There’s a lot of misconceptions about sumo. Many who don’t follow the sport don’t think rikishi are actual athletes (they are). And many think these rikishi don’t actually fight (they do).
The violence of sumo often needs seeing to be believing. The following video should do the trick.
Video: One hit KO in sumo
Yes, sumo has striking
Bloody noses and split lips are common occurrences on the dohyo. The rules of sumo forbid punches with closed fists, but palm strikes (harite) are A-OK. There are a variety of striking techniques used in the sport.
Active wrestlers Tamawashi and Abi are masters of the nodowa and tsuppari styles, respectively. The nodawa is a straight thrust to the throat that is intended to snap back the head of an opponent and put them off balance so they can be forced backwards and out.
Tsuppari, made famous by E. Honda of Street Fighter, is the rapid attack of palm strikes aimed at the shoulders, chest, neck and face – designed to both force an opponent back and prevent that opponent from initiating a clinch.
Many other sumo wrestlers utilize a thrusting and shoving arsenal known as tsuki/oshi which involves launching yourself like a cannonball at your opponent and showing and thrusting them as hard as possible to try and elicit a quick victory.
The most successful pusher-thruster in the game right now is Takakeisho, who won the January tournament and is ranked just below yokozuna. He uses straight thrusts and hefty slaps to force his opponent backwards and create openings for a shove out of the ring.
Takakeisho had an epic striking brawl on Day 14 of the May Tournament when he took on sekiwake Wakamotoharu. Against Wakamotoharu his slaps looked particularly venomous, leading me to think there might be some history between the two.
Wakamotoharu took the slaps and fired back with his own, mixing in a thrust to the throat to score the win. At the beginning of the clip you can also see Wakamotoharu land a forearm smash to Takakeisho’s face off the opening clash. That’s a move made famous by the recently retired Hakuho (the sport’s GOAT).
You can see one of Hakuho’s instant forearm KOs in this compilation clip below.
Hakuho’s roughness off these opening clashes, his occasionally extra shove to put an opponent three rows deep in the stands and his exuberant celebrations, were often critiqued by sumo bigwigs, who preferred a more ‘dignified’ and ‘stoic’ performance. However, that criticism levelled against the Mongolian yokozuna was rarely given out to generations of Japanese rikishi who did the same thing.
Kyokudozan the giant killer
Don’t let the clip fool you, Kyokudozan did not spend his career scoring wins off of smacks to the face. Like all other smaller men in the sport, he had to rely on grappling to stay competitive against giants who were sometimes 300 lbs heavier than him.
Kyokudozan wrestled from 1980 to 1996. He was promoted to the top division in 1989 and, at around 220 lbs, remains one of the lightest wrestlers to ever make it that far in the sport.
He never won a top division championship. However, staying in makuuchi for seven years and being ranked as high as komusubi is an incredible accomplishment for such a ‘small’ wrestler.
Over his career he earned two Fighting Spirit prizes and two Outstanding Performances. He also holds a gold star (given when A lower ranked wrestlers who defeats a yokozuna) for his win over Akebono (who weighed over 500 lbs) in 1993’s March tournament.
Whether you’re a veteran watcher of the sport or someone who wants to learn more about it, please check out my Substack Sumo Stomp! so you can be notified of sumo content here on Bloody Elbow. My Substack also hosts exclusive premium content where I dive deeper into the sport.
Join Sumo Stomp!
Subscribe to the Substack!
About the author