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Thread: "Is Sumo a Martial Art?"

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    Question "Is Sumo a Martial Art?"

    For some time now, I have had the oddest experience when I tell people I am an avid sumo fan. Granted, few Americans are exposed enough to Grand Sumo to know anything about it. I usually get a response like, "Why would you like sumo wrestling?" I say, "Because I am a long-time student of martial arts and find it fascinating." My answer is invariably followed by the next question, "Really? Is Sumo a martial art?"

    So, how do other "martial artists" feel about this question? Are judo and kendo martial arts? Aren't all three really martial sports? By using the term "martial art", maybe first, we need to qualify it's definition? To me, a "martial art" is a time-honored, organized system of traditional fighting techniques. Primarily, a true martial art must teach winning methods of combat (with and without weapons). What makes it an "art" is, to myself, is it's ability to create an atmosphere of inspiration, allowing for personal growth and providing a defined path to follow.
    Martial sports have sprouted from martial arts, just as martial arts sprouted from actual warfare methodologies. So, perhaps we could say that; #1. Authentic combat technologies have been passed-down and branched-out over the centuries to influence a multitude of martial lineages. #2. These lineages have adapted to each era they exist in , which may provide for adaptions and modifications. Thus, war-time combat begets martial technologies, which begets martial arts, which begets martial sports. By this definition, sumo, kendo and judo are, most definitely, martial arts. Sumo, as a matter of undeniable fact, is the oldest and most traditional of them all. That's my 2 cents worth. And Yours?

    Be well and practice often, Jon Palombi

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    I want to drop a post on this to keep it at the top until I can say more.

    I like sumo. I think it is the most "realistic" stand up grappling in some cases......will explain more later.

    I think the slapping/pushing, and ability to push the throat neck changes standing grappling from the standard tie ups of freestyle/greco/subgrappling.

    I would definitely say it is a martial art.
    Kyro R. Lantsberger
    "They couldnt hit an elephant at this dist--." Last words of Civil War Union General Sedgewick

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    Default IIRC there are nine modern martial arts....

    .... including sumo, according to the Japanese government. Specifically, Japan's Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology, which is in charge of such things.

    I figure their opinion is good enough.

    And I'm sure sumo is considered a modern martial art, that is, promulgated post 1877, but offhand I never remember if there are 8 or 9.

    So, who are we to question such expertise?
    Lance Gatling ガトリング
    Tokyo 東京

    Long as we're making up titles, call me 'The Duke of Earl'

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    Quote Originally Posted by Lance Gatling View Post
    .... including sumo, according to the Japanese government. Specifically, Japan's Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology, which is in charge of such things.

    I figure their opinion is good enough.

    And I'm sure sumo is considered a modern martial art, that is, promulgated post 1877, but offhand I never remember if there are 8 or 9.

    So, who are we to question such expertise?
    Can't really say I have any expertise in this matter, but the Nippon Budo Kyogikai have nine gendai budo as its members together with the Nippon Budokan, as can be seen on this page.

    And Sumo is definately a Budo.

    /Anders
    Anders Pettersson
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    Default Nippon Budo Kyogikai

    Quote Originally Posted by Anders Pettersson View Post
    Can't really say I have any expertise in this matter, but the Nippon Budo Kyogikai have nine gendai budo as its members together with the Nippon Budokan, as can be seen on this page.

    And Sumo is definately a Budo.

    /Anders
    Every NPO in Japan has a govt sponsor.

    That of the Budokan and the Nippon Budo Kyogikai is Japan's Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology, which is in charge of such things.

    Their definitions agree, no surprise there.
    Lance Gatling ガトリング
    Tokyo 東京

    Long as we're making up titles, call me 'The Duke of Earl'

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    Interesting thread! My own opinions, I think, match Kyro's.

    Howerver, I can see why the general public would perceive sumo as not being a martial art - as sumo has no explicit purpose away from the dohyo, its martial origins/application have become hidden. The same is true of sports like archery, javelin, fencing and even to a certain extent, western boxing and greco/freestyle.

    I still remember the surprise at the early success of pure wrestlers in MMA. Many people assumed wrestling had no purpose away from its own arena.
    Cheers,

    Mike
    No-Kan-Do

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    Lightbulb Yes, The Nippon Budo Kyogikai are the definitive authorities.

