Sumo Wrestling: Practical Techniques for the Martial Artist

Written by: Andrew Zerling
Originally published in the Journal of Asian Martial Arts – Volume 21 Number 1 – 2012
All photos courtesy of Aikido Centers of New Jersey – Manasquan Dojo, except where noted.

Abstract

The study and appreciation of sumo wrestling, Japan’s ancient and popular martial art, is greatly overlooked in the West. This article focuses on sumo’s winning techniques, with special emphasis on how smaller players can win against larger players. Some famous martial artists who have studied sumo are discussed. Also, there is a brief discussion sumo痴 development, rules, and training, as well as recent changes in sumo techniques. Some parallels are drawn between sumo and mixed martial arts (MMA). Techniques and tactics are presented in detail so readers might add some of these sumo moves to their own martial arts repertoire. The references used to support this article include various published literature and broadcast video.

Introduction

With a tremendous impact, two strikingly large men collide on an earthen ring. They are thickly muscled, flexible, highly trained martial artists; they are sumo wrestlers (rikishi). When all other things equal, the bigger rikishi usually wins. But rarely are all other things equal. Throughout sumo’s history there have been smaller rikishi who, with the proper technique, have toppled man-mountains. A sumo historian once said the earthen ring that sumo takes place in (dohyo) is circular to help a smaller rikishi angle away from a larger rikishi. This allows for better matches to watch, and it also illustrates that in some ways sumo roots for the underdog.

Some well-known martial artists have studied sumo. Draeger and Smith state in Asian Fighting Arts (1969: 138) that the founder of judo, Jigoro Kano, studied a great variety of martial arts, including sumo, to help formulate his modern-day judo. When Kano wanted to beat a competitor, he would study everything available, along with sumo techniques and even training books from abroad. The founder of aikido, Ueshiba Morihei, had his first real training in the martial arts with sumo. In Abundant Peace (1987: 67), Stevens describes the grueling conditioning Ueshiba did with his sumo training.

In Okinawa, karate master and pioneer Funakoshi Gichin in his youth engaged in sumo-like wrestling called tegumi, which he recounts in his book Karate-Do, My Way of Life (1975: 122-124). Funakoshi mentioned in his book that his tegumi training probably improved his karate mastery. On a more recent note, former UFC Light Heavyweight Champion Lyoto Machida, besides being an expert in Shotokan karate and Brazilian jiu-jitsu, has a strong background in sumo. Machida describes in his book Machida Karate-Do Mixed Martial Arts Techniques (2009: 11, 13, 124 and 148), that his sumo training strengthened his fighting stance and base, as well as his mind.

Sumo History

Sumo’s origins go back nearly 1,500 years, making sumo one of the oldest organized sports on earth. There is evidence that the precursors of the combat sport probably came from China or Korea. In Japan, the first sumo matches were in religious ceremonies to pray for a good harvest, and eventually they were used as a training ground for samurai warriors. Sumo had an influence in the development of many modern Japanese martial arts, and today it is the unofficial national sport of Japan. There are many traditions and rituals of today’s sumo that are uniquely Japanese. It is significantly more than just two large men wrestling. Even today in Japanese society, rikishi are thought of as godlike heroes.

The rules of Japan’s ancient martial art are not complex: the wrestler who either leaves the ring (touching anything) before his opponent or first touches the surface inside the ring with something other than the soles of his feet loses. Punching with a closed fist, finger bending, eye gouging, kicking at the opponent’s chest or waist and hair grabbing are among the prohibited techniques in sumo. The outcome is decided in a short period of time (in seconds, rarely in minutes). In a small ring, in those seconds, the rikishi push themselves to the maximum, both mentally and physically.

Before a rikishi steps onto the dohyo for a major match, much preparation has to be done. The young rikishi train in a sumostable under the guidance of the stablemaster and his seniors. Young rikishi live in the stable, and training starts early in the morning with mostly basic movements. Strength, flexibility, and reflex exercises are performed countless times, as well as ukemi training (rolling), which protects them when they fall. Matawari (sumo splits) are an integral part of daily training regimen to gain suppleness in the entire body. Even the diet, a sort of sumo stew called chanko-nabe, is well calculated. This thick meal is rich in calories and protein so the rikishi gain weight and keep it on.

