|Sumo excitement's worth the weight|
By Jim Caple
Page 2 columnist
FUKUOKA, Japan -- The beauty of sumo is that it is the only sport where all the athletes are fatter than the fans.
"He told us some amazing stories about sumo training," Fetters said. "He said sumos have to be able to do the splits, because they need to be limber, and if they can't do it the first day, then the coach sits on them until they go all the way down into a split. Basically, they rip their groins."
Feel free to wince.
"I asked him how long it takes to heal and he said, 'Heal? They do it every day.' "
Feel free to groan, hold your crotch and curl into a fetal position.
"He told us about some of the hazing rituals they do which don't get talked about much," Fetters said. "It's like in football, but worse. He said one guy was doing pushups and a sumo put a knife under his throat and held it there while he was doing them. And one time a guy broke a bottle over Konishiki's head and all he could say was 'Thank you.' "
"He said they get treated like crap," Giambi said. "They're like slaves the first two years."
On the other hand, they get to wear those wonderful little loin cloths in front of thousands of people.
Fetters and Konishiki are distant cousins, and the two grew up together in Hawaii, where sumo has some popularity. Akebono, the first American-born sumo to reach yokozuna (grand master) status, is from Hawaii, as is Musashimaru, one of the two reigning yokozuna.
"Those guys were amazing athletes," Fetters said. "They played football, and Akebono was a good basketball player."
The home of sumo, of course, is Japan, where the sport is so deep in the culture it extends back 1,500 years, making it almost as old as Pat Morita. After covering just about every sport in my career, I finally had the pleasure of attending a sumo tournament this week when the major league tour stopped in Fukuoaka, where a national grand tournament was just beginning.
If you find postseason baseball games a little too briskly paced, if golf seems just a little too edgy, if curling strikes you as a trifle on the wild side, sumo is the perfect sport for you. Sumo is a little like watching C-SPAN, except Henry Hyde and Strom Thurmond don't wear thongs.
A referee wearing a brightly patterned kimono and a black hat similar to those worn by Shinto priests struts into the middle of the ring and introduces the next two sumos by singing in a voice that resembles Yoko Ono on the "Double Fantasy" album. This is the sumo equivalent of "Let's get ready to RUMMMMBBBBLLLE!!!!''
The two sumos meet in the center of the ring (called the dohyu), squat into position, extend their arms and display their open palms to show they have no weapons, as a symbolic show of fair play. Then they lift their legs the way dogs would salute a fire hydrant and squat down again. Then they glare at each other, get into fighting position, prepare to wrestle ... and then stand up and waddle back to their respective corners.
At this point, they slap their thighs a lot, wipe the sweat from their faces, toss salt onto the dohyu to purify the ring, and return to the center. Then they glare at each other, get into the set position, prepare to wrestle ... and then stand up and waddle back to their corners.
Things get interesting at that point. They slap their thighs a lot, wipe the sweat from their faces, toss salt onto the dohyu and return to the center. Then they glare at each other, get into position, prepare to wrestle ... and then stand up and waddle back to their corners.
They repeat this process -- which is called shikiri -- several more times until four minutes pass and then they actually have to wrestle.
If you think all that sounds a little monotonous, bear in mind that the time limit for shikiri used to be 10 minutes. And before 1928, there was no time limit whatsoever. They could endlessly repeat the process for a half-hour if they wanted to. I can just imagine the sumo purists who no doubt were appalled by this obvious concession to shortened attention spans. This is an insult to the legacy of our honorable ancestors. What is the next shame with which they shall stain us? A rally monkey?
The actual wrestling usually lasts a couple of seconds, though occasionally the bouts last a couple of minutes. Essentially, the two crash into each other like NFL linemen off the snap of the ball, and try to knock each other out of the ring. The first sumo who is pushed out of the ring or touches the ground with any part of his body other than his feet loses.
And then the bout would end and the next two sumos would enter the ring, glare at each other, get into fighting position, prepare to wrestle ... and then stand up and waddle back to their respective corners.
This goes on for about five hours each day of the tournament.
And the tournament lasts two weeks.
"The key to being a sumo," Musashimaru said, "is patience."
Tell me about it.
Jim Caple is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.