    Hey Folks,
    Yes, officially speaking, sumo is of authentic Budo status. Yes, The Nippon Budo Kyogikai are the definitive authorities. However, for this thread, I am interested in what you guys think. You know, as fellow martial artists, on this subject. Both students and teachers alike. How should we define the parameters of what is martial combat, martial art, martial sport, etc??? Are all of the tributaries flowing out of the same traditional source the same as that source? Or is there a line being crossed that makes the tributary something else, altogether. You can certainly say that this is true in the case of Chinese wushu. It has removed itself so far from anything martial that you have to say that it has become a performance/sport, only loosely based on martial arts. The same can be said about some of the "tai chi" being practiced these days. Certainly not the lineage I study but some of the New Age stuff. It just is so far removed from actual fighting that I'm not sure what to call it. (Actually, I am sure what to call it but my Mother taught me better.) I mean no slander to any taiji quan schools or wushu, as I study wushu broadsword on Fridays just for fun...and it certainly is fun and not so easy to perform (not at my age, at least).

    Thanks for all of the fine replies! Anyone else?

    Later, Jon Palombi
    Last edited by jonpalombi; 1st April 2008 at 19:53.

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    Quote Originally Posted by jonpalombi View Post
    Hey Folks,
    Yes, officially speaking, sumo is of authentic Budo status. Yes, The Nippon Budo Kyogikai are the definitive authorities. However, for this thread, I am interested in what you guys think. You know, as fellow martial artists, on this subject. Both students and teachers alike. How should we define the parameters of what is martial combat, martial art, martial sport, etc??? Are all of the tributaries flowing out of the same traditional source the same as that source? Or is there a line being crossed that makes the tributary something else, altogether. .....

    Later, Jon Palombi
    The sumo entry rituals consist of contrived bushido-like rites of passage, painful progress, intense scrutiny and correction of minutiae that have no bearing on effectiveness, an intrusive teacher-student relationship, restrictions that limit its flexibility and utility in a modern world, hmmm, looks like some styles I've practiced. When the full panoply of sumo techniques is presented as budo it is much easier to appreciate as such, but perhaps more difficult in the limited scope of the public shiai that most see.

    My considered opinion is that, being Japanese martial arts as defined by a complex Japanese environment and culture, thus inscrutable , my opinion simply does not matter. And in particular my voicing it to the contrary is simply neither productive nor welcome. We do not define it.

    Cheers,
    Lance Gatling ガトリング
    Tokyo 東京

    Long as we're making up titles, call me 'The Duke of Earl'

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    I definitely see Sumo as a martial art.

    However, I have some difficulty with the word art in the phrase martial art, just as I have some difficulty with the distinctions often made between martial sports and martial arts.

    I see martial sports as an aspect of martial arts which allows practitioners of a martial art to safely test their skill and understanding within safety boundaries that will allow the practitioners to go on with life with their limbs and senses intact.

    For example, without Judo tournaments, Judo would quickly become a set of closed systems organized around individual dojos.
    Tournaments allow a practitioner to compare what he has learned in his dojo, interacting with the same people week after week and year after year, with different people having different bodies, personalities, cultures and learned style.
    Everyone learns and grows from participating in tournaments, with relatively few injuries and tragedies given the potential lethality of Judo.

    In terms of martial principles, I see many similarities between Sumo, Judo and Aikido.

    The culture and rules that define Sumo allow very serious martial artists to demonstrate and test their understanding and skill, while at the same time edifying and entertaining an audience; and all of this without anyone getting killed or maimed.

    Much of the rationale for the general obesity of Sumo wrestlers comes as the result of professional gamesmanship.
    In the martial sport of Sumo, in which martial artists compete for professional career advancement, obesity provides a definite advantage; and, in fact, multiple advantages.

    However, in the real world of violence and self-defense, the techniques and principles of Sumo would serve a person of normal stature very well.
    In a true self-defense situation, the ability to remain on one's feet, while unbalancing one's attacker, has great value.