Sumo Print

SUMO PRINT: JAPANESE WOODCUT PRINT OF SUMO WRESTLERS IN ACTION. PRINT CREATED DURING THE 17TH CENTURY. Source: Library of Congress, LC-DIG-jpd-02569

Sumo’s Winning Moves

The winning moves in sumo are called kimarite. At this time, the Japan Sumo Association recognizes eighty-two types of kimarite, but only about a dozen are used regularly. In actuality more than half of sumo bouts end in victory after a push (oshi), grip (yori) or slap or thrust (tsuki). These eighty-two distinct winning techniques include different combinations of gripping, pushing, thrusting, throwing, leg tripping, twist downs, backwards body drops and specialized moves (only five techniques cover “non-winning” methods).

The history of the kimarite goes back to the medieval Japanese era when there were the traditional forty-eight kimarite or shijuuhatte (forty-eight hands).  However, in 1960 the Japan Sumo Association recognized total of seventy kimarite. In the last two decades sumo has been internationalized. A large percentage of rikishi in the top divisions are non-Japanese. The influx of foreign rikishi has influenced the techniques of sumo. Among the top influences are the following:

  • The incredible holds of wrestling (folkstyle and Greco-Roman).
  • The impressive charge of American football.
  • The amazing techniques of Korean wrestling (ssireum).
  • The greatest influence has come from Mongolian grappling in the late 1990s.

Moves such as leg picks and rear throws out of the ring could not be explained by traditional kimarite. In response, the sumo elders studied the ancient records searching for new techniques to add to the kimarite list. In 2001, twelve new kimarite were added to make a total of eighty-two kimarite. Some of the new kimarite include rear lift out (okuritsuridashi) and underarm forward body drop (tsutaezori), which is performed by ducking under the opponent’s armpit. Stablemaster Oyama, a walking encyclopedia of sumo, said, “Kimarite is part of sumo culture. We think of them as our treasure” (Misawa, 2006).

Sumo Wrestling: Practical Techniques for the Martial Artist

SUMO YORI1. Yori (clinching): The author, Andrew Zerling (left), secures the over-under clinch on his training partner, Drew Carafone. For this article, it is critical to understand the over-under clinch, as all of the other technical photos in this article start from this position. The over-under clinch is the most commonly used clinch in both sumo and mixed martial arts.

SUMO SHITATEWAZA (2a)

SUMO SHITATEWAZA (2b)

2. Shitatewaza (underhook or underarm technique): (2a) From the over-under clinch (left legs forward) Zerling swims his right overhook into the natural gap in the crook of Carafone’s left elbow. (2b) Zerling finishes this movement into a right underhook for inside control and double underhooks. This technique is important to grasp, as it is used often in this article’s technical photos.

SUMO SOTOKOMATA

3. Sotokomata (over thigh scooping body drop): From the over-under clinch (right legs forward) Carafone pulls Zerling, which makes Carafone’s front leg lighter. Zerling capitalizes on this by fully stepping in with his rear leg and lifting Carafone’s front leg from the outside, over the top of the thigh, with his disengaged right underhook arm. While gripping his left overhook tightly for control, Zerling elevates the leg with his hips behind it while driving Carafone onto his back.

SUMO KOMATASUKUI

4. Komatasukui (over thigh scooping body drop): From the over-under clinch (right legs forward) Carafone pulls Zerling, which makes Carafone’s front leg lighter. Zerling capitalizes on this by fully stepping in with his rear leg and lifting Carafone’s front leg on or near the thigh with his disengaged right underhook arm. While gripping his left overhook tightly for control, he elevates the leg with his hips behind it and drives Carafone onto his back.

