Sumo has following in soccer-mad Brazil
SAO PAULO, Aug 6 – In a Sao Paulo sports centre, a crowd enthusiastically cheers on as portly opponents duke it out in fast-paced bouts of sumo, the ancestral form of wrestling which Japanese immigrants brought to Brazil more than 1OO years ago.
This soccer-mad country also has a strong martial arts tradition, with millions practicing judo, jiu-jitsu, karate, taekwondo, aikido but also capoeira, a native combat sport incorporating elements of dance and music that was developed by African slaves.
Sumo, a 1,500-year-old sport associated with the Japanese Shinto religion, by contrast has only around 1,000 practitioners, mainly in Sao Paulo state, where 60 per cent of the 1.8 million Japanese Brazilians live. But it is gaining in popularity.
“I love sumo. I first started with judo but later switched. It’s an interesting, dynamic, explosive and unpredictable sport in which you must make quick decisions,” explains Luciana Watanabe, a 27-year-old Japanese Brazilian who has been practising it for 10 years.
“It teaches you how to tackle problems head-on,” said Watanabe, who is national champion in the lightweight category – under 65 kilograms (144 lb) – and ranked third in the world.
“This is what I liked the most,” she said as she prepared to compete in a south American sumo competition that drew delegations from Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay and Venezuela.
Professional sumo, a highly-ritualised affair, is practised only in Japan. It bans females from entering the dohyo as this traditionally was deemed a violation of the purity of the ring.
Sumo is essentially a straight fight between two rikishi (wrestlers) dressed only in mawashi, or a special type of cloth belt.
The winner is the one able to push the opponent out of a raised “dohyo” (ring) that is 4.55 metres (15 feet) in diameter. Bouts often last only a few seconds.
Before the fight, the wrestlers salute each other to show they are not carrying weapons and they throw a fistful of salt on the ground to chase away the evil spirits.
In Brazil, a country of 191 million people which boasts the largest Japanese population outside Japan, amateur sumo for both men and women has three weight categories – light , medium and heavy – in addition to an open category.
Brazilian sumo wrestlers wear swimming trunks in addition to the mawashi.
“Generally, the biggest win because weight makes a big difference,” according to Yugo Fukushima, a third-generation Japanese Brazilian coach as he cheered his wrestlers.
“It is very fast, requires a lot of adrenaline. I just love it,” said a 16-year-old non-Japanese youth who practises sumo in Capao Bonito, a town with a sizable Japanese population located 222 kilometres (140 miles) from Sao Paulo.
The first Japanese immigrants – a group of 781 people – arrived as farm workers in the port of Santos in 1908, according to official data.
The new arrivals ended up settling in all-Japanese colonies in the countryside, mostly in the southern states of Sao Paulo and Parana, where they became successful farmers and landowners. They set up schools to teach their ancestral traditions, including sumo.
Other Japanese martial arts are also widely popular, including judo which has 2.5 million practitioners, karate (500,000) and jiu jitsu – Brazilians have developed their own styles of the discipline which is taught in 156 schools nationwide, – according to the respective federations. – AFP/Relaxnews