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Sumo

Sumo, or sumo wrestling, is today a competition contact sport wherein two wrestlers face off in a circular area. The sport is of Japanese origin and is surrounded with many rituals. The Japanese consider sumo a gendai budo - a modern Japanese martial art.

Winning criteria are fairly straightforward: 1. The first wrestler to touch the ground with any other part of his body than his feet will lose. 2. The first wrestler to set foot outside the circle will lose. Matches usually last only seconds, as one wrestler is quickly ousted from the circle. Each match is preceded by an elaborate ceremonial ritual. The sportsmen themselves are renowned for their great girth as body mass is a factor in sumo.

Sumo matches take place in a ring called a dohyo. The dohyo is made of clay with sand spread over the top. It is between 34 and 60 cm high. The circle in which the match takes place is bounded by straw bales buried in the clay and is 4.55 meters in diameter.

Sumo wrestlers are ranked in a system dating back hundreds of years. The highest rank attainable is that of Yokozuna[?], grand master, a title held at the moment by two men, Musashimaru[?] and Asashoryu[?]. Other recent yokozuna include Akebono[?] and the great Takanohana[?], who retired in January 2003. Once a wrestler has attained the title of Yokozuna, he can never again be subject to demotion and is expected to retire on his own initiative if he cannot perform to Yokozuna standards. The other ranks are (in order from highest to lowest): Ozeki[?], Sekiwake[?], Komusubi[?], Maegashira[?], Juryo[?], Makushita, Sandanme, Jonidan, and Jonokuchi. Wrestlers move up and down these lower rankings depending on their performance.

The sport is mainly practiced in Japan, where it originated, but wrestlers of other nationalities participate; indeed the yokozuna Musashimaru, although now a Japanese citizen, was born in Samoa, and yokozuna Asashoryu is Mongolian.

The sumo tradition is very ancient, and even today the sport includes many ritual elements from when sumo was used in the Shinto religion.

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