SUMO WATASHIKOMI

5. Watashikomi (thigh-grabbing push down): From the over-under clinch (left legs forward) Carafone pulls Zerling, which makes Carafone’s front leg lighter. Zerling reaches down with his right overhook arm and grabs Carafone’s front left leg at the hamstring or behind the knee. He then drives forward as he pulls the captured leg towards him, which will make Carafone fall onto his back.

SUMO IPPONZEOI

6. Ipponzeoi (one-armed shoulder throw): From the over-under clinch (left legs forward) Carafone pushes. While disengaging his left underhook, Zerling goes with this push and pulls Carafone’s left underhook with both of his arms as he turns his back to him in order to throw him over his shoulder.

SUMO KATASUKASHI

7. Katasukashi (under-shoulder swing down): From the over-under clinch (left legs forward) Carafone pushes. Zerling goes with this push and pulls Carafone’s right shoulder down with a deep left underhook. With a twist of his hips to his right and his other hand near Carafone’s neck, Zerling finalizes the takedown by backing away in order to throw Carafone onto his stomach.

SUMO KIRIKAESHI

8. Kirikaeshi (twisting backward knee trip): From the over-under clinch (right legs forward) Carafone pulls. Zerling swims his left overhook into a left underhook to get double underhooks while clasping his hands together. At the same time, he goes with the pull to fully enter in behind Carafone with his rear leg so his left knee is positioned behind Carafone’s front leg. After twisting with his hips and upper body to his left, Zerling throws Carafone over his front knee.

SUMO MITOKOROZEME

9. Mitokorozeme (triple-attack force out): From the over-under clinch (left legs forward) Carafone pulls. Zerling swims his right overhook into a right underhook as he enters in fully with his rear leg and places it behind Carafone’s front leg. By using three driving forces – the leg trip, left hand on Carafone’s right thigh, and his shoulder or head on Carafone’s chest or stomach – Zerling forces Carafone onto his back. This is the potent kimarite that Mainoumi used to take down Akebono.

SUMO SUSOTORI

10. Susotori (ankle pick): From the over-under clinch (left legs forward) Carafone pulls Zerling, which makes Carafone’s front leg lighter. Zerling swims his right overhook into a right underhook to get inside control. With his right hand Zerling reaches down and grabs Carafone’s left ankle. While Zerling elevates the grabbed ankle, he drives Carafone onto his back as he also applies a left underhook.

SUMO ASHITORI

11. Ashitori (leg pick): From the over-under clinch (left legs forward) Carafone pulls Zerling, which makes Carafone’s front leg lighter. Zerling swims his right overhook into a right underhook to get inside control. At the same time, Zerling fully steps forward with his rear leg to the outside in order to grab and elevate Carafone’s front leg at the knee and ankle. He drives forward to take him down.

SUMO KUBINAGE

12. Kubinage (headlock throw): From the over-under clinch (right legs forward) Carafone pushes. Zerling goes with this push and disengages his right underhook to swing it tightly around Carafone’s neck. Zerling turns into him to get his hips under Carafone. He throws Carafone by extending his legs, pulling down Carafone’s head and tightly pulling down his overhook on the far arm.

SUMO SOTOMUSO

13. Sotomuso (outer-thigh-propping twist down): From the over-under clinch (left legs forward) Carafone pushes. Zerling goes with this push and disengages his left underhook. Zerling quickly reaches across with his left hand to block Carafone’s front leg. While tightly controlling Carafone with his right overhook and blocking Carafone’s front leg, Zerling twists his body to his right and thereby forces Carafone to the ground.

SUMO UCHIMUSO

14. Uchimuso (inner-thigh-propping twist down): From the over-under clinch (right legs forward) Carafone pulls Zerling, which makes Carafone’s front leg lighter. Zerling capitalizes on this pull and elevates Carafone’s front leg from the inside with his disengaged left overhook arm. He then drive’s Carafone onto his back.

