Sumo Life: Upstairs, Downstairs

PART 2 of 2

So, what does the life of a professional sumo wrestler look like?

Sumo wrestling is highly organized and rules are strictly enforced through the stables that most belong to. Rules must be followed and each wrestler is granted privileges based on their rank within the organization.

Ranking can be separated into two categories. Junior wrestlers and senior wrestlers. The juniors — or Rishiki, as they are called in Japan — serve the Sekitori or very high-ranking wrestlers. There are divisions within each of these ranks, but for this article I will just use these two categories.

The Rishiki are servants to the Sekitori ranks. They get up at five in the morning to begin training and doing chores. They are not normally allowed to have a breakfast, but do eat a huge lunch and then are encouraged to have a siesta after this.

The lunch is made up of a simmering stew with meat, fish and vegetables, accompanied with rice and washed down with beer.

The siesta after is to help them gain weight for the competitions.

On the other hand, the higher ranked wrestlers don’t have to get up until around 7. They are not expected to do chores and enjoy a much more active and enjoyable social life. They are also paid a substantial amount more than the juniors who often receive very little income.

In the afternoon, the Rishiki do more chores which consist of cleaning, helping with food preparations, preparing baths for the Sekitori and basically doing whatever the Sekitori wants them to do. The Sekitori can relax or do correspondence and other tasks as they wish.

In the evening, the Rishiki are not usually allowed out and they sleep in shared rooms. The Sekitori have their own private rooms. They also spend more time out in the public in the evenings.

Depending on rank, the clothes that are worn are different, though all are expected to wear traditional Japanese clothes.

The treatment in the public is different and life overall can be quite difficult until one attains high ranking. All are expected to wear top knots, a hair style the samurai wore in the Edo period, 1603 to 1868.

As you can see, everything has to do with the ranking system and the emphasis to move up is huge. The Rishiki are there to serve and the Sekitori are there to be served. All have to earn their rank, though, so each has been through the various stages and been both a server and the served depending on their competition successes.

However all of this takes its toll and the average life span of a sumo wrestler is 65. This is about 10 years younger then the average age for the Japanese population.

Sumo wrestling is a national sport in Japan deeply influenced by the history and religion of the Japanese culture.

The challenges it faces today and in the future are its exclusivity on gender basis (no women allowed, not even in the ring ceremonies), health problems such as diabetes, alcoholism, arthritis, treatment of junior wrestlers and perceived match fixing.

It remains to be seen how these challenges will shape Sumo Wrestling in the future.

Todd Hardy has studied and taught a variety of martial arts over 38 years and trained with many people from around the world. Would you like to comment on what you read here? Contact him at [email protected]


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