Physical Training Oct 2002

How the Sumotori got so Big

From Around the World on a Bicycle.
by Thomas Stevens, Outing, June, 1888, Vol. XII, No. 3, p. 230-243

Ever wonder how the sumo wrestlers of Japan got to be so big? Here's an excerpt from a magazine article in 1888 that reveals the secret.

Sumo in 1888

Down the street near my yadoya, within a rude enclosure, a dozen wrestlers are giving an entertainment for a crowd of people who have paid two sen apiece entrance fee. The wrestlers of Japan form a distinct class or caste, separated from the ordinary society of the country, by long custom that prejudices them against marrying other than the daughter of one of their
own profession. As the biggest and more muscular men have always been numbered in the ranks of the wrestlers, the result of this exclusiveness and non-admixture with physical inferiors, is a class of people as distinct from their fellows as if of another race. The Japanese wrestler stands head and shoulders above the average of his countrymen, and weighs half as much more. As a class they form an interesting illustration of what might be accomplished in the physical improvement of mankind by certain Malthusian schemes that have been at times advocated.

Within a twelve-foot arena the sturdy athletes struggle for the mastery, bringing to bear all their strength and skill. No “hippodroming” here: stripped to the skin, the muscles on their brown bodies standing out in irregular knots, they fling one another about in the liveliest manner. The master of ceremonies, stiff and important, in a faultless gray garment bearing a samurai crest, stands by and wields the fiddle-shaped lacquered insignia of his high office, and utters his orders and decisions in authoritative voice.

The wrestlers squat around the ring and shiver, for the evening is cold, until called out by the master of ceremonies. The two selected take a small handful of salt from baskets of that ingredient suspended on posts, and fling toward each other. They then advance into the arena, and furthermore challenge and defy their opponent by stamping their bare feet on the ground, in a manner to display their superior muscularity. Another order from the gentleman wielding the fiddle-shaped insignia, and they rush violently together, engage in a “catch-as-catch-can” scuffle, which, in less than half a minute, usually results in a decisive victory for one or the other. The master of ceremonies waves them out of the ring, straightens himself up, assumes a very haughty expression, until he looks like the very important personage he feels himself to be, and announces the name of the victor to the spectators.

Physical Training Oct 2002