SUMO KOTENAGE

15. Kotenage (armlock throw): From the over-under clinch (left legs forward) Carafone pushes. Zerling goes with this push and sinks his right overhook deeply onto Carafone’s left elbow. At the same time, he fully steps back with his front leg and twists his hips to the left in order to throw Carafone. This kimarite is so powerful that many rikishi injure their opponent’s arms.

SUMO AMIUCHI

16. Amiuchi (the fisherman’s throw): From the over-under clinch (right legs forward) Carafone pushes. Zerling goes with this push and disengages his right underhook. He then quickly underhooks Carafone’s right arm while continuing to overhook Carafone’s right arm with his left arm. Zerling steps back with his front leg twisting his hips to the right to throw Carafone. This kimarite movement is similar to how the Japanese traditionally throw a fishing net, thus the name.

SUMO GASSHOHINERI

17. Gasshohineri (clasped-hand twist down): From the over-under clinch (right legs forward) Carafone pushes. Zerling swims his left overhook into a left underhook to get double underhooks while clasping his hands together. Going with the push, Zerling twists his hips to his left in order to toss Carafone to the ground.

SUMO SOTOGAKE

18. Sotogake (outside leg trip): From the over-under clinch (left legs forward) Carafone pulls. Capitalizing on this, Zerling enters in fully with his rear leg and entangles it deeply from the outside on Carafone’s front leg. To finish the takedown, Zerling drives forward while pulling the outside hooked leg and takes Carafone down onto his back.

SUMO UCHIGAKE

19. Uchigake (inside leg trip): From the over-under clinch (left legs forward) Carafone pulls. Capitalizing on this, Zerling enters in fully with his rear leg and entangles it deeply from the inside on Carafone’s front leg. To finish the takedown, Zerling drives forward while pulling the inside hooked leg and takes Carafone down onto his back.

 Sumo Case Studies

In sumo, size certainly matters, but technique matters as well. A case study in this naturally leads to the popular rikishi, Mainoumi Shuhei. He was 5 feet 7.5 inches in height and only 220 pounds, a very small person by sumo standards. Mainoumi used up to thirty-three kinds of kimarite in his wrestling days. Because of his broad use of kimarite, he was nicknamed “department store of techniques” (waza no depaato). Mainoumi has said “The eighty-two kimarite enhance the value of sumo” (Misawa, 2006).

Mainoumi, at the initial charge, would commonly employ quick and cunning moves, shocking both the opponent and the audience. For instance, he would use an unconventional sumo wrestling technique called “deceiving the cat” (nekodamashi). At the start of the bout, a rikishi abruptly claps his hands together just in front of his opponent’s face without touching it. The objective of this technique is to cause the opponent to close his eyes for a moment and distract him briefly, giving an advantage to the instigator. This technique can be risky as, if it fails, it exposes the rikishi to his opponent’s onslaught. The hand clapping is not that difficult. The hard part is how the opponent’s brief distraction is instantly leveraged to gain the advantage. However, this trick will probably work only once on a particular opponent, as he will be expecting it the next time.Nekodamashi is listed as a nontechnique victory (hiwaza) and is not listed as a kimarite.

The mawashiis the belt worn by the rikishi. “The law of the ring” is that the one who dominates his opponent’s mawashi with a controlling grip will almost certainly win the match. Mainoumi considered his opponent’s mawashi his “life line”: if he did not grip it he would lose. Mainoumi has said that where you grab the mawashi determines how you can turn or throw your opponent. The mawashi grip gives the rikishi the greatest leverage.

According to Mainoumi, “The worst scenario for a small rikishi is having to face a strong head-on charge. If this happens he will be overpowered and pushed out instantly. This is the most dangerous thing. To absorb the bigger rikishi thrusting he can pull back his shoulder quickly and weaken the power of the attack. You have to be innovative. Respond flexibly in order to cope with a bigger foe” (Misawa, 2006). To be innovative and flexible, the martial artist must dig deep into his technical repertoire to unearth appropriate solutions to the problems presented.