    My older son has a black belt in Judo (12 years) and has studied three or four years in a Brazilian Ju Jitsu - Pankration school geared towards producing fighters for professional MMA contests.
    My son's talent in Judo centers around ground techniques, and so he likes martial activities which quickly go to ground because it makes him look and feel good.
    However, he remarks to me that ground techniques have little self-defense value in the real world because of one's exposure on the ground to multiple attackers; and, given that, he wants to revisit Judo after his college years with the intent of developing his unbalancing skills for self-defense.

    All the above said, I think my son would profit greatly from a study of Sumo.
    However, one cannot easily study Sumo outside the context of professional gamesmanship, since Sumo has become a professional career for those atheletes so inclined.
    This direction Sumo has taken in modern times does not diminish its validity as a martial art.

    Many years ago I had an early morning encounter in a New Orleans bar with the center linebacker of the NFL football team that had won the Superbowl that year.
    No one got hurt and we parted smiling, and me especially smiling because I still had all my major body parts.
    However, I remember from that encounter how effortlessly this center linebacker moved my entire body; and not with strength or size, but with a deeper understanding of movement and balance than I had then or now.
    What he did looked like Sumo to me.

    I wonder if professional football teams give any consideration to Sumo, either sending coaches to study Sumo or recruiting Sumo players to coach football players.
    It seems like a match to me.

    I also think Western Boxers could learn a lot from Sumo.

    And then, please consider Greco-Roman wrestling, in which the two contestants attempt to unbalance each other as in Sumo.
    I think this comes from battlefield tactics in which one could not afford to lose his feet in the midst of combat, but rather, could profit from his opponent losing his feet.

    I have more to say on this subject, but perhaps I have already said too much in one post.
    I would like to hear from my fellow forumites.

    Your friend in Bend, Oregon,

    Ken Cox

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    Nice first post, Ken.

    Welcome to e-budo.
    Cheers,

    Mike
    No-Kan-Do

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    I think it's very simple. I don't see how anyone who accepts judo as a martial art can deny that sumo is one. Sumo is essentially judo with a slightly emphasis (from judogi to mawashi), no mats, and full strength, non-gloved atemi.

    To my knowledge, there has never been a death on the dohyo in the 100+ years of modern sumo. Nonetheless, for his entire active career, Yokozuna Wakanohana III kept a secret will, in the event that he was killed in the ring. Kitanozakura, a currently active rikishi, likewise apologizes to his family before every tournament, as he goes up on the dohyo prepared for the possibility that he could die. That shows how seriously the wrestlers take what they are doing, and also provides a clue to how dangerous it feels to them.

    Kimura Shonosuke and Shikimori Iinosuke, the two top gyoji (referees), wear a dagger in their obi. The dagger symbolizes their willingness to commit seppuku if they make a wrong call. In actuality, of course, they are not expected to commit seppuku, but whenever one of the two top gyoji have one of their decisions reversed, they submit a retirement application. (This is almost always rejected by the Sumo Association, unless the gyoji has truly lost his ability to get the call right 99% of the time.)

    These are things that are not a part of the pomp and circumstance of sumo -- they happen away from the public eye. But they represent the dedication and commitment of those involved in sumo.

    I practice a classical Japanese sword art, which is of no practical use outside the dojo. And yet I would say (and I think most would agree) that I'm practicing a martial art. The rikishi of professional sumo (and their oyakata, who continue to train) practice their art with no less dedication and seriousness. It is combat effective, and they put themselves to the test for 15 days six times a year showing that. Frankly, I'm surprised the question has even been raised. Particularly by you, Mr. Palombi, as I know you enjoy watching sumo every basho.
    Josh Reyer

    Swa sceal man don, žonne he ęt guše gengan ženceš longsumne lof, na ymb his lif cearaš. - The Beowulf Poet

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    Quote Originally Posted by Josh Reyer View Post
    I think it's very simple. I don't see how anyone who accepts judo as a martial art can deny that sumo is one.
    Good post. Unfortunately there are plenty of folk, including plenty of supposed martial artists, who don't see judo as a MA or who assume, because it is "sport", that it has no combative application.

    You just have to witness all the internet posts about judo being "jujutsu with all the dangerous bits taken out" to realise this. So sumo, being even further removed from "da streets" is very unlikely to be seen as a martial art by the general public, regardless of what we here think.
    Cheers,

    Mike
    No-Kan-Do

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    Default What's a budo, anyhow?

