymond Salazar said. “I guess the guy has been the defending champion for the past couple years.”

The champion who beat Salazar, Shoji Gishitomi, still showed sportsmanship when the two bowed to each other.

Salazar was happy when the match was over and said he has a lot more respect for sumo wrestling after the grueling match,

According to Alvarez, although none of the Marines were victorious in the championship matches, they all had a great time.

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