Sumo (相撲), or sumo wrestling, is today a competition contact sport wherein two wrestlers or rikishi face off in a circular area. The sport is of Japanese origin and is surrounded with many rituals. The Japanese consider sumo a gendai budo - a modern Japanese martial art.
Winning criteria are fairly straightforward: 1. The first wrestler, rikishi, to touch the ground with any other part of his body than his feet will lose. 2. The first wrestler to touch outside the circle will lose. 3. A wrestler who uses an illegal technique or kinjite loses. 4. The mawashi becoming completely undone will also result in a loss.
Matches usually last only seconds, as one wrestler is quickly ousted from the circle or thrown to the clay. Each match is preceded by an elaborate ceremonial ritual. The sportsmen themselves are renowned for their great girth, as body mass is a factor in sumo.
Sumo matches take place in a ring called a dohyo. The dohyo is made of clay with sand spread over the top. It is between 34 and 60 cm high. The circle in which the match takes place is 4.55 meters in diameter and bounded by rice-straw bales called tawara which are buried in the clay. At the center are two white lines, the shikiri-sen, where the rikishi position themselves for the start of the bout.
Sumo wrestlers are ranked in a system dating back hundreds of years. The highest rank attainable is that of Yokozuna, grand champion, a title held at the moment by only one man, Asashoryu. Other recent yokozuna include Akebono, Musashimaru and the great Takanohana, who retired in January 2003. Once a wrestler has attained the title of Yokozuna, he can never again be subject to demotion and is expected to retire on his own initiative if he cannot perform to Yokozuna standards. The other ranks in the top makuuchi division are (in order from highest to lowest): Ozeki, Sekiwake, Komusubi, Maegashira. The lower divisions are Juryo, Makushita, Sandanme, Jonidan, and Jonokuchi. Wrestlers move up and down these lower rankings depending on their performance.
The sport is mainly practiced in Japan, where it originated, but wrestlers of other nationalities participate; indeed the yokozuna Musashimaru, although now a Japanese citizen, was born in Samoa, and yokozuna Asashoryu is Mongolian. Akebono, born in Hawaii, was the first foreign-born yokozuna.