A prime example of Mainoumi’s advice can be seen in the November 1991 match he had with Akebono (Chad Haakeo Rowan). At five-hundred pounds, Akebono was over twice Mainoumi’s weight and, at 6’8”, he was much taller. Mainoumi won the match by using a kimarite that had not been used in twenty years in a major tournament. He used the move mitokorozeme (triple-attack force out). This is a leg technique, which Mainoumi prefers, as it is an effective way for a small rikishi to down massive opponents.

Akebono, a Hawaiian, was a formidable opponent. In 1993 he became the first non-Japanese promoted to yokozuna, the highest rank in sumo. Akebono was a powerful and longtime yokozuna. His reign in that rank lasted almost eight years. He used of his incredible physical attributes to his advantage. His very strong and long arms were merciless when pushing or thrusting into an opponent, sometimes knocking rikishi out of the ring just one or two movements.

Martial artists could benefit from studying the sumo way of open-handed pushes, slaps, and thrusts. Closed-fist strikes are illegal in sumo, so rikishi have become very proficient in open-handed strikes. Don “The Dragon” Wilson, the kickboxing champion and actor, once mentioned that open-handed strikes are safer to perform, as fist strikes have a high likelihood of breaking your hand. Wilson confirmed this by his observations as a commenter at a very early Ultimate Fighting Championship, when fighters didn’t wear gloves and most of them injured their hands while fighting with their fists. Gloves actually are primarily used not to protect the person being hit, but the fist of the striker from breaking easily.

How do rikishi condition themselves for open-handed strikes? One major way is that they use the teppo, which is a wooden pillar approximately the diameter of a telephone pole. Teppo trains one to block an oncoming opponent. By continuously slapping the teppo, rikishi toughen and strengthen their hands. The rikishi also slap and push against the teppo while sliding their feet back and forth in unison with their hands to put their weight behind the movements. This improves their balance, coordination, and rhythm, also strengthening the muscles of the legs, hips, and arms. Teppo training could be seen as similar to karate’s padded striking-post training (makiwara).

Aggressiveness by driving forward is a critical principle of sumo. The deciding factor of victory for many of sumo’s historic bouts has been a rikishi’s forward charge. Kisenosato Yutaka, a very promising rikishi, said, “My ideal style is making a strong charge, keeping the momentum, forcing out the opponent straight away, I always aim to do this” (Misawa, 2006). Stablemaster Naruto instructs his rikishi, Kisenosato: “Techniques evolve naturally if you move forward. So I always tell him to move forward” (Misawa, 2006). Moving forward puts your opponent on the defensive, so you can capitalize on his reactions. The best defense is a good offense.

Stablemaster Naruto (Takanosato Toshihide) says focus on sumo basics, which include understanding the angle of the initial charge and keeping the arms tightly against the sides. If rikishi practice the basics thoroughly, they can apply them to more advanced techniques. This concept of keeping the arms tightly against the sides or closing the armpits is a common theme in Japanese martial arts. According to the Kodokan New Japanese-English Dictionary of Judo (2000: 133) waki wo shimeru (to close the armpits) means “To lower the arms to minimize or eliminate the space between the body and the arms, a basic and important technical point in judo and in Japanese martial arts in general.”

Keeping the arms tightly against the sides gives you better mechanical advantage for defensive and offensive techniques. For instance, having the arms tightly against the sides helps the rikishi keep his opponent from gaining inside control and makes getting inside control easier. Double underhooks (morozashi) in the standing clinch a powerful inside control techniquethat commonly leads to victory in a sumo match. Also, the rikishi who has his hands on the inside is better able to shoot under for a leg attack. Rikishi are always struggling for inside control, as inside control gives the rikishi some of the best leverage to dominate his opponent.

