The origins of sumo date back over 2000 years with its rituals and traditions rooted firmly in the Shinto religion and Japanese mythology. Earlier this year I travelled to Nou, a fishing town on the north coast of Japan, to visit a sumo training academy. The country’s unofficial national sport, and its current champions are to the Japanese what Mata and Toure are to the English (sporting superstars, for those of you with zero interest in soccer). Rigorous daily training must be upheld in order to prepare the fighters for bouts that can be won or lost in seconds, and this school is where that regime starts for the sport’s future champions.
I arrived in Nou on the first day of the school year and was introduced to the students—some of whom were as young as 12—who had moved out of their family homes to be there. I joined the group at 7AM for their first walk to the training dohyō (the ring where the wrestling takes place), a pretty anonymous building surrounded by the beautiful snow-capped mountains of the Japanese Alps.
For the next hour or so the new students joked around, helped each other fit into their mawashis (loincloths) and reminded themselves of the words used in the recitals during training and bouts. Once they entered the dohyō, bowing out of respect to the gods, the smiles turned into frowns of concentration. Then began a gruelling three-hour training session, each student pushing their bodies as far as they could go.
A rikishi’s (wrestler) life is very structured, it is entirely designed and intended to produce sumo wrestlers of great strength, technique, and fortitude. These children and teenagers eat, sleep, train and study together 24 hours a day, with sumo training and preparation taking up their mornings and other studies their afternoons. They will remain at this school for six years, preparing building their minds and bodies in the hope of becoming professional sumo champions.
This article originally appeared on VICE.com in Sweden.
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