    Quote Originally Posted by MikeWilliams View Post
    Good post. Unfortunately there are plenty of folk, including plenty of supposed martial artists, who don't see judo as a MA or who assume, because it is "sport", that it has no combative application.

    You just have to witness all the internet posts about judo being "jujutsu with all the dangerous bits taken out" to realise this. So sumo, being even further removed from "da streets" is very unlikely to be seen as a martial art by the general public, regardless of what we here think.
    The utility of a martial art in 'da street' has zero to do with whether it is in fact a martial art.

    To wit: kyudo. Archery in traditional Japanese clothes, 2 arrows, very long setup for a shot on a range, using a very longlonglong bow that is clearly not of utility or mobility in anything like a combat or ad hoc situation.

    Would anyone deny that it is a martial art?

    Anyhow, do you practice your art for the general public?

    Cheers,

    PS.... there are instructors in the Kodokan that would look at you askance if you said judo is a budo, but they'd be wrong, too.
    Lance Gatling ガトリング
    Tokyo 東京

    Long as we're making up titles, call me 'The Duke of Earl'

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    Quote Originally Posted by Lance Gatling View Post
    The utility of a martial art in 'da street' has zero to do with whether it is in fact a martial art.
    Of course. I was just pointing out that I could understand why the great unwashed might not consider Sumo a martial art.

    What about the olympic disciplines of javelin, fencing, discus, archery, biathlon... are they martial arts?

    The (lack of) definition of the term "martial art" is very ambiguous. I would wager that to 90% of the world's population it means "asian unarmed fighting system geared to self-defence"

    I've never liked the term anyway - not that it affects me, I only do "combat sports".
    Cheers,

    Mike
    No-Kan-Do

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    Lightbulb I posted this thread for 2 primary reasons.

    Quote Originally Posted by Josh Reyer View Post
    I practice a classical Japanese sword art, which is of no practical use outside the dojo. And yet I would say (and I think most would agree) that I'm practicing a martial art. The rikishi of professional sumo (and their oyakata, who continue to train) practice their art with no less dedication and seriousness. It is combat effective, and they put themselves to the test for 15 days six times a year showing that. Frankly, I'm surprised the question has even been raised. Particularly by you, Mr. Palombi, as I know you enjoy watching sumo every basho.
    Well Josh,
    #1.I have never personally doubted that sumo is a martial art. #2. Friends, family & fellow students have presented this challenge to me for over 26 years. I recall my judo sensei's excitement that an American, Takamiyama/Jesse Kahaulua, had become the first non-Japanese winner of a yusho in 1972. I still recall seeing a picture of Richard M. Nixon wholeheartedly congratulating him in a book on sumo, in my junior high-school library. Wide World of Sports even showed coverage of Jesse's final matches on American TV. Sad-but-true, the USA is only interested in sports that Americans excel in. Just try to find descent coverage of fencing, during the Olympic Games televised coverage. Sorry, I digress...

    So, since TV Japan became available in the back-woods of Vermont in 1995 (via satellite TV), I haven't missed a match unless we were having a white-out and the signal was blocked. Oh yes, and there was the earthquake in Kobe, as well. So, my conviction that sumo is a true martial art has only deepened, vastly.

    Even so, I have been the brunt of this challenge for some time now by fellow "martial artist". One of the most ridiculous examples of this obtuse short-sightedness came as this statement from a kendoka who studied in Japan for 3-4 years. He barked, "Sumo isn't a martial art because it is useless if you aren't at least 300 pounds. It has no practical application if you are normal in size." I told him to research the career of Mianoumi before he made such ignorant statements. It surprised me that someone who spent a lot of time practicing taji quan push-hands, would be so blind! What I really wanted to do was serve him my imitation of Terao's tsuppari. I respect his ability in swordsmanship, so I let him flounder in ignorance. You have to pick your battles, when an-other's mind is like a locked door...

    Thank you All, for your fine replies! Please forgive my verbosity.

    Be well and practice often, Jon Palombi
    Last edited by jonpalombi; 4th April 2008 at 18:21.

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