One essential tactic that successful rikishi must keep in mind when performing most kimarite is balance breaking (kuzushi). Balance breaking is any maneuver used to unbalance your opponent just before attempting to take him down. It is usually performed while trying to maintain your own physical balance. Balance breaking the opponent before taking him down dramatically decreases the amount of energy needed to complete the takedown. This is especially important when smaller rikishi take down larger rikishi. One relatively easy way to unbalance the opponent is to go with his movements. For instance, if he pushes you, you pull, and if he pulls you, you push. Mainoumi alludes to this idea of going with the flow with this quotation: “To absorb the bigger rikishi thrusting he can pull back his shoulder quickly and weaken the power of the attack” (Misawa, 2006). This going with the flow, which could easily unbalance his opponent, must have definitely setup many opportunities for Mainoumi to employ his vast array of kimarite.

Mainoumi says rikishi today rely on sheer brute strength and should practice more kimarite; in fifty or one hundred years, unused kimarite will be forgotten and thought of as myth. He says it is not too late to do something about it. Of the eighty-two kimarite, some have never been used in Grand Sumo Tournaments.  Even Mainoumi didn’t perform them in his bouts. As more rikishi from diverse backgrounds work their way up the sumo ranks, the winning techniques and tactics will continue to evolve.

Akebono Taro told National Geographic (Reid, 1997: 56): “People see these big fat guys tossing each other around the ring, and it’s hard to understand that this is a mental sport. But the mental side, the spiritual side, is a lot more important than the body. If you can’t get yourself in the right frame of mind intellectually, you can’t win.”

Sumo Wrestlers

THREE SUMO WRESTLERS POSE OUTDOORS WITH SPECTATORS IN BACKGROUND, C. 1905. THE WRESTLER STANDING IS “SUMO SAINT” HITACHIYAMA TANIEMON (1874-1922), WEARING THE BELT INDICATING THE HIGHEST RANKING IN SUMO (YOKOZUNA). Source: Library of Congress, LC-USZ62-97650

Sumo and Mixed Martial Arts

Some rikishi have competed in mixed martial arts (MMA) with limited success. Rikishi have difficultly adapting to MMA, as their lack of speed compared to a skilled smaller foe and their large frames make them especially vulnerable to strikes and submissions. The free-movement phase, when both combatants are standing and there is no gripping between them, is addressed somewhat in sumo with open-handed thrusts, slaps and pushes. These open handed techniques are not designed for a knockout, but to move the rikishi out of the sumo ring.

In MMA these open-handed moves would be less effective, since knocking an opponent out of a cage or even a boxing ring is much more difficult and is not the objective in that sport. Ground fighting is not dealt with in sumo at all, since in a sumo match once a rikishi touches anything on the ground beyond the soles of his feet, the match is over. Submissions, which are a potent requirement for real success in MMA competitions, are not really taught in sumo. Plus, several major sumo moves require the use of a belt to grip the opponent. In MMA competitions there is usually no belt to grip, but in gi-wearing contests a belt is available for use as well as in many self-defense situations. It is therefore apparent that the goals of victory for a MMA competition and a sumo match are vastly different.

But there are significant similarities between these two combat sports. Mostly, sumo techniques deal with the standing clinch phase of hand-to-hand fighting.The clinch, yori, is when there is some sort of gripping between the combatants. There are numerous different types of clinches. The standing clinch is one of the three major phases of hand-to-hand fighting and MMA. Combatants usually clinch when one of them is defending a takedown or as they strike each other. It may not be as well known as the free-movement phase (standing strikes with no grips) and ground fighting, but it is just as critical.

A good standing clinch can stop much of your opponent’s striking ability, and it gives you many options: striking from the clinch, standing submissions, takedowns to ground fighting, or disengaging to the free-movement phase to strike. Depending on the dominance of your standing clinch, your opponent has those options as well. The clinch is like a hinge that connects the other two phases of combat. Being proficient in the clinch gives you the ability to dictate where the fight will lead: the free-movement phase or the ground phase. As shown in professional boxing and MMA competitions around the globe, avoiding the clinch is very difficult, even when facing a lesser adversary. That is why clinching skills are so important.

