The Skinny on Sumo
I always thought sumo wrestling was pretty straightforward: two pachyderm-sized coronary bypass candidates grab hold of their opponents' G-string and try to toss each other out of a clay ring and onto a Japanese business executive sitting in the front row who has paid thousands of dollars for this privilege.
But when I arrived in Japan, I hoped to achieve a deeper appreciation of this sport. By going behind the scenes, maybe even trying it myself, I thought I might make some sense out of it. And Tokyo University's sumo club, where the up-and-coming competitors live and eat, seemed like the perfect place, especially since it was the only one that granted me access.
After watching the wrestlers perform a series of leg lifts, butt slaps, and various methods of scampering around the ring, it was my turn to get suited up. One of the junior wrestlers had me disrobe, then prepared the "mawashi," the sumo G-string I mentioned earlier. You'd never know it to look at someone wearing one of these things, but they're 10 yards long and as wide as a sweat towel. To put it on, they fold the material in half so that it's about the width of a fire hose, which is exactly what the material felt like. And I can now assure you, there's a good reason underwear is not made of fire hose.
I lost track of how many times he looped the mawashi around my waist, but when he was done, there was still about a yard and a half left over, which seemed to puzzle him. Clearly, these things were not designed for people with less than an 80 inch waist -- and by comparison, my six-foot-tall, 185 pound frame looked as skeletal as Ally McBeal. He cut off the excess, stepped back, and I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror. It looked like I was heading off to a photo shoot for the World's Most Incredible Wedgie.
After failing to learn the basic sumo squatting posture, it was time for some body ramming. The idea was I'd lean forward, brace myself, and this 270-pound behemoth (who was in more dire need of a bra than any man I've seen this close) would ram me so hard I'd go flying out of the ring. It didn't hurt too much...compared to, say, getting rammed by a Chevy Suburban.
Then it was my turn to do the ramming. The proper way to ram involves placing your hands under the arms of the ramee. And this guy's armpits were positively cavernous; I was able to extend my arms in right up to my elbows. He didn't even budge. I'm not even sure if he felt the impact. His layers of cellulite, I discovered, were covering a brick wall of muscle.
After a few bouts....okay, one bout...I could hardly stand. Fortunately, my abridged lesson was over. But my biggest sumo challenge was still ahead...keeping up with them that evening at dinner.
If you want to go a few rounds, Rudy, I'll send you the address.
Talk to you soon,
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