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11 Facts About Sumo Wrestling That Made Us Say 'Really?'

Updated September 23, 2021 2.2k votes 423 voters 36.8k views11 items

List RulesVote up the most intense facts about sumo that make you want to know more.

In many parts of the world, sumo wrestlers are known for their size, what they wear (and don't wear) in the ring, and little else. In Japan, the wrestlers are held in high esteem as professional athletes who compete in the country's national sport and honor its tradition each time they step into the ring. Sumo wrestling has roots in antiquity and, over the past centuries, has maintained its foundational integrity.

Sumo, both as a practice and as a concept, has a lot of history tied up in it. To be a sumo wrestler takes much dedication, a complete submission to the sport, and physical abilities many other athletes simply don't possess. As it turns out, it also takes a lot of stew. Vote up the biggest facts about this fascinating sport.

  • Photo: Unknown / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain

    Sumo Saved Charlie Chaplin's Life In 1932

    Charlie Chaplin was visiting Japan in 1932, and on May 15, he attended a sumo wrestling match with Prime Minister Tsuyoshi Inukai's son, Takeru. Chaplin and Takeru, who went by Ken, were at the bout when a group of military cadets broke into the Imperial Palace in Tokyo and assassinated the prime minister.

    At the time, Inukai was struggling to maintain power as militarists pushed to seize civilian control of the government. The assassination was part of a coup, one that included plans to kill Chaplin, too.

    According to one of the assassins at his trial, "Chaplin was a popular figure in US and the darling of the capitalist class. We believed killing him would cause war with America, and, thus, we could kill two birds with a single stone." Luckily for Chaplin, because he was enjoying a sumo match instead of relaxing in the palace, he escaped the prime minister's fate.

    Chaplin later commented, "I can only imagine the assassins having carried out their plan, then discovering that I was not an American, but an Englishman - 'Oh, sorry!'"

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    • Photo: Kitagawa Tsukimaro / Gobaian Azemono / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain

      There's A Height Requirement That People Go To Extremes To Meet

      While sumo wrestlers (called rikishi or "strong men" in Japanese) receive a lot of attention for their weight, the sport has regulations and restrictions for both weight and height. They've changed throughout sumo's history, but currently, men must be at least 5 feet 7 inches tall (173 centimeters) and must weigh at least 165 pounds (75 kilograms).

      The height restrictions aren't as easily conquered as weight gain. As a result, would-be wrestlers like Takeji Harada have had silicone implants in their scalps. In 1994, Harada, just 16 at the time, added about six inches to his height, boosting him from 5 feet 2 inches to 5 feet 8 inches - thus making him eligible to become a sumo wrestler.

      In response, Japan's Sumo Association banned the procedure, explaining:

      There have been more than three cases of wrestlers having received silicone implants on their heads. We have decided to ban further use of implants for health reasons. 

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        Referees Carry Daggers On Them During Bouts

        Sumo referees, or gyoji, supervise bouts from beginning to end. Their presence is both official and ceremonial, with duties that range from monitoring the action to awarding the winner. 

        Gyoji wear kimonos during sumo matches, the colors of which vary by level of bout. They start training when they are in their mid-teens, many having failed to meet the size requirements to become wrestlers themselves.

        Inside their kimonos, they have a dagger that, in the words of referee Shonosuke Kimura, is "a symbol of our heavy responsibility. If a referee makes a misjudgment, he should be prepared to commit hara-kiri." He continued, "Of course, we couldn't actually do that. We wouldn't have enough referees left alive for the sport."

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        • 4

          Sumo Bouts Usually Last Only A Few Seconds

          If a sumo wrestling contest lasts four minutes, there's a break for both competitors to get some water. This is rare, however, as most matches last less than a minute. Some are done in a matter of seconds. In 2016, when Hakuho and Harumafuji faced off for the professional championship at the Haru Basho tournament, the match lasted one second

          The goal of the sumo wrestler is to drive his opponent out of the ring or to make him touch the canvas with anything but his feet. After the opponents take part in a ceremonial ritual that precedes the match, they crouch down and put their fists on the floor.

          From there, they can use any technique they want to try to win, excluding hair-pulling, punching, choking, or going for the groin or ears. Sumo wrestlers also can't kick, but they can trip and sweep their legs or excessively slap their rivals.

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