Interestingly enough, the over-under clinchthat is very popular in sumo is also probably the most used type of clinch in MMA contests. If you look at the illustrations that describe the eighty-two sumo kimarite listed by the Japan Sumo Association, you will notice that the over-under clinch is extremely prevalent. Renzo Gracie and John Danaher (2003: 95) state that “The over-under clinch is undoubtedly the most common form of clinch in MMA competition.” This use of the over-under clinch is a common thread between sumo and MMA. For both of these combat sports, one major goal of this clinch is to take your opponent to the ground.

As its name implies, the over-under clinch is where both combatants have one overhook and one underhook. The overhook or overarm, uwate, is locked on by placing an arm over the opponent’s arm and securing the opponent’s arm. The underhook or underarm, shitate, is locked on by placing an arm under the opponent’s arm and securing the opponent’s upper body. The underhook is the offensive position, while the overhook is the defensive and weaker hold. When in the over-under clinch, your head is usually on the side of your overhooked arm, as this puts weight on your opponent’s underhooked arm, which nullifies some of his powerful control with the underhook. With this clinch a combatant should have his shoulder (underhook side) buried into the opponent’s chest, pushing in. Foot position is ideally a staggered stance with the lead leg on the underhook side to facilitate better balance.

The over-under clinch gives each combatant an equal opportunity to attack and defend. Both combatants have symmetrical positions, thus creating a neutral position. In this clinch, technical skill and physical attributes, such as size and strength, play important roles in determining the advantage. As you can gather from the illustrations in this article, sumo has many answers to the riddle of the over-under clinch – answers that leave the opponent crashing to the ground.

Sumo can improve your clinch, which includes performing takedowns, throws and the defenses against them. Understandably, the clinch phase is just one part of the larger fight game. Clinching skills alone are not enough to succeed consistently in today’s MMA competitions. Cross-training is needed to be skillful in all the phases of hand-to-hand fighting, and a little sumo may help balance out the equation. Some sumo techniques could be helpful in MMA to enhance an already solid base of striking and ground fighting. An excellent example of this is former UFC Light Heavyweight Champion Lyoto Machida. Machida has a strong sumo background, but his primary styles are Shotokan karate and Brazilian jiu-jitsu.

Machida mentions (2009: 13) in his book, Machida Karate-Do Mixed Martial Arts Techniques, that during his MMA fight with Rich Franklin his ability to keep his base from sumo training helped him achieve a top position on the ground after a takedown attempt by Franklin. Also, Machida states (2009: 124) that his clinching, balance breaking, and takedown skills were vastly improved by his sumo experience. And finally, he even demonstrates (2009: 148) a sumo takedown from the over-under clinch that he found useful in MMA.

Sumo vs. Boxing

SUMO VS. BOXING: THE JAPANESE WRITING ON THIS OLD PRINT TRANSLATES TO WESTERN SPARRING OR WESTERN BOXING. Source: Unknown

Conclusion

Even in a combat sport like sumo, where great body mass and girth are often winning factors, superior technique can overcome size and strength. Some of these sumo techniques may look familiar to many grapplers, since there are only so many ways you can take someone down. Nonetheless, looking at takedowns and throws from a sumo perspective can add a fresh advantage to your grappling style. Other martial artists, especially grapplers like judo, sambo, and Brazilian jiu-jitsu players, can benefit technically from the knowledge and application of sumo techniques.

Of course, to really gain the full potential of a sumo technique, the training of the technique should be done in live-grappling sparring, after the basic mechanics of the technique are thoroughly drilled. Perhaps, after reading this article, you may become inspired to add a few sumo techniques to your own martial arts arsenal. A dynamic sumo move may just be another piece of the puzzle in your quest for more effective fighting techniques.

About the author:

Andrew Zerling has over two decades of martial arts experience, which includes a black belt in Aikikai aikido, as well as many years in competitive grappling arts and several years in striking arts. He has been published numerous times in the Journal of Asian Martial Arts and in Black Belt Magazine with his jiu-jitsu instructor Renzo Gracie. Zerling is the author of the eBook Martial Arts Adventures in Japan: A story within an effective travel guide. This eBook is available on the Amazon Kindle and Barnes & Noble Nook.

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