Sumo gets a grip in HK

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 10 June, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 10 June, 2009, 12:00am

A couple of oversized, half-naked men bashing and pushing each other ... this is the impression that most people have of sumo wrestling, but it is not an accurate or fair description of the sport.

It is a fun and enjoyable sport that is well loved by juniors, according to Samson Mak Yiu-cheung, president of the Hong Kong Sumo Association.

'Kids love to play sumo because it is extremely exciting, fast-paced and simple,' said Mr Mak, who is known as the father of Hong Kong sumo.

'More than 70 per cent of our 500 members are juniors. Matches are short and last less than 10 seconds. Whoever touches the dohyo (wrestling ring) with any part of their body except the feet or gets pushed out of the ring loses. The rules are so straightforward and easy to understand, even for small children.'

Despite its popularity among children, sumo wrestling is not an official sporting event in the Olympics. 'You don't see sumo wrestling at the Olympics or the Asian Games,' said Mr Mak. 'But there may be a chance for it to become an official event. If Tokyo wins the right to host the 2016 Olympics, there will be a great chance of sumo wrestling being included. If that happens, the popularity of sumo will soar.'

The attire that sumo wrestlers wear in matches is also a reason why it is not widely appreciated in Hong Kong.

'Sumo wrestlers have to put on a mawashi, which is the traditional outfit. Many locals think the mawashi looks like a diaper and it's not right for grown men to put on something like that. It is easier for kids to pick up the sport because they are not embarrassed about wearing the mawashi,' said Mr Mak.

In ancient times, sumo wrestling was a sport only for men. It is the national sport of Japan and dates back to the eighth century. In the old days, women were not even allowed to watch it, let alone participate. In 1999, the International Sumo Federation hosted an international women's event for the first time.

Angel Mak Ka-po, a member of the Hong Kong sumo squad, jumped at the chance to participate in the sport because she wanted to prove that women could be sumo wrestlers.

'Sumo has always been considered as a sport for men and I am really happy women are allowed to participate,' she said.

'Many people have the misconception that the bigger fighters always win. This is not true. There are a lot of tactics and skills, not just pushing each other with force. The diameter of the dohyo is only 4.55 metres. It is just a two-step distance for many wrestlers, so the key to victory is to get opponents off-balance instead of purely using force to push them out. Keeping calm and using the correct tactics are the keys to winning. I have learned to stay calm when facing difficult conditions through practising sumo.

'A match may only last for 10 seconds or less, but it takes hours of practice and training every week. Every match is precious and you want to give it your all. This is a mentality that I enjoy a lot.'

Hong Pak-to, a 17-year-old member of the Hong Kong sumo team, won a silver medal in the 2007 Ninth Asian Sumo Championships in Thailand. He used to practise judo but switched to sumo at 12 under Mr Mak's guidance. 'I love sumo wrestling because the pace is very quick,' he said.

'My friends and family were surprised when I first told them I was practising sumo wrestling because they thought it was only a sport for overweight people. It took me some time to explain to them and now they see it as a normal sport like soccer and basketball.'